A Comparison Of Homebrew Sparging Techniques, Including BIAB

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Malted two-row barley is mixed with water at a prescribed temperature and allowed to rest until the starches of the malted barley are converted into fermentable sugars. This is called the saccharification rest. The sugary liquid (wort), must be separated from the wet grain (the mash) and this is called lautering.
Homebrewers typically use an insulated cooler, large pot or a food grade bucket to mix the grain and water together. This is called a mash tun. In a brewery the mash starts in a mash tun and then is moved to a lauter tun for lautering and then sparging (the 'rinsing' of the grain'). For most homebrewers the mash tun doubles as the lauter tun (referred to as a mash/lauter tun or MLT). In some cases, brewers use a technique utilizing a big bag--brew in a bag (BIAB)--in lieu of a MLT.
Traditional Sparging Methods
There are three primary ways of sparging: fly sparging, batch sparging, and no sparging. I have tried all of these methods and have found advantages and disadvantages to each. I have also tried BIAB and will describe it as well.
Fly Sparging

Fly Sparging
When fly sparging, the water is delivered to the top of the mash in the mash tun and allowed to pass through the grain bed as it is collected from the valve at the bottom. A grain bed will develop and this filters the loose particles of grain and can result in a very clear wort. I collect the first few quarts of wort and return it gently to the top the mash until the collected wort runs clear. This is called the vorlauf. Then I use a pitcher to gently pour the sparge water through a stainless steel pasta strainer suspended at the top of the mash tun to minimize disturbing the grain bed. Using gravity or a pump to feed the sparge water from a dedicated container of hot water (hot liquor tank) to a sparge arm suspended above the mash tun can make the process less labor intensive. Sparge arms come in various designs and are used to disperse the water gently to the top of the mash to prevent channeling. If the water erodes a channel through the grain bed it will not rinse the sugars from the wort causing a loss of efficiency.

Draining the Mash Tun Cooler
Ideally the grain bed is covered with at least one inch of water. Clogging of the drain valve can occur if the grain bed hits the bottom of the mash tun (stuck mash). Regulating the amount of water going in and the wort being drained out takes some practice. The mash tun will also require a manifold, bazooka screen or false bottom to prevent clogging the valve with grain when it is drained. Other than the vorlauf, fly sparging minimizes exposure to the air but it is time consuming. Some say there is a risk of tannin extraction (puckering flavors) with the rise in pH that can occur as the grain bed is slowly stripped of it's sugars.
Fly sparging pros and cons: Can produce a very clear wort and minimizes the risk of hot side aeration, but may be more time consuming than other methods. There is an increased risk of tannin extraction, and the process may require additional equipment to make it less labor intensive. It takes practice to master the technique, but should result in its excellent efficiency.
Batch Sparging
With batch sparging the wort is completely drained from the mash tun and then more hot water is added to the mash tun, stirred in well, a vorlauf (recirculation of a quart or two) done, and then the wort is drained off again. This is repeated to achieve the pre-boil volume if needed. Some brewers do this two or three times (double or triple batch sparge). Each additional batch possible could increase efficiency but slows the process and may increase the risk of hot side aeration and tannin extraction. Draining the mash tun slowly may promote a clearer wort. The mash tun will also require a manifold, bazooka screen or false bottom to prevent clogging when it is drained. I vorlouf a few quarts before draining the mash tun. In my experience batch sparging tends to produce a wort that is not quite as clear as fly sparging.
Batch sparging pros and cons: This may produce a cloudier wort, and may increase hot side aeration. However, it may save time and reduce the risk of tannin extraction, with the benefit of good efficiency.
No Sparge
No sparge is generally when you mash in with all the water and grain needed to achieve your pre-boil volume in one large batch. There is some discussion that the thin mash can affect starch conversion but many report good results. After the saccharification rest, I vorlauf a few quarts but I have found that no matter how gently I pour the wort on the grain bed it seems to stir up more particles because the mash is so thin. So I vorlauf briefly and then drain the entire mash tun at a moderate rate in one step. Overall it tends to be a cloudy wort. I get a significant drop in efficiency compared to the other methods, as much as 15-20%. Some say this technique may minimize tannin extraction and improve malt flavor. The mash tun will also require a manifold, bazooka screen or false bottom to prevent clogging when the mash tun is drained. Hot side aeration is minimal with a single period of stirring and a brief vorlauf. The pH should remain stable minimizing tannin extraction.

