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2021 Batch 10 - High Rye Mash

While cleaning, reorganizing, and inventorying my brewing area, I discovered a bunch of rye malt that I had purchased early in 2020.  It's almost certainly stale by now, so it's not going to make a very tasty beer.  However, it will give me a chance to see what it would be like to mash a brew that contains a high percentage of rye in the grist.  I found a recipe online that is purported to be the grain bill used by Brown-Forman to make Woodford Reserve Rye.  Although I can't legally turn this into a whiskey, there's nothing illegal about making the mash just for fun and dumping it out.  In the process, I should learn something about how a whiskey is mashed and the potential problems a distiller might encounter using a high amount of rye in the grain bill.  That will be helpful in brewing beers with a fair amount of rye.  And someday, if laws in the United States change to allow home distilling, I'll have some experience mashing in a whiskey.

The purported Woodford Reserve Rye recipe is:
  • 15% corn
  • 65% rye malt
  • 20% barley malt
This is the approximate ratio I'll be using.  I'll likely round up or down to the nearest ounce.

Undoubtedly, some of you reading this will be wondering why I would bother mashing some grain and then tossing the wort.  One reason is that I doubt this will make an enjoyable beer.  The grain is well over a year old, and even if I did hop it and turn it into a beer, it seems unlikely to taste very good.  The other, more important, reason is that I will gain experience mashing with rye and be able to take gravity readings and other measurements to help me dial in my brewhouse efficiency and mash/sparge calculations without risking a batch of wort I really care about.  (I can do all this while finishing the cleanup and organization in my brewing space, so the time spent in the area won't be wasted.)


5 pounds, 2 ounces Rye Malt
1.25 pounds German Pilsner Malt
1.25 pounds Flaked Corn
0.75 tsp. Alpha Amylase to ensure conversion
1.50 tsp. pH 5.2 Stabilizer to help hold pH
3 gallons of mash water
1.5 gallons of sparge water

Brewfather estimates that I should end up with 3 gallons of mash at a gravity of approximately 1.060 SG.

The mash will be a simple one-step mash at 140F for 60 minutes.  I'll sparge with 1.5 gallons of room temperature water, then boil it down to 3 gallons, cool, and check the gravity.

If I was going to make a whiskey of this (and I'm not), I would bring it to a boil to kill off any bacteria or wild yeast, then chill it to a temperature appropriate for a yeast like DADY or US-05 and ferment it. 

Post-Brewing Notes and Observations

05/16/2021:  I got my first bit of bad news early in the mash.  I tried to switch on The Grainfather's recirculating pump, to no avail.  I could hear the controller relay clicking on, but the pump was silent and free of any vibration.  Fortunately, I had purchased a potential replacement on sale a few months back, kind of expecting this to happen eventually.  (The Grainfather is about 7 years old at this point.)  Unfortunately, with the thing full of wort, I couldn't just swap the pump out mid-brew as it would have sent hot wort pouring out... which would have been a serious mess. I decided to go ahead, finish the mash, and dump the wort into a stainless fermenter to cool down (so that I could check the gravity and measure the finished volume) give it a quick clean, and then replace the pump and test out.

I got my second bit of bad news going into the fermenter.  Instead of 3 gallons at 1.060 SG, the result was 2.4 gallons at 1.030 SG.  That makes for a really horrendous brewhouse efficiency.  I guess that's no surprise, given that the wort could not recirculate through The Grainfather as it normally does.

When I'd dealt with the disappointing wort, I disassembled the pump from The Grainfather's chassis.  The new pump I had purchased, of course, was a different size from the factory pump and oriented in such a way that it could not mount to the chassis as it was.  This left me with two options.  Spend $189 plus shipping for a replacement pump, or cobble something together using the pump I had purchased and existing lengths of heat-resistant silicone tubing and hose clamps.  I attached barbed hose ends to the pump input and output, sealed with teflon tape.  I then sawed off the ends of the plastic assembly that covered the factory pump so that the new pump would fit.  I constructed a metal band bracket to hold the new pump in place and screwed it to the existing plastic chassis.  Then I cut lengths of silicone tubing and secured it to the stainless steel line coming from the kettle to the pump's input hole, and clamped those in place.  Next, I cut a length of tubing to connect the wort return line to the pump's output side, and clamped that in place.  It looks very jerry-rigged, but to my surprise it worked the first time without leaks.
Image of the new pump attached to Grainfather

I'm grateful that the pump decided to die during a test mash that I didn't really care about, instead of during a full-size high-gravity brew that might have resulted in the loss of a lot of expensive ingredients.


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