Mashing is the process in brewing where hot water is used to hydrate the barley, activate malt enzymes, and convert grain starches into fermentable sugars. There are several enzyme groups involved in this conversion.
What is sparging?
Sparging is the rinsing of the mashed grain bed to extract as much sugar as possible without extracting tannins. Typically, 1.5 times more water is used for sparging compared to mashing. For example, if 8 lbs. of malt is used with 2 qt./lb., it will yield a 4-gallon mash, so 6 gallons of sparge water should be used. The temperature of the sparge water is crucial. It should not exceed 170°F to prevent the solubility of husk tannins, which may result in beer astringency.
What are the different types of sparging?
Sparging aims to rinse the mash grains and maximize the available sugar without extracting tannins. There are several methods to achieve this:
No Sparge/English Method
In the No Sparge/English method, the wort is completely drained from the grain bed before adding more water for a second mash. After draining again, the worts are combined.
This method usually results in better extractions. The wort is continuously recirculated and drained until about an inch remains above the grain bed. Sparge water is added slowly to maintain the fluid level. The goal is to gradually replace the wort with water, stopping when the desired gravity or volume is achieved. Although this method requires more attention, it generally yields higher results.
This is the traditional and effective method used by brewers for centuries.
Batch sparging is a common practice in U.S. homebrewing, where the full volume of sparge water is mixed into the mash. After settling, the wort is drained off. The recirculation step occurs at the beginning of the sparge. Multiple batches of water can be used if needed. Unlike the English method, the mash is not held at saccharification temperature before draining.
There are variations in sparging techniques based on personal preference and equipment.
A relatively new method called “brew-in-a-bag” involves doing the mash in the brew kettle using a large fine-mesh bag to hold the grains. This is called a “full-volume mash” since the entire boil volume is included. Once the mash is complete, the grain bag is removed, and the boil begins.
There is debate on how to maximize extraction from a full-volume mash. Some suggest squeezing the grain bag, while others argue it releases tannins. Our experience has shown that squeezing the grain bag does not have a negative impact. If the wort volume is low, pouring hot tap water over the grain bag can be done, followed by checking the pre-boil gravity.
Regardless of the sparging technique used, it is important to take notes on your brew recipes. While the end result is similar, each method produces different outcomes that affect the final batch.