The Batch Sparge

In my last post I mentioned that I was trying out “batch” sparging for my all-grain brewing. Today I put that beer into a secondary fermenter, so I had a chance to taste it and assess the process. For homebrewing purposes, I can’t see not going with a batch sparge method. It took half the time (at most), it was easier with far less to monitor (for instance, the ph of the sparge is much more easily maintained), it takes less equipment, temperature is much more easily controlled, you don’t have to worry about stuck run-offs, and judging from the beer so far it works great. I have plenty of malt character to the IPA I brewed; unless there’s something I’m missing, I won’t bother with the more traditional sparging methods unless I go pro. The only real downside I see is that you need to compensate about 5% for the slightly reduced efficiency of your run-off. If I ever go pro (some dreams never die) then that 5% is profits, but for a 5- or 10-gallon batch of beer we’re talking an extra dollar. I’ll gladly pay.

Here was my method:

I heated 40 oz water for each lb of grain (in this case, I had 12 lbs grain total, so I had 480 oz of water or 15 qts/3,75 gallons) to about 180 degrees. I put this into an insulated cooler/mash tun to preheat it. When the water cooled to 163 I added my grains (the grains will drop the temperature about 9 degrees, and I was shooting for a 154 degree rest). I stirred thoroughly, added some gypsum to get the ph right, and let sit. The rest temperature ended a bit low, so I took about two quarts and heated it up, added it back in and the target temperature was spot on and stayed that way for the hour it took for full starch conversion.

While the grains were mashing, I heated up the sparge water. There are, of course, careful calculations designed to get you to the 6 gallon wort that you’re shooting for (how much is lost to grain absorption etc) but my friend suggested going with an 8 gallon total and taking note of final product, adjusting accordingly for next batches. I went with this method, heating up 4.25 gallons of water to 170 degrees in two batches. When all the starches had been converted, I added the first batch of 170 degree water, stirred thoroughly and let sit as a minor “mash-out” temperature rise. I then put the other pot of water on to heat up to 170 and went ahead and opened up the spigot full force. As the first few quarts came out, I recirculated them back into the mash until the run-off was nice and clear. At that point, I simply let the whole batch run out into the pot. By the time the first sparge was done, the second round of water was ready to go, so I put that into the mash bed. I then put the first half of the wort onto the stove to start warming it up to a boil, as I went through the exact same process (recirculating the cloudy first run-offs) with the second half of the wort. When that was done, I added it to the pot already beginning to boil. The final wort was almost exactly 6 gallons which with evaporation gave me a final batch of beer just above 5 gallons at almost exactly the gravity I was shooting for. Notice that you don’t have to maintain sparge water temperatures as it slowly drains through the grains (which really is the most difficult aspect of homebrewing all-grain in my book). You do need two large kettles since you heat sparge and collect wort in two different batches, but most of you all-grain brewers already have that I imagine. If not, it’s a minor expense for the ease of this process.

I used to be an all-grain brewer back in the late 90s, but life got in the way (damned PhD and then real job) and I really wondered if I’d ever have the time to brew all-grain again. Frankly, this is not much harder and doesn’t take that much more time than using malt extract. And then the beer is all yours: a recipe you can design and truly call your own. It’s the difference between bread makers (which certainly make fine tasting bread) and baking your own. I like the feel of kneading bread; it’s therapeutic. So, too, is that magical, steamy, aromatic process of turning grains into sugar into beer.

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