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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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

hugh alexander January 12, 2014 at 7:05 am

As sparging is a way of washing out useful extract, why not sparge with water at the same temperature as the mash ( you heated it up to there already), and that way you won’t pull out excess tannins, but you will wash out useful extract, which the no sparge method leaves in the spent grains.

Jon Carter January 13, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Brad – I’m intrigued and definitely want to try this approach vs. sparging. My question is if the amount of grain needs to increase due to efficiency. This was a great read!

Mike Benoit January 13, 2014 at 4:13 pm

Giving this technique a try in about 60 mintues…

Brad Smith January 13, 2014 at 11:28 pm

It should be a relatively small amount – I would say most no sparge brewers will only see a few percent drop in their brewhouse efficiency if they take their time with the process.

Mike Benoit January 14, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Brad… ok, I had some issues, but I believe it’s on me. I set the absobtion rate for BIAB to the normal absobtion, and in the chose the medium body BIAB mash profile. The brewsheet said heat water to 157f… totally undershot my temps and with it my gravity. No worries, it’ll be beer.

I see in the profile that the infusion temp is 157… I didn’t think to change it as the software has always given me good strike water temps… so, I guess my question is, what do I need to work with to make sure this temp is calculated correctly? I believe it is based on something within the recipe… not sure what.

Sorry for the noob question, but I’m still dialing in on how to make the software work for me.

Thanks!

Brad Smith January 15, 2014 at 5:54 pm

For BIAB did you also use a full water addition (i.e. what was the volume)? 157 is not unreasonable if you had a lot of water. If you still have trouble, use the contact-us page and I’ll take a detailed look.

Mike Benoit January 23, 2014 at 3:49 pm

Brad… I used the full water addition… the brew sheet called for 25.6 qts of water, and I manually verified that the volume was correct give the 8 lb, 2.5 oz grist bill.

Jeff Richards January 28, 2014 at 10:47 am

Brad…very interested in this method as I just completed my first attempt at triple decoction for a maibock (many issues…but that’s for another discussion). What are your thoughts on using a no sparge method with a decoction?

Pete Vargas January 28, 2014 at 11:07 am

I’ve been wondering why pretty much all of my all-grain beers have had a slight rough/astringent quality to them. I’ve played with water temps, water pH, draining speed, etc. I’m going to try this method next time, and if I find the beer turns out better, I’ll stick with it. Thanks for posting.

Lou January 28, 2014 at 11:18 am

Brad, I just wanted to point out that in your post you say that the risk of oversparging leads to an unacceptably low pH leading to astringency, when it should be the other way around (high pH).

Jim Gaskins January 29, 2014 at 6:51 am

Brad,
Looking at the formula, couldn’t I just take the full volume of a single-infusion mash (which is what I do most) and subtract out the mash tun dead space to get my needed volume? That is assuming the strike water/sparge water is added in two stages that the dead space is added in twice as well.

Rob January 30, 2014 at 11:00 am

I have been doing the BIAB No Sparge Single Vessel (SV) for he past year and love it. I heat the water basically to the desired strike temp – there is so much water the grain bill hardly impacts the temp. So if I am looking for a 144 degree strike temp that is what I heat the water too. if I miss a little I turn the burner on to bring it up.

In addition to doing the BIAB-SV I use the step mash process. I know current grains are modified and don’t need it but I like the out come. I start at 140-144 for 40 minutes then step to 154 and again to 164 20 each. Pull the grain bag and get the boil started. I love it – got from the brewers down under.

Also I always (almost always) pull a session beer out of my grain bill by doing a second running off the same grain. sometime it does taste of tannins but it is a fun way to experiment with different hops and or yeast.

So I for one totally buy into the BIAB No Sparge Single Vessel Brewing process! Just need a vessel that will hold all the extra water at boil.

Jeremy Richards January 31, 2014 at 7:56 am

Interesting Brad. My question is, what is the advantage of a thicker mash and how does that relate to the body and style of the beer? What would be the downside of just filling my mash tun to the top every time, even if I need to sparge a little bit at the end to reach my pre-boil volume?

Glenn February 4, 2014 at 1:11 am

Brad,
So I utilize a Brutus 2.0 system which is close to a BIAB/No Sparge system. I usually mash with about half the volume accounting for absorption and half for re-circulation once the mash has completed for a process like http://www.alenuts.com/Alenuts/brutus20.html … I love the beer it produces, it is just a little hard to use your software and figure out all the variables. If you could help that would be great.

Thanks,
-G

Chad February 4, 2014 at 8:40 am

Brad, I stumbled upon this and I really like this concept for simplicity and increased repeatability. I was looking at the BIAB profiles in BeerSmith and they have a step build in where you up the temp to 168 for mash out. Adding all your water volume up front and using a cooler that isn’t possible, unless you’re recirculating over a heat source with a pump. Is it necessary to increase the temp for mash out for this method? What is the difference if you do or don’t? Is efficiency affected if you don’t raise the mash out temp?

Bobby March 24, 2014 at 7:57 am

Brad, everything I have read about no sparge brewing says that it will lower your efficiency, but when I setup no sparge on one of my existing recipes, my efficiency doesn’t change. I’m sure I don’t have it setup quite right; any suggestions?

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