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My Brewing Process, Part 2 - Mashing

In the last post, I talked about how I select and modify recipes to match my equipment, process, and efficiency. I also talked about how, before I start to brew, I clean, measure, and arrange everything so that the actual brew goes as smoothly as possible. In this post, we're going to look at the mash process and how I typically do it.

My brew day sheet tells me how much mash and sparge water I've calculated that I will need based on the grain bill and equipment. I begin by filling The Grainfather with the mash water and dropping in a Campden tablet to remove chlorine and chloramine. I fill my sparge water kettle with the sparge water amount, plus one gallon to account for dead space in the Mega Pot kettle.

When The Grainfather has reached the mash temperature (or the temperature of the first step in a multi-step mash), I begin scooping in the crushed grain.

Adding crushed grain to the mash water
Every few scoops, I stir the grain with the stainless steel spoon you see in the photo above. This ensures that all the grain gets wet and participates in the mash.

Once it's all in, I place the mesh top on the grain basket and try to get it as close as I can to the top of the grain bed without compressing the grain bed.

Pressing down the grain basket top
With the grain basket now loaded, I place the overflow cap on the pipe in the grain basket, drop in a tablespoon of pH 5.2 Stabilizer, put on the glass lid, attach the recirculation pipe, and start the recirculation pump.  I usually stick around for a few minutes after this, as occasionally the pump will have trouble priming itself or the wort may not flow smoothly through the grain bed. When this happens, wort will start dripping out through the fitting where the recirculation pipe connects to the valve on the side of The Grainfather.  This dripping can make quite a mess if left unattended.

Starting the recirculation pump
From here on, it's up to The Grainfather. It will circulate wort through the grain bed and maintain the mash temperature I've set. If this is a multi-step mash, I'll start my stopwatch or brew timer app to tell me when to come back for the next step. When it's time, I'll adjust the setting on the controller and The Grainfather will heat to the new mash step. (Note: I recently obtained the new Grainfather Connect controller that talks to an app on my phone, so I can change mash temps from upstairs for multi-step mashes.  When I work out the process of importing recipes into it, the controller should be able to handle multi-step mashes automatically for me.)

As I work, I check off items and steps on the Brew Day Sheet.

The Brew Day sheet and stopwatch
With about 30-40 minutes left in the mash process, I'll turn on the induction cooktop to begin heating the sparge water to the necessary temperature.

When it's time to mash out, I'll have The Grainfather raise the mash temp to 167F and give it about 10 minutes at that temperature. I lift out the grain basket and move the silicone hose from the sparge water kettle into the grain basket.

Transferring sparge water into the grain basket via the hose
While the sparge is underway, I set the controller to raise the kettle temperature to 200F. This gets it close to boil temperature while the sparge completes.

When sparging is finished, I lift off the grain basket and quickly put it inside a 5-gallon kettle I have which is wide enough to hold the basket easily. This kettle holds the remaining drips from the grain basket and prevents a mess on the floor while I get the kettle up to a boil.

Now I set the switch on the controller to "boil" mode.

I usually take the time to scoop the spent grain out of the basket while the kettle heats to boiling. Then I rinse off the grain basket with clean hot water from a nearby sink so that cleanup will be easy later. The spent grain is set out of the way until the boil is finished. It will be disposed of later.  The 5-gallon kettle gets rinsed also.

At this point, I clean my stainless steel spoon and stir the wort vigorously. I use a pipette to capture a few drops of the wort and drip those on my refractometer to take a pre-boil gravity reading. If I'm using a recipe that includes only grain and hops, this reading should match up to the figure on the brew day sheet if the volume is also correct. If it's off, this is when I'll decide if I'm going to need to increase the boil time (to concentrate the wort and increase its gravity), add water to reduce the gravity, or add sugar or malt extract to raise it.

Often, while sparging or during the boil, I'll mix up some Star San in my fermenter and begin sanitizing the fermenter for use. I'll also sanitize an airlock and fill it with sanitizer so it's ready, too. This saves time later on.

My wort is now ready for the next step in the process, the boil. We'll discuss that next week.

The wort is coming up to a boil...


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