Many years ago the art of brewing was a lengthy and manual process driven activity. There were many aspects of the processes that could either make or break the final beer. Repeatability was the end goal once a successful recipe was found. But with so many processes and variables involved this became a task of perfectionism and labour.
Thankfully today’s technology has come to the rescue and provided solutions to much of these processes. In recent years partially automated brewing systems have come to the home brewing market that provide people from all walks of life with affordable and easy to use equipment with a short learning curve.
The Grainfather system is a very easy to use all grain brewing system that can achieve excellent results for even the novice brewery. Even so, there are key areas in which new and existing users can focus to fine tune their brewing with the Grainfather system to achieve even greater results.
Grain crush and its effects
Everything begins here, so as such getting this part right is of the upmost importance. The Grainfather brewing system is capable of very high levels of efficiency but the core issue here is repeatability. In order to get repeatability, you need to lock down your efficiency level so that there is little variation in it each time you brew. When we speak of efficiency we are referring to the ability of extracting sugars from grain that can be turned into alcohol by yeast. The best way to achieve a regular level of efficiency is to use best practices in every brew. All recipes focus on a level of efficiency and this dictates the amount of grain you will need to obtain sufficient sugar levels to then be fermented into alcohol. At the heart of this is the balance of your beer, which is between bitterness and the levels of alcohol. This balance is achieved by using specific amounts of hops to create the desired balance, which is a counterbalance to alcohol. A grain crush that is too coarse will lead to a decreased efficiency, meaning your recipe will not have the desired balance due to a decreased level of alcohol. This will also hamper your higher alcohol beer brewing potential. A grain crush that is too fine will result in more alcohol than desired, lack of balance in the opposite direction and also further issues.
These issues can include the following;
1) Scorching at the bottom of your brewing system
2) A stuck sparge.
This all may sound quite complex and concerning but we can keep it simple by having an optimum grain crush for each brew and develop best practices for the entire brew. Best advise grain crush wise is to have a credit card sized gap on your grain mill. If your home-brew store is milling your grain then insist on this gap for crushing and inspect your crushed grain on collection. If it doesn’t look consistent then reject it. Milling your own grain does ensure you against such issues.
Use of the grain for mashing
It is vital that you heat your mash water/strike water prior to adding your grain. When adding your grain introduce it slowly to your water at every stage. A scoop that will add under a kilo of grain at a time is ideal for this purpose. After you add grain to your mash water each time, stir in your grain using a mash paddle. In order to ensure that the full potential of sugars is maximised you must make sure that every grain is wet and that there are no clumps of grain stuck together. In brewing these are known as “dough balls”.
At first your stirring will be just on the top of the mix. As you progress you need to then start stirring from the bottom and middle also. This is definitely a process to take time on and get right, as with your grain crush it will impact the rest of the brew.
One of the great benefits of the Grainfather is that it automates the mashing process. For regular beers between 3-6% ABV this will be efficient enough. For stronger beers, you will be using more grain and this can impact on the systems efficiency. A simple yet very effective tip is to stop the mash timer and pump between 1-3 times during the initial stage of mashing and give the grain a stir for a minute or two.
If you wish to brew a beer that brings your Grainfather´s grain limit close or exceeds it then you will need to perform what is known as a reiterated mash. I will not cover this topic here but I have a video on my youtube channel here – https://youtu.be/FQXOXejO_w8
The Sparge process
Many beginners look to automate this process, rather than sparging by hand. As tempting as this may be, I would strongly advise against it.
Sparging by hand simply gives you far more precise control of this process. Sparging effectiveness has also been linked to the end taste of a beer also.
Here are some two pointers in perfecting your sparge:
1) Sparge slowly
2) Sparge evenly
3) Use a 1 L (0.26 US Gal) jug of water at a time
The entire point of the sparge is to wash sugars from the grain and at the same time top up the water level. The mash is really just making a concentrate. By sparging by hand slowly and evenly you will maximise on the amount of sugars you will wash out of the grain.
Use the top plate and focus your sparge into zones each time you add water. A common method is to start at the outer edge first and slowly move closer to the middle of the plate, covering a circular path around the plate, ensuring each area gets a similar splash of sparge water. Next do the reverse by starting in the middle and moving outwards.
A further method is to focus on half of the plate at one time and sparge in lines along half of the plate at one time. A combination of these methods is best practice.
An effective sparge will take time but it is a process very worthy of time investment and will reap the rewards previously discussed.
A stuck sparge can avoided by following some basic steps as follows:
1) Use rice hulls on high wheat malt grain bills
2) Always perform a mash out
3) Mill your grain correctly, avoid very fine crushes
4) Sparge slowly
5) Never let all water leave the grain basket while still sparging
If for whatever reason you do experience a stuck sparge then the following procedure will get you back on track;
Remove the mash plate to reveal your grain. Ensure that there is still sparge water within your grain, if not then add more. Take your brewing paddle and move the bottom grain to the top and then stir, adding water as you go to ensure against the sparge going dry. As much as this is a work around this is a situation to be avoided because it can impact your end result.
Continued next week…..