Wort Collecting and Sparging

So the mash has ended and now we have to collect the wort from the mash tun. Once that has been done we can start sparging.

The easiest set up I've found is to let gravity do the work. Place the mash tun by the edge of a worktop or table and place a sterilised fermentation bin underneath the tap. The wider diameter tubing you bought is now placed over the tap with the other end in the fermentation bin; this reduces splashing and reduces the amount of oxygen you are introducing into the wort. Many brewers believe reducing the amount of oxygen going into the wort is a good thing, however, experiments have been undertaken by those brilliant people at Brulosophy which show introducing oxygen is harmless and doesn't affect the beer. Therefore the use of this piece of tubing is entirely optional, depending on how you feel.

Open up the tap and allow ALL the liquid to pour into the bin. This takes a long time - 15 minutes or more - so relax, sit down, put the kettle on and have a sandwich. DON'T attempt to cut corners at this stage however tempting it might be.

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Pour the collected wort from the fermentation bin into your stockpot or into another sterilised fermentation bin; this gives you the opportunity to rinse the first fermentation bin in the sink to wash away all the debris, the bits and twigs that have come through the tap of the tun. Then take the lid off the mash tun, replace the fermentation bin and tubing and open up the tap. Pick up your sterilised recirculation sprinkler and jug the wort you collected into the sprinkler which obviously you're holding over the bed of grain.

Do this until all the wort has passed through the bed of grain and again, wait until the trickle has completely stopped, which will take a frustratingly long time. Just like the fermentation bin, take the opportunity to rinse your stockpot to get rid of the debris in it.

You might find that you will have to stop from time to time to rinse out your recirculation sprinkler as the holes get clogged with debris.

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When I first wrote this page back in 2007 I recommended that you pass the wort through the grain THREE TIMES. But after experimenting and adopting a more relaxed attitude these days I suggest you just pass the wort through the grain the once. Life’s too short and the brewing day is long enough as it is. Put your rinsed stockpot to one side as you’ll need it again later.

Temperature of Sparge Water

Now we’re ready to start sparging. But first, a brief note about sparge temperatures which many brewers will find controversial, or will feel is just plain wrong (just as they will about my comments above regarding introducing oxygen into the wort). The received wisdom tells you that the ideal sparge temperature is 76 – 77°C; the thinking was (or is, depending on your point of view) that sparge water at this temperature dissolves and rinses out sugar from the grain bed very efficiently. Any higher temperature than this will run the risk of introducing excessive tannins into your beer. (All beer contains tannins, but an excessive amount causes astringency – I’ve heard astringency beautifully described as an off flavour akin to sucking on a teabag). So for many years I and an army of home brewers have done our best to keep our sparge water at 76-77°C.

It turns out we were worrying for no reason. As far back as 2009 a gentleman called Kai Troester published an article on sparging with COLD water. He found there was no effect on overall efficiency or fermentability. Since then a lot of brewers have experimented with cooler sparge water and have come to the same conclusion. The thinking is, much of the hard work has already been done in the mash and surprisingly there is no good evidence in existence that suggests water at 76-77°C rinses out and dissolves sugar from the grain substantially better than water at room temperature.

There’s a very good article by Ray Found describing an experiment leading to a blind tasting session on this point online.  If you’re interested enter ‘sparge temperature standard vs cool’ in your search engine to find Ray’s article and details of the Exbeeriment experiment using sparge water at just 24°C.

Many years ago a very experienced brewer told me to forget the sparging temperature of 77°C and instead go for 62°C. I was pleased with the results and that is still the temperature I aim for when sparging today; but thanks to people like Kai Troester and Ray Found we can all relax a little safe in the knowledge that it really doesn’t matter at all what temperature our sparge water is as long as it doesn’t exceed 77°C.    

Sparging

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When all the wort has finished pouring off the grain you'll be left with something around 8 litres from the 16 litres we started off with. Don’t worry at all if you’re left with more or less. Once your water has reached 62°C (or whatever temperature you decide to use) it's time to sparge.

Place the lid back on the mash tun ensuring the revolving arm and plastic 

elbow is in place. Connect the tube from your sparging jug to the elbow, as shown in the picture. Jug your sparging water into the sparging jug; let gravity do the work - as you can see I simply place the jug high up and constantly refill it. Water enters through the lid of the tun and drives the sparging arm which revolves and releases the water in a fairly fine spray as it does so. The water washes most of the remaining sugars out of the grain into your fermentation bin.

Don't fully open the mash tun tap. Really efficient extraction of the sugars from the grain is achieved if you aim for a slow trickle into the fermentation bin. Some brewers maintain a very weak dribble, and I guess much depends on how patient you are, how you're feeling on the day and how much spare time you have at your disposal. Completing a sparge for a 25 litre batch could take anything from 45 minutes to an hour.

Keep sparging until you have 25 litres in total in your bin (ie 8 litres of wort and 17 litres of spargings) and put this to boil in your big pan. In order to do this you'll have to empty the big pan of all remaining water if you used this pan to heat up your sparge water - put a few litres of this in your stockpot and use your stockpot as a temporary holding container for the sparge water that has yet to pass through the grain; temporary because you‘ll need the stockpot to hold your excess spargings. You’ll need excess spargings because you will lose some litres of liquid during the boil. ‘Brew Your Own’ magazine reckon a typical evaporation rate is anywhere from 4 to 6 litres for every hour of boiling. Experience (and measuring!) will tell you how much evaporation generally occurs in your 

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brewing set up. So for the sake of example, if you are going to lose 6 litres during the boil you’ll need to keep sparging until you collect another 6 litres which you can place in the small stockpot and set aside. When the boil is complete, top up the large pan with the excess spargings until you have 25 litres. Any remaining excess spargings can be discarded.  (Please note because we’re just starting out and getting the hang of all grain brewing at this stage, we’re not trying to hit a preordained figure of original gravity here, we are merely intent on having a batch of 25 litres.)  

So now we have 25 litres of what will eventually be brilliant beer in our big pan it's time to take a look at Boiling and Topping Up...

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