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Demystification of the Decoction Mash
By David Cordrey Of the three mashing methods Single Infusion, Step Infusion and Decoction, decoction mashing remains a mystery to many homebrewers. Single infusion mashing is by far the most common mashing technique and is employed by most all-grain homebrewers. Some homebrewers use a step infusion or temperature controlled mash which includes a protein rest, but few and far between are homebrewers that have ever tried to conduct a decoction mash. In this article, I'll attempt to demystify the decoction mash by explaining what decoction mashing is, what it's benefits are and what beer styles have traditionally used decoction mashing. In Part 2, I'll talk about how to successfully conduct a decoction mash in the homebrewery. Webster's defines:
"Decoct" 1) to extract the flavor of by boiling 2) boil down, concentrate "Decoction" 1) the act or process of decocting 2) the extract obtained by decocting
From these definitions it stands to reason that a decoction mash involves the boiling of the water/malt mixture, and that the intent is to extract and/or concentrate flavors. But how can that be? The first thing an all grain brewer learns is that if a mash is boiled, the precious amylase enzymes will be destroyed preventing starch conversion, and excessive amounts of tannins will be leached from the grain husks, leaving an undesirable astringent flavor. The answer to this paradox, as you'll soon see, is that careful technique overcomes these potential problems; indeed, a decoction mash when performed properly results in a beer with the highest malt flavor profile and highest extract yield of the three mashing techniques. Decoction mashing also results in less hot and cold break material, and reduces the mash pH naturally, without the addition of dark malts, lactic acid or other water treatments. In decoction mashing, a portion of the mash is removed from the mash tun and is transferred to a boiling pot. This portion is called the decoction, and it is heated slowly to bring it to a boil. After boiling for a period of time the decoction is added back to the main mash, thereby raising it's temperature. In this respect, the decoction mash is similar to the step mash or temperature controlled mash. For example, the initial mash temperature and volume of the decoction can be chosen so that the temperature rise goes from the protein rest temperature to the sacharification rest (starch conversion) temperature. This would be called a single decoction mash because only one decoction was made. An additional decoction can be made to raise the mash temperature again to mash out ( double decoction) or a total three decoctions (triple decoction) could be used to achieve an acid rest - protein rest - sacharification rest mash out profile. Long ago brewers had worked out the details of decoction mashing for beer making - even before the thermometer had been adopted by brewers. Proper strike water temperature was by achieved mixing measured volumes of boiling and ambient temperature water, and mash rest temperatures were achieved by mixing boiling and non boiling mash fractions. Through trial and error, good luck and patience these early brewers discovered the proportions of each needed to effectively step through the various temperatures to acidify the mash, degrade proteins, and convert the malts starch into the fermentable malt sugars. In fact, a simple infusion mash using the under modified malts of this period would have produced weak, hazy, inferior beer. Decoction mashing was an enabling technology for clear pale beers like those produced in Pilzn. You see, by boiling the grain, starches dissolve and insoluble proteins are denatured and coagulate as a scum on the top. The vital amylase enzymes are quite soluble, so if a "thick" decoction mash is pulled for boiling, the "thin" rest mash contains almost all of the enzymes where they are safe from heat degradation. When the decoction is added back, the dissolved starches are immediately available for the enzymes in the rest mash to go to work on, and the rest mash temperature is raised. The proteins that coagulate in the decoction are usually skimmed off the top before the decoction is added back to the rest mash, which improves wort clarity. Eventually, maltsters in Britain learned how to make higher modified malt, the thermometer was accepted as a brewing tool and infusion mashing was born. This technique enabled shorter brewing sessions, the use of less fuel and in general lowered the cost of beer; all good things considering beer sustained many a laborer during Britain's industrial revolution. Decoction mashing did not die. In fact, to this day most European lagers still use a decoction mash, even though their malts are now have a high degree of modification. And not just because they are steeped in tradition. Infusion mashing is not prohibited by the Reinheitsgebot. But, decoction mashing produces a richer malt profile with complex caramelized flavors that are the hallmarks of most continental European beer styles, particularly Pilsner, Marzen, Bock, and especially Dopplebock. The specific flavoring agents produced by decoction mashing have not been rigorously identified by chemical name, but it is presumed that they are the result of certain browning (melanoidin) reactions and caramelization. These are the same types of reactions that happen when you cook a roast in the oven. An analogy can be drawn between oven roasting vs. microwaving a roast and decoction vs. infusion mashing malt. The browning reactions require the presence of protein and sugars and carmelization requires a high sugar concentration. While carmelization does occur in the main boil, the concentration of sugars is generally higher in the mash so decoction mashing will give more carmelization than wort boiling. The browning reactions are not as prevelant in the boil because the wort has been separated from the grist, and there is not a sufficient amount of protein in clear wort to support them as much. These browning reactions, and high sugar content in the decoction also serve to lower the pH of the decoction so that leaching of tannins form the grains husk is not a problem. There has been a trend in continental Europe recently of brewers moving away from the triple and double decoctions as a matter of economics. Many are now using a single decoction, though rumors have it that a few are either using or experimenting with infusion mashes. Today's highly modified malts, the availability of large variety of specialty malts, superior milling, automated temperature control and superior water chemistry have all lessened the requirement for triple decoction mashes. However, even a single decoction will produce malt flavors unobtainable by any other means.
