It’s been a while since we’ve revisited the topic of how to mash brew, so I thought it was high time to complete the task.  I know that some of you are on the edge of your seats.  Now that you know how to perform various mashing methods, it’s time to get all those sugars for which you worked so hard.  Sparging: what is it?

Well, during the process of starch to sugar conversion, water penetrates the grain.  That water converts the starches into sugar while also increasing the viscosity.  Problem is that you want those sugars for a complete wort and beer.  But you want to be careful because too high of temperatures don’t simply extract entrenched sugar, they pull out the tannins/huskiness/astringency of the grain husks.  With few exceptions, 168-170ºF is about as hot that your sparging water should be.

There are various levels and ways of sparging that can be done.  For instance, barley-wines can often have little or no sparging at all.  Normally, however, brewers tend to run their sparged sugars to about 2º on the Plato scale.  Obviously, style dependence and objectives for the beer play a role.  I often reach my target volumes before the aforementioned Plato threshold.  There are many factors, including boiling time, etc.

It should be obviously that boiling wort for 60 minutes vs. 120 will have a significant difference in evaporation.  So, the way I tend to approach my sparging is essentially style based.  Sound confusing?  I know that it would have been for me on the first run, so I’m providing a basic formula for the sparging.

#s of grain + 1 quart (generally) for mash – 1/10 gallon per pound of grain for absorption = wort volume

wort volume + sparge water + 11% evaporation rate per hour = total starting volume for boil.

Here is a simple example.

I start with 16 pounds of grain, so I would add 4 gallons of water to the mash-1.6 gallons (accounting for 1/10 gallon per pound grain) = 2.4 gallons.

2.4 gallons + 2.6 gallons = 5 gallon batch + 22% evaporation rate (2 hour boil) = 6.1 (approximately)

6.1 – 2.4 = 3.7 gallons of sparge water.

If that is getting to be a little much, just remember the formula of 1 quart of water per pound of grain, 1/10 gallon absorption per pound of grain, and 11% evaporation per hour of boiling.

As far as sparging is concerned, all that’s needed is something to separate your grain from the wort.  The most simple method is called the Zappap method, which basically consists of two buckets, one sitting inside the other.  The top bucket will leave enough room for a spigot to be installed on the bottom one and will also give a gap where liquid can flow from the grain bed.  I constructed my own two tier way of using the Zappap concept.  Honestly, Zappaping is the easiest approach.

While you sparge, you don’t want to disturb the grain bed.  Disturbing the bed will stir up proteins and tannins and create a haze.  For that reason, you’ll want to find a way to deflect your sparge water from landing directly on the top of your grains.  One of the simplest ways I’ve seen this approached is with a pizza pan (the one with a bunch of holes in it).  If you care to see my approach here’s what mine looks like and how I did it.  At any rate, splashing the grains harshly is the enemy.

The last point I would like to make about sparging is re-circulation.  I always re-circulate my wort.  It also helps the wort to flow well, clean up, and establish the grain bed.  What I tend to do is run my wort in about 1/2 gallon increments until I match the volume of what is in the wort before sparging.  The example I gave above will help to spell this out.  For instance, I had 2.4 gallons of wort from the mash of 16 pounds grain and 4 gallons of water.  I would run 1/2 gallon through until I reached 2 1/2 gallons (2.4 to be exact) of that wort through before adding any sparge water.

That is the long and short of how I sparge.  I’m hoping to have some videos of this stuff at some point.