Nick Carr on November 18, 2015 1 Comment Most every homebrewer starts with an ingredient kit. That’s simple logic. When learning a new skill start with the easiest form of that skill. Build upon what you learn slowly and steadily. Add a new technique only when you’ve mastered the processes and ingredients you’ve been working with. This isn’t to say that a novice brewer can’t start with all grain. It’s just not the easiest way to go about starting the hobby. Pure extract kits will only take you so far though. You’ll be making your own beer, but most will find a missing dimension or depth to that beer. The simple fact is it is impossible to pull the same complexities and color out of an all extract brew as can be had from using grains. Some styles are near impossible to duplicate without going into the world of grain. So, at some point all hobbyists make the slow transition through steeping and mini- or partial mashing. Some stop here, which is perfectly fine. Many award winning brews have been made with partial extract. Others will continue their journey into the world of all-grain brewing. What I’d like to give you with this article is the differences between steeping and mini-mashing, and the steps for each. This will be especially pertinent information for those homebrewers just starting the transition to using specialty grain and maybe a little base malt in their brewing. Steeping vs. Mini-Mash (Partial Mash) Steeping is the process of soaking crushed specialty grains in hot water to extract color and some flavor compounds from the grain. Steeping is the logical first step into brewing with grain. It’s simple. It opens up new depth of flavor and color to be plumbed. You’ll notice that many extract kits take advantage of steeping, sending small amounts of specialty grain with the kit. This is better than using only extract, but it is still limiting. Not all grains are suited to steeping. That’s where the mini-mash comes in, and if you haven’t already caught on partial mash and mini-mash are two names for the same process. All grains can be put into a mash, not all grains can be steeped. Some grains have enzymes that must be activated and put to work to make the sugars in the grain available. A mini-mash is soaking grains in hot water at a particular temperature range to activate these enzymes, which in turn drive the conversion of grain starches into usable sugars. Steeping The malting process decides which grains will work in a steep. If the grain has its starches converted to sugar during the malting process they can be used in steeping. These are most often the specialty malts. Some are stewed during the malting process (Crystal malts) and those that are kilned at higher temperatures for longer periods of time also have been converted in most cases. List of Steeping Grains Any Crystal Malt (Caramel, Cara-prefix, special-B, etc.) Crisp Crystal 60L Crisp Crystal 45L Weyermann Carahell Malt Weyermann Cara Amber Malt Weyermann Cara Red Malt Weyermann Carafoam Weyermann Caramunich I Any Roasted Grain (chocolate, black, roasted, ect.) Crisp Chocolate Steeping Procedure The steps for steeping are very simple. The precise temperature of the water is not overly critical. You are only extracting color and sugars already present in the grain and not trying to activate a living enzyme that needs a specific type of environment in which to do its work. Temperature: You can steep grains at a wide range of temperatures from hot water right out of the tap all the way up to about 170°F; but a good optimal range is between 150°F and 170°F. At lower temperatures it is possible that some of the “good stuff,” in the grain will be left behind. Going above 170°F may extract unwanted amounts of tannins. Volume: Just as there’s not an overly exact temperature range, neither is there any exact volume of water you should steep your grains in. More water will help extract more of the color and flavor, but it will also pull more of the tannins out. Also, the pH is likely to stay closer to the optimal pH of 5.2 in a thicker steep. A good volume is 3 – 4 quarts of water per pound of grain. Adding The Grain: The grains must be crushed, otherwise you will extract very little from them. Crushed meaning cracked, not pulverized into a powder. Most places you will get your malt from will have a “cracked” option; your homebrew shop also will likely be able to do this for pretty cheap; or you can do it on your own if you have a grinder or grain mill with a loose enough setting. Also try to use crushed grain as soon as possible because it will begin to oxidize once cracked. Once cracked, mix your specialty grains together and put them in a grain bag of some sort. You can also put the grain in loose, but you will have to put the “tea” through a strainer to get the grain out. It doesn’t matter much whether you add the grain before you heat the water or after you heat it. But be sure your bag is not touching the bottom of the pot if you are heating the water, because it is possible to burn a hole in the bag. Start timing when the grain is in and the water is at the right temperature. You will have to experiment with your results somewhat here, but the time can range from 15 to 45 minutes. A good rule of thumb is that if you heat the water with