Barleypopmaker's Beer Blog

~I know you drank the beer, but did you experience it?

Barleypopmaker's Beer Blog - ~I know you drank the beer, but did you experience it?

Ss Brewtech’s 10 Gallon InfuSsion Mash Tun

My Ss Brewtech 10 gallon InfuSsion mash tun with optional sparge arm.

I recently got my hands on the 10 gallon stainless InfuSsion mash tun from Ss Brewing Technologies and opted for the optional sparge arm assembly (an additional $55). I really love this companies products, they are seriously nothing less than fantastic. This piece of equipment, is no different. There is no shying away from the fact that you can build your own mash tun for under $75 out of a cooler, and there is nothing wrong with that. I brewed with those for over 10 years. But a mash tun specifically designed and engineered to be nearly flawless on the homebrew scale is something that cannot be simply scoffed at as being something just flashy and cool looking. My first run with thing left me seriously impressed. There was one drawback, I came across that I’ll cover in a bit. But in the grand scheme of things it was a very minor issue. The mash tun comes with a false bottom, a silicone rubber gasket for the false bottom, a 3 piece 1/2″ Stainless Steel ball valve, the insulated lid, and a thermowell with a precision LCD thermometer. But there are optional accessories available as well.

Unlike other reviews, I’m going to skip right over the basics of what this mash tun has, and explain what the features mean and how they worked for me. For example, I think if you are in the market for this mash tun, you probably know what a false bottom is and how it works.

The center drain in the mash tun, The bottom slopes downward towards the drain resulting in zero dead space.

One of the features skimmed over seems to be that this mash tun has zero dead space. So what is dead space? It’s simply the liquid left behind in the mash tun after mashing. In most homemade and commercially made mash tuns you have some degree of dead space. Especially if you are using a stainless braid or even a manifold. Those braids and manifolds, while cheap and fairly effective do leave a surprising amount of valuable wort behind. Because of the concave floor of the mash tun with the drain in the center, coupled with the stainless false bottom, you are ensured to get every drop of liquid from your mash. This is pretty valuable.

A good view of the double wall construction and the thickness of the walls. Between each wall is foam and airspace, creating a very good insulator.

It’s no secret that stainless is not the best conductor of heat…..now I’m not sure if that translates to stainless steel itself being a good insulator or not, but what I do know is that there is about an inch of foam insulated airspace between the double walls of the mash tun. That airspace and foam do make this mash tun well insulated. Think of it as a very large stainless steel thermos. Now, take note that the mash tun is lined with foam inside, that means it should most definitely NOT be direct fired. That is one drawback that I saw is that there is no direct method of heating, which would be very nice. It would be great if you could step mash or something directly in here. But you can’t. There is an add on item where you can add a small electric heater to the mash tun, but this is designed to hold temperature more so than raise or control it. There also is a re-circulation port option available for the 20 gallon unit that will enable you to not only circulate but also possibly heat that circulation liquid and cycle in warmer water. But that is not an option in the 10 gallon model I have. But to make a long story short, I brewed on about a 65 degree F day and I did not preheat my mash tun, I had no trouble hitting my mash numbers and had only about a 3 degree drop in 60 minutes.

A view inside the mash tun showing the volume markings. (Also shown is the optional sparge arm)

10 gallons is a fairly big mash tun if you ask me. I did a Norther English Brown ale 5.5 gallon batch with what was supposed to be a 1.050 OG (ended up being 1.059)  in the mash tun and the water and grain volume only around the 6 gallon marker. So there is plenty of room to either brew 10 gallon batches or intensely large barleywines. After I sparged and I drained the mash tun, I let it sit for 5 minutes and opened the valve again and got about 2 quarts of liquid out. After that I emptied the mash tun’s spent grains into a plastic bag as I always do, what I noticed was unlike every other time I emptied the mash tun, the grains were relatively dry in comparison to the other times, particularly near the bottom of the mash tun. I did notice that the corners of my bag, which normally have some liquid wort in them, was completely dry, as shown below.