Bazooka Screen in Mash Tun Cooler
No sparge pros and cons: It's a simple, time saving procedure, with minimal risk of hot side aeration. It may extract less tannins than other methods, but may decrease wort clarity. No sparge requires more grain due to a significant loss of efficiency, and the thin mash may cause conversion issues. It requires a very large mash tun to stir in the entire volume of water and grain in one batch.
Brew In A Bag (BIAB)
Brew in a Bag is not a sparging method, but rather, an entirely different means to mash, in that it forgoes the need for a separate mash tun. Most brewers advise mixing the grain with as much water as your brew pot can hold to increase the mash volume and prevent thermal loss during the saccharification rest. When the rest is done, remove the bag of grain and allow it to drain above the pot to collect the excess wort. Then add any additional water to the pot to meet your pre-boil volume.
BIAB Sparging Methods
With BIAB, you can choose to sparge after the rest, or do no sparge at all. The sparge is the process of rinsing the bag of grain with additional water to increase efficiency. BIAB sparging is also a means for the brewer with a limited volume pot to hold back some water, then sparge with that water after the grain bag has been lifted from the pot.

Brew In A Bag [BIAB]
Sparging is often performed in one of two ways: the so-called "dunk sparge" and the "pour-over" sparge. With the dunk method, the grain bag is removed from the pot and immersed in a separate vessel of water. The wort from this is then added to the wort in the pot. The pour-over sparge involves slowly pouring sparge water over the grain bag while it is suspended over the pot. With either method, some brewers prefer to heat the sparge water, while others have had success using room temperature water for the sparge.
With no sparge BIAB, the mash process is performed using the entire volume of water, and the grain bag is removed from the pot after the rest. This requires a pot large enough to hold the water and grain.
Some say to avoid squeezing the bag as this may extract excess tannins, others squeeze away and they report good results with increased efficiency.
Some BIAB brewers report some loss of overall efficiency of 5 to 15% compared to other methods. Having your grain double crushed can overcome some of the efficiency loss, as stuck sparges are usually not an issue with BIAB.
I have used a hybrid BIAB method that I call batch BIAB. I use two 5 gallon pots. I mash the grain in one pot lined with a finely meshed nylon grain bag for 60 minutes. Then I lift the grain bag out and allow it to drain briefly. Then I lower the bag of wet grain into the other pot with the remaining hot water and stir vigorously, wait 15 minutes, then lift the bag out to let it drain. I use both pots to speed up the boil on my kitchen's stove top using all four burners. Using double crushed grain and the second rinse I get an overall efficiency of about 75%. Wort from BIAB tends to be cloudy but the fine mesh bag prevents any large particles or husks from staying in the boil pot.

Using Two Pots For The Boil
BIAB pros and cons: An easy and inexpensive way to start all grain brewing. However, disadvantages include cloudy wort, some risk of hot side aeration, risk of increased tannin extraction, and some loss of efficiency when compared to other methods. Also, the grain bag is hot, wet and heavy, and the mesh bag can rip, making a huge mess.
What is the best method? Each has its advantages and disadvantages. How much money are you willing to spend? How much time do you have for brewing? What equipment do you already own? Are you a thinker and a planner, or do you prefer simplicity? Every method has been used to produce good beer. Whichever method you use, try to develop a good routine so that you can perfect your technique and get consistent results.
Good Luck Brewing!
 