the grain in, leave it about 15 to 20 minutes once it hits your target temperature. This will make your complete steeping time anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes. If you add the grain once the water is at the appropriate temperature only wait the 15 to 20 minutes before pulling it. Rinse the grain bag with the same temperature water allowing the runoff to make up part of your kettle volume, add your extract, and continue with the boil as usual. Cold Steeping Just like cold steeped coffee, cold steeping dark grain is thought to result in a less aggressive and astringent flavor profile. In this process dark grains (crystal is usually not included) are steeped in water between 40 and 50°F overnight. The tea is then added at some point during the boil. I’ve never cold steeped, so I cannot attest to the practice, but I have enjoyed cold brewed coffee and there is a marked difference to it. It’s something to experiment with, especially when darker color is your main goal. List of Mash Grains Base Malts (Pilsner, Wheat, 6-row pale, 2-row pale, 6-row brewer’s, 2-row brewer’s) Crisp Pale Ale Malt Rahr American 2-Row Malt Rahr Premium Pilsner Malt Rahr American 6-Row Malt Weyermann Light Wheat Malt Weyermann Rye Malt Weyermann Pilsner Malt Kilned Malts (brown, biscuit, amber, aromatic, smoked) Weyermann Munich Malt Weyermann Vienna Malt Wyermann Acidulated Malt Mini-Mash Procedure The main reason to use a mini-mash over steeping is: one, it allows you to use any malt and adjunct grains an all grain brewer would use; two, the mini-mash volume is such that you can do it without having to buy additional brewing equipment, though you may find you want some (more on this below); and three, it’s that next stepping stone toward all grain brewing. If you are gonna mash there’s no reason to steep. All the grains can go together into the mash, but you will likely have to add certain malt to ensure complete conversion. Some grains do not have the enzymes to convert themselves in a mash; others have only enough to convert themselves, so it is of vital importance to include some amount of base malt in your mini-mash. Base malts have the highest diastatic power (a measurement of a grains conversion potential measured in degrees lintner). This is rarely a problem in all grain brewing, but if doing a mini-mash where all of your base malt is coming from extract there is the potential of not having enough enzymes for complete conversion of the mash. This problem is easily avoided by added a small amount (1 pound should do) of whatever base malt most closely matches the style you are brewing. Temperature Unlike steeping, temperature becomes critical in a mash. You will find rest temperatures given for most recipe. Make sure you follow these. If it is a single infusion mash the rest will normally be between 150-158°F. Volume The amount of water used also becomes more important. Generally a volume of between 1 to 2 quarts of water per pound of grain is used. Less water will give you less fermentable sugars, but more mouthfeel and body; while more water will give you more fermentable sugars creating a drier, crisper beer. In most cases 1 ½ quarts will work just fine. Adding The Grains A grain bag can still be used in a mini-mash, but even for mini-mashing it might be worth looking into a cheap circular picnic cooler, such as a mash tun, and some sort of filter screen. The main reason I bring this up is the volume of grain may start to overextend the bags usefulness. Add water at about 165°F to the grain at the right volume. Check the temperature against whatever the recipe’s rest temperature is. If it is high, add cold water until at the desired temperature. If low, add hot water or turn on the heat (if using a brew pot) for short bursts. Stirring and checking temperature between. Once at the right temperature your mash needs to sit for 45 minutes to an hour. Check the temperature and adjusting with cold or hot water as needed. After the time is up pull your bag out and put it in a colander or other strainer. Set this at the top of your kettle and rinse the grain with 170°F water, allowing the water to flow into the kettle. Rinse with about as much water as you mashed with — this is a simple version of sparging. Add your extract, top off to the boil volume, and continue with the boil as usual. Why You Should Make the Transition Any brewer serious about his craft wants to improve upon that craft and the product created. Extract is a starting point. These two stepping stones between it and all grain comprise a learning curve that will garner a steady improvement upon the brewer’s craft. Each step; steeping, then mini-mashing, then all grain gives you new ways to experiment, a new set of skills to hone, and time in which to hone them. It is possible to make exceptional beer with a kit and a mini-mash. I love all grain brewing, but every once in a while I’ll buy a kit and brew it up. They’re fun, and easier then all grain. It gives me a great beer and a much shorter brew day. Try it. Especially if you went straight to all grain bypassing the mini-mash totally because someone told you good beer could only be had by going all grain. That’s just not true and it’s been proven over and over again. Cheers and Happy Brewing!