Some of the most advanced brewing techniques I picked up was because I took the time to understand the basics of brewing beer…

Early in my quest to learn how to brew, I realized that brewing beer was all about converting malt sugars into alcohol… and knowing that there are different types of sugars, understanding sugars would become an important topic to understand and master…

This lead me to realize the difference between grains that need to be mashed and those that need to be steeped… and today I want to talk about how to do this right plus an advanced brewing technique even all grain brewers can learn from…

Malts like crystal and dark roasted malts were easy to identify… but some specialty malts were confusing specially when you see extract brewers steep them all the time…

Malts like Munich malt or Brown malt for example are used by extract brewers all the time… some know what they are doing, but just like when I got started I know many don’t know what they are doing when steeping these kinds of grains…

… and it all boils down to understanding malt sugars…

See, grains that need to be mashed are grains that have starches and not sugars… barley grain has starches, not sugars… specialty grains have sugars because they have been through a process that converts the starches into sugars inside the grain (what would otherwise happen during the mash)…

So when extract brewers steep grains like brown malt, they are taking a chance of whether or not starch to sugar conversion happens during the ‘steep’, which would technically turn it into a partial mash…

See steeping is normally done at temperatures between 150 and 160 F, while mashing is done at temperatures between 140 F and 160 F… for all intents and purposes we’ll just say it is around the same temperature…

So what’s the difference?

Mashing is the term used to describe the conversion of starch into sugar…

Since specialty grains already have sugars and no starches, then no conversion happens and steeping is what we call it…

All the other grains that have starches, will need to go through a mash… which appears to be the same as steeping grains…

… and it is, except there are these little things called enzymes, which are responsible for cutting down starches down into sugars… and these enzymes are found in grains which need to be mashed…

So malts like brown malt need enzymes to convert starch into sugar…

Now, here’s where it gets tricky… in order for enzymes to work, you need to have water with the right amount of minerals like Calcium, and alkalinity depending on the grains… the enzymes need to be sufficient and need to be in contact with the grains long enough to convert the starch into sugar…

Malts like brown malt and Munich have gone through a process that destroys many of their enzymes, though they have enough to self convert if the right conditions are present…

So when an extract brewer steeps one of these malts, they are really taking a chance of whether or not they are converting the starch into sugar and may end up with starches in their beer…

The right way to ‘steep’ malts like Munich and Brown malt is to use some pale malt along with it (about 25% of the brown malt would be more than enough)… the reason is pale malt has a lot of enzymes and it will ensure full starch to sugar conversion, which again would technically turn the steep into a mash…

… and what’s important to understand here is that you are ‘borrowing’ enzymes from one malt to convert the starches of another.

That’s what adjunct brewing relies on… rice doesn’t have enzymes, but it has starches… and those starches are converted into sugar using the enzymes of the barley…

You can do a lot of cool things with enzymes once you understand what they do and how they work…

In fact if you feel like your extract beers usually finish with a high final gravity, it’s because extract has a lot of dextrins… and you can in fact mix in your extract with water, throw some pale malt (grains) and mash the grains to change those dextrins into simple or more fermentable sugars…

Cheers!


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