Great article, good subject matter. It's always interesting how many ways we can come up with to get these sugars out!
One question, I've typically used the batch process.
Do you wait after pouring and stirring, achieving, in a sense, another saccharification rest? Or do you vorlouf until the bed sets and then go?
Thanks!
 
Great article. Thanks.
I use BIAB and the 'pour-over' sparge method with hot (170 degree) water. I have a 4-gal brew pot and a couple of 2-gal pots. I vorlauf each drain from the mash tun. So, the initial drain goes in the 4-gal pot (which will receive the hops). I use batch sparges and bring that water to a boil to 'top off' the primary and one 2-gal pot. I don't have exact figures for efficiency, but I've been able to hit or exceed target gravities. I'm sure that as I acquire more equipment this technique will change, but it's working for me now.
 
I BIAB and have another sparge variation for you. I BIAB in a 7.5 gallon turkey fryer. When I'm done with the mash, I bring over my 6' ladder and slide a wooded rod though the top hinge and roll up the bag and clamp it off with a strong plastic clamp. Then I pour hot tap water over the top to "tea-bag" sparge, as I call it. (Fine, technically its a pour-over as you mentioned) Then I let it drain over the boil. This allows me to gather the highest amount of sugars from the grain as I can possibly get BIAB'ing and get pretty good efficiencies.
 
"This may produce a cloudier wort, and may increase hot side aeration." I have batch sparged 484 batches and these are just not true.
 
I do pb/pm biab in the same 5 gallon SS stock pot I started with. I've done up to 8.7lbs of grains in about 2 1/4 gallons of spring water. Then, in another SS kettle of 3-4 gallons size, I dunk (batch) sparge in 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 gallons spring water at 168-170F for ten minutes. This allows me to stretch the bag over the lip of the sparge kettle in order to stir it well. My efficiency went way up, resulting in OG's nailed or a bit higher. Good article!
 
I do BIAB and use strainers to remove about half the grain into another bag lined pot and do some squeezing and straining and squeezing seem to always get me where I need to be.
Bottom line, use what works for you.
I enjoyed the article.
 
Nice article, thanks for posting. I use BIAB with sparge and get between 75-80% efficiency. Cloudy wort for sure, but my finished product usually drops very clear as long as I'm not using a super low floc yeast strain.
 
@Denny I have to agree with this. While I probably have under 200 under my belt, I have had no issues with cloudy wort. I Vorlauf until clear, then drain.
 
Great and very helpful review of approaches to mashing.
I use the "no sparge BIAB" method with great results. I get consistent mash efficiency of ~83% and brewhouse eff of ~78%. With fewer system losses(compared to batch sparging) my brewhouse eff has increased.
On correction to the article - tannin extraction can be an issue as Ph rises, not falls. This is why a brewer might want to acidify (lower the Ph) of the sparge water when fly sparging. It is the combination of Ph above 6 and temperature above 170 F that leads to significant tannin extraction.
I did occasionally get tannin issues with batch sparge - this does not seem to happen now. Full volume mashing guard against Ph increasing.
 
Cloudy wort doesn't matter, hot side aeration is a myth for homebrewers, and biab gets the same effeciency on average or higher. Every person I know that does biab gets at least 75% on standard grain bills, with many above 80%.
Otherwise good article
 
This was a great article as I haven't bothered to look into how to do other methods of all grain brewing besides BIAB.
I routinely get 70-80% efficiency with no sparge full volume batches. My efficiency is decreased with gravity >1.065 so I just need to add more water to volume and increase the boil off. Eliminates the need for any sparging.
 
The impact of hot side aeration is highly debated, as is wort clarity. I'd not base my choice on that; the latest exBeeriments made available by the Brulosopher tend to show that neither have an impact on beer quality. I no sparge with two stirs, achieving a 60% efficiency (hence I have to spend a few $ more indeed).
 