I want you to take notice of this bag of spent grains. This is a bag I filled with spent grains after the mash. Normally the bottom of the bag fills with some liquid after I dump the mash into the bag. In this case, after sitting several minutes there was no visible liquid and as a matter of fact, the barley flour in the corner of the bag is still bone dry.

In this shot you can see the feet of the mash tun, as well as a hole where you can see the foam that insulates the tun….again, do NOT direct fire this mash tun.

My one and only complaint would be about the feet. I don’t know if it was on purpose or not, but I got an extra foot in my box. This will turn out to be a good thing because these feet fall off very easily. The just snap into holes on the bottom of the mash tun, but the slightest movement to the left or right when lifting the mash tun send one of the feet flying off and skittering across the ground. While all in all the mash tun is solid and put together very well, the issue with the feet can become somewhat annoying. Of course, if you feel you don’t need them you don’t even have to use these feet. But still, it would be nice if they fit into the holes more securely. This does not affect the functionality of the mash tun at all.

Optional sparge arm….

One of the optional pieces of equipment you can get with the mash tun is the sparge arm. The InfuSsion sparge arm assembly is pretty straight forward. It’s a shaped piece of stainless tubing with an screw-on attachment that will diffuse the water. Between the main assembly and the screw on diffuser is a rubber washer of your choosing, that will provide flow control. The various colors mean different flow rates with the darkest color having the lowest flow rate and the lightest color with the fastest. The sparge arm is held in place by a molded rubber bracket that attaches to the mash tun’s handle and a spacer helps keep it standing upright. Below are a few more pictures showcasing these features.

Flow control washers….

The rubber bracket and spacer that keep the sparge arm in place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I used the the medium washer on my sparge arm and it seemed to be about right. I rigged up a small sous vide pump to run my sparge process and I’m sure it was a bit too fast, I’m typically a batch sparge kind of guy, but thought fly sparging, with the right tools may be worth a shot. Like I said, I did end up sparging a bit fast, but it worked fairly well and was easy to set up. I will just have to make adjustments to my flow control (a ball valve) to slow things down more. You could also use gravity to feed the sparge assembly, just be sure your HLT is higher than your mash tun. The center drain, and false bottom help prevent channeling in your mash as well.

Just sparging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In conclusion, I think if you are ready to bump up your mash game, this mash tun will be very effective in helping you accomplish that. From the insulated walls and lid, to the center drain and false bottom you have yourself a serious piece of the brewing equipment here. The 10 gallon system retails for $395 for the 10 gallon model and $550 for the 20 gallon model. The sparge arm assembly will run you $55 and if you opt for the electric heater (they are calling it the MTSs) for maintaining mash temps, that will run you $80.


Both the 10 gallon mash tun, as well as the 20 gallon mash tun can be purchased at More Beer.

Making Fantastic Extract Beers indistinguishable from All-Grain -Part 2

In part 1 I gave you some tips on how to make excellent extract beer. In this installment, I’m going to demonstrate my extract process so that you can see my particular extract brewing method, where I incorporate all the aspects I talked about. This should help provide a visual accompaniment to what I wrote in part 1. I should note that I am not claiming this is the best and only method for brewing extract beers, but rather a tried and true method that I use to make extract beer that turns out indistinguishable from all grain versions of the same beers. So with that, let’s brew a couple of extract beers. One with my preferred method, with dry malt extract and one with liquid malt extract.

The First recipe we are going to brew is going to be blood orange gose. You can find the recipe HERE.

First we should look at the equipment I have. I don’t want you to think that you need to have all of this (remember I am primarily an all-grain brewer, so most of this is more a luxury for extract than essential) but this equipment is very versatile and will get you where you want to be for both extract an all-grain brewing.

The equipment I use for extract brewing may seem excessive to most, but it does the job well and enables me to brew both ways quite well. The pump is nice for pushing beer through my counterflow chiller and doubles as a way to aerate the wort. The pot is big enough to handle large brew-in-a-bag batches as well as extract. It’s nice versatile rig.

