I like gray areas. It’s hard for me to respond to a question without qualifying my answer with “Well, it depends…” Were I ever to run for public office (and trust me when I say this will never happen), such uncertainty on my part would no doubt be among my opponent’s most effective weapons. I simply don’t see most things in black and white.
This is probably why I’m so partial to partial-mash brewing. Straddling the line between all-grain and extract-with-specialty-grain approaches, partial-mash is a hybrid method that offers the convenience of extract brewing with many of the benefits of an all-grain brew day.
The partial-mash technique involves nothing more than conducting a small mash, the runoff of which is added to an extract-based batch. Malt extract supplies most of the fermentable sugars, while the miniature mash delivers malt complexity and, in some cases, characteristics that extract and specialty grains alone cannot achieve.
No matter your level of brewing experience, here are five great reasons to partial mash.
1. Malt Depth
Adding specialty grains to extract-based beer is an excellent way to introduce fresh malt flavors. Steeping specialty grains in hot water can get you most of their flavors and aromas, but mashing those malts ensures that you also benefit from the fermentable sugars they have to offer.
2. Specialty Base Malts
Certain malts simply have to be mashed. These include Munich malts, Victory malt, biscuit malt, Vienna malt, and rye malt. If you want to use these, you’ll need to mash them to get everything they have to offer. Steeping these malts might deliver some flavor and aroma, but you also run the risk of hazy beer thanks to all of that unconverted starch.
3. Unmalted Adjuncts
If you want to include maize, oats, or rice in your beer, you’ll probably have to conduct a mash, as these grains are most readily available in their non-malted forms. A good barley base malt, however, has enough enzymatic power to convert itself, plus some unmalted adjuncts.
4. Your Precious Time
An all-grain brew day can easily last 6–8 hours, much of which is spent lautering and sparging. But adding a partial mash to your extract-based beer barely takes any time at all. When you only have to collect a small amount of runoff from a small mash, you’ll save oodles of time.
You can’t run before you can walk. Some homebrewers do successfully jump straight into all-grain brewing, but I usually recommend starting with extract. Why? Conducting a full mash introduces opportunities for error that simply aren’t there with extract-based beer. Brewing a partial-mash beer gives you an opportunity to practice mashing before you move on to a full batch of all-grain wort.
Whether you primarily brew from malt extract or from grain malts, it never hurts to keep the partial mash in your back pocket. We sometimes gloss over it, classifying brewers into either-or all-grain and extract camps, but partial mash shouldn’t be overlooked. If you’re ready to step up from extract or take a breather from all-grain, look to partial mash brewing to give you the best of both worlds.
To get started, try the partial-mash option for this Belgian Golden Strong Ale.
Learn everything you need to know to brew great beer using the partial-mash or all-grain method. From raw ingredients to pouring your first pint of homebrew and everything in between, get started with CB&B’s _All-Grain & Partial-Mash Brewing _class today!