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Brew Days

Step Mashing – German Style Kölsch

March 24, 2013

I have been all grain brewing for a couple of years that started with a 10 gallon round Rubbermaid cooler from Home Depot that I modified with a brass drain valve and thermometer.  Since I was batch sparging, I never had complete control over more involved mashing techniques that one might do for lagers or beers with a lot of adjuncts.

I finally reached a point where I was tired of lifting vessels to transfer, sparge and boil wort so I took advantage of a sale on a More Beer 1550 sculpture.  No more lifting hot stainless vessels and now I could easily perform more advanced step mashes.  Not that I really need to do that to make decent beer, but since the brew rig is set up for it, I figured I would give it a try.

1550 More Beer Sculpture

During the first year of having the sculpture, I spent each brew session trying to “dial-in” all the losses from cooling and transfers.  When I finally got that nailed, I entered the profile into the Beer Smith software and was finally on track – well, with exception of figuring out how to get the best performance out of the float switch.   So, on my last visit to my LHBS Smokin Beaver, the guys showed me how they set up their More Beer flat sculpture and float switch.  When I got home that day, I modified my sparge set-up to match their specs and was ready to brew the following morning.

Sparge Ring & Float Switch

Sparge Ring & Float Switch

For the sake of changing up my brew day, I wanted to brew a beer that could possibly benefit from a multi-step mashing schedule.  With spring among us and warmer weather on the horizon, I chose to brew a German stlye Kölsch.  The recipe was extremely simple with Bohemian Pilsner malt (95%) and a small percentage of Vienna (5%).  I made a 1 liter yeast starter using WLP 029 German Ale/Kölsch from White Labs which I had picked up fresh directly at their tasting room four days earlier.

With the brew rig set up, brewing water measured and filtered, and grain crushed, I fired up the mash tun and hot liquor tank to get this thing underway.


Mash tun under fire!

For this brew, I used a water to grist ratio of 1.5 liters per pound of grain; which in the end, allowed me to achieve a planned total brew house efficiency of 70%.  A couple of great resources for multi-step mashing schedules and techniques can be found in John Palmer’s book How to Brew and a few of the shows from The Brewing Network.

Here is a step-by-step account of how my mash attempt went:

Step 1:  Protein Rest for 20 minutes at 122F.  I heated the strike water to 126F to dough in and hit a temperature of 118F.  With the recirculation of wort going through the heat exchanger, I was able to level the temperature at 122F within a couple of minutes and maintain it for the duration of the rest period.

Protein Rest

Protein Rest

Step 2:  Beta Sacch Rest for 30 minutes at 149F.  Once 20 minutes has passed, I adjusted to temp control to 146F and began to raise the temperature (I set the temp control 3 degrees below the target temperature because once the pumps shuts off, the temperature continues to creep higher).  It took about 15 minutes to reach 149F and from there, I let it rest.

Beta Sacch

Beta Sacch Rest

Step 3Alpha Sacch Rest for 30 minutes at 158F.  Following the Beta Sacch rest, I made the adjustment on the temp control to 155F and the pump kicked on to re-circulate wort through the heat exchanger.  Again, 15 minutes later, I had reached 158F and allowed that to rest for 30 minutes.  Easy.

Alpha Sacch

Alpha Sacch Rest

Step 4:  Mash Out for 10 minutes at 168F.  The final step of the schedule was to do a mash out.  I set the temp control to 165F and the pump fired right up and began to re-circulate wort through the heat exchanger.  It took about 10 minutes to reach temperature, and once there, it was held at 168-169F for 10 minutes.

Mash Out

Mash Out

Step 5:  Fly Sparge for 60 minutes.  Throughout the mash schedule, I had the sparge ring sitting about ¼ inch above the grain bed and the float switch positioned about one inch above the ring.  I switched the control box to begin sparging; the pump kicked on and began filling the mash tun with 170F water until the level reached the float switch.  This leaves about 1 inch of water on top of the grain bed and the sparge ring submersed.

From here, I opened the drain valve on the mash tun and began to gravity feed the wort into the boil kettle.  For this particular brew, I planned to boil for 90 minutes, so I collected about 9.37 gallons of wort.  For each brewing session, I target the sparge to take a total of 60 minutes, which equates to about 0.5 – 1.0 quart per minute.  I have learned that slower is better.  The great thing about using a float switch is that as the mash tun drains, the pump will automatically kick on and add more sparge water.  Thus, maintaining a one inch water line above the grain – keeping it undisturbed.

Early runnings from the mash tun.

First runnings. Gravity feed from mash tun.

And that’s it.  That was my first attempt at a multi-step mash schedule and overall, I found it to be simple, straight forward and a fun way to change up an often times monotonous brew day.

