Sparging is the home brewing process of flushing the mash grain bed with very hot water, typically 168F – 175F in order to extract any remaining sugars from your grains after you have began draining the wort from your mash tun to your brewing kettle. There are a few common sparging methods used by home brewers.
Fly sparging is one of the most commonly used methods of sparging. Fly sparging is a technique where a home brewer uses a sparge arm to pour or spary hot water over the grain bed while at the same time transferring the wort to the boil kettle at a similar rate. As the hot water flows through the grain bed it gently flushes the sugar from the grain husks.
Another commonly used home beer brewing sparge method is batch sparging where a home brewer adds batches of hot water to the mash tun and then drains the mash tun completely before refilling it with additional water. Once the additional water has been added the brewer mixes the grains with a mash paddle for a few minutes to help extract the sugar from the grains. With each subsequent batch, less sugar will be extracted from the grains. The batching process is repeated until a sufficient amount of wort has been collected for the boiling process.
I personally use and have had great success with the fly sparging process, but the batch sparging method is also very efficient. If you are in the market for a high quality stainless steel sparge arm, I highly recommend More Beers ultimate sparge arm. That and a variety of other sparge arms can be found here:
If you are not currently oxygenating or aerating your wort, you have probably seen products for doing so promoted on home brewing supply websites or seen them at your local home brewing store.
Beer and oxygen have somewhat of a strange love and hate relationship. There are specific times in the home brewing process when oxygen is desired and yet other times when it is despised. We are going to discuss one of the few times when oxygen is considered beneficial and desired in the brewing process.
After you have completed your boil and have cooled your wort down to under 80 F in preparation for pitching your yeast, introducing oxygen into the wort by either aerating it or injecting pure oxygen into it becomes beneficial. The reason for this is that oxygen is essential for yeast reproduction and cell growth. Your beer yeast, both ale or lager goes through a growing and reproduction phase prior to beginning active fermentation and converting sugars to alcohol and CO2. To insure that this process completes as quickly and as effectively as possible, it is critical that you introduce a sufficient amount of oxygen into your cooled wort. After this initial wort aeration process, you will typically want to avoid oxygen at all costs as it will oxidize your beer and potentially create undesired off flavors such as skunky notes in your beers flavor.
As mentioned earlier, there are several options available to oxygenating or aerating your beer if you do not want to stir your bucket from 30 minutes or swish around your carboy for half an hour. The two most common options are oxygen injection kits and aeration pumps. Both of these processes typically utilize a stainless steel diffusion stone to help the wort absorb more of the oxygen as it bubbles through the wort.
Home Brewing Aeration Pump and Stainless Steel Diffusion Stone
Above is a photo of a home brewing aeration pump. This is the system that I personally use for my home brewing setup. It pumps air into your fermenter via a pump that has an attached filter and stainless air diffusion stone. I like it because you do not need to stock oxygen tanks and the cost of using it is lower. You will want to allow it to aerate your wort for approximately 30 minutes prior to pitching the yeast.
If you are interested in purchasing a home brewing aeration or oxygenation kit, several can be found here:
There are right and wrong ways to store your hops to keep them as fresh as possible for future brewing and dry hopping. In this blog entry, we are going to cover some best practices for preserving the quality and potency of your hops when storing them for an extended period.
First off, it is important to be aware that hops are constantly degrading, and at best, all we can hope to do is slow the process down. As time passes, the resins, acids, and oils in the hops break down and the potential for aroma and bittering is drastically diminished. The two greatest causes of hop degradation are temperature and exposure to oxygen.
The colder you can store your hops, the better, as it will slow the rate of oxidization. Ideally, you want to store your hops in a freezer with a temperature of less than 30F. If possible, strive for a temperature closer to 20F, and do your best to make sure that the hops are vacuum sealed and free of any moisture when frozen. Oxygen is the true nemesis of hop freshness. Do your best to keep your hops properly sealed in a bag that is resistant to oxygen permeability and flushed with nitrogen. If you do not have access to a vacuum sealer, use a Ziploc bag, and remove as much oxygen out of the bag as possible.
If you have stored your hops for longer then 12-24 months, you will probably want to consider replacing them with some fresher hops. It is difficult to know how fresh the hops were when the supplier received and packaged them, so at that point they may already be 3 years old, and their bittering potential will be very difficult to predict. If the hops are brownish in color, and the aroma is faint or unusual, they should be discarded.
Over the last couple of years, both gluten free beer and gluten free home brewing have been becoming more and more popular. A person who is gluten intolerant no longer has to miss out on fantastic beer; you have choices! I have brewed several batches of gluten free beer and will be publishing some of my recipes in the upcoming months as well as adding a gluten free category to our best beers list.
For the most part, gluten free home brewing is identical to home brewing with non-gluten free ingredients. The only place where it gets tricky is when you need to make sure that you have enough diastatic starch conversion power available in the situation where you are making an all grain batch and are using starch based adjuncts. If you are making an extract batch, you should be good to go.
There are a variety of widely available ingredients for gluten free home brewing. The most common ingredients include sorghum liquid extract, brown rice liquid extract, dried rice powered extract, sugar, candi syrup, honey, maltrodextrin, corn, buckwheat, oats, and sweet potatoes.
