Step Mashing in a Cooler

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Mike B1190

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Hi All,

I attempted step mashing last night on a pilsner. I batch sparge in a 48 quart rectangular cooler. I just wanted to do a simple step from a Beta Sacch rest at 148 to an Alpha Sacch rest at 158. Why do this with today's modified malts? To try it out and see if it would make a dryer beer. I've also read that a rest toward the high end of the range can help promote head retention. Not sure of the validity to that.
Anyway, it was my first attempt at doing such a thing. It didn't workout like I hoped. I was low on my first rest. I crushed a little too fine and had to stir excessively to get the dough balls broken up and lost a lot of temp. It settled at 145. At this point, I knew my second step would be off. I had treated the total volume of my mash water with acid/salts and reserved the volume I was going to need for the second infusion. I knew I would be low, but I couldn't believe how low I was. The temp only rose to 150 and I had even attempted to account for a few degrees of temperature loss. I used the online Brewer's Friend step mash calculator to determine volumes. For those curious, it was 9.5lbs of pilsner malt. Dough in was at 1.25 qt/lb. (I rounded to 3 gallons) I added 3.2 quarts of boiling water for around 1.58 qt/lb in total.

Anyway, I've searched around a bit and it seems that step mashing with water infusions can be hit or miss. But I'm curious to know if there's anyone that does so reliably? If so, how do you accurately calculate your infusions? Is it just trial and error for your equipment/recipe? Anything I may not have accounted for?

Secondly, admitting that I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to water chemistry, yet insist on making adjustments anyway-- what is typical practice for treating the water when doing step infusions? As I mentioned, I treated the total mash volume, so I'm not sure that the pH was correct for the first rest. I don't have a pH meter. I tend to plug the numbers in EZ Water and just trust that I'm close enough. I'm thinking that I should probably be treating the infusions separately, but I'm not exactly sure how to go about it. I'm also not sure if 3.2 quarts would make all that much difference.

Finally, I had 2 ideas regarding alternative ways to heat the mash with the cooler setup. Opinions are encouraged.

1. I have a heat stick that I homemade with an electric water heater element to help get the wort to boiling on my weak electric stove. My thought was that I could place that in the cooler and keep it moving through the mash until the temp came up to the next rest. Concerns would be scorching the grains with the element and/or melting the cooler with the element. I'm not thinking this would work very well, but maybe someone has tried this or something similar before?

OR

2. Dough in the full mash volume at my typical 1.5 qt/lb and do a beta Sacch rest at 148. Then drain the thin mash into a kettle as if lautering, heat that up on the stove a little bit above the temp of the next rest and return it to the mash tun with the grain. Other than potential losses that would impact brewhouse efficiency and the added time it would take are there any downsides to this method? Any chance of hurting the enzymes this way?

Sorry, that turned into a pretty long post.

TL;DR
1. Any advice on reliably step mashing in a cooler?
2. What is best practice for water treatment when using multiple mash water infusions?
3. Are there any downsides to heating thin mash in a kettle and returning it to the mash tun with the grain to hit mash steps?
 

Holden Caulfield

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Finally, I had 2 ideas regarding alternative ways to heat the mash with the cooler setup.
^In my opinion, neither are very good alternatives. The first may result in scorched wort, melted mashtun, and would take a lot of effort. The second is kind of like doing a decoction and if you go too far may denature the enzymes as they all end up in the thin mash.

As a cooler step and decoction masher here are some practices that may help hit your temps everytime...

  1. Create consistency with your initial infusion. Every homebrewers process is a little different and while there are calculators that will tell you the temp of your strike water, every cooler absorbs energy in a different way. To create consistency...
    • Know your mashtun and process, I always reduce my calculated strike water temp by 2.5 degrees as my system and process always comes in too warm.
    • Preheat your strike water to a temperature above what the calculators say - I use 9 degrees for my process
    • Pull off a quart (if doing a 5 gal batch) and bring to a boil for potential future use - explained later
    • Add strike water to mashtun, cover and let sit 10 minutes - this will enable the cooler to be brought up to strike temperature while the strike water will drop to the correct temperature
    • Check temperature before dough in. If over, use a clean pot as a heat sync to bring temp down to strike temp. If under, raise with your heat stick (or boil some and add back)
    • Dough-in. Check temperature, if over, then use pot as a heat sync to cool - do not use ice as it takes time to melt and creates cold spots.. If under, use some of the boiling water to hit your strike temperature. What you don't use can be added later to raise temp back to mash temp or used for sparging
  2. For the stepping to next mash temp. Similar to above...
    • Boil a quart or more than required
    • Pull off the extra quart plus one additional
    • Add the boiling step water and check temperature
    • If over, use a pot as a heat sync to cool
    • If lower add the water that you did not add a fraction at a time until you hit your target mash temp
    • If you still come in under, boil more extra water
A benefit of this process is that you are more likely to first come in lower due to the quart of water you hold back. I think it is better to come in lower rather than higher to avoid denaturing any enzymes.

