Originally Posted by aaronlcarlson
Well, if everyone is doing it, then I pretty much have to right? Thanks for the replies...I think I'll give the partial mash a shot. Is there a good resource for determining the parameters of the mash (how much water to use, how long, what temp etc.)? Thanks, I appreciate the advice
First is terminology and that will get you to where you can find other sources. You want to add a certain amount of water at a given temp to give you a mash at your desired temp. Remember you are mixing a mass at room temperature with hot water so the grain will lower the temp overall. This technique of adding water is caled "Infusion Mashing". Next you need to calculate how much of what to get what you want.
If you do a Google on "Infusion Mash Calculator" you get a lot of hits. I picked one of the first ones:http://www.brewersfriend.com/mash/
If you have one pound of Munich and a pound of 2-row to help conversion**, you can use that calculator to figure out how much water to add. For now don't worry about WHY you want a certain water to grain ratio, just take the default:
So you get your water to 169 degrees, add 2.5 quarts to your 2 lbs of grain, and you get 155 degrees. Put that in a 155 degree oven as someone suggested for a quick and dirty way to maintain heat and let it go for an hour. Perfect!
** Yoop mentioned Munich malt will convert on it's own. This begins to get into some pretty deep yet interesting areas with the amylase (an enzyme) content of grain, and if it has enough to self convert or in the case of the 2-row have enough extra to convert something else (like rice, corn, etc). Munich may convert on it's own but I KNOW 2-row will convert it if not so adding a pound of that gives you some insurance, and let's you try to get some of your fermentables in a real mash just like the cool kids.
The only difference now between partial mash and a full mash is how much you have to mash at once.
After you go through this you may have other questions like "why 155 degrees?", "why an hour?", etc., all great stuff but this is a damn good start and after doing it once you can decide what parts you may want to learn more about. This would be a "foolproof" approach.
On the calculators ... I use BeerSmith and it has a calculator which will give you information in different mash types. In a little while when you are a salty full-mash brewer you might find something like that helpful.
Originally Posted by aaronlcarlson
Do most brewers mash their specialty grains as well, or is steeping these separately a better option?
You can do it, as you can see there's little difference between a mash and a controlled steep. If you do then use that calculator to allow for the pounds of specialty grain to get the temp right.
Crystals and other similar specialty malts are already fully converted - that is the starch that is going to make sugar is already converted to sugar and may be released with hot water. There are very few downsides to including specialty grains in your mash and indeed this is how most people do it.
If some day you are searching out that "perfect" recipe, you want 100% control over your fermentable (and unfermentables) and basically you have succumbed to some OCD sickness, you MIGHT want to do them separately. It is possible that at some temps the amylase enzymes may reduce some of the more complex sugars to simpler, fermentable sugars, and that could give you something that you don't want. I want to stress that this is WAY outside what you need to worry about right now - and as a 20+ year brewer I've never had to account for it. It's just one of those theoretical possibilities which on the Internet someone will eventually point out.