Setup and Mashing Techniques


Many people have asked me about my setup and my techniques.  The think I must have some elaborate Herms or Rims system.  I don’t think when I explain my setup most folks quite get the fact that it is an “Armstrong” type brewery.  Everything about it takes sweat equity to make it work.  There are no pumps, sparge arms, or tier setups.  I have a design and many of the parts for a Herms system, but I have no intention of building it at this point.  Eventually I might incorporate an automatic stirring device, and a pump and counterflow chiller, but that would require modifying my converted kettles.


Anyway, here is my setup for a brewing session, cinder blocks and all…



I use two propane tanks, two burners, two converted kettles, one old 20 qt SS pot, one rectangular cooler lauter tun, one 2 qt pot, one maple mash paddle, and a piece of old 3/8” hose.  I kettle mash and move the mash to the lauter tun for the sparge.


If I am brewing only one beer (rare), I will use one kettle for the mash, and the other kettle for the sparge water.  While I begin the sparge, I will clean the mash kettle and then collect the wort for the boil in it.


On most brew days, I end up wanting to do multiple beers in 5 gallon batches.  This means that after the first beer is sparging, I either have to wait until I am done to begin the next beer, or do a single pot mash-sparge-boil (procedure outlined below).  This takes a bit of work, but is pretty easy to pull off.  I regularly can brew two batches in 6 to 7 hours, and three batches in 9-10 hours.  I once did four batches in 12 hours, but I was so exhausted, I do not think I will attempt that one again without additional equipment.


If you need to know the basics of mashing, I suggest you check out How To Brew.


The idea of brewing one batch of beer and using two kettles is pretty standard, and approximates a tier system.  The idea of brewing in a single pot with a lauter tun is a different matter, so I will go step-by-step through my technique without getting overly in-depth as to the temperatures and the chemistry involved.


Single Pot Mash-Sparge-Boil Technique


Step 1 – Strike Water, Grain Addition, Temp Adjustment, and Mash

The Strike Water is heated in the kettle as shown below. 



For my setup, I take the water to the temperature I want the mash to be, and then add the grain to the water as below.



Then I stir to insure no dough balls have formed, it usually takes a minute or two, and I adjust the temperature to the desired mash temperature.  What I found with my setup is the pot and burner generally hold enough heat to compensate for the temperature drop when the cool grain is added to the heated water.  Here is a photo of the mash after stirring and temperature adjustment.



I generally check the temperature to insure it hasn’t changed and stir every 15 to 20 minutes.


Step 2 – Mash Transfer

After I mashout, I transfer the mash to the lauter tun.  I usually preheat the lauter tun with hot tap water.  I feel the mashout is necessary for my brewing since the temperature might drop when added to the slightly cooler lauter tun, and while the sparge water is heating.  If you have performed a mashout, then no futher enzyme activity can possibly occur, so if the temperature drops, no effects will be observed in the final beer.


Here are some pictures of the transfer from the kettle to the lauter tun.  This is one of the times when I utilize the 2 qt pot.





Step 3 – Clean the Kettle, Heat the Sparge Water, and Vorlauf

As soon as the mash has been transferred, I immediately clean the kettle, which is basically a rinse to get rid of any remains of the mash, and I add the sparge water to the kettle and begin heating it.  Here is a picture of the kettle with the sparge water.



While the sparge water is heating, I begin to slowly drain off the wort for recirculation.  This is known as the Vorlauf, and basically consists of running off wort until a filter bed is established, and the wort becomes clear and then returning the cloudy wort to the lauter tun.  Here is a picture of the 2 qt pot in action and the wort flowing into it.  At this point I have added no sparge water.



Also, I take a piece of Aluminum foil and punch several holes in it.  I use this on the top of the mash so the mash is not disturbed during the vorlauf and sparge.  I tried a floating Tupperware lid, a pie plate, etc, and found this to be the easiest.  Just punch and go….





When the 2 qt pot is almost full, I put the drain hose into an old SS 20 qt pot to collect the now clear runnings while I return the cloudy wort to the top of the tun.




Step 3 – Sparge

Usually by the time the cloudy runnings have dropped below the level of the foil, the sparge water is almost at the desired temperature.  If it is not, then I just close the lauter tun spigot until the sparge water is ready.  When it is hot enough, I add it to the lauter tun.



I cannot see a reason to maintain a 1” to 2” level of water above the grain bed.  I put all the sparge water the lauter tun will hold (or that I need) in the tun.



I have heard stories of compacted grain beds, but I have never had a problem in my rectangular tun.


Then I move the kettle below the lauter tun and runoff into it while transferring what I have collected in the SS pot using the 2 qt pot. 




I generally find the vorlauf takes a little over a quart to run clear, and the SS pot will collect 1 to 2 gallons before I can get all the sparge water into the pot and move the kettle.  I try to do all this without disturbing the grain bed, and without splashing the hot wort.


When the sparge is complete, I move the pot back to the burner and boil the wort.  I can have two mashes going at the same time, or stagger the brews by an hour or two.  I find it really keeps the brew day hopping and interesting.  It also is good exercise. 


I do realize more pots are involved that one, but the 2 qt pot could be a ladle.  The lauter tun could be a bottling bucket with a spigot and a copper ring.  A picture of a bottling bucket copper ring can be seen on my Mash Tun page at the bottom.  The 20 qt SS pot could be pots from the kitchen, or a bucket. The point is that you do not have to spend hardly any money to get started doing All Grain brewing.  The main thing required is the ability to perform a full boil.  Other than that, most brewers have enough equipment at home already.