Great article, good information for the newbies like myself. Personally I did two BIAB brews and decided on going full AG with a coleman cooler MLT. My BIAB setup was a pain in the ass. Temps were not stable. But I did hit my numbers both times, just increased the grain bill a bit and a finer crush.
 
I just recently graduated to AG brewing and have been experimenting with a hybrid MLT and BIAB method that I've invented (or at least thought of independently).
I heat my strike water as usual to 163F or so and dump it into my standard orange round cooler MLT. My MLT doesn't have a filter (no braid or false bottom) and that's where the bag comes in. I fill my brew bag with my grain bill and mash in by dunking/stirring inside the bag. After a 60 minute soak I vorlauf using the spout on my MLT and then sparge as usual until I get my boil volume.
Easy cleanup of the BIAB, insulation of the cooler, clarity of the vorlauf... I think I've combine the best of every world, except I didn't save as much money as full BIAB.
Any of the more experienced brewers see an issue with this method?
 
having tried all the above methods myself, i settled on a hybrid approach, placing the BIAB bag in my 10 gallon igloo cooler and batch sparging. the end result is much higher efficiency (increased ~6% points) and clearer wort. win win!!
clean up is much easier and I've shaved about an hour off of my normal brew day.
 
@Denny
I've done 404 fewer batches, but agree 100%. Clarity is a function of a number of different parts of the end-to-end process. I can't believe we're still talking about HSA!
 
@Micha
Although I agree with the outcome, the HSA test done by the Brulosopher was flawed, because the beer was tested fresh. HSA is supposed to adversely affect shelf-stability. Lack of HSA affects on fresh beer does not prove anything.
 
Really well done article. I enjoyed the read.
I do BIAB exclusively and have had better than average results over the last year. I have always batch sparged as I use a large strainer to put my grain bag in, open the bag and flush the grains with 180 degree water to the required volume. My overall efficiency for the last 5 or so batches have all been over 85%. To each his own, everyone will have their own unique style.
 
"BIAB pros and cons: An easy and inexpensive way to start all grain brewing. However, disadvantages include cloudy wort, some risk of hot side aeration, risk of increased tannin extraction, and some loss of efficiency when compared to other methods."
First, thank you for writing this article. We don't get paid for the time and energy we put into keeping this forum/website alive and beneficial for the brewing masses. Well, at least I don't get paid. You guys let me know if I'm missing out on something :)
A few points of clarification. In general, I wouldn't classify cloudy wort as a con. Clear wort does not necessarily mean clear beer. It might make us feel good, but that's about it.
Someone has already addressed hot side aeration (HSA), and I think they were coming from the standpoint of it causing off flavors. I just recently read in Ray Daniels' Designing Great Beers that HSA can cause darkening of the wort, resulting in beer that is darker than desired. "Aerating the hot mash and wort is an acknowledged source of color and staling compounds in beer." Someone please chime in here if this information is dated and had been debunked.
Tannin extraction is no greater with BIAB + sparging. Still takes a high pH and a high temp for it to happen.
And loss of efficiency with BIAB is one of those myths we can't seem to shake. BIAB efficiency can be, and most times is, as good or better than any other method. And often times it is better when it comes to system losses that are inherent with any brewing set up.
Please don't take my comments as negative, but as more of a clarification. I really appreciate the article.
 
@Denny I've never had issues either, no cloudy wort, and hot side aeration is a load of bunk in my eyes. It's getting boiled anyway!
 
I mash in a cooler *with* a bag AND a false bottom. This makes the wort very clear, and allows me to gravity drain the bag in the cooler while the newly collected wort comes up to boil. I then pour off the remaining liquid that escaped the siphon. No sparge, full volume, 80%+ efficiency.
This article is somewhat biased towards old school fly sparge, with batch sparge offered as an alternative, and BIAB acknowledged as a useable but compromised technique. As such, I don't think this is a fully accurate picture of how current homebrewing knowledge has evolved on the subject.
 
