What is Sparging?
First: Mashing Defined. Mashing is the brewer's term for the hot water steeping process which hydrates the barley, activates the malt enzymes, and converts the grain starches into fermentable sugars. There are several key enzyme groups that take part in the conversion of the grain starches to sugars.
So what is sparging?
Sparging is the rinsing of the mash grain bed to extract as much of the sugars from the grain as possible without extracting puckering tannins from the process. Typically, 1.5 times as much water is used for sparging as for mashing (e.g., 8 lbs. malt at 2 qt./lb. = 4 gallon mash, so 6 gallons of sparge water). The temperature of the sparge water is important. The water should be no more than 170°F, as husk tannins become more soluble above this temperature, depending on wort pH. This could lead to astringency in the beer.
What are the different types of sparging?
The definition of sparging is the function of rinsing your mash grains to maximize the amount of sugar available from the mash process, without extracting tannins. There are several ways to do this:
No Sparge/English Method:
In the No Sparge/English method, the wort is completely drained from the grain bed before more water is added for a second mash and drained again. The worts are then combined.
This method of sparging usually results in better extractions. The wort is re-circulated and drained until about an inch of wort remains above the top of the grain bed. The sparge water is gently, and slowly, added, as necessary, to keep the fluid at least at that level. The goal is to gradually replace the wort with the water, stopping the sparge when the desired gravity or volume of wort has been collected. This method demands more attention but can (and most always does) produce a higher yield.
This is the standard way brewers have mashed for centuries and is efficient, time tested, and effective.
Batch Sparging is a U.S. homebrewing practice where the full volume of sparge water is mixed into the mash. The grain bed is allowed to settle, and then the wort is drained off. The re-circulation step in this process takes place in the first minutes of the sparge. You can use more than one batch of water if you need to. This method differs from the English method in that the mash is not held for any significant time at the saccharification temperature before draining.
There are several variations on sparging techniques that mostly have to do with personal preference and equipment.
Something new to the brewing scene is “brew-in-a-bag.” This method of all-grain brewing involves doing the mash in your brew kettle using a large fine-mesh bag to hold the grains. This mash is called a “full-volume mash” meaning the entire boil volume is included in the mash. At the end of the mash the grain bag is removed from the kettle and the boil starts.
There is a lot of debate as to how to maximize the extraction from a full-volume mash. Some say to squeeze the grain bag to squeeze out all the liquid. Others argue that this releases tannins. Our experience has been that squeezing the grain bag doesn’t hurt. If your wort volume is low pour hot tap water over the grain bag, then check your pre-boil gravity.
Whatever technique you use to sparge make notes on your brew recipes. While the end-game is the same, each method produces different results--thus effecting the outcome of your batch. Consistency in brewing is your friend.