Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Stuck Mashes

Since I have been going on and on about having a stuck mash, I thought I would elaborate on it.  Many of my readers don't know what the heck I am talking about, and this happens often.  It makes me feel bad, and leads to lengthy explanations such as this.  If you are not interested in brewing, I thank you for reading, but you may want to check out another blog for today.  I suggest using the next blog button on top of my blog.  It now takes you to another blog on the same topic, which is kind of cool.  It used to be that the next blog button would take you to some teen-aged girl from Singapore's blog about her and her if you are a pedophile, but now it is subject specific....well sort of.  Try it and let me know what cool stuff you run into.  I should make a contest out of this.  

Ironically, I have never run across my blog when starting from another's blog and hitting next blog.

So, I have been complaining about stuck mashes for my last two brewing sessions.  For the uninitiated, or the casual extract brewer, I will start from the beginning.


One of the longest running sitcoms in history (except for the Simpsons, now) spanned 11 seasons (the Korea War only lasted 3 years) and 251 episodes.  MASH stands for Mobile Army Surgical Unit.  It has no bearing at all to brewing other than they used to distill in their tent (the swamp) which involves some similar techniques to brewing and it is a black comedy and a classic, and I still enjoy every episode I watch.

Mashing in the brewing process is the act of breaking down starches to simpler sugars that yeast can consume to produce alcohol.  The action is performed by enzymes that are contained within the malted barley.  All we do, as brewers, is create an environment that is most agreeable for these guys to do their work.  The two main enzymes that break down the starches work well together in warm moist environments between 140 and 158 degrees Fahrenheit.  So we add hot water to the malted barley and allow time for the enzymes to work (and we drink beer while it is happening).

The hard part is getting the sugars out of the grains.  So, we rinse them with hot water (above 170 degrees F).  What comes out is a sugary dark liquid (between pale yellow and black depending on the beer) called wort.  A stuck mash is therefore when no wort will come out (or stops coming out).

The malted barley is crushed (using a mill).  The degree to which it is crushed determines how much sugar is released and how easy it is to get the sugar out.  If the malted barley is crushed finely, the amount of sugar that is able to be extracted goes up, which is good.  If the malted barley is crushed too finely, however, the malted barely is turned to a flour consistancy, and when water is added, you make a sugary glue.  This is not good.  Although the sugar is in there, it ain't coming out, thus, STUCK MASH.  So, the art is to crush finely enough to extract as much sugar as possible, but prevent the Stuck Mash.  There is, of course, technique involved in that grey area to maximize the yield or efficiency.

I will discuss more about the techniques, and what went wrong at my house at a later time.  I need a beer.

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