Even if HSA was a thing for home brewers to be worried about, this would only be a concern after the boil is complete would it not? The wort is getting pretty heavy oxygen exposure while the boil is vigorously rolling anyway.
 
I just want to chime in as other already have that "hot side aeration" is generally considered a non-issue regardless of methods used.
Mash method should be determined by equipment and personal preference for the most part. No method is really any better than any other method, so long as efficiency is consistent.
That said, I fly sparge. I have the equipment for it and I enjoy it. Batch sparging, while faster in general, is more labor intensive (depending on your equipment) as you have to repeat steps for each batch instead of doing them once.
I've never done BIAB and it has become very popular, but it seems to be the very most labor intensive and leaves the most room for making a big mess. I'm sure people who have their BIAB process down have addressed those issues, but for me nothing beats turning a few valves, starting a couple pumps and then prepping for upcoming brewing steps or a second batch.
 
@AndytheBeave
Just because there are gas bubbles doesn't mean they contain oxygen. Those bubbles are vaporized water molecules, so if there isn't much oxygen in suspension in the liquid then there won't be much oxygen in the steam.
 
@Lyger10 No, you just want to let the sugars still in the grains dissolve into the new water. You should probably consider a mash-out before sparging anyway to stop saccharification and set your sugar profile.
 
@Gameface re: BIAB labour intensive. Note that traditional methods use three vessels while BIAB generally uses one. That's two extra pots that have to be dealt with / cleaned / stored.
Also, BIAB is not messy if you know what you're doing.
 
@Lyger10 When batch sparging, after stirring in the additional water, I wait 10 minutes or so, vorlouf until clear and then drain.
 
@BroStefan "On correction to the article - tannin extraction can be an issue as Ph rises, not falls. This is why a brewer might want to acidify (lower the Ph) of the sparge water when fly sparging. It is the combination of Ph above 6 and temperature above 170 F that leads to significant tannin extraction."
Thank you for the correction. The PH may RISE during sparging and may cause tannin extraction.
 
I tried to use terms like "may" "might" and "could" to allow for widely varying opinions.
Hot Side Aeration (HSA) occurs whenever hot wort/grain bed is exposed to air. I tried to describe in general terms why one method may cause more air exposure than another. Does HSA matter? Commercial brewers avoid it like the plague because they say it affects flavor and shelf life. Many homebrewers note no difference. I am more careful with my lighter beers and any beer I plan on aging. Does it matter? That is an entirely different article.
 
In general does one method produce a clearer wort?
When fly sparging a grain bed developes and remains undisturbed throughout the sparge. Stirring in a Batch sparge disturbes the grain bed. If you let it set up properly between batches it will clear. I have found if you get impatient it may be more cloudy.
 
Does cloudy wort matter?
It is generally accepted that if you let a lot of grain particles and husks make into the boil pot that this can cause tannic grainy flavors. Which batch of wort has more husky grain particles in it? A clear wort or a cloudy wort? Does it matter? Write an article and share your thoughts.
 
Sparging methods and efficiency...
Homebrewers note excellent efficiency using all of the standard methods. If all other things in your process remain constant then generally the more you rinse the grain bed the better the efficiency. I tried to reflect this in the article. There are many other things that affect efficiency.
 
I was wondering if others do recirculation over the mash and your thoughts. This usually provides good efficiency for me and seems easy to do though you do need a pump.
More specifically, I use a MT and after the initial mash in, I recirculate the extract from the BK till the gravity stabilizes. Maybe 30 minutes to an hour. I can heat the BK and the MT as needed. It is relatively easy to adjust the recirculation pump volume to get a stable layer of liquid on top of the grain bed. I do seem to end up with more fine grist in the bottom of the BK but it seems manageable.
This approach has eliminated the need for the HLT since I just use the BK.
 