Pre-boil gravity.  8-9 Brix

Pre-boil gravity. I’ll call it 8.5 Brix or approx. 1.033


I transferred 5.5 gallons into the fermenter and had a starting gravity of 1.051.  I cooled the wort, added 1 minutes of oxygen and pitched the yeast at 60F.  I checked on the status 12 hours later and saw no activity.

Specific Gravity

Specific Gravity. I’ll call it 1.051.

I decided to add 30 seconds of more oxygen and within 4 hours, fermentation began.  Throughout fermentation I held the temperature at 60F for the first couple of days and then brought it up 2 degrees for the next two days.

I plan to hold the temp at 65F and allow the beer to finish before cold crashing and transferring to a secondary vessel for a lagering phase.


Brew Day with Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits

On August 19, 2012, I was invited to brew my winning  home brew recipe “Time to Panic” with Ballast Point; which was part of the home brew competition they hosted along with the San Diego Padres.   I met up with Doug, one of the brewers at their Home Brew Mart location to brew 15 barrels of a 30 barrel batch.

The day started at 10:30 AM and after a quick introduction with Doug, he had me working.  I came prepared and excited to work.  My first task was to mill all the grain.  Now, keep in mind, I am a home brewer and used to milling around 11 -12 pounds or so for a 5 gallon batch.  Well, this was a little bit different. Aside from the first 50 pound bag that Doug milled to show me the ropes, he asked me to finish up the remaining 1,250 pounds!

I’m not sure how many 50 pound bags of grain that ended up being, but climbing a small step-ladder and pouring into the mill proved to be a good shoulder workout.  The good news was that under the mill, the grain is collected and an auger ultimately transfers it to the mash tun.

The brewery is located in the warehouse portion of their home brew shop which was opened in 1996.  In fact, this system is the first one installed and has been here ever since the beginning.  Boil kettle on the right and mash tun on the left.

So, with a lousy iPhone camera, this shot of the system’s control panel is terrible.  But, there really didn’t seem much more to it when compared to brewing on a sculpture from More Beer other than batch size.  Also, the control panel had temp controls for each fermenter.

I can only image that it must be so awesome for the founders of Ballast Point to see the original plaque on their first brewery that is still going strong from 1996!

One thing I especially liked about the brewery and storage areas was that there was no shortage of awards and other memorabilia highlighting the success of Ballast Point over the years.  Also, a shot of the hot liquor tank.

A look into the mash tun.  Around the top is a water line feeding 3 or 4 sprayers inside for sparging and doughing in.  This set up definitely rinses the grain efficiently.

Boil kettle filling after completing the sparge.  Ya, that took a while.

Boil going strong and hops ready to add.  Like that of the huge grain bill, I was a little caught off guard when Doug asked me to measure out each hop addition.  UN-like a home brew set up, I was for the first time measuring hops in pounds rather than ounces.  17 pounds to be exact!

A quick video of the boil – 15 barrels.

After whirl-pooling for about 15 minutes, the wort is transferred to the fermenter.  On its way, it is pumped through the heat exchanger for cooling and oxygen is hooked up.  This quick video shows the wort on its way to the fermenter just after passing by the oxygen.

Just one one of several of Ballast Point’s barrel aged beers waiting to be served!

I had a great time brewing with Doug and seeing the process on a much larger scale that I am used to as a 5 or 10 gallon batch home brewer.  Brewing up to 30 barrels for the 2012 Great American Beer Fest Pro-Am competition, to have on at their tasting rooms and maybe even around town in some beer bars was more than I ever expected for winning a local home brew competition.  For nothing more than a local home brewer who loves the hobby, this was a killer experience and I’m stoked to have Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits and the San Diego Padres supporting the home brew community.

Red Fender II – Organic All Grain

For our upcoming baby celebration, I was asked to brew the 100% organic Red Fender ale.  To set it apart from the previous version brewed almost one year ago, this is an all grain version that I will be re-pitching approximately 100 ml of White Labs 001 California Ale yeast.  I harvested this yeast two weeks ago from the Screaming Blonde ale.

I have not been able to find a very large selection of organic ingredients locally, so again, I turned to Seven Bridges Cooperative.  Pricing is definitely higher than stopping in at my local home brew shop, but the results are always clear, crisp and present an overall clean beer.  Today, I went with their red ale kit and everything is measured, milled and ready for brew day.  They really make it easy.  Hops are usually a mix between pellets and whole hops.  For this particular brew, I also decided to use one of their organic cotton hop bags for the whole hop addition and smaller $0.50 hop socks from my local home brew shop for other additions.

Belgian Cascade

We had some chilly weather today (by San Diego standards) so setting up in the garage out of the wind and rain worked well.

The mash went smooth and hit temperature right on the first time.  One aspect of doing full boils in a small 8 gallon kettle is having to closely monitor the possibility of boil overs.  This time, when the hot break was forming, I decided to hit record.

