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Steeping advice

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The directions for the LHBS recipe I brewed this weekend say to put the grain bag in cold water, heat to 160 and then let steep for 1/2 hour. I was reading Palmers book and he said "Previous practices regarding the use of specialty grains had the brewer putting the grain in the pot and bringing it to a boil before removal. That method often resulted in tannin extraction."

So should I listen to Palmer or LHBS?

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I'm pretty sure Palmer is suggesting not boiling, because you cause tannin extraction. When I steep about 0.5# of grains, I heat 0.5 gal to about 165F. But the bag of grains in and let them sit for 30 min. Then "sparge" in another 0.5 gal of water heated to 155F for 15 min, mix them together and proceed on. You don't want to boil the grains though.

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jbags wrote:


So should I listen to Palmer or LHBS?

Yes. They're both telling you the same thing. Listen to them.

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bpgreen wrote:

jbags wrote:


So should I listen to Palmer or LHBS?

Yes. They're both telling you the same thing. Listen to them.

True. Palmer cites "previous practices" and says it may result in tannin extraction, which you don't want, so he's saying, in a roundabout way, to avoid boiling.

From everything I've read, you don't want the water getting much above 160 degrees F. Keeping it in the 150-160 range is considered ideal.

Many brewers here use the technique of heating the water to ~160, taking the pot off the heat, putting the grains in, covering the pot, and ignoring it for 30 minutes. Or maybe stirring once or twice. It works well.

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I've done a handful of steeps so far, and almost all have been by letting the water heat to 160, then putting the bag in and monitoring the temperature to keep it at 160.

My last steep, I let the water get to temperature, then place the bag in, turned off the heat, and let it sit for 30 minutes. I think this is the easiest, since you don't have to constantly babysit the temperature for 30 minutes. However, towards the end, the temp was down to 145-150. Some would argue that the steep efficiency was compromised because of this lower temperature, but I missed the gravity by only 1 point.

For my next steep, I'm thinking this:

1) Place the grain bag in the cold water
2) Bring temp to 160, the turn heat off
3) Let sit covered for 30 minutes.

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Steeping is more about flavor and color than anything, it doesn't contribute too much to gravity.

I pretty much do my steeping the same way Bug put it. I never had too much problem with temps. The biggest concern with temps is not letting them get over 170, because tannin extraction can begin there, which is why Palmer says don't boil (to boil it, you'd have to go over 170).

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I'm doing my first steep this week and have had one hell of time finding consistent information. I am doing the Irish Red recipe from Northern Brewer (5 gallon batch).

The directions state:

ON BREWING DAY
2. Collect and heat 2.5 gallons of water.

3. For mail-order customers grains for extract kits come
crushed by default, but if you requested uncrushed grains,
crush them now. Pour crushed grain into supplied mesh
bag and tie the open end in a knot. Steep for 20 minutes or
until water reaches 170°F. Remove bag and discard.

Now, how I interpret these instructions, is to turn on the heat source and immediately add your grains to the still cold water while it heats up, removing the grains after 20 minutes OR when you reach 170.I will not be following these directions to a T because the only consistent info seems to be avoid 170 degrees. Also, since most people compare it to steeping tea, I never steep tea in cold water. So, I'll heat the water to 160, lower the flame ( I am using a propane burner) and just sit back and monitor.

However, I know some people will also question the amount of water used for this steep. The recipe calls for a total of 1# of grains. Would you guys use less that 2.5 gallons of water for that? Does it really matter?

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IMHO you'd be better off brining that water to 160*, turn off the flame, put in your steeping grains, wrap the pot in a towel (as you indicate you may be outside doing this) and give it 30 min. Your steep temp will drop to about 155* +/- a degree. remove grains.

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yankeedag wrote:

IMHO you'd be better off brining that water to 160*, turn off the flame, put in your steeping grains, wrap the pot in a towel (as you indicate you may be outside doing this) and give it 30 min. Your steep temp will drop to about 155* +/- a degree. remove grains.

