Skip the Sparge!


Have you ever wanted to make an all-grain beer that practically brewed itself? A batch that didn’t require you to monitor everything — the mash pH, the sparge flow rate, the gravity of the runnings and more? Have you been searching for that perfect batch — a batch in which the malt flavors are clean, without any drying or dullness to the palate? There is a technique that can deliver these wishes, and it is simply this: “Don’t sparge.”

What? Don’t sparge?
The “no-sparge” technique uses 20-25 percent more grain than a standard recipe. This produces a larger mash that can simply be drained to achieve your full boil volume. This method produces a richer, smoother-tasting wort with the same gravity as a standard recipe, but with a mashing and lautering process that makes the wort more robust and pH-stable.

No-sparge brewing differs from conventional all-grain brewing by incorporating the full boil volume of water into the mash, instead of adding it afterwards during the lauter as a separate sparging (rinsing) step. Typically, sparge water is added continuously as the wort is drained from the grain bed to rinse the remaining sugars from the grain. Sparging continues until the full boil volume is achieved or the gravity of the runnings gets down to 1.008. If the grain bed is oversparged and the gravity drops below that point, it is likely that harsh tannins and polyphenols will be extracted from the grain husks.

At the end of the continuous sparging process, the mash pH typically rises to around 6 as the sugars are extracted and the buffering effect of the malt and wort is replaced by water. This rise in mash pH tends to extract greater proportions of tannins, polyphenols and silicates into the wort that have a dulling effect on the taste. Batch sparging (in which first, second and even third runnings are combined to produce the wort) can exacerbate this effect because all of the wort is drained away, including the majority of the buffering capability, before adding the next sparge volume. No-sparge brewing provides for a stable lautering pH that is not significantly different than the mash pH, due to the large buffering capacity of the malt.

The amount of water used for continuous sparging (3 to 5 gallons) is typically 1.5 times as much for the mash. When you brew with the no-sparge method, this 3 to 5 gallons is added to the mash tun at the end of the mash, before recirculation, and allows the mash tun to be simply drained to achieve full boil volume. By using more grain and adding all the water during the mash, you can relax and not worry about mash pH, astringency and undershooting your gravity.

So why doesn’t everyone use the no-sparge method? Because continuous sparging usually works just fine — and pound for pound, it extracts the highest yield from the grain. No-sparge uses more grain and doubles the size of the mash tun.

Here is a comparison of the standard recipe and the no-sparge recipe for a Sierra Nevada Porter clone that I call Port O’ Palmer:

Grain Bill         Standard          No-Sparge
pale ale malt     7.5 lbs.              9 lbs.
crystal (60° L)  0.5 lbs.             0.6 lbs.
chocolate malt  0.5 lbs.             0.6 lbs.
black patent     0.25 lbs.           0.3 lbs.
Total weight     8.75 lbs.           10.5 lbs.
Total mash vol. 3.75 gal.           8.6 gal.
Each recipe produces 6.5 gallons of wort with a specific gravity of 1.041. The obvious difference is the size of the mash: 8.6 gallons for no-sparge versus 3.75 gallons for the continuous sparge.

No-Sparge Recipe Calculations
These calculations combine the scaling-up of the grain bill with a three-step infusion-mash that makes the whole process more manageable.

:    Standard recipe original gravity (just the points, i.e. 48 for 1.048).
Gr:    Standard recipe grain bill (total pounds).
Vr:    Standard recipe batch size (e.g. 5.5 gallons).
Vb:    Standard recipe boil volume (e.g. 6.5 gallons).

Calculation Coefficients:
k:    Water-retention coefficient (0.125 gallon per pound)
Rr:   Standard recipe conversion rest mash ratio (e.g. 2 quarts/lb.)


S:    Scale-up factor for grain bill.
Gn:    No-sparge grain bill (total pounds).
BG:    No-sparge boil gravity (points).
Rn:    No-sparge final mash ratio (quarts/lb.).
Wn:    No-sparge total water volume (quarts).
Wmo: Mash-out water volume (quarts).
Vt:    No-sparge total mash volume (quarts).

Now I’ll walk you through a sample calculation for Port O’ Palmer.