Use of distilled or Reverse Osmosis water is paramount to making fantastic extract beers.

I always start every extract beer I make with distilled water. As I pointed out earlier, this is important to making great extract beer because the malting facility has already used water salts in their mash. When they condense the extract (even dry) the salts are in that extract. If you use municipal or spring water, you are essentially adding even more ions to the beer, which can potentially give you some unwanted flavors.

 

 

 

 

 

I usually fill my pot with all of my brewing water at once, about 7 gallons total, considering trub and evaporation loss. I then place my steeping grains into the cold water and slowly heat the water to 150 degrees. All you are looking for in extract beers is to extract flavor from the grain through steeping. This is a steep, not a mash. So whether or not you cold steep or hit your temperature really doesn’t impact anything negativity and some would argue that a cold steep with roasted grains is actually a benefit. However, in a true cold steeping process you cold steep the roasted grains and add that steeped water near the end of the boil….but that’s for another post. Above, I am steeping the 2 pounds of acid malt. In this particular case I did hold my steep at 150 for about a half hour. My theory was because acid malt is 2-row and can convert. So I essentially looked at this as a very thin mash. I was hoping if I stayed in the 150 range for a while I’d get some starch conversion. Once the 30 minutes is up, just pull the bag and turn back on the heat to bring the water to boiling.

Once to boiling, you want to add 1/4 to 1/2 of your total extract, reserving the last 1/2 to 3/4 for the last 15 minutes of the boil. Making this type of change to a recipe that was not designed for late extract will boost your IBU’s, so make adjustments accordingly if your recipe is not a late extract recipe. I make EVERY extract beer this way because it helps reduce darkening that tends to happen more with extract beer, and it helps reduce kettle caramelization. For some reason extract tends to taste more burnt than all-grain when you get kettle caramelization so I tend to avoid boiling a lot of the extract early on.

I know this is not Palisade hops in the picture, this was actually taken during the second brew, but you get the idea. Dump in the hops!

It is at this time you usually tend to add your first charge of hops. I wait until all my extract has been dissolved and the heat brings the wort back up to a boil. Depending on the recipe you may have several charges of hops or just one. In the case of this gose, I added one charge of hops with 30 minutes left and one with 15 minutes left. I didn’t want a lot of bitterness but I wanted a lot of hop flavor from the palisades, which to me tend to taste more citrus orange than anything. Again, I would like make note that if your recipe was not designed for late addition extract, you want to make adjustments to your hop schedule. Beersmith 2 makes this very easy to do. There is actually a checkbox when you add extract to choose if it’s late addition. It will properly calculate your hop IBU’s based on the late extract information.

Bring that beer to beautiful boil. It is this time that many brewers take a break…..go grab a beer….or what not. Not me, it’s time to do some more prep-work.

On this day I rehydrated both US-05 and S-04 at the same time.

Once the boil starts it’s time for me to get my yeast rehydrated and start sanitizing my equipment. So I first boil about a cup of water and cover it place it in the fridge. It should cool in about 15-20 minutes to roughly 70 degrees. I then transfer that water to a sanitized PET bottle and add my dry yeast. Shake it up and let it sit. It will be ready to pitch by the time your chill cycle starts.

Now there is come debate on whether or not you should rehydrate your dry yeast. The way I look at it, the yeast manufacturers say to do it, and that rehydration build healthy and stronger cell walls. Since I want to make the best beer I can make, I want to maximize the health of my yeast. So I rehydrate. But a lot of people say they don’t have issues with not rehydrating. However, reading the forums on people not achieving full attenuation, getting stuck fermentations, or having other minor fermentation issues. I wonder how many times “I’ve never had a problem” is really true. Rehydration is cheap (free basically), quick, and safe as long you boil your water and sanitize your PET bottle. What do you have to lose?

 

I use a child’s medicine dropper to measure 5ml of star san to every 1 gallon of distilled water.