That sounds good. Was worried about turning the flame off completely since Spring doesn't really wanna cooperate here in Connecticut. It will be a little chilly. Low 40's probably

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BrewHaHa78 wrote:


However, I know some people will also question the amount of water used for this steep. The recipe calls for a total of 1# of grains. Would you guys use less that 2.5 gallons of water for that? Does it really matter?


Because you are steeping, not mashing, the more dilute your solution, the fewer sugars will be left in the grain. With mashing you are converting starch to sugar, with steeping you are simply trying to get already converted sugar out of the grain and into your pot. A larger quantity of water will actually do the job better in this case. Go with the directions provided.

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oly wrote:

BrewHaHa78 wrote:


However, I know some people will also question the amount of water used for this steep. The recipe calls for a total of 1# of grains. Would you guys use less that 2.5 gallons of water for that? Does it really matter?


Because you are steeping, not mashing, the more dilute your solution, the fewer sugars will be left in the grain. With mashing you are converting starch to sugar, with steeping you are simply trying to get already converted sugar out of the grain and into your pot. A larger quantity of water will actually do the job better in this case. Go with the directions provided.

Oly, have you seen this BYO article on improving extract brews? http://www.byo.com/stories/techniques/article/indices/30-extract-brewing/964-kick-up-your-kit

It suggests to steep small and boil big. I think most people would agree larger volume boils are better, but it seems counterintuitive to steep small. Anyone have any thoughts on that?

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SenorPepe wrote:


Oly, have you seen this BYO article on improving extract brews? http://www.byo.com/stories/techniques/article/indices/30-extract-brewing/964-kick-up-your-kit

It suggests to steep small and boil big. I think most people would agree larger volume boils are better, but it seems counter intuitive to steep small. Anyone have any thoughts on that?

FWIW, that article is relatively old. It's not that old, really, but it seems like the knowledge of this craft we enjoy grows by leaps and bounds every year. 7 years is a lifetime ago.

I'm noticing that "Tannins" are like the boogeyman of brewing. I think there's a whole lot more myth surrounding them than there is fact. The article you linked to suggests that a higher steep volume results in tannin extraction. I'm no chemist, but that doesn't even really pass the sniff test for me. I just can't see any reason for that to be true. What I've read suggests that tannin extraction doesn't even begin until you hit temps of 170, so below that, the volume of your boil should be immaterial.

FWIW. When I steep I drop in the bag when the water hits 160, and I leave it there for 30 mins, occasionally teabagging (tee-hee) it during the process. I've used 4 Cups, and I've used a Gallon or more before for my steeps and have noticed no ill effects from either.

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SenorPepe wrote:

oly wrote:

BrewHaHa78 wrote:


However, I know some people will also question the amount of water used for this steep. The recipe calls for a total of 1# of grains. Would you guys use less that 2.5 gallons of water for that? Does it really matter?


Because you are steeping, not mashing, the more dilute your solution, the fewer sugars will be left in the grain. With mashing you are converting starch to sugar, with steeping you are simply trying to get already converted sugar out of the grain and into your pot. A larger quantity of water will actually do the job better in this case. Go with the directions provided.

Oly, have you seen this BYO article on improving extract brews? http://www.byo.com/stories/techniques/article/indices/30-extract-brewing/964-kick-up-your-kit

It suggests to steep small and boil big. I think most people would agree larger volume boils are better, but it seems counterintuitive to steep small. Anyone have any thoughts on that?


Interesting. No I hadn't seen that, and I agree it seems counterintuitive. They do say that you will extract more flavor with a thinner steep, but risk tannin extraction. I usually steep in around a gallon and a half when I am doing extract brews, and have never noticed any tannic astringency, but of course the reason we read BYO is for their expertise, so I will happily defer to their judgement (but I have no intention of changing my own steeping practice).

edit: FWIW, I tend to agree with VTGroff's analysis, but my opinion is not based upon any sort of scientific evaluation.

