Mashing Out is Dumb - But Do It Anyway

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Proverbially, "even a broken watch is right twice a day."

That's a thought I have every time I hear someone ask (or answer) about the mash out.  In most cases, the answer I hear invokes some discussion of "do it, because raising the temperature decreases viscosity."  It is sometimes then followed by, "but be careful not to make it too hot, or you'll get lots of tannins."

In this case, our broken watch is probably only right once a day.  You probably should go ahead and do a mash out.  And you should probably not be all that concerned about what you raise the mash temperature to.

Fire it Up

Let's start with the "hot lautering/sparging will make your beer astringent" thing.  

First off, tannin extraction depends on a hell of a lot more than just the temperature in the mash tun.  Among those factors a central feature is the pH of the mash.  Simply put, assuming you're in the "normal" pH range (5.2-5.8) for a brewing mash, it's not much going to matter if your temperature in the tun gets about 170F/77C. 

One reason I feel confident saying this is that, just for kicks, I brought my mash up to 180F/82C for several consecutive batches, and there was no change in the resulting beers based on organoleptic analysis in blind judging.  I used my most-common recipes for things like Altbier, Porter, and Bitter, and the resulting beers tasted as they usually do, scored as they usually do in competition.  Heck, the Bitter was one of the most-reliable and best-scoring versions I've ever made (I have a semi-infamous love-hate relationship with that style, in that it's easily in my top three favorites but I have historically struggled to produce high-scoring versions).  

Second, it's harder than you might think to get your mash up that high in the first place.  I perform a modified no-sparge method that entails adding one big ol' mash out addition in more or less identical volume to a batch sparge, and I had to have that sucker at near-boiling to raise the existing mash and wort to 180F/82C.  "Accidentally" raising the temperature in there too high would take some effort, like "accidentally" emptying the dishwasher when you were trying not to.

Don't fear the heat.

Physics v. Physics

Then there's the vaunted "viscosity" argument.  That's one that I bought into myself, before someone who knows much more about this than me explained to me that I had been completely snookered.  It involved words I didn't completely understand, but the gist was that since we weren't talking about dissolving sugar into the liquid, the temperature didn't make a difference once conversion had already occurred.  The sugar is there.  It's in the liquid.  It's not being washed off of the grains.  As a result, the viscosity of sugar at varying temperatures doesn't much matter.

Having said that, we can pivot to a physics term I actually do understand, especially as I once toyed with the idea of majoring in astrophysics: time.  Mashing out won't do anything meaningful to the viscosity of your mash, but it does require you wait a few minutes before moving on.  In that simple passage of time, you're potentially allowing for a bit more conversion and/or some increased efficiency due to marginal pH change, either of which will lead you to the false-positive conclusion of, "AH, See!  I increased the temp in the mash, which made the wort less viscous, and therefore I got more sugar!"  No, you almost certainly got more sugar because you made more, not because you melted it into solution by raising the mash temperature.

Wrong and Right

So, when it comes to the mash out addition, we're wrong about a lot of it, but still getting the right result.  It's dumb, but we should still do it.

First, it'll get you a few more gravity points, so why not?

Second, even though it entails waiting another few minutes, it's time you're saving when you run off and come to a boil, because the resulting liquid is that much warmer already.

Just don't come at me with all that viscosity talk.

Keep it simple.

JJW

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In the Boil, They're ALL Bittering Hops

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I recently returned from two days of nonstop talking about hops, hopping, hops oils, hops resins, pellet hops, leaf hops, hop shots, iso-alpha hops extracts, hop farming, and hopping methods.

As a result, I really don't want to write about hops today, but...

I noticed a real (and probably faulty) bias in lots of the folks I spoke to on my trip about what we're getting out of mash, first-wort, and boil hops, which is that they would often talk about these hops in the context of significantly increasing aroma and flavor.  They're not wrong, really - it's just that they're overly-optimistic.  I found myself repeating what I thought was a useful conceptual approach to hopping, over and over again, this past weekend:

In (or before) the boil, they're all bittering hops.

If you're using those additions to develop moderate-to-high levels of hops flavor and aroma, you're setting yourself up for disappointment.  Like a sequel to the classic film Zombeavers, it just ain't going to happen, no matter how badly you want it to.

It's Getting Hot in Here: Utilization and Volatility

Hops have two things we care about (beyond odd names we can't pronounce): resins and oils.

We talk a lot (too much, probably) about resins, specifically alpha acids, and their role in producing bittering in beer.  Alpha acid isomerization (by boiling) isn't terribly complicated - the longer they boil, the higher the utilization of those acids you'll yield, up to a practical limit of about 30%.  What's worth noting, though, is that you pretty rapidly (20-ish minutes) hit 15% utilization, or about half of the max.  Practically, this means that you get the bulk of your bitterness from that initial rapid rise in utilization, and the rest of your 60-240 minutes of boiling is yielding diminishing returns.

That same kind of rapid reaction is volatilizing your hops oils, and just as rapidly (or faster).  Of the oils we care about that add nice flavors and aromas to our hops, nearly all undergo a rapid process of getting-the-f***-out-of-your-beer when you boil them, because the temperatures at which they volatilize are generally much lower than the 212F you're boiling them at (some go as low as 140F or below).  Within 15 minutes nearly all are at less than half of their initial concentrations.  Linalool - a nice floral, lavender aroma - hits that mark in six minutes.  

The upshot here is that even short-added hops are still yielding most of their bittering potential and losing most of their flavoring potential.  

In the boil, it's just not productive to think in terms of "early-bitter, middle-flavor, late-aroma" hops.  In the boil, they're all bittering hops.

Low and Slow

None of this matters for lots of recipes, because in a great many styles we don't actually want much more than the bittering out of our hops.  We want accents and hints of hops flavor, not pronounced impressions of it.  

in a more and more hops-forward world, though, I see people actively trying to make even traditional malt showcases with big hops aroma and flavor.  If you want to do that, that's great - but don't try to make new-fashioned beer the old-fashioned way.

If you want anything more than low or medium hops character, add those hops post-boil, pre-chill.

After the boil, let your beer sit until it drops under 170F, then go to town.  At those temps you're adding minimal bitterness, but extracting and preserving the oils (and flavors) you want.  Let them sit, too - longer is better, up to about 20 minutes.

Consider the "less is more," approach, too - when Sapporo played with this stuff and published their results, they found that a lower level of dissolved oils in some beers gave more flavor.  Weird.  

I usually use less than an ounce of anything added then, and then adjust in subsequent recipes.  

Dry hopping in addition to using post-boil/pre-chill hops will intensify flavor and aroma again, but be conscious of the other plant-based flavors and textures you're adding, too.  Dry hopping is not identical to post-boil hopping, though, so make a conscious choice to do one, the other, or both.

Make What You Want

New brewers often work from pre-existing recipes, and with good reason: they often model already-successful beers, and we all need to learn from something when we're just getting started.  After a while, though, you should be thinking back from the finished product instead of forward from the recipe.  

Decide what you want to drink, and then design a recipe and process that gives you the best chance of getting that.

And if what you want is big hops, then you should definitely be thinking more about what happens after you kill the burner than what happens before you spark it up.

Keep it simple.

JJW

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).