Weekend projects & mashing techniques

We had a busy weekend at the bar, and just like all busy times, there were some problems that occurred. My dream weekend of brewery projects was short-circuited by the men’s bathroom door being latched from the inside. Our bathroom may be the most secure room in the building, as I learned after climbing into the ceiling to try to enter through the top. So after breaking a few ceiling tiles, banging on the door with a hammer, and various other (crazy) ideas, we finally broke through. Problem solved,  time for the next one!

Luckily, I still had time for some projects. After brewing for the first time, there were several problems that I encountered. First, what to do with all of these lids while brewing? Thus, a piece of wood and some hook screws will save some worktable space. Secondly, this beautiful brewing equipment is made from stainless steel, which has one problem while mashing: it loses heat quickly.

One of the advantages to mashing in a cooler as a homebrewer was a stable temperature for the grains to mash. Mashing is the process of combining a certain amount of water, at the right temperature, with your milled grains. This activates certain enzymes present in the grain to start converting it’s starches into sugars. These sugars will eventually become the input for the yeast to eat, which will in turn produce alcohol and CO2. Pretty cool, huh? Some have speculated that the first beer was created accidentally by a lazy farmer who left his grain out in the rain overnight, drank it a few days later, and then felt happy!

So, several thousand years later, here I am with my cool stainless steel mash tun that loses about 5 degrees every 30 minutes. Although I have a SS coil in my hot liquor tank that will raise this temperature through re-circulation, I wanted to sidestep this problem with some insulation.  A little bit of work and one hot water heater insulation blanket later, I have a space-ship looking mash tun that should keep it’s heat better.

The mashing technique that I used for the first batch is a single infusion mash. This is somewhat modern English technique that requires highly modified malt. You can start at a lower temperature (protein rest) or a very low temperature (doughing in, acid rest). You can get really into it and do a decoction mash, an ancient Czech method that was developed before thermometers. This method requires the brewer to extract an amount of the liquid from the mash, resting it at certain temperatures, then boiling it, then combining this liquid back into the mash to raise the temperature. Decoction mashing is fun, it develops the best malty flavors (melanoidins), but it is extremely time intensive. It also requires a certain kind of malt, called undermodified. Morovian barley that is malted upon the floor falls into this category.

I will be experimenting with different mashing techniques. The single infusion method requires a stable temperature, thus the space-ship mash tun. So homebrewers, keep those coolers! Although less shiny, their stable temperature will make some great beer.

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