What is the Mash, or Mashing?

Image courtesy of BeerandBrewing.com

Image courtesy of BeerandBrewing.com

One of the first steps in brewing beer is mashing and no, it has nothing to do with the Monster Mash. Mashing is the process by which we create wort, aka the sweet liquid that will become beer in the future.

Simply put, mashing is the process of combining water and malt and bringing it to a boil to convert complex starches in the grain into simple sugars that the yeast will later go family style on during the fermentation process to produce alcohol.

Mashing begins with water and water chemistry can make a world of difference in taste, but also in the type of beer you want to make; calcium and pH are essential to beer and brewers often alter water chemistry to make it just right.

Water is brought to a boil inside a Mash Tun, which is simply a large vessel used for making the mash. When the water reaches the boiling point, malt is stirred into the mash tun via milled grains and the liquid is brought back up to a boil for at least 60 minutes.

During the next hour, grain enzymes will activate and break down the grain starches into fermentable sugars and non-fermentable carbohydrates that will add body, head retention, color, flavor and other characteristics to the resulting beer. Brewers also add hops and other adjuncts during this time to add aroma, bitterness and other flavors.

After mashing is done, the next step is lautering to produce wort, but that’s for another time.