Overall, all aspects of the brew went perfectly.  I pitched approximately 100 ml of WLP 001 and began and began fermentation at 65 F.

New Years Day Fire Rock

New Years day turned out to be perfect to brew another clone of Kona Fire Rock Pale Ale.  I first brewed this beer collaboration style with Big P Brewing and it turned out great.  No better way to kick off the new year than with a second round of this gem.  This also happend to be the first brew after installing a more permanent thermometer on my mash tun.  Well, I may not have a state-of-the-art brew set-up, but without having to remove the top, I was able to retain heat and maintain 154 F for about 55 minutes.  I don’t care what anyone says, I’m stoked on my cooler.

No problem holding 154 F for nearly the entire mash

Since I am always looking for ways to brew the best I possibly can, I am usually looking for ways to make my life a little easier while brewing; hence the mash tun thermo kit.  This time I decided to invest about $30 in a refractometer which now allows me to check pre-boil gravity and more easily monitor and record gravities without taking a 6 ounce sample from the batch.

Pre-boil gravity 1.044 (11 brix)

I had, and still have no idea what the heck a Brix measurment is, but I definitly like the ability to check gravity using this method.  Before the refractometer arrived, I consulted You Tube for some guidance on how exactly to use this thing.  I bumped into a helpful video and in two minutes, mastered it.  Take your Brix reading and multiply by 4.  But wait, there is more.  After fermentation and with the presence of alcohol, some conversions are needed.  Since the calcualations are a pain, I consulted this excel sheet from More Beer.  Which will make all of the conversions for you!

Original gravity 1.052 (13.2 Brix)

So, I’d like to think I am inching my way to brewing better beer and brewing with more consistency each time.  I am certainly far from that but stoked on the hobby and looking forward to brewing more and learning as much as I can about beer and brewing.

Going Organic

For the last several months, I have been introduced to eating healthier or at least working on choosing healthier options. I definitely have a lot of help with this since my wife is a practicing vegetarian and excellent cook. Since I cannot cook much of anything and she willingly prepares basically all of our meals, I have come to appreciate and enjoy much of what she cooks. On a side note, you might want to check out her blog, Divine Health. It is her love of slow food and focus on organic, local ingredients that got me thinking about brewing with whatever organics I could get my hands on.

I launched an intense internet search and instantly found Seven Bridges Cooperative, which specializes in certified organic brewing ingredients. This was perfect for my upcoming second batch of beer. It didn’t take long to choose one of their recipes and before I knew it, an Organic 7 Bridges Red Ale mash-extract kit was on the way!

Specialty grains

I was stoked on how it turned out. Well, not at first. I am still struggling with my rookie patience and urge to crack open bottles before they have had a real chance at conditioning well.

Hallertaur whole hops (7.4% AA)

Also, I have a long way to go in adapting my palate to picking up on distinct flavors, both good and bad. After only two weeks, I poured my second batch and was not too impressed. I wondered if I should even be spending another dime on brewing. Did I do my partial mash for too long?


Was the temperature too high and fluctuate too much during the 60 minutes?

First Time

Not being much of a reader, I miraculously read nearly the entire Joy of Homebrewing.  I basically made it though the beginning and intermediate sections and all within a couple of days.  With no brewing equipment on hand and an insatiable desire to brew my first batch, I found my way to O.B. via Craigslist with a couple hundred bucks to buy some dude’s equipment.  I didn’t have much of a clue as to what I was buying other than what Charlie had told me to buy a few days earlier, but the guy assured me I was set.  He even threw in some bottles.  I’m stoked to brew.

Within hours of collecting gear, I was searching for my first recipe and one that would be somewhat easy for a rookie brewer and offers up little chance of screwing up.  I stumbled into Northern Brewer and chose their Nut Brown Ale with steeping grains.  My first brew session was set, Sunday afternoon after a tasty brunch and some beers at Karl Strauss.

Grinding specialty grains

We headed down to the local home brew shop to gather all the ingredients.  Since it was my first, I didn’t know exactly what I was buying, but with a little help from the guys in the shop, I was on my way.  I decided that following the instructions to a ‘T’ would be the only way to get this right.  That’s how I usually cook and figured that fewer problems could arise by sticking to the specifics.  Working it out:  I added the specialty grains in the mesh bag to 2.5 gallons of water and steeped for 20 minutes and until it reached 170°F.  I removed the grains and brought to a boil.  Next, I added the extract,  1 oz. Fuggles and boiled for 60 minutes.  With 15 minutes left on the boil, I added 1 teaspoon of Irish moss as a clarifying agent.  I pitched one vile of White Labs yeast at 78° and had a specific gravity of 1.050. 

Bottling the first batch. Final gravity 1.011 | ABV: 5.11%