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Zen and the art of partial mash brewing

Later this week I’m reviewing the DVD shown in this picture, “Stepping into All Grain,” by Basic Brewing. But as I hurtle full-tilt into a busy week, every now and then I take a moment to fondly reflect on a small project I squeezed in between household errands and writing, inspired by the DVD: building a partial-mash tun from a 2-gallon cooler and a handful of inexpensive parts (instructions from the Homebrew Wiki — though the DVD made it much clearer what I was doing).

A mash tun is a device for steeping cracked grains in hot water at a controlled temperature long enough to convert the grain’s starches into sugars. The remaining liquid is recirculated through the mash tun a couple of times and then drained into a kettle, where the wort (the liquid) is mixed with other materials and boiled. After that, the wort is cooled, mixed with yeast, fermented, mixed with sugar, and bottled, and in a couple of weeks or more, there you have it, beer.

(I guess that’s the Book-a-Minute Classic version of beer brewing. There is a wee bit more to it than that…)

Brewers who are hardcore go outside with propane burners and massive kettles and use 5 or 10 gallon mash tuns. (Then there are folks who go out and spend hundreds of dollars on very fancy equipment… we thank them for stimulating the economy.)

Despite her fondness for fancy equipment and even her affection for nature, Miss Karen has no intention of sitting outside with the skeeters and heat and humidity and whatnot. To me, brewing is a culinary craft, to be shared in a climate-controlled kitchen with Sandy, Rachel Maddow, and our indoor cats, and to be fitted into the larger scheme of things, such as cooking dinner.

I’ve been happy with the kits that include mostly precooked malt extract and a small amount of grain that is then steeped in a grain bag on the stove for a while. But this partial-mash tun gives me a way to experiment with temperature control for the grains and play more with the science of brewing.  I made Sandy her very own beer this weekend (Lighthouse Ale from Homebrew Den) and had a very pleasant time using the mash tun.

(It’s worth trying homebrewing just for the language… wort, mash tun, lauter, vorlauf, sparging, and much more!)

By the way, if you want really good service in Lowes’ or Home Depot, just explain that you’re assembling homebrew equipment. One fellow at Home Depot actually said to the other clerks, “Look what she’s making!”

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