Brew Day Part 3 – Sparging
Sparging is the missing step between the mash and the boil. Sparging is the process of washing the grain bed to maximize the amount of sugars extracted from the grain bed. The success of your sparging helps to determine your brewhouse efficiency – essentially how effective you were in extracting the fermentable sugars from the grain.
You will once again use the hot liquor tun (HLT) to heat a large amount of water to specific temperature that it optimal for the extraction of sugars. There are a couple different methods that homebrewers use – continuous sparging where the water is gradually added and batch sparging where all the water is added at once. There are advantages and disadvantages of both. I’ve only done continuous sparging, so that’s what I will discuss.
Before starting the sparge, you want to recirculate the first few quarts of the wort back onto the top grain bed. This is called the ‘first runnings’ and it is super sweet because it’s highly concentrated with the sugars that have been extracted. This is done for a couple of reasons but mainly because this will help with the clarity of the beer. Small, loose grain hulls will slip past the false bottom and go into the first runnings. By running the first runnings through the grain bed again, it decreases the likelihood of those husks making it into the boil kettle.
Once your first runnings appear clear, it’s time to start sparging. Instead of returning the runnings from the valve to the top of the grain bed, you want to starting draining the mash tun into the boil kettle. You want this to drain slowly to help maximize the amount of sugar extracted. As the mash tun drains, you want to monitor the water level above the grain bed. Once the water level is about an inch above the grain level, then you start to sparge.
Sparging should be done slowly and in a way that doesn’t disturb. Ideally, you want the sparge water to slowly trickle onto the grain bed at the same rate as the mash tun is draining to keep a consistent water level. The sparging continues until either the wort coming out is 1.008 or you reach your boiling volume, whichever comes first.
How do you add the sparge water in slowly without disturbing the grain bed? Well you can buy a sparge arm which will do the trick. There are also several DIY projects out there to make your own with copper piping or PVC pipe and that’s exactly what I did for my brewing system.
You can’t see it in the picture but there are several holes on the underside of the copper pipes that allows the water to slowly trickle onto the grain bed. It’s worked great so far and hooks up directly to the pump system with easy disconnects for easy removal and attachments.
This was a fairly simple DIY project and in a future post, I’ll show you how to make your own. But if you want a simple solution, you can do your sparge with a few simple kitchen objects you probably already have. First you’ll need to find something that you use to transfer the sparge water into the mash tun that is heat resistant. What I’ve found to work well is a glass measuring cup. Next you will need something that will sprinkle the water onto the mash as you don’t want pour it directly on and disturb the grain bed. A metal strainer will work but I find that a colander works better. This is the setup that I used for all my 5 gallon batches. It may seem a little basic, but it does the trick! I have noticed an increase in my brewhouse efficiency since I made the switch but it’s too early to tell what has made the difference.
Once you’ve finished sparging, you’re finally ready to boil your wort and make it into delicious beer!