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Thread: Brew House for step mashes

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
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    13

    Brew House for step mashes

    I'm in the beginning stages of my business plan and estimating start up costs for my brewery. I plan on brewing both ales and lagers. I've begun to look at several new and used brew houses out there (on the web) and I have not been able to determine if special equipment is needed to perform step mashes for my lagers. What should I look for?

    I Plan to buy a 10 BBL system. I do not plan on performing decoction mashes, but would be happy to hear from you probrewers what additional equipment is needed for decoction as well.

    Thanks,
    Milan

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Location
    Kenmore, WA
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    9
    Milan,

    I apprenticed at a brewery that had a very nice 20 bbl Newlands system. The plant was steam fired and equipt with a seperate whirlpool vessel.

    The brewery production was mostly ales. I was there during ramp mashing for a wheat lager.

    The system incorporated a large transfer pipe (3 or 4 inches in diameter) between the kettle and the mash/lauter tun that was used to transfer (pump) mash from the kettle to the lauter. The mash/lauter was insulated but not heated.

    One fault of the system was that the transfer pipe would fill (pack) with grain during all mashes (ales) and took longer to CIP the system. I thinl that the system would have been better if a jacket or steam injection system was added to the mash/lauter tun to eliminate the need for the transfer and cut the amount of time required for the CIP. I own a small 3 bbl system (that is not currently in use) that has a jacketed mash tun.

    The Newlands system had a good rake/plow system, underlet piping and a bottom cleanout hatch. It did seam to be a compromise design.....but it makes good beer.

    Decoction, never touched it on a large scale. I really do not see the need. It would require more equipment = floor space. Would the end result justify the expence? or would a more highly modified malt work better.

    Hope this helps.

    Good brewing,

    Tom F.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Location
    London, United Kingdom
    Posts
    180
    hi,

    i worked at a brewery that did 25HL step mashes. in our brewhouse, we mashed in our kettle (which was equipped with a bottom mounted, low shear agitator), proceeded through the different steps, and then pumped out of the kettle into the lauter tun through a lobe (positive displacement) pump. from memory the pipe was at least 2" in diameter, maybe even 3". while the bed was being set in the lauter tun, we would hose out the kettle in preparation for run-off.

    although we didn't use it, in this brewhouse the lobe pump ran in both directions, so in theory you could transfer from the kettle to the lauter tun and back to the kettle to do decoctions.

    i have heard of some brewhouses having steam jackets on the lauter tun, but don't think this is really effective for step mashes (i can't see how mixing would be efficient), but i have never actually seen one in action.

    cheers,

    alex

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    Posts
    13
    So, if I'm following this correctly. The additional equipment is either:
    A) If using the kettle to provide heat for the step mashes - I need transfer tubing/piping and a pump that can handle transfering the mash. (Cons - potential clogging and additional cleaning)
    B) A jacketed mash tun - Question: a jacketed mash tun (either steam or direct fired) would allow me to set the temps on the mash tun itself for the different steps? (Cons - additional cost?)

    Thanks for the help
    -Milan

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Tadcaster, Yorkshire, UK
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    1,075
    Are you sure you mean a jacketed mash tun ? I just ask because a mash tun in the UK does not have mixers, unlike a lauter tun. A mash mixer, where you mash in and perhaps carry out a rising temperature infusion mash (rather than a traditional decoction style mash) requires mixers to ensure the mash is heated through consistently. The mash itself is a very poor conductor of heat, and without effective mixing, the outer couple of inches will be cooked completely, the rest will remain at virtually the previous temperature.


    So - you need a mixer. If you include a temperature probe, then you can control the heating stages OK

    Cheers
    dick

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Posts
    53
    The question to ask is do you really need step mashing? It depends, in part what you are trying to control. Are you going to make standard craft beers with already excellent malts? Then a step system might not help you.

    If you are trying to make highly fermentable light or low carb beers or are mashing difficult malts/grains? Then it can be a necessity. Step mashing will allow you more control (you still have options for control with infusion too, just less) of your final product (final apparent extract, dextrins, beta glucans, lauterbility, filterability, colloidal stability, etc., etc.) With the poor N. American malt crop of 2002 most brewers were squeezing every trick in the mash tun book to produce beers up to the high standards that we are accustomed to and most of these tricks were from step mashing.

