Flatch Sparging

With this last batch, my brewhouse efficiency jumped from about 65% to 84%.  Apparently, I’m finally doing something right!  It only took me two years to figure out my all-grain technique.  

Some history:  when I first started all-grain, I started with Fly Sparging, just because others were, and I watched a bunch of youtube videos on it.  This is what I was doing:  #1 vorlauf  #2 crack the mash tun valve open #3 crack the hot liquor tank open, and slowly sparge without disturbing the grain bed for about an hour.  When I finally started checking my efficiency, I was getting low-mid 60 percent.  So then I tried Batch Sparging, where I’d #1 vorlauf #2 drain off the first runnings entirely #3 fill the tun with hot liquor #4 let it rest for an hour, and then drain off the second running entirely.  Again, I was getting low-mid 60 percent range, so I wasn’t happy with that either.

Now, I am apparently getting a 20 percent increase in efficiency with something in between those two methods.  I call it “Flatch Sparging.”  Really, I think the key is excessive agitation during the mash/sparge process.   

So, this is my mash tun.  It’s an ordinary Home Depot 5 gallon cooler with a brass ball valve, brass nipple, brass sealing washer, and a bazooka screen.

I bought the bazooka screen for about $10 on ebay.  I had to cut it to fit the cooler.  Most home brewers use 10 gallon coolers as mash tuns, but I was a broke grad student at the time, and this was cheaper.  Plus I lived in a tiny place and still do, so this took up less room.  This means I have very little head space.  Still, I have mashed 11 pounds of grain in this tun.  

This is my hot liquor tank.  It’s a Coleman 28 quart cooler I drilled a hole in with a step drill bit.  It has a brass gate valve, brass nipple, brass coupler, and a sealing washer.  I had to use aquarium-grade silicone to keep it from leaking.  I just had it lying around, so this was cheaper than buying another cooler.  I use some high-temperature silicone tubing I got on ebay to connect the hot liquor tank to the mash tun, and the mash tun to the boil kettles.  I use three boil kettles at once.  I do this on a stove instead of having a propane setup, so I’ve found it’s fastest to use two 4-gallon kettles ($17 at Big Lots) plus one smaller 3 gallon kettle ($20 for an entire set at Harbor Freight.)

And finally, I think this is the key element.  This is a paint stirrer I put on my 12 volt cordless drill.  I think this was $7 at Ace Hardware.

So this is Flatch Sparging.

1.  Mash the usual way.  In my case, I tend to use about 3 - 3 ½ gallons of strike water because I have so little head space in the mash tun. I heat the strike water to 162 degrees or so, treated with Mash 5.2.  I pour the water into the tun first, then dump the grain in.  The thermal losses in the tun and the grain bring the temperature down to 152 or so.  The important part is that I stick my paint stirrer in and really stir the bejeebus out of it at dough-in.  I mean, I whip that mash up into a whirlpool.   

2.  During the 60 minute mash rest, I open the tun, stick the paint stirrer in again, and whip it up into a frenzy every 15 minutes.  

3.  When the mash rest is done, I vorlauf, and then I drain the first runnings entirely.  Then I close the valve on the mash tun and fill it with 175 degree hot water from the hot liquor tank. I think I have about 5 gallons of sparge water on hand.  Once again, I stick the paint stirrer in, and whip it up into a complete frenzy.  Think about it, you’re trying to extract every last bit of starch from the grain.  I figure that takes some furious stirring.

4.  Now I open the mash tun a tiny bit, and let the second runnings trickle off slowly.  I also open the valve on the hot liquor tank and let the sparge water trickle into the mash tun very slowly.  I sparge for an hour, but every 15 minutes or so, I stick the paint stirrer in and whip it up into a furious whirlpool.  I stop when I have collected 6-6.5 gallons of wort.

And THAT is how I got a 20 percent increase in efficiency.  

Sparging for fun and profit

It’s been a hard few months on MAGPIE. Constant component breakdown, electrical failures, maintenance periods and attempting to bring on-line some of the most complex diagnostics we’ve ever dreamed up have made progress slow and data scarce. 

The charging barrel, full with transformer oil. Eight cables (not shown, they would attach to the brass cylinders at the top) take the two polarities (positive and negative voltages) to each of the four banks. The pneumatics are part of the safety system that only allows charging when all the doors are secured.

The latest failure was our charging barrel, a barrel of transformer oil full of bulky resistors, charging rails and pneumatics. When we started charging the Marx banks for a shot on Wednesday we heard an awful crackling wail coming from this barrel, and the voltage was leaking out of the Marxes like water through a sieve. In the darkness, we could see the tell-tale flicker of a coronal discharge, as streamers of ionised material sparked between conductors.

Not good. We scrubbed the oil, and left it to settle, but to no avail. Then this morning over tea, one of the senior researchers in the group suggesting ‘sparging’. I’d never heard of this, and giggled. But apparently it’s the process of bubbling an inert gas through a liquid to remove dissolved impurities, the idea being that our oil was contaminated with dissolved water. My advisor looked a little sceptical, but it seemed like an easy thing to test.

As a good scientist, I did a quick literature review, and turned up a paper from Sandia National Labs in 1999. Sandia are the big boys of pulsed power (high voltage, short time) engineering, so if they’ve tried this technique it must be legit. They even had the very relevant line: 

“The component failures caused by poor oil performance were indistinguishable from normal Marx system failures that occur as components age. This may explain many random system faults previously attributed to component failure.”