1. Decide how many gallons of wort you need to boil to achieve your target recipe volume. For this recipe, we’ll boil 6.5 gallons of wort.
Vb = 6.5 gallons        (6.5)

2. Calculate the scale-up factor.
S = Vb/(Vb – kGr)        (1.2)

3. Calculate the no-sparge grain bill.
Gn = S x Gr        (10.5)

4. Calculate the no-sparge boil gravity.
BG = OG x Vr/Vb        (41)
(i.e. 1.041)

5. Calculate the no-sparge mash
ratio (qts/lb).
Rn = 4(Vb + kGn)/Gn      (2.98)

6. Calculate the total no-sparge water volume (quarts).
Wn = Gn x Rn or 4(Vb + kGn)

7. Calculate the volume of water you will use for mashout (quarts).
Wmo = Gn(Rn-Rr) or Wn – infusions                    (10.4)

8. Calculate the total no-sparge mash volume (quarts). The volume of 1 pound of dry grain, mashed at 1 quart per pound, has a volume of 42 fluid ounces (1.3125 quarts). Higher ratios only add the additional water volume.
Vt = Gn(1.3125 + (Rn – 1)    (34.5)

No-Sparge Mash Example
1. We have determined that the scale-up factor for the Port O’ Palmer recipe is 1.2. The new grain bill is:

Grain Bill           Standard           No-Sparge
pale ale malt       7.5 lbs.              9 lbs.
crystal (60° L)     0.5 lbs.             0.6 lbs.
chocolate malt    0.5 lbs.              0.6 lbs.
black patent malt 0.25 lbs.            0.3 lbs.
Total weight       8.75 lbs.           10.5 lbs.
Total mash vol.   3.75 gal.            8.6 gal.

2. From the infusion equations in the sidebar, we can calculate the infusions for dough-in and conversion, based on the new grain bill of 10.5 lbs.

Dough-in Infusion
Target temperature:    104° F
Dough-in infusion ratio:    1 quart/lb.
Infusion water temp.    111° F
Infusion volume:        10.5 quarts

Conversion Infusion
Water volume of mash is:    10.5 quarts
Target temperature:    154° F
Infusion water temp.:    210° F
Infusion volume:        10.4 quarts
Total water volume    20.9 quarts

3. At this point we have a rather ordinary mash of 10.5 lbs. in 20.9 quarts of water, i.e., a mash ratio of about 2 qts/lb. The total volume is about 6 gallons. Now we will calculate how much water we need to add to make up the total no-sparge water volume (Wn) and use it for a mashout infusion.
Wn = 4(Vb + kGn) = 31.25 quarts
Wmo = Wn – infusions = 31.25 – 20.9 = 10.35

4. You might think, “Just add 10.35 quarts and call it good,” but we don’t want to push the mash-out temperature over 170° F because of the risk of tannin extraction. We want to calculate the infusion temperature that will give us a final mash temperature of 170° F (max). From the equations in the sidebar, we can re-arrange the equation:

Tw = (T2 – T1)(.2G + Wm)/Wa + T2
Tw = (170 – 154)(.2 x 10.5 + 20.9)/10.35 + 170 = 205.5° F

In this case, using our usual infusion water of 210° F would possibly increase the potential for tannin extraction from the grain husks. However, when you calculate the final temperature using 210° F, the result is a mash-out temperature of only 171.4° F, which is not a big difference.

Yes, there are a few calculations involved and it’s a lot bigger mash, but it does simplify the lautering process to  add all the water to the mash and drain it to start your boil. And if you want to simplify the calculation aspect, then loading the equation into a spreadsheet or using a brewing software program will make it a snap!

Infusion Equations
These calculations allow you to estimate the amount of heat provided by a volume of hot water so you can predict how much that heat will change the temperature of the mash. This method makes a few simplifications, one of which is the assumption that no heat will be lost to the surroundings, but we can minimize this error by pre-heating the tun with boiling water.

Most of the thermodynamic constants used in the following equations have been rounded to single digits to make the math easier. The difference in the results is at most a cup of hot water and less than 1°F. Experience has shown the equation to be fairly reliable and consistent batch-to-batch, as long as you pre-heat your mash tun.

When mixing hot water with dry grain for the initial infusion, the equation is algebraically simplified so that the amount of grain does not matter, only your initial grain temperature, the target mash temperature, and the ratio (r) of water to grain in quarts per pound.

Initial Infusion Equation

Strike Water Temperature Tw = (.2/r)(T2 – T1) + T2

Mash Infusion Equation

Wa = (T2 – T1)(.2G + Wm)/(Tw – T2)


r = The ratio of water to grain in quarts per pound.

Wa = The amount of boiling water added (in quarts).

Wm = The total amount of water in the mash (in quarts).

T1 = The initial temperature (°F) of the mash.

T2 = The target temperature (°F) of the mash.

Tw = The actual temperature (°F) of the infusion water.

G = The amount of grain in the mash (in pounds).

The infusion water does not have to be boiling, a common choice is to use the sparge water at 170° F. Then Tw becomes 170 ° F and more water (Wa) will be needed to make up the additional quantity of heat.

Issue: May-June 2002