    For sure if I were choosing between two systems of similar quality and cost then I would go with the step system (hey, you can always run it as an infusion). But with that said I have brewed a GABF gold medal Octoberfest on an infusion mash system with English malts (a % of English lager type though), so there really are no hard and fast rules.

    To practically do step infusion you will need a vessel with an agitator and steam jacket (steam valve needs to be controlling from 0-100%). I have never heard of a gas fired mash tun and would say that the control and reproducibility would be very poor if they exist (someone please tell me I'm wrong on this). Other options are a hot water infusion into a standing mash but it has the drawback of high initial grist to liquor ratios and poor heat dispersion without an agitator.

    As far as decoction you should do a search on this site and find lots of opinions on it's value.

    http://probrewer.com/vbulletin/search.php?

    Hope this helped and cheers.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    Posts
    99
    Watch out - if you are going for a 10bbl system, there will be a lot out there with combined Mash/Lauter tuns (MLTs). Here, you need to be careful of messing up your grain bed for lautering - if you agitate (stir) it at the wrong moment or in the wrong way, you can collapse the bed leading to a stuck (or set) mash (i.e. terrible lauter performance). A single-step infusion mash avoids this because once it's mashed in, you leave it alone at that temperature and take what mashing performance you get. Look elsewhere (like malt quality) for mash performance improvements and keep it simple.

    The other thing to watch out for is oxygenation of the mash by stirring or agitating during the mash (i.e. during heating or after adding hot water to step to the next temperature). There are all sorts of disadvantages of this; generally you want to disturb the mash as little as possible. You need to mix a mash thoroughly, however, to achieve proper distribution of the heat to achieve the step up.

    So, unless you really need step-mashing (some of the other posts give you some guidance about this) AND the system you are looking at is properly designed to accommodate it, just look for single-step infusion mashes i.e. insulated but not jacketed mash/lauter tuns.

    If you find a system with a separate lauter tun, then you can achieve the steps without threatening the lauter bed (per Dick's post), since the lauter performance will be governed by the settling achieved in the lauter tun after the mashing steps and transfer are complete. But you still need to watch out for oxygenation, which is more likely with more transfers between vessels. The additional tun will cost you $$ for dubious additional benefit + greater quality risks...
    Last edited by jipjanneke; 02-07-2005 at 05:12 AM.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Posts
    33
    A couple of thoughts on step mashing and step mash systems.

    Buy one. If you buy a sports car do you really want an automatic or do you want to be able to switch gears in order to achieve more performance?

    Malts are fine, infusion mashing is fine, but if you want to brew lagers, why don't you do it with the proper equipment? Award winning lagers are produced using infusion mashing on English style equipment but the more Germanic style of equipment can produce more consistant wort and allow for more manipulation of the process. Brewhouse yields are better on a mash mixer / lauter system and certian beers benifit more than others from such mashing. Weizens can benifit from temperature mashing which can influence certian flavor precursors in that style and lagers being more prone to show inconsistencies than ales benifit from the consistency of the wort that multi-step mashing can provide.

    Crappy beers can be produced on any type of equipment as can great ones. Quality and consistency through out the year not just at award time is the goal.

    Most multi-step mash mixer / lauter systems can allow for a type of single decoction. Mashing is done in the mash kettle (often the same as the wort kettle) and at some point during the alpha rest the 2/3 of the mash is transfered to the lauter while the remaining 1/3 is boiled in the mash kettle for a certian amount of time. The boiled mash is then pumped to the lauter where it raises the mash as a whole to your mash-out temperature. A two way pump is not needed for this type of decoction. I think decoctions are good for seasonal beers because it adds a bit of history to your beer and something special. Most brewers do not have an option to perform such a technique.

