At this point you’ve got your equipment rounded up, and your ingredients selected. It’s time to start firing up the burners and getting some water on the stove.
Prior to filling the room with the delicious scent of your mash, we need to talk about water. Although water chemistry can get extremely complex, we’ll take it easy this time and make it simple, and just worry about getting this basic wort into the kettle.
A basic rule of thumb is to use distilled water if your tap water is especially hard or contains a lot of crazy extra compounds. Here in Grand Rapids, our tap water will do just fine for most basic beer styles without too many tweaks, so we’ll just pull water right out of our tap.
Next, we need to calculate just how much water we’ll need. There are plenty of iPhone and Android apps that will do this for you, but I like to work with the simple equation of about 1.4 quarts of water per pound of grain. For this recipe, it looks something like this:
1.4 x 9.75 = 13.65 quarts, or about 3.4 gallons of strike water. (Don’t tell the competition judges, but we’ll just round it up to 3.5 gallons.)
Next, we’ll heat up our calculated volume of water to the strike temperature (or more simply put, the temperature in which we’ll dump all this water into the mash tun while trying desperately to avoid spilling it all over our unburned flesh).
Since this is going to be crisp, clean, easy-drinker, we’ll want a drier final product, which means a low final gravity, or low residual sugars after fermentation. This is where the all-out nerdery comes in. Basically how this all works is when we mash our grains, we need to pick a temperature that efficiently extracts all of the fermentable sugars and other flavor components out of the crushed grains.
Thanks to our brewing ancestors, someone, somewhere along the way has figured out that this happens at about 150 degrees. The cool part is that we can move that number up or down to change what types of sugars are extracted. Say we mash at 156 degrees. What happens then is that we extract plenty of those fermentable sugars, but also in the process, we’ll extract some of the more complex sugars that most brewing yeasts simply will not break down and turn into alcohol. So what we are left with is a high final gravity, or a sweeter beer by the time our fermentation finishes.
As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t at all what we want for our summer suds! What if we try a lower mash temp? Ahhhh, of course! A lower mash temp (such as 146 degrees) will leave those complex sugars behind in the tun, resulting in a more fermentable wort, and therefore a low final gravity, and a drier beer. So, to recap, higher mash temps yield a sweeter beer, and lower mash temps yield a drier beer.
The next step is to heat our water up to our mash temp and dump it in, right? Wrong. We need to heat it up well past that number in order for it to end up at 146 degrees by the time we put our room-temp grains in our room-temp mash tun. There are a few ways to calculate and counter this, but more than likely, you’re going to have to experiment, and use some trial and error.
What I do with my setup is heat the water up about 15-18 degrees above my mash temp, and take a gallon of the hottest water that my tap will give me, and toss it in the mash tun with the lid on while the aforementioned 3.5 gallons of strike water is heating up to our strike temp of about 160-165. Remember that it’s going to be easier to lower the mash temp than it is to raise the mash temp, so aim high by a few degrees or so if you’re not confident with your equipment yet.
The last step to the mash-in is to throw your water in, and then toss the crushed grains in and stir. Make sure you’re not leaving any doughy clumps of grain in there, so that the water can evenly heat and saturate all of the kernels evenly. This can also help reduce the temp if you overshot your target by a few degrees. Simply stir until the temperature drops to the right spot, toss the lid on there, and go have a homebrew!
We’ll talk through the final steps of the all-grain brew session in the third part of this artcle.