No Sparge Beer Brewing for All Grain Brewers

by Brad Smith on January 11, 2014 · 18 comments

barley_hand_webNo sparge brewing offers an attractive alternative for those who don’t want to deal with the hassle of fly sparging or batch sparging by using a full volume mash in an single step – just mash and drain.

All grain beer brewers are always looking for shortcuts when brewing beer. Its not that we’re lazy, it is just that we want to make the most of our limited brewing time. No sparge saves time by including the full boil volume in the mash and skipping the extra steps of having to heat sparge water, and sparging. It also has the advantage of creating a pH stable mash with no risk of oversparging the grains.

What is No Sparge?

Before we jump into the no-sparge method, we need to briefly review fly sparging. A traditional fly sparge requires you to heat sparge water in a separate vessel to around 168F (75.6 C). Then this sparge water is sprinkled over the grain bed in the mash tun, often by a “fly arm” which distrubutes the water evenly. Simultaneously wort is drawn from the bottom of the grain bed through a screen of some kind and into the boiler. The flow of water must be managed to keep the grain bed flowing, and also the brewer must be careful not to “oversparge” by running too much water through the grain bed, which can lower the pH of the wort unacceptably and add an astringent tannin flavor to the finished beer.

In the no sparge, we skip adding sparge water entirely. Instead the total volume of water needed for mashing and boiling is added to the mash tun at the start of the mash, and simply drained from the mash tun into your boil pot once the mash is complete. It does require a larger mash tun (about double the size), since you need to be able to hold all of the grains, the water they absorb, plus the full volume needed for boiling. However you entirely eliminate the need for a hot liquor tun to heat sparge water. You simply mash with a lot more water, and then drain the wort out.

The Advantages of No Sparge Methods

No sparge has some advantages over a traditional fly sparge. First, you avoid having to separately heat sparge water up and also the need for a fly arm, since all of the water is already in the mash. Second, mashing at a high water to grain ratio can result in a more complete conversion and good attenuation – which is desirable for many beer styles. Third, since all of the water is in the mash tun already at a stable pH level due to buffering from the grains, you don’t run the risk of “oversparging” your mash and extracting excessive tannins. Finally, no sparge is simple – you just drain the wort into your boiler, taking care to do the usual “vourlof” step of recirculating the first few quarts of runoff.

No Sparge Water Volumes

No sparge temperature calculations can be done with any standard infusion calculator (software or online) – the only question being how much water you need to add up front? You should start with your required pre-boil volume which is how much water you need before boiling your wort. Then you need to add more water to compensate for grain absorption. Grain absorbs about 1 liter/kg (or 0.12 gallons/lb) of grain, so if you take your total grain bill in pounds or kg you can quickly estimate the extra water needed. Finally you need to account for any losses in the mash tun, such as wort trapped below the drain for your mash tun. Putting it all together in gallons we have:

  • Grain_absorption_gals = Total_Grain_Lbs * 0.12
  • Mash_water_needed_gals = Pre_boil_volume_gals + Grain_absorption_gals + Mash_tun_deadspace_gals

For metric, just substitute 1 liter/kg for the 0.12 value, and do the math in kilograms and liters.

Once we know the total mash water needed, we can use any infusion calculator (Tools->Infusion in BeerSmith) to get the strike water temperature needed.

No Sparge in BeerSmith

You can use any of the BIAB (Brew in a bag) mash profiles on a recipe to force BeerSmith into a full boil mash volume. Just select any BIAB mash profile as your all grain mash profile in BeerSmith 2. The only other caution is that you might want to go to Options->Advanced and change the BIAB Grain Absorption to be the same as the normal grain absorption (0.96). Normal BIAB brewing retains a bit less water in the grain, and making this adjustment will make the BIAB mash profiles match the no sparge method exactly.

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