Homebrewing Tips

Steeping & Mashing Grains 101

September 16, 2015

Are you looking to step up your brewing game with some grains? It’s not too difficult and extra grains will add a lot more dimension and complexity to your brews. You will also have more creative control of your recipes which will truly make them your own. Here’s a short primer on how grains are used in what’s known as “partial mash” brewing. If you’re just getting into using grains, this should help you out. If you’ve been using grains for awhile, perhaps you’ll still find some helpful tips here.

First, I want to explain the difference between steeping and mashing. From a procedural standpoint, steeping and mashing both involve soaking crushed grains in water. But when mashing, you have a more narrow range of temperatures and grain-to-water ratios to work within.

Steeping Grains

You can steep specialty grains at almost any temperature, from the temperature of your water right out of the tap to nearly boiling. To be safe, it’s probably best not to let your steeping temperature climb above 170 F, especially when you’re steeping a small amount of grain in a relatively large volume of water. This may extract excess tannins and give your beer a slight iced-tea-like character. When specialty grains are steeped, the color and flavors from their husks are dissolved into the water. Likewise, any sugars from the interior of the grains are also dissolved. If a grain has a starchy interior, it should be mashed rather than steeped (see list below).

Cold Steeping

Another method that is gaining traction for some styles of beer is cold steeping. Roasted grains such as Black Patent or chocolate malt are crushed and then steeped in cold water overnight. This allows the extraction of color and some flavor, but it reduces some of the harsher flavors that may not be appropriate such as tannins, which can create an undesirable astringent or bitter taste in your beer. This method works well with black IPA’s (also known as Cascadian Dark Ales) that want the color, and to a lesser degree the flavor additions, without the burnt acrid flavors that some of the darker roast malts can impart. If the roasted flavor additions are just as important as the color addition, you will need to increase the amount of steeping addition by at least half, if not more.

Mashing Grains

Temps and Times

When base grains, or a mixture of base grains and specialty grains, are mashed, the temperature is usually held between 148 F and 165 F. Lower temperatures within this range and longer mash times (60–90 minutes) produce wort with a high degree of fermentability. Higher temperatures within this range and shorter mash times, followed by a mash out, make worts with a lower degree of fermentability. A “mash out” is a step in which the grains are heated, by direct heat or by adding hot water, to 168-170F after the mash. For most mashes with a ratio of 1.5 – 2 quarts of water per pound of grain, the mash out is not needed. (There are more complex mash programs, such as step mashing and decoction, but partial mash recipes rarely call for these. Almost all partial mash recipes call for a single infusion mash.).

Grain to Water Ratio

In a mash, the volume of water is limited so that the grains make something similar to a porridge. Generally, the mash thickness varies between 1.0 and 2.5 quarts of water per pound of grain. A mash thickness of 1.25 qts/lb is frequently used in homebrewing as it is fairly thick and therefore you can mash a lot of grains in a relatively small volume. Thinner mashes are often used when the mash needs to be stirred, or for decoction mashing. For most partial mash procedures, anywhere within this range will work. I usually mash at 1.375 qts/lb in a partial mash, because this allows me to stir the grains easily when they are enclosed in a steeping bag.

Malts that Should be Mashed (Base Malts)

These malts are mostly lightly kilned (with brown malt as an exception), contain starchy interiors and sufficient enzymes to (at a minimum) convert their own starches into sugars.

2-row pale malt – this can come from the US, UK, Scotland, Belgium, Australia or other countries, and may sometimes be labeled with the name of the malting barley variety (Maris Otter, Golden Promise or Optic)

  • 2-row brewers malt
  • 2-row lager malt
  • 6-row pale malt
  • 6-row brewers malt
  • Pilsner malt
  • Vienna malt
  • Munich malt
  • wheat malt
  • rye malt
  • rauchmalz (smoked malt)
  • acidulated malt
  • mild ale malt
  • amber malt
  • brown malt
  • honey malt
  • aromatic/melanoidin
  • biscuit/Victory
  • some dextrin malts

Malts That Can be Steeped (Specialty Grains)

These malts do not have starchy interiors, either because the starches have been converted to sugars (in the case of stewed malts) or degraded by roasting. These malts can be steeped or mixed with base grains and mashed.

