Mashing Explained for Home Brewers (Easy Read)
Homebrewing is becoming increasingly popular, yet figuring out how to make beer at home requires time and practice. Brewing is a multi-step exercise that consists of several key stages, one of them being mashing. But what exactly is mashing, and where does it fit into the beer-making process?
Mashing is a stage in the brewing process that involves boiling water and malt to form a sugar solution called wort. During mashing, crushed grains are soaked in hot water until the starch converts to sugar. Techniques include infusion mashing, temperature-controlled mashing, and decoction mashing.
As long as you’ve got the right information at hand, mashing doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult to do. This article will help demystify the process by discussing what mashing is and the different techniques that can be applied. Let’s get started.
What Is Mashing?
Mashing is the process of combining crushed malt and water (forming a mixture called a “mash”) and boiling them in order to extract wort from the malt. The wort, which is a solution containing sugars such as maltose and maltotriose, is then fermented to produce beer.
Mashing can be done in a specialized tub called a mash tun or in a mash kettle. It’s one of the first steps in the beer-making process.
Mashing is an important stage in beer brewing because it allows you to extract sugars from the grain and convert them into alcohol. When you brew beer, you convert sugars from malted grains into fermentable sugars.
The amount of sugar in your wort depends on how much you’ve mashed and how long you let it rest before draining off the liquid into your fermentation vessel. The more sugar you extract from the grains, the more alcohol you’ll get when fermenting that liquid.
Here’s a video that goes into more detail about what mashing is and how it’s done:
One common problem that homebrewers encounter is a “stuck mash.” A stuck mash occurs when the grain and water mixture becomes too thick to move around in your mash tun. This can happen if you use too much malt or the temperature gets too high while you’re mashing. You can read more about stuck mash in this article.
Infusion mashing was developed in response to the difficulties encountered by British brewers in producing malts that were malted and kilned simultaneously. When the technique was first used, it would produce an extract that was either too high in protein or too low in starch, depending on whether the malt had been kilned first or not.
In order to achieve a proper balance between these two properties, it was necessary to use only one rest at constant temperatures and blend the extract with hot water before fermentation started.
Infusion mashing is the most common and traditional type of mashing. It’s a single-temperature mash that typically uses hot water to break down starches and proteins into smaller pieces, which results in better beer clarity.
In this method, you’ll add all of your grains into a mash tun or mash kettle, where they will be mixed with hot water at a temperature of around 122-158°F (50-70°C). Check out this article for a detailed guide on the right temperatures for mashing.
Decoction mashing is a technique that involves boiling a portion of the mash separately, then mixing it back into the main mash during the mash rest stage. This allows you to achieve more complete conversion of starches and proteins into fermentable sugars than infusion mashing alone. The result is a wort with better clarity and higher alcohol content.
The objectives of the decoction technique include:
- To extract more sugars from the malt and stimulate saccharification, which is when the enzymes in the grain convert starches into sugars; and
- To produce more fermentable sugars than usual because some of the sugars will have been converted into alcohol during the boiling stage.
The resulting wort contains more fermentable sugars and less protein, making it easier for yeast cells to digest. This also reduces acid production in the wort: too much acid can cause problems with the finished beer.
This process can be repeated several times until all extract has been removed from the grain and transferred into the wort during each boil.
Homebrewers are often told that their mash becomes compromised when the temperature rises above 170°F (77°C). That’s called “mashing out,” and it’s what you want to avoid, if at all possible.
Mashing out can create a number of problems, specifically:
- The longer the mash rests, the less efficient it becomes.
- As your grain absorbs more water, it gives up more extract, which means less efficiency overall.
- If your brew day ends with a high-temp mash that’s still not at 170°F (77°C) yet, you may end up with an under-extracted beer (or even one that hasn’t finished mashing yet).
Wort that sits too long at high temperatures will become hot and/or sour. This is why commercial breweries often put their mashes in an insulated tank for rest periods before transferring them to boilers for the last stages of boiling or fermentation.
Temperature-controlled mashing, sometimes called “step mashing,” is one way to avoid the issue of mashing out. This method sets precise temperatures during each rest period so that all the grains in your mash get equal exposure to hot water as they rest at different temperatures over time.
Check out this article for a more detailed guide on the process of step mashing.
There are a lot of technical definitions for mashing and different terms used to describe the overall process. The basic concept is that you’re taking natural sugars from your ingredients (sugars from malted grains) and converting them into alcohol in an enzymatic process. This ultimately leads to the breakdown of starches and proteins into sugar molecules.
Homebrewing is an engaging activity, and each stage, including mashing, requires careful attention to detail in order to get the best results.