On bigbeercrawls and importance of mash temperatures.

So I made it to the second bigbeercrawl last week. It was a pretty good time and I met a lot of new beer people. I made it to Hops & Pie, The Hole and Star Bar. That is a good run for me on a Tuesday. Hell, I rarely have the energy to visit more than two bars on any night. Hops & Pie had a decent beer list and the prices were pretty nice. Can’t say that the pizza is something I am going to dream about but hey, you can’t have everything. The Boston Cream Donut at The Hole, on the other hand was one hell of a thing. I want one right now. I am pretty excited for the next crawl in January. You should go.

So yeah. The 80/- that I made is in a keg. Um. Something happened. Remember when I mentioned that I didn’t make my target mash temperature? That seems unlikely as I am about my only reader. Anyway, I floated between 146-148 throughout the mash. Usually, 148 is about right but this was a pretty minimal recipe and I wanted a heavier mouthfeel. 152 or more would have been significantly better. Maybe 154.

The significance of small variances in mash temperature is pretty big. take a look at this chart which I have gratuitously swiped from John Palmer’s How To Brew:Complex!


What you see here is a breakdown (based on temperature and pH ranges) of when certain enzymes become active in the mash. The whole purpose of the mash is to activate enzymes already in the grain and cause them to convert soluble starches to fermentable sugars so the yeast can eat them and make alcohol and carbon dioxide. Easy! Well… not so. There are a few different enzymes that the grain carries around for certain occasions (go evolution!)

We could talk in depth about all of this stuff, but it is probably best to go simple here. Let’s talk about beta-amylases(β) and alpha-amylases(α.) If you look at the chart, these two cross over a bit. A single infusion mash usually shoots for a temperature in the range of 142 to 157 to vary the amounts of activity that these two enzymes have. At the lower temperatures the activity of β-amylase is going to be greater. β-amylase acts to break down long-chain saccharides (starch) into small sugars. Maltose is our big actor here. Yeast loves to get down on maltose and other small sugars. Maltose is to yeast as Zotz! are to me. Yeasts can easily metabolize the stuff and will do so with extreme efficiency. On the higher end of that temperature spectrum, α-amylase will have a greater effect on the final product. This enzyme is a bit different. While it does ultimately lead to the production of maltose and glucose, it also produces bigger sugars as well such as maltotriose. These bigger sugars are much harder or impossible for yeast to ferment so they make it through the fermentation process and end up in the final beer. In the simplest sense: more β-amylase in your mash you get a sweet, easily fermentable wort that produces a dryer thinner beer. More α-amylase gives you a thicker final product with more body. Balancing the resultant sugars to highlight certain aspects of the final beer is one of the big goals that the brewer is chasing.

By the way, when I say “sugar” I imagine that you think of something sweet. That is not always the case. A sugar is just a certain type of carbohydrate molecule that shares structural similarity with other sugars. Certain sugars will be picked up as “sweet” while others will go unnoticed or in our case be detected by the taste buds as a “thickness.” This variance can be rolled into the characteristic known as mouthfeel.

The problem I ran into is that my grain bill was small and subtle. It was also left out overnight in my garage, making it colder than I had calculated for. So there were a few factors that led to me not reaching the 152-153F that I was shooting for and one factor hat I considered and based on that I didn’t hurry to fix the temperature problem. I used flaked oats which also impart a thickness through the same unfermentable sugars as well as various proteins and other polysaccharides. I figured that that might make up for the difference in temperature but nope, instead I ended up with a watery product with not a whole lot of character to it. Lame. I should have added some boiling water to my mash but I didn’t. Lessons learned.

So I guess this is an addendum to my recent post about single-malt/simple grain bills. While they are interesting and subtle, make sure your technique is grounded and will allow those subtleties to shine. Back to the drawing board with this one.

Cool. ALSO! I have met a few people who are interested in this club idea. With the holidays bogging everything down, I think we are going to have our first meeting in January. Cold! Keep visiting here and check me out on Twitter @DenverHBC for more info.

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