Tf is the desired final temperature in °F. and fits the temperature profile for a single decoction nicely. This is a "How To" primer on the subject. I don't want to hassle with a bunch of extra process steps to make my beer. I'll explain how to get started decoction mashing at home with a minimum investment. Chances are you have everything you need at home already. What if you were making a Pale Ale or Bitter or any other style using an infusion mash and you missed your mash temperature? A small decoction could get you back on track without thinning out the mash excessively by just adding more hot water. How to Decoct The big question in decoction mashing is how much mash do you pull out for boiling? If you don't take enough mash the temperature rise will not be as great as desired. Decoction Mashing. Temperature gain will be approximately 28°F per decoction. Part 2 Decoction Mashing at Home By David Cordrey In Part 1 of this subject I described what decoction mashing is. A small approx. and gave a brief history of its origin and what styles showcase decoction mashing's added character. Fortunately there is a good "rule of thumb" to follow for decoction mashing: Dough in using 1. you can calculate the decoction fraction as follows: F = ( Tf . K is your temperature loss constant (17°F for my system). The value for K can be adjusted ± a few degrees to fit your own results. If you want a different temperature gain.33 qts. But what if you wanted to make a killer Dopplebock? Adding Crystal and Munich malt to an infusion mash will help add sweetness. When plotted in graphic format.To ) / ( 212 .Tf. And believe me. In Part 2. As homebrewers we should be prepared to carry the torch and keep this historic and beneficial technique alive. of water per pound of grain and stabilize at 122°F. I use highly modified quality 2-row malt. the results look like this: .K ) Where: F is the fraction of the main mash to boil. I'm afraid I'd screw up a batch by boiling grains. (multiply by 100 to get %). To is the starting temperature in °F. you'll probably use it a lot! What To get started you'll need the following extra equipment: You'll Need: A second stainless or enamel finished boiling pot at least one third the volume of your mash tun. it is easy to master.I make damn good beer using infusion mashes. a big plastic slotted spoon from the kitchen. extolled it's benefits.Hopefully the craft of decoction mashing won't be entirely lost among commercial brewers for economic reasons. In Part 2 I'll describe the practical aspects of decoction mashing. What if you wanted to replicate the procedure to make a Bohemian Pilsner? Authenticity would dictate a decoction mash. I don't need to decoct. A large long handled slotted spoon or strainer. I use the small 3 gallon pot I started brewing in. These are all valid points. 1 to 2 quart size container (Tupperware works fine). Use a thick portion of the mash consisting of 40% the quantity of grain in the decoction. but just won't give the same perceived maltiness as a decoction mash. Once you get used to the technique. This rule of thumb is easy to remember. You may ask yourself "Why on earth would I want to do a decoction mash at home?" . A heat source for boiling the decoction. too much will result in overshooting your desired temperature. a thoroughly cleaned quart size yogurt container and my Cajun Cooker. Decoction mashing is a technique that homebrewers should have in they're repertoire.
