Codename : Dunk & Sparge Exbeeriment

When I started down the path with small batch brewing, I went through a step called sparging, pouring water through the bag of grain at the end of the mash to extract more sugar to be converted to alcohol. I did my own research, it is a time honoured technique in brewing. Before I had my sonic screwdriver, I was not measuring the sugar conversation, and simply relying on the timings in the recipe to move along to the next step, which included sparging. Turns out all I functionally did was dilute the wort. Time to do more research. You see research does not mean you read something on the internet, become an expert, and you are done. It means doing more reading after you made a mistake. Turns out, when doing one gallon brew in a bag, the small volumes don’t warrant a sparge step. When I learned that after almost months of missing the mark, I was finally achieving the alcohol conversation I expected.

Enter my most recent round of research. I want to work up to brewing an Imperial Stout, the recipes I have require 9-10 litres of water, which is the capacity of my wife’s stockpot I have been using. Add 3 (or more) lbs of grain, and it is overflowing. I did not want to exbeeriment with that much grain only to learn it was an expensive mistake to make, so I decided incorporate the dunk and sparge technique into my regularly scheduled brew from the Mountain Portage, in which I would be using a significantly smaller amount of grain.

This week’s batch of beer is the Mountain Portage Best Bittershorpe. A traditional English Bitter. Instead of splitting the batch between the stock pot, and a large pot, I opted to use two 5 litre pots. The recipe required 6.1 L of water, so I made a judgement call and did a 3.1 and 3 litre split. I did the usual mash in with the 3.1L pot for the scheduled 60 minutes, and watched the SG soar to 1.056, well above the pre-boil gravity of 1.034. At about the 45 minute point, I started the second pot on the stove-top, I wanted to bring it up to approximately 170F for the mash out step. Once the 60 minutes mash was complete, I transferred the bag to the second pot for ten minutes, and stirred to release any remaining sugars. At the end of mash out step, the SG was 1.017. I combined the two worts into a single pot, and undertook a hotly contested step, I did a hard squeeze of the bag into the pot, I wanted to get the very last drop of sugar from the bag. It was successful, as I did hit the required 1.034. Objective unlocked, I have the knowledge and skills required to try the Imperial Stout, (likely a winter project) with confidence.

If you are still reading at this point, the reason squeezing the bag is hotly contested, it is believed it releases more tannin (makes things bitter) into the wort. I have done some research on the topic, I need to do more. Don’t just take my word for it, do your own research, too. For the small batch brewing the squeeze is not really an issue.

Finally, if you have gone through my recipes, you will have seen me use litres, pounds, ounces, Fahrenheit, grams, plus others. I am mixing my preferred Système International Metric with Imperial. I find the different unit useful for the task on hand. I am sure every science teacher I ever had is rolling over in their graves.