The process of saccharification in beer brewing involves gradually increasing the temperature through a series of rests. In this article, we will explore the steps of mashing, the reasons behind it, and how different temperatures during mashing affect the wort.
The saccharification step was originally developed when malt was less modified than it is today. You may wonder why it’s important to understand the process and science behind it. The answer is simple: it allows for the production of more diverse and distinctive beers.
First, let’s discuss malt.
Malting is the process of soaking, germinating, and drying grains to convert them into malt. During germination, glucans and proteins are broken down, which makes it easier for brewers to extract sugar. By resting at different temperatures, brewers can create specific modifications in the mash that improve the amount and efficiency of sugar extraction.
Nowadays, most home brewers don’t follow a detailed malt schedule because modern malts are already well-modified. It is generally believed that stepwise saccharification does not significantly increase the conversion rate. However, there are still other reasons why a saccharification step may be necessary.
How does saccharification at different temperatures affect the wort?
Specific temperatures are crucial for breaking down β-glucan (the sticky part of barley cell walls), lowering the mash pH, or breaking down proteins. Enzymes play a key role in these processes.
An enzyme is a protein with a unique structure that accelerates the breakdown of specific molecules, known as substrates. Enzymes speed up chemical reactions without being permanently changed themselves. This means that enzymes do not get “used up” during the reaction.
Brewers are interested in the “optimum temperature” for these enzymes. The optimum temperature range is where enzymes function most effectively.
This temperature range typically extends until the point where the enzyme starts to denature. It’s important to note that denaturation is a gradual process, so moving from one temperature step to the next does not mean that one enzyme stops working and another takes over.
Which temperature steps are important?
35-45°C (95-113°F) | Acid Break
The acid break is intended to lower the mash pH by breaking down phytic acid molecules through the activity of phytase enzymes. This step also helps decompose β-glucan, which is especially useful when using a high percentage of wheat or oat malt. The acid break is typically used for light roasted malt due to the heat of the malting process destroying most of the phytase. It takes at least an hour to significantly change the mash pH, which is why this step is less commonly used today.
43-45°C (109-113°F) | Ferulic Acid Rest
Ferulic acid is a precursor of 4-vinylguaiacol, a molecule that contributes a clove-like aroma to beer. By resting in this temperature range, more ferulic acid is released into the wort, providing more precursors for 4-vinylguaiacol.
44-59°C (113-128°F) | Protein Break
This step breaks down long-chain proteins into shorter chains, preventing protein turbidity and instability in the finished beer. However, unless using malt with a high protein content, it is best to avoid this step as it may negatively affect head retention.
61-71°C (142-162°F) | Glycation Break
This step converts starch into sugar. The two important enzymes involved are alpha-amylase and beta-amylase. Alpha-amylase is most active at 68-72°C (155-162°F), breaking down starch into long chains and creating a sweeter beer. Beta-amylase is most active at 60-63°C (140-145°F), breaking down starch at branch points and producing shorter chains, ideal for highly fermentable wort used in dry beers.
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