Modified No Sparge: Indoor Brewing and the "Weeping Tony Romo"

My single, sad, lonely, awesome, SIMPLE one-pot induction system.

My single, sad, lonely, awesome, SIMPLE one-pot induction system.

Moving from the garage to the indoor brewery entailed some sacrifices.  None of them were bad enough to outweigh the joy of brewing while watching Tony Romo cry after botching a hold for a field goal in the playoffs (remember that game?  Every Eagles fan has it enshrined in their "happy memories" brain file), but sacrifices they were, nevertheless.  One of them was that, due to space restrictions, one of my two kettles and induction elements had to go (for more on induction brewing and why it might be better than whatever your doing, see my previously published work on the subject in BYO).  Au revoir, dedicated sparge water heater.  Life must go on, and seeing those beautiful, delicious Dallas Cowboy tears while I brew is totally worth it.

Change of system: Change of Process

Since I could no longer heat and hold sparge water while lautering, owing to my change of circumstances, I investigated some no-sparge options.  For those who need a primer, "No Sparge" is a process whereby the full volume of brewing water is added in a single charge to the grains, and lautering simply fills the kettle with no mash-out or subsequent washing/sparging additions of water.  It's manageable, and certainly many have seen a great amount of success with it, so it was certainly an option.

Then there's Brew in a Bag, and I look forward to having a guest blogger on at some point to discuss it!  It certainly meets the "Simple" part of Beer: Simple, but I wasn't in the market for a new kettle, and BIAB requires a lot of kettle volume to be able to mash in the same vessel you're boiling in, since it needs to be big enough to accommodate ALL of your grain and your full boil volume.  

No, I wanted to stick with my existing Coleman mash tun and my 5-gallon Kitchenaid kettle (thank you, Target - $47 and induction-capable...).  But I didn't like the idea of just adding a full six-ish gallons of water to my mash, for at least two reasons.  First, I was already changing enough: now I was changing my mash water-to-grist ratio as well.  Second, I didn't like the idea of the hit I'd take in efficiency.  I'd always struggled with efficiency, landing in the low-60s pretty regularly - but all that changed when I started doing a Mash Out to increase my temps and reducing viscosity before lautering.  I was finally hitting 72-73% pretty regularly, and this seemed like a big step back.  No Sparge usually entails a loss of efficiency, all the more so since I wasn't in a heat-producing system, so there'd be no pre-lauter warm up to shake those sugars loose from their grip on the grain.

The Modified No Sparge Method

The result was what I've come to call the Modified No Sparge method.  For the record, I don't claim to be an innovator here - I'm sure that others have thought about this problem and reached the same conclusion - but I've talked No Sparge with a LOT of homebrewers, and they always seem surprised when I explain my process, so I thought I'd pass it along here.

At the mashing end, change nothing.  Do what you've always done.  Simple, right?  Same water-to-grist ration, same strike temps, same everything.

Where things change is in the mash out addition.  Where I'd previously raised my mash temps to 170F (77C) by adding a single gallon of near-boiling water to the mash, I asked myself, "what if the mash out addition was just the mash out PLUS the sparge addition?"  I came to call this the Super Mash Out.  I tried it, and after some tinkering, I was able to consistently hit the right temperature (without going over, Price is Right style, because who wants tannins), drain my mash tun dry while hitting the rum of the kettle, AND preserve most of my efficiency, all without any decrease in quality.

The math was simple.  I use BeerSmith for my mashing/sparge water calculations, and since batch sparging (my previous method) requires a pretty precise addition to get the most out of your grains, I'd already dialed in my adjustments.  It was "whatever Brad says, plus my one gallon of mash out water."  I'm sure there's a button for that in the program somewhere, but I'd just learned from trial and error.  For the Modified No Sparge?  Just eliminate the one gallon for the mash out water, and go with the sparge volume.

Temperature was likewise pretty simple.  The Super Mash Out volume was typically around the same size as the initial mash-in volume.  When they were equal in volume, in my system, 195F (91C) brought the mash just to the brink of 170F (77C).  For every half-gallon more that the Super Mash Out was, I reduced the temperature of it by five degrees Fahrenheit.  For every half gallon less, add five.  Simple, and virtually guaranteed to avoid those hot-sparge tannins.

