Ask the Ex­perts

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents -

Home­brew ex­pert Brad Smith, au­thor of the Beer­smith home­brew­ing soft­ware and the voice be­hind the Beer­smith pod­cast, tack­les ques­tions about first wort hop­ping and whether you should steep dark grains and of­fers ad­vice on se­lect­ing the per­fect brewing pump.

What is first wort hop­ping and what does it do?

There are a lot of mis­con­cep­tions about first wort hop­ping (FWH) and what it re­ally ac­com­plishes. The method it­self is pretty sim­ple. Rather than adding hops in the boil, you add the hops to the boil ket­tle fairly early in the sparg­ing process, which gives them a chance to steep as you sparge your grains and drain more wort into the boil ket­tle. The hops re­main while you bring the ket­tle to a boil and are left in for the en­tire boil pe­riod of typ­i­cally 60–90 min­utes.

The net ef­fect of first wort hop­ping is fairly sub­tle. In blind-taste tests, most peo­ple find first wort hops to have a slightly smoother, less sharp, and slightly less bit­ter over­all fla­vor. As a re­sult, the method is pri­mar­ily used in beers that are not overly hops-for­ward such as Con­ti­nen­tal beers, wheat beers, English styles, and many non-ipa Amer­i­can beers. De­spite the mel­low­ing ef­fect of first wort hop­ping, sci­en­tific mea­sure­ments of the wort gen­er­ally in­di­cate a slightly higher level of bit­ter­ness in the fin­ished beer, typ­i­cally 5–10 per­cent higher. In tast­ing, how­ever, the op­po­site is true, with the vast ma­jor­ity of tasters (11 of 12 tasters in some early ex­per­i­ments by Dr. Ge­orge Fix) pre­fer­ring the first wort–hopped beer, which they found to be more har­monic, less sharp, and uni­form in its bit­ter­ness.

Some mis­con­cep­tions about first wort hop­ping track back to its ori­gins. The tech­nique it­self is very old, hav­ing been used in Ger­man beers well over 100 years ago, but the tech­nique was largely lost un­til Priess, Nurem­burg, and Mit­ter pub­lished an ar­ti­cle on it in 1995 (Brauwelt In­ter­na­tional, Vol IV, p. 308). In the late 1990s, many brew­ers ex­per­i­mented with turn­ing their late-boil hops ad­di­tions into first-wort hops ad­di­tions, ap­par­ently think­ing that steep­ing the hops in the first run­nings off the mash was some­how equiv­a­lent to a late-boil ad­di­tion. We know now that the two are not at all the same and that first-wort hops are es­sen­tially full-length boil hops that also take the

edge off the fla­vor a bit. They are a bit­ter­ing ad­di­tion and not at all equiv­a­lent to a late-hops or whirlpool ad­di­tion.

That be­ing said, first wort hop­ping is one of my fa­vorite tech­niques when I’m look­ing to smooth and blend the fla­vor of my hops into the beer, and I use it ex­ten­sively on just about any style of beer that is not “hops-for­ward.”

I heard it may be good to steep some dark grains in­stead of mash­ing them. Why? What’s the best way to do it?

Steep­ing the dark­est roasted grains is a method that Gor­don Strong in­tro­duced to me in his book Brewing Bet­ter Beer: Mas­ter Lessons for Ad­vanced Home­brew­ers. The rea­son to steep grains in­stead of mash­ing them has to do with the length of time it takes to mash your grains. The best anal­ogy I’ve heard is to think about brewing roasted cof­fee beans to make cof­fee. If you brew the cof­fee for the cor­rect amount of time (about 2–4 min­utes for a French press), you get a nice en­joy­able cup of cof­fee. How­ever, if you were to steep the same cof­fee beans for an hour or more, you would get cof­fee that was sharp, bit­ter, acrid, and overly strong.

Gor­don Strong ar­gues that the same ap­plies to dark-roasted malts, such as choco­late, black patent, roasted bar­ley, and prob­a­bly even many of the dark crys­tal and col­ored malts, such as dark brown malt, Spe­cial B, and light choco­late. Leav­ing these dark-roasted malts in the hot mash wa­ter for an hour or more runs the risk of ex­tract­ing many bit­ter, tan­nic com­pounds that can up­set the bal­ance of your beer. Fur­ther, these very dark malts don’t ac­tu­ally con­trib­ute much in the way of fer­mentable sug­ars, so they don’t re­ally need to be mashed. Steep­ing them for a short pe­riod in hot wa­ter is suf­fi­cient to ex­tract the fla­vor and body from them.

