Wednesday 31 October 2012

No-sparge Brewing - A simple approach to more malt flavor?

For homebrewers, the sparging portion of the brew day (where you add water to your grain bed after draining the wort from your mash, to rinse remaining sugars out of the grain) usually comes down to two options: batch sparging and fly sparging. Batch sparging - the more popular option - involves adding all of the sparge water at once (or in two portions, if your mash tun can't hold it all), stirring well, and letting it sit for 5-10 minutes before vorlaufing and draining the wort into your boil kettle. Fly sparging, on the other hand, requires sparge water to be added at a continuous rate, while simultaneously draining into the boil kettle. This results in a slightly-increased efficiency, but obviously involves more time (approximately an hour).

A technique that seems to be growing in popularity eliminates the sparge from the process... conveniently enough, it's called no-sparge brewing! It's pretty straight-forward... you mash as normal (with or without a mash-out), vorlauf and drain the first-runnings into the boil kettle. Instead of sparging, you then make up the remaining volume by adding brewing liquor (a fancy name for water used for brewing) directly into the kettle. This is the method suggested by Gordon Strong in his book, "Brewing Better Beer".

Why do this? Apparently, it results in a richer and more-intense malt flavor, with less harshness compared to other methods, according to Strong; he also mentions that the resulting beer is also a bit deeper in color, with lower acidity. This may not be a technique you'd use for a hop-forward beer, such as an American IPA, but for malt-forward beers, such as Scotch Ales, it sounds like something worth trying.

One thing to keep in mind here is that with this method your efficiency will obviously take a big drop, which means that no-sparge brewing is more expensive. Since you're adding water to your first runnings to get up to your boil volume, as compared to lower-gravity second runnings from a sparge, you would have to use more grain than normal for your mash. Strong suggests measuring the gravity and volume of your first runnings, which you can then use to calculate your efficiency for future no-sparge brews. This basically means your first attempt will be a bit of a guinea pig-approach. As for this first attempt, Strong writes that a 1/3-increase in your grist is a good place to start.

A slightly different no-sparge method is suggested by John Palmer, another very well-respected and well-read homebrewer. Palmer's approach involves adding the water that you would normally use for the sparge (roughly 1.5 times the water used in the mash) into the mashtun at the end of the mash. The full amount in the tun is then drained into the kettle, and should equal your target boil volume. This method has the benefit of requiring less grain then Strong's approach (approximately 25% more than the standard grain bill, instead of Strong's 33%). However, the disadvantage is that your mashtun would obviously have to be large enough to hold the entire amount of brewing liquor and grain; maybe not a concern for small (lower-ABV) beers, but could easily cause trouble with bigger, or even moderate-strength beers for those of us with 10-gallon mash tuns. You would also have to calculate the temperature of the additional water to add, so that you don't exceed 170 F, which may lead to leeching of tannins into the wort. For Palmer's full article (and some handy calculations you can complete to make things easier), check it out here at the Brew Your Own site.

I've never personally tried the no-sparge method, but I've been considering it for awhile. My next planned brew day (which should be within the week) is going to be a second attempt at the Southern English Brown style (recipe and tasting of my first attempt here). A low-gravity, malt-forward beer, I thought this style may benefit from a brewing method that's supposed to increase malt flavor and intensity. I already have my recipe planned out; I'll likely follow Strong's method and multiply all the grain amounts by 1.33, and hope that I get relatively close to my target OG.


  1. I am going to try this with my Belgian Strong brew. My mash tun is a 58L Sanke keg. I want the OG to be around 1.090, with the addition of corn sugar. This will be a 20L brew, not my usual 46L. The last time I made this my efficiency was a poor 62%. I hope to get higher this time. Thanks for the post as I didn't plan on a no-sparge but will give it a shot in a couple of weeks.



    1. Hmmm, never thought of how that technique would work with a Belgian Strong... let me know how it turns out!

  2. Isn't our normal routine for you to be doing it at the exact same time, even though we didn't plan it?

    Worked out well yesterday; I'll be typing up the post soon!