    I would be happy to brew ales again on an infusion system but if I was setting out to do primarily lagers I would buy a system designed to produce such. If your buying a used system, often infusion systems lack in larger cooling capacities of the heat exchangers and glycol systems, another thing to think about. Find some breweries that produce mainly lagers and talk to the brewers about their systems, problems and concerns. Opinions will come for free like mine.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    India
    Posts
    138
    Another "free"(?) opinion;

    Presently working with a steam jacketed mash / lauter tun.
    It is also equipt with "rakes" or agitators, depending on what you want to call then.
    We are using a step infusion mash program were the rakes are in constant motion though out the mash. We do get some temperature stratification but just need to watch carefully.
    After the mashing is complete, the rakes are stopped and we let settle for about 10 minutes to set up the bed. Have had few problems with the system and making great beer.
    Hope this helps.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Shanghai, P.R. China
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    If working with a combination mash/lauter tun and performing step mashes I have experienced temperature stratification as well and "cooking" parts of the mash that are in contact with the steam jackets as mentioned already. I have had good luck dropping the plow on these combination vessels to get more uniform mixing and then raising the plow after conversion ramp. This is something we currently do on a 40 bbl. brewhouse with success. With seperate vessels a dual speed mash mixer is great. Low speed during rests and high speed during conversion ramps to assist in homogenous mixing. Fairly expensive and something I've never seen on a 10 bbl. system. We also run the rakes during the entire lauter process and experience no issues. Rake height and speed are adjusted depending upon differential pressure of the bed.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Location
    Baton Rouge, LA
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    618

    COST vs Output

    One thing not mentioned so far is the improved yield on step system with a dedicated lauter tun w/ rakes. 90%+ vs 80% on a single infusion system. This helps cover the cost of the higher capitol outlay.
    Operations Director, Tin Roof BC
    ted@tinroofbeer.com
    "Your results may vary"

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    Posts
    13
    Thanks everyone for the input. I'm happy to see the discussion presents pros and cons of both systems.
    I have decided that I will find a system that will allow me to do step mashes. Any recommendation on a supplier out there for such a system? Any ballpark figures on cost?

    Thanks again,
    -Milan

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    India
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    138
    Most equipment Suppliers should be able to supply this equipment. (and will bend over backwards to sell you more.)
    I would recommend a supplier who has past experience manufactuer this type of brewhouse.
    Cost? Really depends on what you ask for, (i.e., speed control, adjustable height on rakes, etc) but should think about 10% more to cost of equipment.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Location
    Black Mountain
    Posts
    74

    Controlling Step Mash Temp

    Could the wort/mash temp of an insulated only tun be gradually increased using a heating element placed in the grant? has this been tried? I was thinking along the lines of a water heater element on a potentiometer (so as to not burn the wort)
    Dave

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Location
    Mukilteo, WA
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    304

    Crude, but effective.........

    We used to step mash everything we made for a while to get a little extra efficiency from the extract. We had a simple insulated Tun and would make a thick, stiff mash at around 120F - 122F for 30 minutes. Then we would cut in boiling water to raise it to 152F - 154F, and had plenty of room in the Tun.

    We had to be careful doing this, and it really took 2 people since one was stiring while the other was reading temperature in the mash and manning the pump valve. The near boiling water was pumped up from the foundation of the Tun (under the screens) and we shut down around 148F - 150F as the temp would be climbing a bit to reach equilibrium. The final mash was allowed to sit for 20 - 30 minutes (cut sheets for the Gambrinus modified malts show 10 - 15 minutes conversion times, which amazed me when I read it).
    We used to refer to this as an "Upward Infushion", and it's an old homebrew trick. Crude, yes.

    To this day, I couldn't tell you if we were making a huge difference in the product. Our Ales are pretty big beers on their own, flavorwise, and we don't filter so it makes side by side comparisons pretty tough. We did realize higher gravities doing it, though, and helped make up for the dodgey grains we were getting at that time as Tbrew mentioned.

    The last lager we made, a MaiBock, was made with a simple infushion mash and tasted great. I have also tasted some pretty botched decoction brews as well. As was stated earlier, you can make some pretty good juice with simple equipment if you have the skills!

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