7 Ways To Avoid A Stuck Sparge

You are ready to collect your wort and as soon as you open up the valve to see the precious gold liquid come out, your vinyl hose collapses and nothing flows…

You opened it slowly, but it still didn’t matter…

… and it really irritates you to read how other brewers claim that they open up their valves fully and the wort flows no problem… what are these guys doing to prevent a stuck sparge?…

Well first off, I don’t know why we call it a stuck sparge, because if you ask “what is sparging?“, it’s just rinsing off the sugars from the grains… lautering is what we are really doing when we collect our wort, but we never hear anyone say “Oh crap, I got a stuck lauter!”…

Or what if you do a no-sparge batch… would you still call it a ‘stuck sparge’ if your wort doesn’t flow?

Anyways…

Here’s the list I’ve come up with:

1. Don’t Let The Temperature Drop
Usually once the mash is complete, maintaining temperature seems to be a low priority, but it shouldn’t. If the temperature drops while you are lautering you start to get this gel-like yucky thingy start to form and it can restrict the flow of your wort…

Keeping your lauter tun insulated is therefore recommended

2. Mash-Out
This kind of goes hand in hand with #1… if your temperature drops too much while lautering, then mashing-out will give you more room to play with… in other words, this keeps your wort liquified a bit longer so you can take your time collecting your wort.

Oh, and not to mention it helps you keep your sugar profile the way you mashed-it…

3. Keep Your Grains Floating
The grains act like a filter, but if you remove all the liquid, the grain bed may compact and create more of a plug than a filter… should this happen to you, then flood your lauter tun again until the grains are floating once more and voila…

Well, not quite… you may have to stir a bit to unclump your grains at the bottom and you may need to recirculate your wort again…

4. Go for coarse grind
Ok… not exactly coarse, but if you are grinding too fine, then that may be the reason why you are getting a stuck sparge… coarse and fine grind are relative and very subjective, so try to find the perfect balance between fine and coarse.

The idea behind a perfect grind is to crush the inside of the grain into small particles… the smaller the better… but if must be done without breaking the husk… ideally, the husk would be intact so it serves as the perfect filter… unfortunately this is a tradeoff, so find the right balance and see if that helps your wort flow.

5. Start Your Run-Off Slowly
Just because some brewers can get away with starting their run-off at full speed using pumps or whatever, it doesn’t mean you can too… your system will allow you to do some things, but limit you as well…

The idea of starting slow versus fast is to avoid creating a vacuum which can turn your grains into a plug the same way that letting your grain bed dry does…

6. Don’t Make Your Grain Bed Too Deep
Wider lauter tuns means the grains aren’t stacked up high over each other. If you have a narrow lauter tun, and your grains are stacked up higher than 8 inches or so, the pressure from the grains sitting on top of the others increases and makes it more likely to compact or collapse from its own weight.

7. Rice Hulls May Not Be Bad After All
So we know some brewers use rice in their brews and we tend to stick to the Reinheitsgebot of 1516 because we want nothing other than barley, hops and yeast in our water, but rice may not be as bad after all… in fact they are heavily used in wheat, rye and oats-adjunct beers for this very reason… half a pound, maybe up to two?…

They do help…

Now, one last comment… These 7 tips are not rules on things you MUST do… in fact, I’ve let my grain bed dry before and did not get a stuck sparge… I have let the temperature drop and did not get a stuck sparge… I rarely ever mash-out and I’m still able to lauter my wort just fine…

See, there are a lot of variables to look at that can impact your results and these 7 tips are more of a trouble shooting guide than anything else… your equipment, your grind among other things will ultimately determine what happens to your brew…

Regardless, I hope this is helpful, and if you have anything to add to this blog, please do so by leaving me a comment below… Cheers…

2 Comments

  • Nir

    Reply Reply May 27, 2013

    Hey Jorge,

    One thing I would also mention as part of #4 (Coarse grind), is the technique of wetting the grains a few minutes prior to grinding. This causes the husks to become more humid and therefore flexible, and stay whole even through finer grinds.

    Cheers,
    Nir

    • Jorge

      Reply Reply May 27, 2013

      Yes, conditioning grains works well if you crush your own grains at home. I usually buy mine at my LHBS so can’t do that, but thanks for mentioning that.

      Cheers!

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