Double Decoction Mash: Mash in at the protein rest temperature. I generally boil for 20 to 30 minutes. Once you have successfully transferred the decoction back to the mash tun. and stirring frequently. You don't want it to cool off while you're boiling the decoction! Start the fire under the decoction mash and heat it up slowly. You should wait at least 5 minutes before checking the temperature. A second decoction would heat the mash to above 170°F for a mash out. The 28°F rise described in the previous section fits nicely with the temperature step profile that is desired for a single decoction mash. I've found my 1 qt. stir it all up thoroughly and cover to let the temperature stabilize. just repeat the procedure to step through your temperature ranges. then perform three separate decoctions to hit each of the temperature . Multiple Decoctions--The Ultimate Experience For multiple decoctions. the more the flavor impact it will have. however. it will appear to thin out some and a scum layer will form on top. Then using your large slotted spoon. Typically used for sweeter beers with a higher conversion temperature. The most common decoction mashing profiles are: Single Decoction: Mash in at the protein rest temperature. Stir the mash well and let it soak for 5 to 10 minutes at the initial rest temperature. this formula predicts that as the starting temperature increases. total. As it nears boiling. but will affect the temperature gain because water and grain have different specific heats. Just sparge and collect the wort like normal. A short boil will net the same temperature rise. but with less flavor impact. Detailed Procedure Definition of a "thick mash" is a little tricky. a single decoction will get you to the conversion rest temperature of ~150°F. it should resemble the consistency of thick oatmeal. I've gone as long as 45 minutes with the decoction boil.just as a matter of convention. Don't forget to cover up and insulate the main mash. Use one decoction to reach conversion temperature. and can be accommodated by changing the "K" term. add a little more liquid from the main mash if this looks like it might happen.5 qts/lb the above rule is close. Now pull out some liquid from the main mash in your container and slowly add it to the pot until the pile of grain begins to slump. Everything should be Okay now. I always try use 1. Keep it on a low boil for as long as you want to conduct the initial main mash rest. Scoop out a third of the grain. and thus add more of the "malt character" that is associated with decoction mashing. That's it for a single decoction mash. Try not to splash too much or spill it down the front of your shirt. The longer the boil. one third of that would be 5 scoops for the decoction. not because this is a magic ratio. scoop out the wet grain into your quart size cup and transfer to the small (cold) boiling vessel. If you dough in to achieve a 122°F first rest (protein rest).33 quarts of water per pound of grain for both single infusion and decoction mashes . I've had a few near accidents when my glasses steamed up so bad I couldn't see at all. will determine the number of decoctions you will use. stirring constantly to prevent scorching.As can be seen. A triple decoction profile could be employed to rest at four different temperatures. take them off first. If I'm mashing 15 lbs. then a second decoction to mash out. scraping the scum off occasionally. Traditionally the rest temperatures that are used with decoction mashing are as follows: 95-110 °F Acid / Gluconase Rest 120-127 °F Protein Rest 145-159 °F Sacharification (conversion rest) 170-178 °F Mash out Which rest temperatures you want to hit. For water/grain ratios of 1. The more decoctions you use will increase the number of melanoidin reactions and carmelization. If you wear glasses and can see Okay without them. with some liquid between clumps of grain. Different ratios can be used. container holds very close to a pound of dry grain. Be careful not to scorch or burn the grain. Stir it up. The "mash out" destroys any residual enzymes that might further break down any dextrins during sparging. It is important to allow the gain to become fully hydrated (absorb all of the water it can) before pulling the decoction. just continue this rest for the desired time. The possibilities are virtually unlimited as far as temperature profiles you can create.25 to 1. Now carefully dump or scoop the decoction mash back into your mash tun. a larger decoction needs to be pulled to result in the same temperature gain. Triple Decoction Mash: Mash in for an acid or glucanase rest. Use a single decoction to reach conversion temperature. The grain should pile up in a ball in the pot.
An acid rest helps lower pH and thus starch conversion when using all pale malts and very soft water. for instance. Decoction mashing is a technique that is well worth mastering. My experience is that I have never overshot by more than 2°F. can be easily given a malty finish through the use of a decoction mash. So if you miss your target temperature in an infusion mash. . Papazian's The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing is a good primer on this subject. use the formula or graph above and just pull a small decoction to boost it up a bit. Go For It! You now have all of the information you need to try decoction mashing on your very own. There are plenty of books covering this subject in detail. or adding malt character to any beer. decoction mashing is the only way to get the "malt character" that is required. correcting mash temperatures. These rest temperatures were developed over a long time by trial and error to fit the circumstances faced by brewers hundreds of years ago. proportionally smaller or larger decoction volumes will net lower or higher temperature rises. small quick decoction to get back on track. The merits of each rest and impact of what temperature to hit in each range are often debated and hence are subjects for another article.ranges. Really. very small. Your chance for outstanding success is great. Go for it! Take the plunge. Scotch Ales. such as might be the case when replicating a Bohemian Pilsner. The temperature ranges are broad enough you're going to end up somewhere in the ballpark. Short boil times will give the same temperature rise without affecting flavor or color very much. Decoction mashing also can give a pleasing complexity in styles that don't traditionally use decoction mashes. Remember. These facts are useful for making small temperature adjustments. For certain styles. your chance for failure is very. You may not use it for every batch. but it should be in your repertoire for making traditional lagers & bocks. When I err on the low side by 5°F or more I just do an extra.
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