If you are interested in gluten free beer home brewing kits you can find some quality kits here:
Whirlpooling is the process of separating the trub from the wort by utilizing centrifugal force to confine the trub to the center of the kettle so the wort can be drawn off without disturbing the trub cone. Whirlpooling can be achieved by quickly moving the wort in a clockwise or counterclockwise motion until a vortex begins to form in the center of the kettle. Once the vortex has formed, the trub will begin collecting and settling into the center of the kettle, forming a cone as the spinning wort forces the denser particulates towards the center. It is important to allow 15 to 20 minutes for the cone to form before drawing the wort from the kettle. If you are using an immersion chiller, you would want to chill the wort prior to whirlpooling and then draw the wort out slowly as not to disturb to trub cone.
Photo of a 20 gallon boil kettle after the boil had completed and the wort had been whirlpooled and much of the wort had been drawn off.
Vorlauf comes from the German word for mash recirculation. Vorlauf is the process of pulling the wort from the base of the mash tun or lauter tun and recirculating it back on to the top of the grain bed. Vorlauf typically occurs after the end of the mashing process. As the hot wort is recirculated through the grain bed of the mash, the grains act as a particle filter, clearing the wort. As the wort is recirculating, it becomes cleaner and less turbid until finally it is clear and ready to be passed to the boiling vessel. A pump is typically used to recirculate the wort at a steady and controlled pace. In the case where a home brewer does not have a pump available, the wort may be drawn into a container and slowly poured back on top of the grain bed. This process can be repeated until the wort has become clear. Additionally, rice hulls may be added to a mash as a means of boosting the filtration capability of the grain bed.
Wort recirculating in the mash tun prior to being transferred to the boil kettle:
Turbidity is haziness or cloudiness in beer or wort. It is caused by the suspension of particulate matter in the fluid. In order to remove the turbidity of wort in the mash or lauter tun, it is recommended that you recirculate the wort over the grain bed, which will act as a particle filter. Recirculation is a great method of clearing the wort prior to sending it to the boil kettle.
Top fermentation, or top fermenting, describes the tendency of ale yeast cells to conduct the majority of fermentation on the surface of the fermentation vessel as opposed to the bottom, as is common with lager yeast. Top fermenting ale yeast is typically fermented at a temperature range between 65° F and 75° F; the lower the temperature, the slower the fermentation is carried out.
Excessive fermentation temperatures have been known to generate off flavors in beer, and that is why a temperature range of 65° F to 75° F is typically recommended. When a top fermenting ale is most active, a thick head of foam known as a krausen forms on the top of the fermentation vessel and will subside as the fermentation draws to an end. The length of fermentation is dependent on the health of the yeast, the original gravity of the wort, the temperature of the fermentation and the amount of yeast pitched, but typically takes anywhere from one week to three weeks for the majority of fermentation activity to complete. A secondary fermentation is oftentimes conducted so that any remaining fermentable sugars can be converted to alcohol, and the beer can condition and allow the yeast to precipitate to the bottom of the fermenter in preparation for bottling or kegging.
Below is a photo of a top fermenting ale that was recently transferred to a secondary fermentation carboy.
Sparging is a brewing process that involves passing heated water through the grain bed of a mash to extract sugars from the crushed grains and adjuncts. Sparging is typically conducted at approximately 167° F to 170° F; if the temperature exceeds 170° F, the brewer risks extracting excessive amounts of tannins from the grains. If the temperature is too low, then the sparge will be ineffective at liquefying the remaining converted sugars from the grains. While the sparge water passes from the hot liquor tank to the mash tun, or lauter tun, via a sparge arm, the extracted sugars and water are being drained from the base of the vessel and relocated to the boil kettle in preparation for to upcoming boil.
This mash is being sparged at 168° F, while the beer is being transferred from the false bottom at the base of the mash tun over to the boil kettle.
Sparging in the mash tun, while wort is transferred to the boil kettle.
Pitching or yeast pitching is the term used for when a brewer adds yeast to the cooled wort to begin the fermentation process. Yeast should be pitched to the wort as quickly as possible to diminish the possibility of wild yeast strains or bacteria taking control of the sweet wort before your selected yeast has the opportunity to. Additionally, your pitched yeast should be as close to the same temperature as the wort that you are adding it to in order to avoid shocking the yeast and to help the yeast acclimate as quickly as possible and lower yeast lag time. It is critical that your wort is in an appropriate temperature range for the yeast to be able to survive and thrive; for most ales that temperature range is between 65° and 80° F for pitching, but you should always consult your yeast’s packing for the specific temperature range of the variety you are using.
Cooled wort being aerated, just prior to having the yeast pitched.
Yeast pitching and aeration just prior to fermentation.
Primary fermentation in beer brewing is the initial fermentation process where yeast will convert most or all of the wort sugars to alcohol and CO2 (carbon dioxide). After the yeast has been pitched into the wort, there is typically between 2 and 24 hour yeast lag time where the yeast acclimates to the fermentation environment and begins to replicate consuming sugars and the available oxygen in the wort; there is little alcohol conversion and CO2 generated during the lag phase.
Once the lag phase completes, a foamy head called a krausen begins to form in the fermentation vessel. The krausen is composed mostly of proteins, yeast, and the carbon dioxide that the yeast is rapidly producing. During primary fermentation the yeast is producing approximately equal parts of both alcohol and CO2. Depending on the style of beer, original gravity, quantity of yeast pitched, and fermentation temperature, the primary fermentation for an ale will last between 5-14 days, then it will then be transferred to a secondary fermentation vessel to allow the beer to condition and finish out its fermentation. In some cases only a primary fermentation is completed, and the beer may spending additional time in the primary fermenter or condition in the bottle, keg, or holding vessel.
Primary fermentation occurring two days after the yeast was pitched into an American Wheat style Hefeweizen. The krausen has formed and a great deal of alcohol and CO2 is being produced.