by Denny Conn
Some homebrewers aspire to someday go pro. Some homebrewers like to use pro style systems and techniques for their homebrewing endeavors. Some homebrewers get their kicks from designing fancy automated systems for the brewing. Not me....I like the simple, hands on approach to brewing. Kind of the same way you think of cooking. For me, it's "Cheap 'n' Easy" batch sparge brewing.
Sparging is the rinsing of the grain bed to extract as much of the sugar from the grain as possible without extracting mouth puckering tannins from the grain husks, says John Palmer (How to Brew, John Palmer 2nd Edition 2000, 2001). We'll further specify that sparging begins only after runoff of the sweet wort from the mashtun has begun. Otherwise, there would be no such thing as no-sparge brewing, which we'll get to in a minute.
The usual way most brewers sparge is continuous (also called on the fly, or fly) sparging. In this method, after vorlauf, the wort runoff is begun and water is added to the mash tun at the same rate as the runoff. It's important to go slow so as to extract the maximum amount of sugar and not compact the grainbed, which would stop the runoff. Lauter design is also highly important in fly sparging. Your lautering system must allow no channeling, or the sparge liquor will "drill" straight down through the grain bed in only one or 2 locations and leave the rest of the mash unrinsed. Because the buffering power of the grains in the mashtun is continually being diluted by the sparge water, it's necessary to monitor the pH of the runoff. Too high a pH will cause the extraction of tannins and polyphenols, compromising the quality of the beer. To counteract this, it is often necessary to acidify the sparge water to keep the pH of the runoff below 6. Because the runoff may take an hour or more, many brewers do a mashout step in an attempt to denature the enzymes and prevent further conversion from taking place while the sparge is happening. However, this method will usually yield the highest extraction from the grain.
As described by John Palmer in his BYO article "Skip the Sparge" (May-June 2003), a no sparge brew has the entire volume of sparge water added to the mash and stirred in before any runoff has taken place. Even though additional water has been added, since it hass been added to the mash before runoff has begun, we can more properly think of it as a mash infusion, rather than a sparge addition... hence the name "no-sparge". This method is the easiest way to mash, but at the expense of poor extraction, typically 50%. The advantage, though, is that because all the sugar from the mash is in solution from the agitation of adding the water, lauter design has minimal effect.
Batch sparging is like partigyle brewing or the English method described in Palmer's How to Brew, but instead of a separate beer being made from each runoff, the runoffs are combined into a single batch. In batch sparging, mashing is done at the normal ratio of anywhere from 1 to 1.3 qt./lb. After conversion, the sweet wort is recirculated as normal and the mashtun is completely drained as quickly as possible, and an addition of sparge water is added. This is stirred into the mash, allowed to rest for a few minutes, thoroughly stirred again, and after recirculation is once more drained as quickly as the system will allow. Sometimes, multiple batches are added if necessary or an additional infusion is made before the first runoff is begun. The advantages of batch sparging are no (or reduced) worries about pH because you are not continually diluting the buffering power of the grains, inefficient lautering systems do not really affect the extraction rate since the sugars from the grain are in solution, a mashout is seldom necessary (though may still be desirable) since the wort will be in the kettle more quickly and enzymes denatured by boiling, and extraction rates that range from slightly less to slightly more than fly sparging. The more inefficient your lautering system is for fly sparging, the bigger the gain in extraction you will see from batch sparging.
Most of the following is drawn from and builds on the work of Ken Schwartz (Ken Schwartz  and Bob Regent . The main concept we are going to be working with is that for the best efficiency, the runoff volumes from your mash and batch sparge should be equal. In order to do that, it is sometimes necessary to infuse your mash with extra water before the first runoff. Here is how it works...
R1 = initial runoff volume which = mash water volume - water absorbed by grain
R1 + I + S(1) + S(2) + ... + S(n) must equal V and R1 + I = .5V
(Note: On my system I assumed the water absorbed by the grain to be .1 gal./lb. Use a figure that matches your system.)
Let's see how this works in a brewing session. Assume a recipe with 10 lb. of grain, and that you need to collect 7 gal. of pre boil wort. A mash ration of 1.25 qt./lb. would require 12.5 qt. or 3.125 gal. of strike water. Based on an absorption of .1 gal./lb., the mash would absorb 1 gal. of water so we would get 2.125 gal. of water from the mash. Since we want to collect 3.5 gal. (or 50% of the boil volume), after the mash is complete we would add 1.375 gal. (5.5 qt.) of water to mash tun before the first runoff. Stir the additional water in, let it sit for a few minutes, then vorlauf until clear and start your runoff. After the runoff, we add 3.5 gal. of batch sparge water. Stir it in, rest 10-15 minutes, stir again, then vorlauf and runoff as before. These two runoffs will give us our pre boil volume of 7 gal. of sweet wort.
Now, let's take a look at how to build the equipment and do a brew session!
For the mashtun, you will need a cooler. I prefer the rectangular ones. The large top opening makes it easier to stir the mash than a round cooler does. Since grain bed depth makes practically no difference in batch sparging, one of the main reasons people use the round coolers is nullified. The rectangular ones are also cheaper. You will also need a rubber bung for a minikeg, some 1/2 inch ODx3/8 inch ID food grade vinyl tubing long enough to reach from whatever you set your cooler on to the bottom of your kettle PLUS 6 inches, an inline nylon valve, and a length of water supply line with a stainless steel braid for a jacket, and 3 hose clamps. The length of the water supply line does not really matter. I use one that is long enough to run the length of the cooler, but my experiments have shown that shorter ones seem to work as well. Feel free to substitute parts if you would like something a little snazzier. The only really crucial piece of the whole setup is the stainless hose braid, so if you want to put a fancy ball valve or something else on your mashtun, go for it!
NOTE: The minikeg bung fits snugly into the hole left from removing the drain in most of the 48-54 qt. coolers I've checked. If the fit is loose, or you are worried about leakage, apply some food grade silicone sealant on the flange before inserting the bung into the cooler. Be creative!
Step by Step
That's it! You've built your Cheap 'n' Easy mash/lauter tun! Now, let's brew some beer!
Let's walk through an actual brew session. This is from a 8 gallon batch of altbier I brewed recently. Remember that the method can be used with any brewing system or equipment. I'm going to describe how to do it the "Cheap 'n' Easy" way.
The equipment you'll need is:
In this photo you can see my cooler, converted keg boiler, a 7 gal. aluminum pot for heating water, a thermometer, a 2 cup Pyrex measuring cup, a 1/2 gal. plastic pitcher, and the pickup tube for my kettle.
The things that you need to know to figure your water volumes are:
OK, we're ready to brew!
Congratulations...you've batch sparged! Like anything else in brewing, it may take a couple tries before you get everything figured out completely. But with batch sparging, you can brew all grain beers with a minimal investment in equipment, and a pride in the hands on fun of brewing.
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