2. What is best practice for water treatment when using multiple mash water infusions?
I do not know if what I do is a best practice, but after many brew days, it has evolved to work well for me. I create two batches of water - strike plus all the step mash water, and sparge plus mashout water. Salts are added to each to create the profile I want. After heating the strike plus step water to strike temp, I add what I need to the mashtun and then bring the remainder to a boil for the additional steps.

Below is a snapshot of a Bitburger clone mash schedule and my programs execution worksheet that shows the two batches of water.

1622058927118.png

1622059165783.png
 
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Mike B1190

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Thank you for the detailed response.

The second is kind of like doing a decoction and if you go too far may denature the enzymes as they all end up in the thin mash.

That was my fear of this process, knowing all the enzymes would be in the kettle. I thought that if it were heated somewhat gently and I made sure not to go above 168 Alpha would still be intact.

Boil a quart or more than required

How are you accounting for the extra quart when you calculate your water treatment? Are you including it as part of your mash water volume? What if you don't have to add it? Wouldn't that throw off your salts? Do you add it when you sparge?

If over, use a pot as a heat sync to cool

I never thought of that. How quickly does it work to reduce the temp?

I create two batches of water - strike plus all the step mash water, and sparge plus mashout water.

This is exactly what I did, but since I didn't add the full volume of prepared mash water all at once, I was curious what that did to the the mash pH during the Beta Sacch rest. Have you ever tested your pH during the Beta Sacch rest?
 

ITV

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Holden Caulfield

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That was my fear of this process, knowing all the enzymes would be in the kettle. I thought that if it were heated somewhat gently and I made sure not to go above 168 Alpha would still be intact.
If you are careful, you will be ok, but this is still a more complicated process than it needs to be.

How are you accounting for the extra quart when you calculate your water treatment? Are you including it as part of your mash water volume? What if you don't have to add it? Wouldn't that throw off your salts? Do you add it when you sparge?
I don't boil an extra quart, and you should not have to once you create consistency in your process and understand how you need to adjust the calculations to account for what is different about your process. I only hold back a quart and boil it during dough-in in case my mash temp needs to be raised a little, but if I did it is only ~1/16 of the total, so it probably does not make that much difference to your water profile. Alternatively you could just multiply your salt additions by 1+ the % of extra water. BTW, my 2.5 degree adjustment to the strike water calculation takes into consideration the way I preheat my cooler as well as the removal of the quart that I boil. Calculators use formulas that do not account for many heat loss factors built into your process such as while the mashtun is open and the stirring of the boiling water. I have found a big difference in the ending mash temp after dumping the boiling step water all at once into the mashtun, or doing it gradually and taking periodic checks.

I never thought of that. How quickly does it work to reduce the temp?
Depends on the pot size, thickness and how much water. The one I use is a 4 quart thick aluminum. It sucks out a degree almost immediately. If the strike water is significantly higher than the target after the preheat process, I have a big pot with a thick bottom that I will add a quart or two of the strike water and it sucks the heat out of that very quickly then add it back. This process allows me to cool, with control, my strike water in just a few minutes rather than waiting much longer for the water to just cool with the cooler lid off.

This is exactly what I did, but since I didn't add the full volume of prepared mash water all at once, I was curious what that did to the the mash pH during the Beta Sacch rest. Have you ever tested your pH during the Beta Sacch rest?
While I use calculators for PH and adjust with acidulated malt, I do not take PH readings - to much maintenance for me. To get an idea of how the changing mash thickness of step mashes impacts PH, just use one of the calculators and build two scenarios with same grain bill, same water profile, but different amounts of mash water. My hypothesis is that it probably does not make that much difference, but I could be wrong. Let us know what you find.
 

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