Can You Use Your Brew Kettle To Mash?
Whether you are new to home brewing or have been at it for a while, you might wonder if you can use your brew kettle to mash. You understandably might be a little anxious about posing this question at the next meet, so I’m going to help you out with that here.
You can use your brew kettle to mash using the BIAB method. This method employs a grain bag to filter the wort out rather than using a separate mash tun for the mashing and lautering processes.
If you want to know more about using your brew kettle to mash, read on. There are some specific requirements and techniques you need to know about here.
Brew Kettle vs. Mash Tun
Brew kettles are essential items for any home brewer, but what about a mash tun? You’ve already got a good propane burner and a brew kettle; surely this is all you need?
Mashing is the process of mixing the ground grains, or grain bill, with warm water, which stimulates certain enzymes in the malt to start breaking down the starches into sugars, thus becoming wort.
This might sound complicated, but what you need to understand here is that mashing is one of many steps in the brewing process. Mashing can be carried out in your brew kettle, but there is an additional process called lautering that needs to be done to separate the wort from the grain.
Separating Grain From Wort
Home brewers are a particularly crafty bunch, and have a variety of methods at their disposal to carry out this crucial step. One particular innovation that is popular in the home brewing industry is the BIAB method.
What Is the BIAB Method?
You may have heard of this popular brewing method, but if you haven’t, BIAB stands for Brew In A Bag.
With the right brew kettle, you can simply adopt this method as it precludes the requirement for a separate mash tun, but there are a few special considerations when using this method.
If you want to use the BIAB method, you will need a grain bag to line your kettle and a way to hoist it to separate the grains from the wort. These Doppeltree Store Organic Cotton Brewing Bags (from Amazon) are cheap, strong, and reusable.
Biab Is Less Efficient Than Other Methods of Brewing
One of the primary reasons many brewers do not like the BIAB method is that by nature it yields less of the essential sugars into the wort than other methods using a separate mashing and lautering process.
Ultimately this loss in efficiency is irrelevant to those with limited space or resources to procure additional brewing equipment for mashing. Check out this guide to home brewing equipment to get an idea of how involved it can get.
Choosing the Right Kettle for the BIAB Method
There are a few special requirements you must keep in mind when selecting a kettle for the BIAB method.
Hoisting Your Grain Bag
One of the primary considerations when using the BIAB method is getting your grain bag out of your pot. This can be tricky especially when brewing larger batches, as the grain and hot wort combined can be very heavy.
You might need to consider rigging up a pulley system or enlisting the help of a strong friend to help lift the bag out of your wort. The bag acts as a filter, handling the lautering process in situ.
The BIAB method is convenient in that it requires less equipment than traditional brewing, but you don’t want to get to the part where you separate your grain and wort and find yourself unable to do so. Doing so would certainly result in wasted time and materials.
Finally, be sure that you have enough clearance above your pot to lift the bag out. A crude yet effective method to do this is outside using a stepladder.
The Kettle Must Be Big
The main considerations for a kettle when using the BIAB method are concerning the size of your vessel. If you want to use your existing kettle for the BIAB method, you may have to make smaller batches than you usually would.
When planning your brew, consider the total volume of your grain, all of the water you will use for mashing and boiling, and always leave enough room to prevent boilover. Your kettle needs to be big enough for everything.
Thankfully, the ease and convenience of the BIAB method will offset any disappointment you might feel at having to run smaller batches. Perhaps take advantage of this to experiment with your recipe.
The Bag Must Be Strong
Nothing special, really. These are usually made of cotton or muslin, and have a very simple job: catch the grain, and let the wort out.
When choosing a bag for the BIAB method, make sure you find ones of decent quality. They need to be strong enough to hold the weight of the grain and the wort as you hoist it out of the pot.
A cheap drawstring or breaking bag will stop your brew in its tracks. You don’t need to buy fancy bags made with the hair of angels, just something strong enough. Inspect bags carefully before use to ensure there are no defects that could hamper you.
Pros and Cons of the BIAB Method
There are so many ways to brew beer, and each of them has its own set of drawbacks. The BIAB is certainly an easy, cheap, and convenient way to brew great beer, but it is hardly a perfect method.
Weighing up the pros and cons directly might help you decide if this brewing method is for you.
- Fastest method of lautering
- Requires less space
- Uses less equipment
- May necessitate smaller batches
- Requires a method for hoisting the grain bag
- Less efficient than other methods
Ultimately, brewing using the BIAB method has some limitations, but for most home brewers, it is the most accessible method due to the lower space and equipment requirements.
Using your brew kettle to mash isn’t only possible, it’s a great way to save space and costs on equipment, especially for those starting out. Just ensure your pot is big enough, your bag is strong enough, and that you have a way to get the bag out of your kettle.
The BIAB method might not work for those who want more control during the mashing and lautering process. It’s considered inefficient in that it yields less sugars in your wort than other methods. Still, it is arguably one of the cheapest methods of getting the job done.