It seems fitting that the first post in my ‘How to All Grain Homebrew Series’ is for mashing. Not only is this pretty much the first step in the process, it is also the part which confuses non-brewers the most as they are used to seeing a can of goop replacing this step.
If you are confused, the can of goop is what is called ‘extract’ and is basically a pre-done mash for you. Whilst this can afford great time efficiencies, I enjoy making the beer from scratch as it guarantees I have the freshest beer I can make (plus I enjoy it).
So what is mashing? Mashing is the process of soaking barley grain to convert starches to sugars. These sugars are then used by the yeast to create alcohol.
The first step is getting your grain. Most homebrew shops will carry grain for all grain brewing but like all food products, they have a shelf life. It is generally recommended you pick a store that has high turnover to ensure the product is fresh.
I personally shop at craftbrewer.com.au. Not only are they quite popular with homebrewers, they run their own brewery (Bacchus Brewing) so this is the same stock they are using for their own beers (which they are producing a lot of). I find the guys there down to earth and very trustworthy. They have a genuine interest in making good beer and I don’t doubt that if they had some bad grain, they would just throw it in the bin.
Before you can mash with your grain, it is going to need to be crushed. The guys at Craftbrewer will do this for you free of charge. It is recommended that you don’t have the grains crushed until you are ready to brew. It is best to brew within 1-2 weeks of your grain being crushed, whether the shop does it for you, or or have your own mill.
I will describe my mashing process in my converted esky mash tun. You can also mash using BIAB and if there is enough interest, I’ll write a separate post on that. The essentials are basically the same.
The first step is working out the temperature of your ‘strike water’. The type of beer you are trying to create will dictate these temperatures. I won’t go into too much detail here as I will do a full post on this at a later point. Needless to say, your recipe is going to tell you what temperature your strike water should be. Once you add your strike water to your grain, the water will drop in temperature. There are ways to minimise this and this includes pre-heating your mash tun with warm water. Regardless you will lose temperature so be prepared. Until you have brewed on your system you will not know the exact amount of temperature you are going to lose. I find I lose 12 degrees so can usually work from there. It is always best to overcompensate your strike water temperature as bringing it down is a LOT easier than bringing it up.
Once you have got your ‘strike water’ up to the required temperature, you should add it to your mash tun. After adding your water, start pouring in your crushed grain making sure that you stir at the same time to avoid any dough balls. It is important that all of the grain is touching water to ensure you get the most out of your grains. Once you have stirred in your grains, check your temperature to make sure its right and close up your mash tun. At this stage I will put blankets, a sleeping bag, a yoga mat and anything else I can find on the esky to make sure it keeps its temperature. Doing this, I tend to only lose 1 or 2 degrees celsius during the 60min mash.
This is a VERY high level run down of the mashing process. In future posts, I will provide more advanced information but this is enough to get you going. Remember, brewing is about going out there and giving it a go, so don’t be afraid! In my next ‘How to All Grain Homebrew Series’, we will discuss Sparging! And how to get that sweet wort into your kettle. As always please hit me up with any questions.