Batch Sparging

Whether you’ve been home-brewing for a while or you’ve just picked it up as a new hobby, you’ve probably noticed that brewing terms tend to take simple processes and make them sound complicated. Batch sparging may sound sophisticated, but there’s no need to feel intimidated. Let’s go over what it is and how you can master this technique. 

What is Sparging?

First, let’s start with what sparging is. Sparging is the rinsing off of convertible sugars from the grain bed with water as the liquid wort is being drained during the all-grain homebrewing process. It’s done by carefully sprinkling and scattering hot water on the grains.

The purpose of sparging is to get rid of any excess fermentable sugars that will interfere with the consistency and efficiency of your mash while also taking care not to let through any grain solids, which would add bitterness to the flavor.

There are multiple ways to execute the grain rinsing process, and thus sparging can fall under one of three forms of sparging: no-sparge brewing, fly-sparging, and batch sparging. 

Fly Sparging is the most common method used by large commercial brewers due to the pesky myth that it is more efficient. However, it is a much longer process that requires more equipment, so we’re not concerned with this method for the time being. 

Is Batch Sparging the Same as Parti-Gyle?

Batch sparging stems from the British tradition of Parti-Gyle, the process of creating a variety of beers from just one-grain mash. The practice dates back to medieval times, and there is evidence that it may have originated even earlier.

Though very similar to Parti-Gyle, there is one main difference between this old practice and modern-day batch sparging. The former allows for the brewer to add a little more grain or mash between runoffs, while batch sparging requires only that you add additional water to runoffs after your first. 

What Equipment Do I Need for Batch Sparging?

One of the best things about batch sparging is that you don’t need very much equipment. You can also use this method with any brewing system

Things you need:

  • A Mash tun with a false bottom and ball valve (a repurposed cooler works great)
  • A large pot or brew kettle to heat water in
  • A heat-proof pitcher
  • A thermometer
  • The brewing setup you already use 

What Calculations Do I Need to Make Before Starting?

The main thing you need to calculate is the batch sparge water volume. To do so, you must find out: 

  • The weight of your grains
  • The strike water volume
  • How much water the grain absorbs

If you’re unsure how many gallons of water your grain absorbs, measure the volume of the first runoff during your first few brews. You are looking to see how much pre-boil wort you get from using a certain amount of water. 

Another way to calculate is via simple math in your head. You want an equal amount of water for sparging as for the mash. Subtract the amount of grain. Your sparge water plus the first runoff should equal your pre-boil volume. 

If you think doing the math will take away from the fun of the entire brewing process, fear not. You can always use a sparge water calculator like this one to do the work for you. You’re welcome. 

What Does Batch Sparging Look Like?

You’re ready to brew, and you’ve got your batch with the number of gallons set for sixty minutes of boiling. Now what?

Add your mash water to your mash tun after the boiling time is up. Add in Mill grains to the mix, and start stirring. If your grain bed temperature is a little higher or lower than what you want (depending on the recipe), you can stir extra to cool it down or add more boiling water to heat it up. 

Now you start heating your mash water to the target mash temperature (you want somewhere between 180-190 degrees Fahrenheit).

Once your mash has been resting for sixty minutes, go ahead and take out a small sample from your mash liquid. Add a drop of iodine to it and check to see what color it turns. If it turns dark purple or black, this means you still have starches in it. Give it another 15 minutes to rest if that’s the case. 

If your sample does not change color, you’re good to go. Open the valve on your mash tun and get a pitcher-full of runnings from it. Watch out for any pieces of grain in the tube. 

After you have your pitcher full, pour it gently back into your mash tun to settle the grain bed. This part of the process is called Vorlauf, which is simply the German word for recirculation. 

Open your mash tun valve again and pour the runnings into your boil kettle. Once drained, close the valve back up and add your batch of sparge water to the mash. Stir the mash again. 

Repeat the process as desired. Voila, you just brewed using the batch sparge method. 

Why Should I Use This Method?

As you are now aware, barge sparging requires little equipment, and what you do use is very basic. It’s a great incentive to expand your brewing horizons by having a go at barge sparging.

The fact that you boil separately also means you end up with more distinct beer flavors after only brewing once, with just a tad more effort. 

Additionally, the process is relatively simple. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. The quality of your brew will largely depend on your mashing skills, so that’s something to keep in mind. You may want to start with 5% more dry grain on your first try as a general rule. 

Conclusion

Batch sparging is a simple and effective way to rinse your grains for the perfect brew. One of the advantages of batch sparging is that it can also be a lot quicker than other brewing techniques, such as fly sparging, or continuous sparging, as it is sometimes called. The only drawback is that you have to sparge in batches, but that shouldn’t be a big deal if you’re brewing for fun.

Once you have your basic equipment and calculations ready to go, you’re set to start your batch sparging experience. 

Try it and see for yourself why this is such a popular method.