Efficiency went from an average of 72.8% to 70.1%, but I saved myself at least 15 minutes per batch and an entire heating element and pot.

So What?

Like I said, this isn't groundbreaking stuff.  I'm sure that it's been discussing and implemented by lots of brewers.  But what it does show is that simplification can be done while maintaining (and, given the latent advantages of no-sparge more generally, improving) beer quality.  

If there's a moral here, it's that simple can be better.  It isn't just about economies or efficiency and finding what you can live without, it's about making your system work for you, and not the other way around.

Otherwise you might miss the simple joy of watching a grown man sit on AstroTurf and cry.

Keep it simple.


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Dump the Pump: Newton, Pascal, Bernoulli, and Homebrewing

Gravity brewing 001.JPG

Physics is your friend, and can save you money on homebrewing equipment.  I'm no enemy of Chugger or March, but let's face it: most brewers don't need a pump if they can employ some basic brew system design advice to let physics do the work for them!  And here's the thing: principles of physics will never break down on you.  They won't burn out.  They don't (really) need to be primed.  And they're free.  So let's drink a toast to Sir Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, and Daniel Bernoulli and talk about how gravity, pressure, and suction can eliminate the need for pumps in your brewing (without requiring you to brew from atop an A-frame ladder).

When building out my new system, I wanted something simple (shocking, I know) and convenient.  Therefore, I wanted to build it more or less horizontally for ease of access and operation, and as a result came to the conclusion that pumping was my only real option.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the brewery: it turns out I couldn't stand the added steps, equipment, cost, and cleaning that the pump required, and went back to the drawing board.  Not for the first time in my brewing life, I thought, "well, why don't I just try the simplest thing and see if it works?"

With the minimum possible drop, could I transfer using nothing but gravity, hydrostatic pressure, and siphoning, and still work from counter height to the carboy without the need for a pump?  The answer was yes, and I now have a never ending source of transferring energy to go from my mash tun to my kettle, through my plate chiller, and out into my carboy.  Simple.

But let's talk numbers.

My mash tun sits on the countertop, a standard 36" from the floor, with a drain and ball valve roughly one inch above that.  Draining from the mash tun to the kettle, I have a ZERO inch drop from the ball valve outlet to the lip of the kettle, and a drop inside the kettle (once the beer clears the lip) of 10".  The hydrostatic pressure of the liquid in the mash tun is sufficient to get things flowing over the lip despite the lack of an actual drop, and once started, Bernoulli's Law takes over and keeps pulling liquid until the mash tun empties.  Nice and easy.

Now, once in the kettle, I boil as usual, and the time comes to chill things down.  I have a weldless fitting on my kettle, and I drain from it using the same principles as the mash tun's transfer.  Open the valve and let gravity/pressure do their job.  How big a drop?  Well, it's a whopping 4.5" from the barb to the "Wort In" side of the plate chiller...but here's the thing.  The easiest way to use my Shirron chiller (see the photo) is to lay it flat and clamp it to the counter that the kettle sits on, which means that to get OUT of the chiller, the fluid is now running UPHILL!  Before I let logic overcome reality, though, I just opened it up and observed what happened - no problem.  Once the flow gets going, we're home free again, thanks to Monsieur Pascal and Signor Bernoulli.  

Upon exiting the chiller, there is a 2.5" drop from the lip of the chiller output to the lip of the carboy, and then about a 6" drop into the carboy.  In case you're curious, it flows at a nice, healthy rate, too: 4.5 gallons of beer takes me nine minutes to drain/pull through the chiller, for a rate of about two minutes per gallon.  Even using a pump, you wouldn't want to (or be able to) go faster, chilling with cold tap water, so there's no real time loss.

And that's it: pump-free transfer.  I've literally never had a stuck lauter/sparge or transfer out/through the chiller.  Physics is some reliable stuff.

Obviously you'll need to do some tweaking to make this fit your system, but the gist is a simple one: you don't need big drops in height to make a gravity-fed system work, because gravity's not doing it all on its own.  Pressure is the real lead dog on this one, and so long as you have enough to get things moving, the rest is simple.  

Most three-tier stands on the market have about 24-30" of total drop, and most still make use of a pump to get the finished wort into the fermenter.  

My total drop, mash tun to carboy, with no pumps employed?  17 inches.

Keep it simple.


Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).