What increases the risk of tannin extraction?
A rising mash PH as you sparge?
Too much husky particles in your brew pot?
Rinsing the grain bed too much resulting in a abnormally high efficiency?
Sparging or Mashing Out above 170f?
So which sparging method is best in regard to tannin extraction? There is no clear answer and many opinions. A lot depends on your methods. Each sparging method has an advantage in one area but a risk in another. This is what I tried to reflect in the article. Hmmmmm, "Tannin Extraction and Homebrewing Methods" sounds like another article.
 
@jcschultz01
I do not have a pump to recirculate my wort but I have assisted another brewer who does. Being careful not to splash wort as it recirculates would be important to reduce hot side aeration (if you care). Being able to reduce the flow of the pump seems essential so it pulls gently enough to prevent it from pulling more husks/particles from the bottom of the grain bed.
Having watched the process it increased his efficiency and produce a clear wort. I like the idea if you have the equipment.
 
1. It's bad science and misleading to repeat this. It's not true. Tannins come from too high a pH and temperature, not from squeezing the bad. You could just as easily write "Some think the earth is flat"
>>Some say to avoid squeezing the bag as this may extract excess tannins, others squeeze away and they report good results with increased efficiency.
2) With larger grain bills efficiency can go down, hence the benefit of a dunk sparge. Offsetting this - with BIAB you should aim for a VERY TIGHT crush. You will get much faster conversion and a higher efficiency.
>>Some BIAB brewers report some loss of overall efficiency of 5 to 15% compared to other methods. Having your grain double crushed can overcome some of the efficiency loss, as stuck sparges are usually not an issue with BIAB.
3. You so-called "hybrid BIAB" is simple BIAB with a dunk sparge. There is no mashout in BIAB because the moment you pull the bag, you flame on and head towards boiling.
>>I have used a hybrid BIAB method that I call batch BIAB. I use two 5 gallon pots. I mash the grain in one pot lined with a finely meshed nylon grain bag for 60 minutes. Then I lift the grain bag out and allow it to drain briefly.
 
@ArcLight "It's bad science and misleading to repeat this. It's not true. Tannins come from too high a pH and temperature, not from squeezing the bad. You could just as easily write "Some think the earth is flat" "
You squeeze and have good results. This is no reason to call other brewers with a different opinion flat earthers. I stand by my statement as fair and balanced..."Some say to avoid squeezing the bag as this may extract excess tannins, others squeeze away and they report good results with increased efficiency."
I just listened to a recent pod cast from Jamil Zainesheff on the Brewing Network. He says sqeezing can extract excess tannins. As a Ninkasi Award winning Homebrewer some people respect his opinion.
Here is an article from Brew Your Own magazine regarding the Earth being flat. It's a little older but makes a solid argument...
http://byo.com/hops/item/1924-squeezing-grain-bags-mr-wizard
 
@arclight "You so-called "hybrid BIAB" is simple BIAB with a dunk sparge. There is no mashout in BIAB because the moment you pull the bag, you flame on and head towards boiling."
If your pot is large enough you certainly can do a mash out with BIAB. You add additional hot water to raise the temp of the grain bed to 170f. This will lock in the sugar profile of your wort. Some brewers say increasing the temp of the grain bed also helps thin the wort allowing it to flow more freely from the grain bag increasing efficiency. I don't use a mashout when doing a BIAB but I tend to brew lower gravity beers with a dry finish so a little more time at conversion temp doesn't hurt my wort profile.
The simplest form of BIAB uses one pot with no sparge. This simple method is how some new brewers start all grain brewing. I didn't mean to imply I invented something revolutionary but rather that integrating any type of sparging is a hybrid of Batch Sparging and the BIAB techniques. I use the term "Batch BIAB" because pot 1 is like the first runnings and pot 2 is like the batch sparge. It is simply a dunk sparge using two pots. My method also uses two pots large enough to reach all 4 burners on my kitchen stove to speed up the boil. I use this method in the winter when I brew inside. I thought some brewers would be interested in my technique.
 
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