Friday, October 14, 2011

Steeping Grains Or Partial Mash

A subject came up between myself and another homebrewer regarding the difference between using steeping grains in an extract brew and the use of a partial grain or mini-mash regimen and why one is called a partial mash and one doesn't deserve that much credit. It was more like an argument not a subject, but the subject was about the definition.

I suggested that the primary difference begins with the brewers intention when using either process.
Is the intention to extract sugar from the grains? Or, is the intention to simply provide additional color and flavor to your extract brew?

If the answer is that the intention is to not only add color and flavor but sugar, then a certain percentage of base malt (2-row or 6-row) needs to be included in the grist in order to provide the diastatic power (enzymes) to convert the starches of your mix of grain to simple sugars. Thus, allowing for a measurable extraction.  On the other hand, base malt is not needed nor usually included in the mix of specialty grains when only steeping, since the purpose or intention is solely to gain flavor and color.

So, you could conclude that the addition of 2-row or 6-row malt is the distinguishing factor that defines the difference between a mini-mash and brewing an extract batch of beer including steeping grains. However, this isn't always true because (as is the case with me), adding some 2-row to the steeping grains may be included specifically to impact the color and flavor that your looking for. Consequently, an addition of sugar will be incurred because of this practice, regardless of any interest in that result. Naturally, this rules out the above idea of base malt being the critical factor.

Another element of this argument is the quantitative (measurable) factor. When using steeping grains, I don't consider the extract potential and do not factor it into my recipe formulation. Any sugar extraction is inconsequential in this brewing process. On the other hand, with a partial mash brew, I'm careful to consider the extract potential and the efficiency of my system to calculate the available sugars from the mash and how it will determine the amount of extract to be used in the recipe and ultimately the effect on the resulting original sugar gravity. Again, I believe that it comes down to the intention of the brewing that defines the difference between the two techniques.

But wait, there's more.

While I'm on the subject I thought I'd add some more opinion about partial mash brewing. Even though I teach to my students the techniques and show the equipment for doing a mini-mash, I strongly recommend that they jump right into all-grain brewing when they are ready to advance from using malt extract for brewing.

I've read in on-line forums and in brewing books that the mini-mash set up is smaller and thus more convenient for those that don't have the space for an all-grain set up. Those same voices also suggest that working under these limiting conditions may prevent you from achieving the efficiencies that are required by just using grain, but I disagree. If you live in an apartment or have to work in the kitchen or a confined space, you can just as easily use the same system you use for a mini-mash as you would for an all-grain batch of beer.

I have successfully brewed an all-grain batch with a single large boil pot and a mash tun made from a food grade plastic bucket. In fact, during the instructions for the last partial mash class I just recently taught, we were able to extract 80% of the available sugars with a plastic bucket mash tun. The same thing can be done on the stove top using all-grain to make a five gallon batch. Now, ten gallons, that may be more difficult but I'm willing to bet it can be done in the same space.

I'd be interested in hearing from anyone that does all-grain brewing on the stove, especially those that brew ten gallons that way. Cheers!

6 comments:

clumsy ox said...

I've been brewing in a bag on the stovetop. I can do 2 1/2 gallons in a pot, so I split the boil to get a 5 gallon batch.

I'm going to do a batch with some friends this week, and I'm planning on trying to get my efficiencies up. I've gotten as low as 65% and as high as 80%. I'm trying to figure out what the difference is between those times.

I've decided to go ahead and get a better heat source (turkey fryer?), as an electric stove is just a little too clumsy for brewing: temperature control isn't nearly as clean as on gas, and it just doesn't have the oomph to push a full boil in one pot: I'm getting tired of splitting boils.

I'm interested to try an actual mash/lauter tun, but my focus right now is to get consistent with what I have already.

No great revelations here, but it can be done. I've been making decent beer and mead on a glass-topped electric stove with a cheap grain bag.

Beer Diary... said...

Thanks for your input clumsy ox,
When I first started to brew it was on an electric stove top and was very difficult to get a good rolling boil. It wasn't too many batches later that I moved out to the deck with a turkey fryer burner and soon after was brewing ten gallon batches regularly.

Jesús said...

Talking about 10 gallon batches I'm on the process of moving from partial mash (with really wonderful results) to all grian. I'm building my mash tun and soon enough I hope to move to 10, 15 or even 20 gallon batches... any suggestions on how to scale a recipe from 5 gallons to something bigger? is there something to keep in mind (and by this I mean, is there a significant change in the process/result?)

cheers... love your blog!

Beer Diary... said...

Hi Jesus,
Signinficant change? No, not really except for mash efficiency. I've found that my efficiency is better with smaller amounts of grain. So, when you switch to 20lbs. of grain for a 10 gallon batch for instance, you may have a lower efficiency to consider. Once you do a batch or two though, you should be able to dial in your recipes based on the new extractions. As far as scaling a recipe- just multiply up by for the new size. Cheers!

Matthew said...

For me, a 5-6 lb partial mash with a quick batch sparge and a 3 gallon boil still works great. Partial mash helps me balance the simplicity of a steep + extract with obsessing over the technical aspects of all grain brewing.

I don't mind the additional 30 minutes of time to mash over steep, plus being being a little more careful with maintaining temps. But I am still effectively leaning on DME to meet my target OG and the balance of flavors.

Sometimes I'll need to use a little more DME on days where spills and sloth lowered my measured efficiency, and sometimes a little less DME on those rare days where I'm like a master brewer. And so, relax, don't worry, have a homebrew!

Sure, all grain has it's advantages over part grain. I see benefits and disadvantages both ways. I can batch sparge quickly or even no sparge if I'm feeling lazy and "just want to make some beer to drink" and still reach a desire OG without laboring over a long and perfectly efficient 1-2 hour long continuous sparge on top of mashing and boiling, for one.

For me, partial mash is less pressure, less intensive. It helps helps me balance the technical aspects of "brewing optimally" with the greater end goal of "simply making good beer," no matter how it's done. It also keeps me (personally) less snobby because, "yeah, I use extract too." Even if a masterful all-grain could have been even better, partial mash beer can still taste amazing.

As always, "relax, don't worry, have a homebrew." At least, that's what I tell myself...

Beer Diary... said...

Hi Matthew,
That's the great thing about homebrewing, there's a lot of ways to skin this cat. The beauty of partial mash is getting the complexity of the grain with the ease of using extract. Thanks for the input and 'keep on brewin'.

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