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Diastatic Power and Mashing Your Beer

Diastatic Power and Mashing Your Beer

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Published by Brad Smith
A home brewing article on understanding the diastatic power of your barley malt and using it in partial mash or all grain beer brewing.
A home brewing article on understanding the diastatic power of your barley malt and using it in partial mash or all grain beer brewing.

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Published by: Brad Smith on Jan 05, 2010
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05/29/2010

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By Brad Smith – Originally posted on our BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog – Subscribe here This week we cover the technical topic of the diastatic power for mashing your all grain beer.While rarely covered, this topic is an important one, especially for home brewers making beerswith high percentages of non-barley or specialty grains. This is an important topic for partialmash brewers as well, since they are often mashing with a high percentage of specialty grains.
The Malting Process
The story of diastatic power starts as part of the malting process. As we covered a few weeksago in the article onMalting at Home,the malting process consists of placing raw barley grains in water and germinating (sprouting or growing) them until the acrospire (the little leaf growinginside the husk) reaches a length close to that of the grain itself. The malt is then kiln dried, andthe tiny sproutlets fall off, leaving malted barley. For darker and specialty grains the malt isroasted at varying degrees of time and temperature to achieve everything from caramel malt tostout roast.The purpose of the malting process is primarily to develop the sweet sugars needed for fermentation of beer. In fact, you may often hear the term "modification" of the malt. Highlymodified malt has almost all of its grain starch converted to sugars, while undermodified maltstill contains a significant portion of unfermentable starches. A secondary effect of malting,however, is to develop the enzymes needed for mashing.
Diastatic Power
Diastatic power refers to the enzymatic power of the malt itself - its ability to break downstarches into even simpler fermentable sugars during the mashing process. The term "diastatic"refers to "diastase" enzymes. There are two "diastese" enzymes, the first is alpha amylase andthe second is beta amylase. These enzymes might be familiar to many of you who have been brewing all grain for a while, as they are the primary enzymes active when you mash your grainsin the normal temperature range of 148-158F.So why should an average homebrewer care? If you don't have sufficient diastatic enzymes inyour mash, you simply will not be able to properly convert sugars during the mash. This willleave you with a partially fermented very sweet beer, with very low alcohol content.Diastatic Power is measured in degrees lintner (often denoted with a big °L), though in Europe asecondary measure of Windisch-Kolbach units (degrees °WK) is often used. You can convertfrom one to the other using Lintner=(WK+16)/3.5 or going the other way as WK=3.5*Lintner -16. A malt needs a diastatic power of approximately 35 °L to be considered "self converting".Some of the newest American 6-row malts can have a diastatic power as high as 160 °L. (Ref:Wikipedia
 
)You can get the lintner values for many common malts from the malt supplier's specificationsheet, or from our BeerSmith database. Lets look at sample lintner values for a few commonlyused grains:
American 2 Row Pale Malt: 140 °L
American 6 Row Pale Malt: 160 °L
British Pale Malts: 40-70 °L
 
Maris Otter Pale Malt: 120 °L
Belgian Pale Malt (2 row): 60 °L
German Pilsner Malt: 110 °L
Munich Malt (10 SRM): 70 °L
Munich Malt (20 SRM): 25 °L
Vienna Malt: 50 °L
Wheat Malt, German: 60-90 °L
Wheat, Unmalted (flaked, Torrified): 0 °L
Crystal Malt (all): 0 °L
Chocolate Malt: 0°L
Black Patent Malts: 0 °L
A few things become obvious looking at the above examples. With the possible exception of thevery lightest specialty base malts such as Vienna or Munich, few specialty malts provide verymuch enzymatic power. Almost all of the enzymes needed to convert your mash are containedin your base malt, so the selection of a good base malt is important. Wheat provides diastatic power nearly equal to barley so it can be used in large proportions to make wheat beer.
Diastatic Power for All Grain and Partial Mash Brewers
How does this affect your all grain brewing? Clearly if you are brewing an all grain batch with ahigh power base malt like American six row, you will have plenty of enzymes available toconvert your mash, and it will also convert at a faster pace than it might otherwise. However, if you are using a low power 2-row British malt with a large number of specialty malts, the sugarswill still convert but might take substantially longer to do so.A few specific styles can also cause problems for the all grain brewer. Lets take the example of Belgian Wit, which typically is made from 60% pale malt and 40% unmalted wheat (often flakedor torrified). If you select a Belgian Pale Malt base malt with low diastatic power, you may be infor a very long mash as the unmalted wheat contributes no enzymes to the process. The grainswill likely still convert (little of the unmalted wheat will convert in any case) but it may take along time to reach full conversion.Diastatic power plays an even more important role for  partial mash brewers. Many beginning partial mash brewers tend to take several pounds of specialty malts and try to mash them withouta pale base malt. This can cause very poor conversion, as the fermentable portion of thespecialty malts lack the enzymes to convert. It is important that you mash with sufficient basemalt to provide the enzymes needed in the mashing process.
Estimating Diastatic Power for your Mash
To get a quick idea of whether you have sufficient diastatic power in your all grain or partialmash brew, I recommend you simply average the weighted diastatic power of your ingredientsand see whether the final number is greater than the 30 Lintner minimum needed to convert. Theoverall diastatic power for your mash would be the sum of the diastatic power for each ingredienttimes its weight divided by the total grain weight. To get this number, just multiply the diastatic power for each grain times the weight of that grain, add the numbers up for all of your grains,and divide by the total grain weight.

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