Your Second Batch: Partial Mash Brewing

So you brewed your first extract beer.  And it’s nice. Hopefully. Let’s just assume it’s nice. You crack open the bottle, pour in a glass and enjoy it a little more knowing that you brewed it. You are, in fact, it’s creator.

And yet… something is missing. Somehow you just know it can get better. Sure, your deadbeat friends can’t suck it down fast enough but there is something else out there… You somehow know there can be more flavor, more body, more hops, more… just more. 

Maybe the words ‘All Grain’ are echoing in your head like the last notes of a symphony in a great hall.  But every time you start looking into the realities of actually stepping up to brewing beer with grain alone you find yourself lost in a sea of blogs and youtube videos where beardy guys use words like ‘diastatic’ and ‘efficiency’ and other words that make you go a bit light headed. And then you start looking into how much an all grain set-up can cost and you can actually hear your debit card screaming inside your wallet.

Relax. There is a middle route. And it requires no extra equipment.

I Call Him… Mini-Mash.

Also called partial grain or partial mash brewing. The technique is just like it sounds. You will do a mash. Some of your sugars are going to come from your grain.  The rest are coming from extracts. It’s a way of getting a lot of the benefits of all-grain brewing without the mash tun, hot liquor tank or really much extra knowledge.

What you will need: 

Muslin Grain Sack:

That thing you used to steep the grains in your extract batch?  One of those. Possibly a bigger one.

A thermometer:

Your kit probably came with one but if you don’t have something that can be put into a pot of near boiling water, you’ll need that.

Colander:

“What you mean that thing-a-majiggy I use to make pasta” you ask? Yep. Haul that bad-boy out. It will come in handy.

Hydrometer and test jar:

Okay this absolutely should have come with your kit. You just might not have used it.  Well now, you’re gonna. 

The Procedure:

So remember how to do an pure extract brew? If not, here’s a reminder.  

Got it? Good!

Same basic thing but now we are going to do a mash before hand.

Wait What Is A Mash?

Glad you asked. 

In short a mash is the process of taking grain and turning it into sugar.

Barley is kinda amazing like that. This grain, and this grain alone, contains enzymes that will take that little bundle of carbohydrates and starches contained in the kernel and convert it into sugar. It is, in fact, the only grain that does this which is why barley is the key ingredient in beer. Obviously other grains can be used as anyone who’s ever enjoyed a German hefeweizen can attest.  But without at least some barley, all you have is a glass of Cream of Wheat that’s been sitting around for a while.

That’s a less appetizing pint to share with friends.

Let’s Mash

So take a couple of gallons and heat it up. You’re not going for boiling here. You want somewhere in the 150’s. 152 to 155 to be exact.  

Once your water is all warm and toasty, drop in your grains. 

They look comfy don’t they? Like they are hanging out it a tiny little hot tub. Almost makes you want to join them.

SAFETY NOTE: Please don’t bathe in your beer.

ANYHOO!

So now you got your water and your grains sitting at about 152.  Now time to hold it there. There’s one of two ways to go about this. The first is to take the pot off the stove, wrap it in towels or some other insulator and just let it sit. The other is to occasionally apply heat using the stove or burner.

It’s up to you! Choose your own adventure, Manny!

Now wait an hour. Do whatever time killing thing that will take an hour. Make a mix tape of whale noises and thrash metal. Learn a dirty song in Sanskrit.  Build a living being out of toilet paper and the stuff scrapped off the bottom of the refrigerator.  WHATEVER! 

Just let it sit. For an hour.

The Sparge

It’s also a gosh darn good idea to get another pot of water heated up while you are waiting. Not a lot. Like a half a gallon or gallon. Trust me, it will come in handy in a few minutes.  Again, not boiling.  Like 170 this time.

After an hour you should have a pot of slightly sweet barley water.  Now using some tongs, a large spoon or some bizarre Rube Goldburg device you’ve rigged up, remove the bag of grain and place it into the colander over the pot.  

Oh, I didn’t tell you to put the colander on top of the pot? Well do that. Colander on pot. Grain bag in colander. That way the extra sugar water contained in your bag slowly drips back into your pot.

Now. You are going to have the urge to squeeze the bag.  It’s is very squeezable. RESIST THIS URGE!!

Instead, remember that water I told you to heat up?  Well take that water and gently pour it over the grain bag. Let it wash some of the extra sugars out.  In the ‘Biz we call that a sparge. I don’t know why. Some German thing, I’m guessing.

After you’ve poured that water over the bag o’ grain let the water finish dripping out. Again, resist the urge to squeeze the bag. I know you think there might be lots of precious, precious sugar in there. And sugar means BOOZE!  Well, in this case, squeezing the bag could add strange grassy, husky flavors.  That is no bueno. So let it be.

Once your grain has dripped dry, feel free to toss it. It has served its purpose. Maybe hum taps while you dump it in the garbage. Those grains died so you could live. And maybe get a little tipsy later.

Now you’ve got a pot of some barley sugar. Bring it up to a boil, add your liquid or dry malt extract and proceed as normal.

That’s it. A partial mash. It’s not all grain. But it’s not strictly extract either.  It’s a little bit of both.

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