Many people who brew or want to brew are often somewhat hesitant about mashing.  It seems like a step that could easily get out of control.  This generates a feeling of consternation for the extract brewer.  I waited a long time to make the leap, but I’m so glad I made it that I’m hoping you make the leap soon.  I’ve personally noticed a marked improvement in my beers, so much so that I haven’t brewed an extract beer since I’ve started mashing.  Honestly, if you do a little more work, you get a great reward.

The most unfortunate part when I learned to mash–in fact, for my whole brewing career–is that I never really had anyone to offer me a guiding hand along the way.  Perhaps this is why I feel compelled to be that guiding hand for those who wish to navigate the world of mashing.  Here we go: this promises to have a fair amount of expatiation.

There are several types of mashing that can be performed on the basis of beer style.  Wheats, for instance, call for a more intense process than an IPA. If you want to mash, it would behoove you to get a book like The Brewmaster’s Bible by Stephen Snyder. He gives the style guidelines and mashing techniques for many styles of beer, and the book is in simple, accessible terms.  It is very helpful in determining how you will approach a given brew.  I highly recommend it.  In fact, Snyder covers mashing methods and gives a definition for them.  Don’t get the book just yet, there’s more to read here.

Let’s work from simplest to hardest (or should I say, more to less intense) in terms of mashing requirements. There are several types of mashing that one can utilize in the brewing process.  Terms are relatively simple when it comes to defining what you are doing.  Single Infusion Mashing, Step Mashing, Decoction Mashing are the three most common type of mashing that are used in the brewing process.  This post will cover the single infusion method.

Single Infusion Mashing:  As is implied by the name, this method of mashing works based on a single infusion of something into the grains.  What is that something?  Water.  Water is added to the grains to achieve and maintain certain temperature levels.  Let’s say, for instance, that you want to make an IPA.  More times than not, the recipe for the beer will suggest a single infusion method.  You might be asking yourself “how does this work?”  Well, there are two enzymes that are critical for the conversion of starches into sugars when you are mashing your grains.  The problem is that they operate optimally at different temperatures.  You have to find a happy medium for them both to work well.  The temperature range for this to occur (or best occur) is 148-158° (all temperatures are in Fahrenheit).  The grains are cracked and the starchy endosperm is exposed. The water and heat penetrate to simplify polysaccharides (complex sugars) into the more fermentable maltose.

Here’s what I do.  I pick the temperature that I want to mash at, depending on the recipe, and I heat my water to roughly 15° higher than that amount.  Typically, I figure on about a quart of mash water per pound of grain.  So, if I have 12 pounds grain that I want to mash at 158°, then I heat 3 gallons of water to about 173°.  Once the water is heated, I add it my already milled grains which are sitting in my igloo cooler.  I give it a good stir with my long stainless steel spoon (this insures that I have equal heat distribution) and take an initial temp, which will normally raise for a few minutes.  Once I’ve taken my first reading, I place my cooler lid tightly on top of my igloo.  Mash times can be between 45 minutes to 120 or more.  Mash time depends on temps and recipes.  Normally, I have a 60 to 90 minute mash, which I stir every 15 to 20 minutes.  Once the conversion is fully finished, I sparge my grains and get boiling (a sparge post is on the way).

How do you know if conversion is complete?  Simple.  Go to any drug store and buy a tincture of iodine.  Take one or two tablespoons of the mash and put in in a white bowl or on a white plate.  Take one or two drops of the iodine and drop it on the mixture.  If the iodine doesn’t change colors, then it’s done.  If it immediately blackens, then you need to keep mashing. Don’t put it back into the mash; throw it out.

This stuff may or may not sound complicated…it really isn’t.  Either way, this is single infusion mashing in a nutshell.  Here is how I would recap it:

  1. Milled grains in igloo
  2. Heat 1 quart of water per pound of grain in stock pot to 15 degrees higher than desired mash temp
  3. Stir water into grains
  4. Cover with lid
  5. Stir every 15 to 20 minutes until full conversion.

It’s really that easy.  I would also like to point out that a lower temperature mash, generally speaking, will give you a more fermentable mash, which will dry/thin out more.  A higher temp will give you a less fermentable with more dextrines (i.e., mouth-feel).