Monday, May 17, 2010

What the HERMS are you doing? (Part 1 of 2)

So just last week I was gaming with Brewer Nick, and as we settled back in our chairs with our beers in hand he tells me, "I read your post today, good one, but I realized that I have no idea what your system does, or why you're doing it." It dawned on me right then and there that if he had no idea, than there's probably a lot of readers out there who are saying to themselves "yeah that's great... what the hell was that?"

Oops. Good mash, but wrong mash.
So lets start with the why. In all grain brewing, you have to create a mash. When you're using malt extracts, you skip this mash step. I guess you could say the mash and the extract are one in the same.

When you make a mash, you take your grain, and dump it in a large container. Then you steep this grain in a bunch of hot water, effectively creating a huge tub of grain-tea, yum. The important thing here is to keep your grain all at one temperature, and at one temperature for a long period of time. This is called a rest (the mash rests at one temperature for a set period of time, lazy mash). This method is called a single infusion mash, because you dump hot water on the grains, and let them steep without changing the temperature. This is also a single temperature rest that we had just mentioned.

To keep the grain at one temperature, many homebrewers use 10 gallon rubbermaid coolers. More commonly you probably see them as the Gatorade coolers at your local football game. These are handy because they are readily available, and you can easily knock off the plastic spigot and replace it with a ball valve from your favorite homebrew supply store (check out the beer links on the side). These coolers also lose very little heat. This is all you need for doing basic all-grain brewing.

Now there are a number of rests, and I'll get into those and how to achieve those next Monday. For a single infusion mash however, it's known as a starch conversion rest, which is typically around 160 degrees. This coverts all those grain sugars into sugars that are ferment-able (aka yeast can turn them into booze). Just as a note, if you're following a recipe, it will typically show you the strike temperature. This takes into account a room-temperature mash tun (rubbermaid cooler) and room-temperature grains.

Whew. This post got significantly long quick.  I'll give you guys a break and post the rest of this next Monday. Stay tuned for our exciting conclusion where I talk about the other rests and what the hell a HERMS does anyway.

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