Next I mix up my star san and start soaking any parts that I know will come in contact with my chilled beer. Remember minimum contact time for star san is something like 30-60 seconds. But that doesn’t mean that is your time limit. I tend to sanitize for several minutes. It’s not difficult and gives me extra piece of mind. I also should add that I sanitize my counterflow chiller and pump before I brew. I fill my kettle with 2 gallons of water and bring it to a boil. I then open the valve and pump that boiling water through my pump and chiller for 15 minutes. It’s important to mention that simply because I didn’t mention it earlier and it is critical to sanitize your counterflow chiller.

 

A wallpaper tray makes a great vessel for sanitizing long items and hoses.

Beer path is in yellow, cold water path in blue.

With about 15 minutes left in the boil you want to add the remainder of your extract and your last charge of hops. In the case of this gose, that’s also when you want to add the salt and the coriander. Then you can just ride out that last 15 minutes before it’s time to chill. I have provided an illustration showing the flow (in yellow) of beer and the flow of water (in blue) for those who may not be well versed in chillers. It’s a very simple concept, The beer flows in one direction and the cold water flows in the opposite. In this case the beer flows down then up, because of the advantage of the pump. If you don’t have a pump you can just put the chiller lower than the pot and let gravity do it’s thing. The key is to have the cold water in the outer jacket moving the opposite direction. So in this case my beer flows down the tube to the pump, which pushes the beer up through the chiller. The cold water flows from the backside of the chiller down and out the output hose (not pictured).

Hot Side aeration…..it’s pretty much been debunked.

There is one other advantage to using the pump that I talked about earlier. That is using it to aerate my wort, instead of using a pure O2 system or aquarium pump. I use the agitation of the wort pouring back into the kettle to aerate. Since I chill for quite some time, usually up to 10 to 15 minutes I get plenty of aeration. It’s like killing 2 birds with one stone. On one hand I’m circulating the wort through the chiller back into the kettle so that cold break collects in the kettle, and not my fermentation vessel, and second I’m aerating. Now some people will be concerned with hot side aeration, but from what I’ve read that whole theory has been debunked. Oxygen does not readily dissolve in hot or warm liquid to begin with, and the aeration will actually only start as the beer cools. Plus any oxygen introduced will be used up by the yeast during reproduction. Oxidizing melanoidins will happen whether to the wort is hot or cold, and usually takes a lot longer to occur than the few minutes we are chilling.

One last blast of Star San into my Ss Brew Tech brew bucket…..

One last blast and quick soak of some star san into my Brew Bucket………

Move the output hose from the chiller going into the brew pot into the fermentor….

One last blast of aeration through agitation as we pump into the brew bucket.

Take a reading with the refractometer….

12 brix or 1.049 OG.

And it’s time to pitch that rehydrated yeast………

Pitching the rehydrated yeast….

We’re done! Now just to bring the bucket to the basement and monitor the temperature. In this case, my basement was right at 62 so my fermentation was going to be pretty much where I wanted it, between 65 and 68 degrees. So no need to connect the FTSs to my brew bucket this round. The only thing I don’t have pictured is adding the 1 pound of Blood Orange Candi Syrup to the fermentor after primary fermentation is complete. With the cascade candi syrups, there is no need to boil them before use, they are sterile according to the manufacturer. I used it in my primary and the gose is about a month old, with no infectious off flavors or aromas.

 

Now for the liquid extract beer I made a Ginger and Molasses Porter using Breiss CBW Porter malt extract and Thai Ginger and Molasses Cascade Candi Syrup. You can find that recipe HERE. The process is EXACTLY the same as what I outlined above except the extract is liquid, not dry. I normally like using the lightest extract possible and getting my color and flavor from the grains, but I want to say that I really like the Porter extract for making brown porter. When it comes to freshness, I do have an advantage to be quite honest. That is that I do work part-time at a homebrew supply shop, so I do have that advantage of knowing our turnover on extracts, which is actually fairly high, and what extracts just came in. (Here is a link to our homebrew supply shop, we have $5.99 flat rate shipping and orders place before 3pm Central time ship the same day)So when using liquid malt extract, freshness is the biggest factor to consider. Especially when using these darker “specialty” extracts. Liquid extracts just tends to oxidize in storage faster than dry malt extract.

