Does Decoction Mashing Brew Better Beer?

Sometimes in order to find what you’re looking for you have to go outside your world… or as they say, think outside the box…

I’m often asked if decoction mashing is better than infusion mashing?

… and the problem is that the word ‘better’ is not defined…

Better for flavor? better for breaking down starches and dextrins? breaking down proteins?

Well, it could be… but the problem is that it depends on what you’re looking for and what you are starting with…

I cover a lot of the flavor and sugar profiles created using a proper decoction mash in my training program Mash Control, but today I want to take on a different perspective to decoction mashing…

This perspective was triggered as I read up on what will be my next brew… a Dunkelweizen…

It’s kind of weird to hear that old-fashioned bavarian wheat beers had many uses other than just to indulge and satisfy your taste buds… or that pregnant women would drink it…

Now, most doctors would tell you that beer is bad… and that pregnant women should not drink beer…

But see… historically, some fermented beverages ranging from mead to beer have been used for their health giving qualities… and Dunkelweizens were indeed known for their health benefits…

… at least old-fashioned Bavarian dunkels…

However, the methods of brewing and crafting these beers can have an impact on how much health benefits they provide… and that’s where infusion vs decoction comes into play with beer…

See, if you talk to tea fanatics, most of them know the difference between infusion and decoction…

They know that infusions are used to extract vitamins and volatile ingredients from soft ingredients like leaves, flowers, etc…. and that’s the most common method for brewing most teas…

When you think of using infusions to extract volatile ingredients that could be lost if boiled… think of hop oils, and why we make hop teas for our beers…

… but they also know that if they want to make teas out of other materials, especially hard ones like roots, bark or seeds, then decoction is the proper method… the main reason is that decoction is used primarily to extract mineral salts and bitter principles from these sources…

In other words… decoctions are used to extract components that can’t be extracted with a simple infusion…

They mash that part of the plant and boil it to release their medicinal goodness… (which is why some people keep decoction or boiled bits of ginger to make teas when they have mucus or coughs)

… and that’s the reason why traditional Bavarian wheat beers used for health benefits were brewed using a decoction mash…

Wheat is known to contain mineral salts like calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, zinc, and many more… along with many vitamins and catalytic elements…

So if you are looking to get some of the health benefits of wheat and barley grains in your beer, then the traditional decoction mashing may be something to look into further…

If you are just looking for unique flavor, I would choose decoction as well…
But keep in mind that decoction mashing may not be good when using well modified malt…

When you are thinking of brewing beer using decoction mashing you need to take into consideration some of the things that happen to the different components of grains…

See, aside from flavor, or extracting certain elements from grains, decoction mashing is known to break down starches, dextrins and proteins better than infusion mashing…

That may or may not be a good thing…

If you start out with undermodified malt, then this is good since the complex proteins and starches from this type of malt need decoction mashing to break them down…

However, if you start out with well modified malt then decoction mashing may not be good…

Well modified malt has had its protein and starches broken down a bit through the malting process… if you break them down further, your beer may not have the necessary complex proteins to give it foam stability, body or character…

Pretty much everything you do when brewing beer is a balance…

You need to find a balance between simple sugars and complex sugars…. simple proteins and complex proteins…

…. and you need to know how all of these components are affected when they interact with other components…

See, one of the things I like about brewing beer is the problem solving aspect of it… while some brewers will simply focus on what you can and can not do, I tend to question things and think of what if scenarios…

What if I wanted to do a decoction mash with well modified malt?

Now that I understand what happens during a decoction mash, I can come up with ideas… some of them are good, and some of them are horrible… but that’s how you learn and how you become creative… when you start to list ideas, even if they are horrible…

As the old adage says… If you were lost and trying to find your way out of a forest, sometimes the best way to get back on track is to start thinking of which way NOT to go…

When it comes to doing a decoction with well modified malt, you could add unmalted barley or unmalted wheat to add back some of the complex proteins and starches that were taken away from the malted grain during the malting process…

These are going to be some of the things I’ll be looking at as I craft my dunkelweizen’s recipe for next week…

Stay tuned for this recipe next week…

Cheers!

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field