The next destination in our beer making journey is the final step of getting our wort separated from the grains. We’ve discussed what the mash is, we’ve discussed the lautering process and our last lesson covered all you would want to know about vorlaufing. All that’s left is making sure you have all of the sugars extracted from the grains and that you have enough water to make the quantity of beer you want at the ABV you want. To accomplish this, you’ll need to do some sparging.
Per the usual, my typical disclaimer about the fact that this is a general overview of the topic mentioned above and not an in-depth science lesson applies.
WHAT DOES SPARGING MEAN?
This word is a gift from the Latin language. Spargere translates to “to sprinkle” and that’s the most common method of sparging (we’ll get to that in just a minute). As I mentioned above, there are plenty of sugars that are hanging around as you begin to take the liquid wort away from the grains. Not to mention that you only mash with enough water to make sure your starch to sugar conversion take place. Too much or too little water in the mash means you’re not going to get the results you want.
The typical water to grain ratio is 1.33 quarts of water per pound of grain (some prefer 1.25 quarts and some prefer 1.5 quarts). Let’s break this down on a homebrew scale so we’re dealing in tens, not hundreds. Long story short and not to get to technical, that 1.33 ratio means if you want to produce a 10 gallon batch of beer that uses 20 pounds of grain, you’re mashing with about 6.5 gallons of water. Factor in that the grains will absorb some of that water as well, and you’re nowhere near the 12-ish gallons of wort you’ll need to make 10 gallons of beer. So how do you get there? Sparge, baby, sparge!
SO HOW DO YOU DO IT?
The first thing to point out is that your sparge water is roughly 1.5 times the amount of water you mashed with. In our case from the example above, we used 6.5 gallons of water to mash and therefore would need to sparge with approximately 9 gallons of water. Since we’re leaving some wort behind and factoring in absorption, we should see about 12 gallons of wort in our boil kettle when using those numbers.
There are three different ways to sparge but as with most things, there’s one that’s used WAY more often than the others. Let’s take a look at all three.
The no sparge method is exactly what it sounds like. You don’t “sprinkle” any water on the grains at all. You drain what’s in your mash tun, then you just top off the boil kettle with the remainder of the water you need. This is very seldom used because, well, it doesn’t maximize efficiency. Whether you’re brewing on a small or large scale, you’re spending a lot of time and trying to make a quality product so why would you not want to get all that you can from your ingredients?
This is definitely a home brew method because a lot of home brewers lack the proper equipment to do a “fly sparge” which is detailed below. You run the wort out of your mash tun just like the no sparge method, but then you add more water to your mash tun, give it a quick stir, vorlauf again and then drain that into your boil kettle. Doing this rinses those grains by adding one more “batch” of water to your mash.
This is the most common way breweries are rinsing their grains and getting their water to the right volume for brewing. There’s a contraption called a “sparge arm” that sits just above the water level. This sparge arm continuously pulls water from another vessel and sprinkles that water over the grains as you drain into the boil kettle. In most commercial systems, this arm spins around slowly as it is in use to disperse its water evenly across the grains. This is going to be the best way to remove all the sugars from the grains during the lauter process.
The last FIVE Vocabrewlary lessons were just about getting the final water (wort) you need to make beer. That’s pretty nuts. There’s so much to the brewing process that it’s easy to overlook a lot of the smaller steps that are so important. The good news is that next week we’re ready to talk about the boil/hop additions and then we’ll get back to some more fun beer words to decipher.
Do you have a beer term that you’d like to know more about? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below with something you’d like to see explained in a future Vocabrewlary Lesson.