  • Stewed malts – including crystal malts, (most) caramel malts, most Cara [something] malts, including Briess Carapils (but not every dextrin-type malt), Special B malts
  • Roasted malts (and grains) – including black malt, chocolate malt, roasted barley, dark wheat malts, Weyermann Carafa malts
  • peat-smoked malt

A more complete listing can be found here: http://beersmith.com/grain-list/

Using Grains With Mr. Beer

You don’t need a lot of grain to enhance your Mr. Beer recipes. As little as 2-4 oz can make a huge difference in a 2 gallon batch. Most grains that are considered “base malts”, such as 2-row and 6-row aren’t really needed in our kits because they won’t add much to the beer other than a small amount of ABV. There are some exceptions to this such as wheat malt, which can be used as a base malt and as a specialty malt (adds head retention and body when used as a specialty malt). Some of the other base malts that can be used as specialty malts include honey malt, rye malt, rauschmalz, the toasted malts such as Biscuit and Victory, and kilned malts such as Vienna and Munich. Remember that when using any of these malts, they must be mashed rather than steeped. No more than 8 oz should be used in the Mr. Beer kits.

Specialty grains such as the “cara” malts (Carapils, Carafoam, Carastan, etc.), dark malts, and crystal malts will not add ABV, but they will add body, flavor, and/or color. The cara malts will add body and some flavor. They will also help with head retention. Dark malts will add mostly color and roasted/chocolate/coffee flavors. Crystal malts will add some color (they range from Crystal 10 – Crystal 120, or from lightest to darkest respectively), but they will also add flavor and sweetness due to the caramelized, unfermentable sugars in the malt (these are also sometimes known as “caramel malts”). All of these grains can be steeped instead of mashed, or they can be mixed with some base grains for mashing. No more than 4 oz of specialty malts are needed for most recipes.

Other non-malt adjuncts that are commonly used in addition to barley and wheat grains are oats, corn, and rice. These should make up no more than 10% of your total recipe. The total amount of malts/adjuncts recommended for use in our 2 gallon batches should be no more than 1lb.

While our Brewing Extracts make great beer, additional steeping/mashing grains will make it even better. By adding more depth and complexity to your beer using grains, you more creative control of your recipes, and a lot more room to improve or enhance them to your liking.

 Step-By-Step Partial Mash Instructions:

Extra Equipment needed:

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Brewing:

1. Bring 4-8 cups of water to about 150 F. The amount of water will depend on the amount of grains you have and the size of pot you use. It is recommended that you don’t use anything larger than 6 qts when doing PM recipes with our kits. You want the water to just cover the grains. If it doesn’t, it won’t hurt to add more water.

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2. While your water is heating up, weigh and mix all of your grains in a bowl (not necessary if working with only one grain type) and add to your muslin hop sack. Do NOT tie the sack too tightly. Try to leave as much space as possible for the grains to move around NOTE: If you do not have a scale, simply split the grains the best you can. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Most recipes will call for 2-4 oz of each grain. Since the bags come in 4 oz, you would simply have to split it in half visually for any recipe calling for 2 oz.

grain_bowl

grain_in_muslin_hop_sack

3. Once your water has reached 150 F, add the grain sack. Keep raising the temp until you reach around 160. Try to stay within 155 – 170 for 30 minutes, stirring the bag of grains around every few minutes. Using a lid might help to keep your temps consistent, especially if using gas burners. Going over 170 for too long can cause the malt to release astringent tannin into your beer.

 

Thermometer

4. After 30 minutes, remove your thermometer, and with a large spoon, carefully lift the grains into a colander or strainer.

Straining_your_grain

5. With 1 cup of hot water (hot from the tap is fine), slowly rinse the grains. Then let them sit for about a minute to drain. Once drained, discard the grains (Or use them for chicken feed, bread, etc.).

Rinse_grain

6. At this point, you will bring the water to a boil and brew just like a normal Mr. Beer kit:

  • Bring your water to a boil.
  • Add any hops, if called for.
  • Remove from the heat and add your extract.
  • Mix well, add to your fermenter into the 4 liters of water.
  • Top it off to the #2 mark (or 8.5 Liters if using the old LBKs) and stir well.
  • Pitch yeast and wait!

Please keep in mind when purchasing grains separately that they DO NOT include muslin sacks. You can purchase them here: http://www.mrbeer.com/muslin-hop-sack

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