The orig­i­nal method for han­dling these dark “steeped” grains was to cre­ate a sep­a­rate tea us­ing the dark grains. Steep them for a short pe­riod of time (per­haps 5–15 min­utes) in hot wa­ter and then strain the grains out to ex­tract the tea. How­ever, many brew­ers found this to be time con­sum­ing.

The cur­rent method, which is much quicker, is sim­ply to sprin­kle the dark grains over the top of the mash be­fore you lauter/sparge your grain bed. This lim­its the steep time but still lets you ex­tract the fla­vor and body from the roasted grains. It also saves time and makes for easy cleanup as you don’t have to deal with heat­ing up and strain­ing a sep­a­rate tea.

What should I look for when se­lect­ing a brewing pump?

Se­lect­ing a brewing pump is not that hard. All of the ma­jor beer-pump man­u­fac­tur­ers now make re­li­able, af­ford­able pumps that can last for many years. The first cri­te­ria you need to in­sist on is that the pump is de­signed for high tem­per­a­tures—ideally to at least boil­ing tem­per­a­tures. You need high-tem­per­a­ture sup­port to han­dle both the mash and the trans­fer of near-boil­ing wort through your chiller and into the fer­men­tor. This, un­for­tu­nately, rules out the vast ma­jor­ity of “self-prim­ing” pumps as most can’t sup­port high tem­per­a­tures.

The sec­ond fea­ture you want is a mag­netic drive, which means that the ro­tor is not phys­i­cally at­tached to the drive shaft for the mo­tor but in­stead is turned by a mag­net. The mag­netic-drive fea­ture, which most mod­ern pumps have, lets you pump slower than the full out­put rate by at­tach­ing a valve to the out­put of the pump. Pumps typ­i­cally are ei­ther on or off and run around 8 gal/min (24 l/min), so you need a sep­a­rate valve to con­trol flow. The abil­ity to throt­tle the rate at which the pump op­er­ates is crit­i­cal both for mash re­cir­cu­la­tion and for con­trol­ling the flow through your chiller to con­trol wort tem­per­a­ture.

Be­yond those two ba­sic fea­tures, there are cer­tainly a num­ber of “op­tional” fea­tures to con­sider. Most pumps come with ei­ther a “poly­sul­fone” (plas­tic) head or a stain­less-steel head. Many brew­ers pre­fer the stain­less-steel head for dura­bil­ity and ease of clean­ing. The stan­dard con­nec­tion for the pumps is a ½" MPT con­nec­tor that works like a small gar­den hose screw-on con­nec­tor. Some higher-end pumps have other types of con­nec­tors, such as tri-clover clamps. In ad­di­tion, you will usu­ally need ac­ces­sories, such as a ball valve, a power switch of some kind, and a re­lief valve that re­leases air to help prime the pump.

The “clas­sic” beer pump is the March 815, which has a 7 gal/min pump rate and a good rep­u­ta­tion in the home­brew in­dus­try. Chug­ger also makes pumps that are near-clones of the March pumps and have good per­for­mance and value. Blich­mann re­cently came out with its Rip­tide brewing pump, which has some very in­no­va­tive fea­tures, in­clud­ing an en­closed mo­tor that makes it al­most silent, stain­less head, and in­te­grated flow con­trol valve as well as in­te­grated air re­lief valve for prim­ing. I re­ally like this pump as it is quiet, is very easy to dis­as­sem­ble with no tools, and re­quires no ad­di­tional valves or ac­ces­sories to use it. While the Rip­tide has a slightly higher price point, you save by not pur­chas­ing ex­tra ac­ces­sories. Any of the ma­jor home­brew pumps are a good value and will last you many years if you clean and main­tain them prop­erly.

If you have a ques­tion for the ex­perts or want to share your ex­per­tise, email us at [email protected]­brew­ing.com or visit our web­site at beerand­brew­ing.com.

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