Category Archives: techniques

No-Sparge Brewing

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For many brewers the steps together from grain to glass are a no brained – mash in, conversion rest, mash out, lauter, and sparge. For those who seek to get the highest efficiency possible and ring every last bit of sugar out of the grain, the sparge is pretty important.

But what about those who just want to make good beer and don’t really concern themselves with high efficiency, but rather consistent results (yours truly included)? Do we need the sparge?

There was a very inspiring article in the November 2011 edition of Brew Your Own about no-sparge brewing. My own personal experiences have fallen pretty much inline with what the article said, and it make sense; the efficiency falls off pretty quick the higher the gravity (above 1.045-1.050), but the beer has a nice round maltiness. Theres seems to be little or no difference on low gravity beers as far as efficiency goes, but it rounds out the flavour and keeps it from seeming too thin.

The technique is petty simple – add all the water you will use for brewing (mash and sparge) to the grains and when it’s converted, run it out into the kettle and boil. Couldn’t be easier. This is a pretty thin mash, but it’s forgiving. The one thing to keep in mind is that the mash tun needs to be able to handle the whole volume – this isn’t too much of a problem for low strength brews. You might need a bit more grain to make up for the loss on efficiency, but its a minimal cost.

For some comparison, in the days of ol’, most brewers were pretty much doing this already, they’d run out the first lot of wort and make a strong beer, the difference is they’d add more water and do a second (or third) running to make progressively weaker beers. This is known as parti-gyle, with the first gyle resembling a no-sparge type batch. Also, there is a rise in “Brew-in-a-bag” style brewing, where the brew kettle acts as the mash tun and a large mesh bag contains the grains. The whole volume of water is typically used and to lauter, the bag is just lifted out and let to drain. Sounds like no-sparge to me.

The greatest thing about home brewing is the ability to experiment. I once heard Michael Dawson say (and I’m quoting from memory), “Whats the worst that will happen? You’ll get some beer”. So, experiment, have fun, enjoy some beer, and share your experiances.

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Building a Magnetic Stir-plate

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I’ve been using a magnetic stir plate for some time now. My original one was put together for no cost from spare computer parts, a power supply that was laying around, and some scraps from a plastic tub – it wasn’t pretty, but it worked okay (okay being the word). And then came the accident – an over flowing yeast starter spilled into the stir plate, spelling the end of stir plate 1.0. But, like a phenix, a new stir plate is rising from the ashes of the old.

For those who may not know what a magnetic stir plate is or why on earth would a home brewer have one, its a device used to constantly stir a liquid. If you ever saw the inside of a lab with beakers of liquid spinning a seemingly magical whirlpool inside, you’ve probably seen a magnetic stir plate in action. It works by using the power of magnetics, one magnet inside the beaker or flask and the other under the glassware spinning. The spinning magnetic underneath causes the magnet in the liquid to also spin. Magic!

Why would a home brewer ever need such a piece of equipment meant for a lab? Well, to grow yeast. When it comes to proper fermentation, the right amount of yeast is important and there is no better way to get yeast growing them to feed the sugars and oxygen. A yeast starter is made of a bit of un-hopped wort (usually made form dry malt extract) and is allowed to ferment out. The yeast will multiply and ferment, but if there is a constant injection of oxygen the yeast will keep multiplying and building strong cell walls and good reserves to fight the big fermentation when its time. A simple starter is just like (or can actually be) and small, low gravity beer – it will produce a bunch of yeast and is, well, simple. Take a bit of wort and put it on a stir plate with the constant feed of oxygen being stirred in and that smaller amount of wort can produce a lot more, healthy yeast then a simple starter.

So, getting to the building part.

Disclaimer: I am an electronics technician by trade. If you don’t know what you’re doing with electricity or are not comfortable, don’t do it yourself, get a professional to help.

I (re)build my stir-plate from a cigar box, a variable power supply (1.5-12V DC, though a 5V supply would probably work fine), a 12V DC computer fan, a couple of magnets, a toggle switch, and a 25 ohm, 3 watt potentiometer (a variable resister, the nob to control the speed). My original stir plate was the same power supply and a magnet from a computer hard drive, but I got new rare earth magnets cheap from China (thanks eBay), the other parts came from The Source (Radio Shack), and I had the cigar box from a trip to Cuba.

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The first step is to fit up the box to hold the componest. My fan fits snug inside, but I needed to drill holes to get the switch, speed control, and power wires in.

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Then to fit and attach the components.

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Putting the power switch inline with the power and the speed control, solder (or use connectors and/or electrical tape, or get someone who knows how to do it for you, this is electricity after all) from one side of the power to the power switch, to the speed control, to the fan, and back to the other side of the power (keep in mind that the negative side of the power and the negative lead on the fan should go together and the power switch should be on the positive side of the power – polarity does matter).

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Attach the fan securely into the box. Mine actually was pretty snug in there and the lid rested on it (the fan was still free spinning), so I was luck and didn’t have to worry about it. You will need the fan in the box in such a way that its really close to the edge where the flask with the starter in it will be – the magnet will need to be pretty close. The next thing is to add the magnet to the centre of the fan. I ended up using two magnets evenly off-centre with their magnet poles in such a way that they work together, this worked pretty good. They want to stick down on their own, but to keep them in place I used a bit of aluminium tape I had on hand.

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To used the stir-plate you will need a flat bottom contained, an Erlynmeyer Flask is best because it has a flat bottom, but also a narrowing neck – a 1000mL flask is good, but a 2000mL flask would be better. You will also need a magnetic stir bar, a teflon coated magnetic bar that can be sanitized and be put into the flask with the wort. These things are both available online for not too much money.

And thats it. Pretty simple to build and a very valuable piece of equipment when it comes to yeast propagation.

Style for the Season

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Everyone has a particular style they like, most of us probably have several, but does your style change with the seasons? I know that mine does for sure. Basically, the colder it is, the darker I want my beer. I don’t think that I’m strange in this, I expect that many other people are the same. Don’t get me wrong, I will drink any style and time of year, but it seems that some beers just go with the seasons.

As a home brewer I get to make what I want, but as the seasons change I have to plan out what I “will” want knowing my tastes. The fall brings me to amber lager, red and brown ales, and leads me to stouts and IPAs for winter. By spring/summer I’m looking for pale ales, wheat beers, and amber lager (I’m a big fan of amber lager).

What do you look for as the seasons change?