 

That is it for this post. I just hope some of you find this post to be helpful to you in some way and if you have been having issues with “extract” flavor in your beers. This helps correct it.

Making Fantastic Extract Beers indistinguishable from All-Grain -Part 1

Credit: Breiss.com

If you troll the Homebrew forums or groups on any social media sites, you will come across the the question; which makes better beer extract or all-grain? You will read a mixture of answers with many people stating all-grain makes better beer, and you will even have those who claim they can taste an extract beer every time. That’s a bunch of BS. Sorry, to those of you claim that, but I’m being 100% honest here. I am primarily an all grain brewer, and I prefer that process because it’s more fun for me. But I have done blind experiments where instead of saying to someone “Is this extract or all-grain?”, I have said instead removed that 50/50 shot by saying “I brewed 2 variations of this recipe, which do you prefer?” Then followed up with “Can you guess what the difference is?”. This will be news to any of my friends in my homebrew club reading this, but I sometimes brew extract beers when I’m pressed for time and don’t tell anyone they are extract. I have not once….not one single time EVER had one ask me “Is this an extract batch?” First I’m going to explain my personal feelings on the differences. Just remember though, because all-grain is more versatile, does not mean that it tastes better. In this write up I am talking strictly about flavor and aroma of the beer, not which method you can produce the most varied styles. In part 1 of this, I will discuss why some people perceive all-grain as being superior and some things you can do to up your game in extract brewing to make fantastic extract beers. In the next segment, I will go though my extract brewing process in detail for those who may be interested. (Note: Also check out the extract to grains conversion suggestions I have HERE. You may find it useful at some point)

First, why do people think all-grain beer tastes better? Well, in my opinion there are 3 major reasons some perceive a difference. The first is the complexity factor. No doubt about it all-grain brewing is more complicated. There are more steps and more places for things to go wrong, and when you have more steps and a more complicated process, you get a bigger sense of accomplishment when the product is complete. This can give you the perception that it’s “better”. Also, to be honest, when brewing extract you are limited to the beer styles you can accurately produce to the world-class level. However, that list of styles you can brew accurately is growing considerably with advances in extracts and specialty grains. Today you can replicate just about any classic style with extract and specialty grains. The addition of Munich, Marris Otter, and Rye malt extracts over the past few years has closed a huge gap for the extract brewer.

The second major reason is that most people start out with extract, at least their first few batches. There is a learning curve to getting to know the hobby. You can read about brewing, sanitation, fermentation control, and so on. But in actual practical application, those factors take time to get used to. They don’t take long, but they do take time to get the feel for and build your own process you are comfortable with. Once that is done, your beer will improve. For many brewers, this also happens to be the stage where they move to all-grain. They feel they have sanitation down, and the basics of boiling and fermentation process down. Once that comfort level hits, they look to all-grain. Well, little do they realize that their extract beers have also probably gotten better.

The third reason is water. We are told that if your water tastes good, you can brew with it. That is 100% true. As long as it’s de-chlorinated you will not get off-flavors from the chlorine, and if it’s not high in sulfur or dissolved metals it the beer will taste and smell fine. But there is a difference between good beer and great beer. Therefore, one needs to remember that when using extract, either liquid or dry, most of the ions in the water source that the malting plant used to make the extract, are inside the extract. So when you take your filtered tap water, and add extract…..you essentially are also adding mineral additions. Depending on your local water profile, this can be a slightly negative addition. But since most extract brewers are novices, we don’t want to complicate the matter with water chemistry right off the bat. So we say if it’s good water, it will make decent beer. Now, if you switch to all grain, all those minerals that were a slight detriment before, are now a required asset. Those water ions and minerals are benefiting your mash and your yeast and more importantly they are not in double quantities. Makes sense right?