I showed the paper to Sergey and rushed downstairs to build a sparging unit.

Our 'oil torturer’, filled with oil and ready for testing. The little glass window lets us see the sparks when the oil breaks down as high voltage is placed between the submerged brass electrodes.

We already had a test unit for seeing how good a batch of oil is at holding off high voltages. It’s a little chamber with two brass balls inside, one grounded and the other charged by the dump barrel. With some of the contaminated oil from the charging barrel we could hold off 6.5 kV, which is pathetic.

Mk 1 Hare Industries Sparge-a-tron 9000, with ballast nut. It fits the bottom of the bucket perfectly.

I coiled up some plastic pipe into a spiral, cable tied it to a sheet of metal, added a big nut for ballast and got some vicious looking hypodermic needles we had lying around to puncture holes in it. By this point one of the postdocs had got in, and our enthusiasm was high. We filled a bucket with contaminated oil, turned on the nitrogen for half an hour and let it sparge away.

The oil bubbling merrily as nitrogen rushes through from the Sparge-a-tron underneath, dragging the dissolved water with it.

After this, we dumped the 'clean’ oil back into the oil torturer and found it could hold off 30 kV, almost a five-fold improvement. Buoyed by success, we dropped the Hare Industries Sparge-a-tron 9000 ™ into the bottom of the charging barrel, and left it bubbling away. The volume is far larger, but after 90 minutes of thorough sparging, we found the oil could hold off 27 kV, a remarkable improvement. We tested the charging barrel, and weird noises and lights were gone. Success.

Bubbles at the top of a Marx bank from the improved Hare Ind./SwadTech Mk 2 Sparge-a-tron 9000 ™. My hand indicates the precarious position I’m balancing in.

Nitrogen is cheap as chips (£6 for a big bottle) so we built a large Sparge-a-tron that would fit inside a Marx bank out of a cable tray and some hefty nuts for ballast. We sunk that into the bottom of one bank and opened the bottle up. A huge rush of bubbles floated up through four metres of murky oil, driving a fast convection current and stirring the oil nicely. We’ll leave it overnight and test the oil in the morning to see how much nitrogen we’ll need to bring all the oil up to specification.

100 Posts & Looking Back, Wayback

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When I started this blog on the 1st January I didn’t have much of a plan other than to share my journey through the world of beer. It has been pretty cool to be able to record and share my adventures, as well as my opinions on what I am thinking about and what is topical.

I have also been playing around recently with a new version of The effort is patchy and not sure of when there…

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Here is my first all-grain brew. This is a Dry Stout. You are seeing the sparging of my mash. Think of it kind of like when you make coffee, you put the grounds in (malts, barley,  ect) then you run hot water over it until you have the nice dark product. Which in this case we call wort vise coffee. Only real difference between the two processes is that the grains had to sit in a 150 degree bath for an hour before the sparging.


30 more barrels of Krankshaft assisted. #metropolitanbrewing #brewing #sparging @metrobrewing (at Metropolitan Brewing)

Sunt dezamăgit de mine,sunt dezamăgit de ceea ce credeam că știu să fac bine.Nu este ciudat când te dedici asupra unui lucru și la final nu obții ceea ce ți-ai dorit?  Ca un balon pe care te-ai chinuit să îl umfli și care se sparge dintr-o dată fără să mai poți face ceva.Și începi să fii deprimat,să nu mai vrei să o mai iei de la zero,să nu mai ai niciun obiectiv.

Se-aruncă de pe stânci ai iernii demoni ne-nfricați

cu geruri însorite încălțați

și pe-orizont desenați

cum zboară însetați

de morții înghețați

să-i încoroneze-ai omătului împărați.

Alb, alb, mânie


într-o hârtie


pe vârf de munte,

ninsă toată,

cu-o stea în frunte

arde toată

împărăția cerurilor, Divinu-i un om de zăpadă

și Diavolu-i Soare cu dinți

ce sparge-ntre măsele ale verii suflete fierbinți.

Leșuri de copaci și zâmbete perfecte

de modele cu blănuri pe ele ce stau în frig infecte,

ale mele vizibile și-ncețoșate defecte

se sparg ca țurțurii pe carosabil când din cer încep să se reflecte

fulgi unici care-s oricum toți la fel,

iarnă, nu te mai învârti-n al anului ruginit carusel!

M-am săturat și de tine, și de el,

ereticul Moș Crăciun care-i doar un tembel

ce bate-n aur alb un inel

pe care gravează anul bisect, să dureze februarie mai mult

aș prefera muțenia morții-n locul colindului ce urlă mut.

Văd că începe iar să ningă și se ridică morții,

că ei oricum sunt reci, iar voia sorții

le-a lăsat mormintele deschise

ca să ne construiască nouă viilor din nea noi vise

și să ne mituiască-n creaturi nelegiuite și-nghețate


câte trei

și iar s-alunecăm pe al Infernului spiritual polei.


veg chocolate muffins ♥ by *Caterina Neri
Via Flickr:
l'aroma del cacao che si sparge per la casa, in un pomeriggio dalla luce dorata..♥