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Off the top of my head I can't think of any reason to refute VTGroff's analysis and I tend to think he's right. On the other hand, the only reason I really posted this was because it was in BYO. I know that 7 years is ages in homebrewing but BYO is usually not totally misinformed. I think it probably is roughly analogous to people saying to always secondary about 10 years ago. Now the experts seem to be split at best, but not because they were wrong at first. They just worried more about a real problem (autolysis) than we have to with more advanced equipment and more widespread knowledge. I would think this is similar and that there is some kernel of truth to the claim but maybe we just don't notice a difference or it isn't a real practical problem?? (Just speculating here)

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I don't have any answers, but I thought it was interesting that the author did a web search for "yeast starter" and got 2794 hits (and apparently thought that was a lot). I'm sure you'd get hundreds of thousands of hits now.

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lol I know I had to re-read that again, which was actually what prompted me to realize the date. 138,000 results for "yeast starter" now on Google. Yay technology.

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Wow. Quite a debate I started with this thread. Great information. Consensus seems to be heat to 160, drop in grain bag and let steep for 30 min. My LHBS directions were not clear in that it said to drop the grain bag in the cold water while it's heating. I see now from the posts that there is no danger in that, it's exceeding 170 or so that presents tannin problems.

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Quite a debate, indeed. So many methods and issues within those methods to sort through.

As others have said, I'm no chemist, but I like to think I'm logical, so I'll try to break things down in a logical fashion.

Starting with grains in cold water and bringing the temperature up:
As it's been noted, you don't make tea that way, you plunge the teabag into hot water. It probably isn't an issue, but why not bring the water up to temperature and then start the extraction with hot water, instead of having it sit and absorb cool water? I'd heat the water first and put the grains in at target temp.

Excess water resulting in tannin extraction:
This doesn't seem right; at least not for the amount of time we're talking about steeping. I'm sure if you left a bag of grain in five gallons of room-temperature water for five days, eventually the tannins would be extracted, but it would seem to me that temperature, more than time, would be the primary factor.

Boiling the water with the grains in, then removing grains:
We're all pretty much in agreement that we don't want to go above 160 degrees anyway, so this is a moot point.

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SenorPepe wrote:

It suggests to steep small and boil big. I think most people would agree larger volume boils are better, but it seems counterintuitive to steep small. Anyone have any thoughts on that?

If I remember correctly, Palmer recommends a volume of less than 1 gallon per pound of grain for steeping.

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along the line of starting cold to getting hot... there is the possibility of the bag slipping down and burning. not good.

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yankeedag wrote:

along the line of starting cold to getting hot... there is the possibility of the bag slipping down and burning. not good.

+1...also I just want to point out that if you are like most of us on here, time and temperature is important. If you drop a grain bag into cold water, when do you really know when a 30 minute steep begins? Yes you probably would count it once it hits around 150*, but if you're going to bump it to 160* then aren't you throwing in variables you wouldn't want to create in the first place? IMO hit that water at 160*, drop the grain bag in, cover it, set it, and forget it!

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dodgerblue wrote:

yankeedag wrote:

along the line of starting cold to getting hot... there is the possibility of the bag slipping down and burning. not good.

+1...also I just want to point out that if you are like most of us on here, time and temperature is important. If you drop a grain bag into cold water, when do you really know when a 30 minute steep begins? Yes you probably would count it once it hits around 150*, but if you're going to bump it to 160* then aren't you throwing in variables you wouldn't want to create in the first place? IMO hit that water at 160*, drop the grain bag in, cover it, set it, and forget it!

When ever I have read "them" saying drop in cold water they say bring to a boil and then remove the grains. Well, is that at max heat to get to a boil the quickest or not? Too many variables (time, tannin extraction, temp, burning your sack :blush:) I go back and forth with monitoring the temp approach to keep it level and using the "165 and cover" approach.

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mnstarzz13 wrote:

When ever I have read "them" saying drop in cold water they say bring to a boil and then remove the grains. Well, is that at max heat to get to a boil the quickest or not? Too many variables (time, tannin extraction, temp, burning your sack :blush:) I go back and forth with monitoring the temp approach to keep it level and using the "165 and cover" approach.

Yeah I almost feel like hitting your target temperature and just covering it and insulating is the safest and cleanest way to do it. 30 minutes may drop your initial temp a few degrees but as long as you keep things covered and insulated and you don't have sub freezing temperatures blowing on your pot it shouldn't be a problem. People mention about checking once or twice to stir, but I feel like a slight stir before you sparge or prepare to boil is good enough.

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