Now, let’s take a look at some simple things you can do to up your game in the extract world. All of this is assuming you are already buying the most fresh product you can. Freshness of the extract is paramount and should have been a concern from day 1.

1. Go to full volume boil. This is probably one of the biggest changes you can do to make better extract beer. When people start out, they generally start with a 5 gallon pot and boil 3 gallons, then cool that 3 gallons of concentrated wort, add it to the bucket, and top up with fresh water. Well, you are not getting the best utilization of the hops this way, plus you end up darkening and at times over cooking the wort because of they concentration of sugars in the water. This is more true in the higher gravity beers. Going full volume boil, in a 7-10 gallon pot out on a propane burner will give you a better and more consistent product, without the excessive darkening and kettle caramelization normally associated with extract beers.

2. Get reliable fermentation temperature control. In both all-grain and extract brewing, fermentation temperature is essential to making consistent high quality beer. You cannot make world-class beer by by letting ambient temperatures ride. The best, and cheapest, methods for heating is to submerge your beer in a tub of water with an aquarium heater in it which you can set the temperature. For cooling, nothing beats an old chest freezer or refrigerator with a temperature controller. Controlling your temperatures of fermentation is just as important of a move as going full boil.

3. Consider switching from liquid malt extract (LME) to dry malt extract (DME). What I have found, especially for lighter beers like pilsners and cream ales (some of which people say are impossible to get right with extract…..NOT TRUE) that DME retains it’s color better than LME. The reason is that for reason’s unknown to me, LME oxidizes a bit easier than DME. I would imagine it has to do with the water. When LME oxidizes it darkens. This is natural and unavoidable. It also happens relatively fast. The second thing is that DME is easier to use and store. Store DME in an airtight container and any unused portions are going to stay fresh for weeks. LME is very difficult. You can adjust your recipes a lot easier using more exact quantities instead of being tied down to 3lbs at a time. You can use an odd amount of DME, like 2.75 pounds and store .25 pounds for a later batch or your yeast starters. With LME you are mostly tied to 3 or 3.3 pound increments. So unless you supplement with additional DME, you are limited. I personally use DME in almost my extract beers. Just word of caution though, 3 pounds of LME will not give you the same gravity as 3 pounds of DME. You will end up with a higher gravity with DME because of the water weight. So make adjustments accordingly in your brewing software.

4. You MUST use specialty grains. Specialty grains are going to add dextrins, flavors, and complexity you will not get from extract only beers. A small amount of carapils in every batch will benefit your head retention as well.

5. Use distilled or Reverse Osmosis water. The reason is the same as I explained above. Extract already has the water salts from the brewer’s process in the extract. Both DME and LME have these salts. So avoid doubling up your water’s salts by using distilled or RO water.

6. Learn to utilize the late extract method. By adding only 1/4 of all your extract at the start of the boil, and reserving the last 3/4 for the last 15 minutes of your boil. You will avoid kettle caramelization and most importantly, darkening. This is extremely important if you are trying to brew light beers, like cream ales or pilsners. This does affect your hop utilization, so be sure you tell your brewing software that X amount of extract is late addition extract. The software will adjust your IBU’s. For stouts and porters, or other dark beers, late extract is not as important but I feel it will benefit the beer in flavor.

7. Pitch enough yeast. This is another common issue I see with extract beers, even when experienced brewers toss together a quick extract beer. Since the extract brewing process is so much easier, they tend to neglect the care they put into yeast pitching in their all-grain beers. I’ve read it before and seen it many times. I’ve read people say they only do starters for their all-grain beers and don’t worry about with extract. I ask….why? The product you get from extract wort and all grain wort is essentially the same. You should treat it the same if you expect excellent results. So consider making yeast starters or at minimum rehydrate and/or pitch a double packet when using dry yeast.

If you do those 7 things, over time, your extract beers will beat out quite a few all-grain beers. I promise you that. In part 2, I will show my extract brewing method. It’s really nothing Earth shattering or different from many other people. But if you are reading this, you may find my method of some value.

MoreBeer! Absolutely Everything!