Looking for a low alcohol and flavorful brew? Would you like to boost the flavor of your beer without adding too many additional fermentables? A method known as Non-Enzymatic Mashing could be the solution.
Non-enzymatic mashing (NEM) is a process used to extract flavor and color from malted grain without converting and extracting a lot of fermentable sugars. In order to accomplish this, all the grain for a brew is soaked in cold water, typically for 8 hours, before the wort is separated from the grain. This method can be used to brew low alcohol beer or to beef up the body and flavor of a more standard beer.
In my view, the primary advantage to using NEM is the ability to produce low alcohol beers that still have substantial flavor and mouthfeel. There are many other ways to use NEM. We’ll go over them below and you can decide for yourself what all the advantages are!
Are there any drawbacks to non-enzymatic mashing?
Anecdotally, some beer brewed with the NEM method can have a slight grainy flavor. Other disadvantages depend on your goals.
Cold extraction severely decreases the amount of beta-glucans being extracted from the grain. Beta-glucans are considered to add mouthfeel and body to the taste of the beer. If the goal is to produce a low alcohol beer with full flavor, this could be seen as negative.
Cold Extraction Mashing Applications
The first (and my favorite) use for cold extraction mashing is to produce low alcohol beer. If you start with a beer that would otherwise have an original gravity of around 1.050, the resulting beer will have an ABV of 1 – 1.5%! I have brewed a few of these table beers and have been very pleased with the outcomes. These small beers are a flavorful and healthy alternative to their bigger brothers.
Use the Leftover Grain as an Adjunct
Once the wort has been separated from grain using the NEM method, you’re left with a big pile of fermentable sugars. Should you toss the spent grain? By no means.
Why not put that grain to use and brew up a batch of Saison or American Light Lager? The leftover grain can be used exactly the way other nearly flavorless adjuncts are typically used.
Ultra High Adjunct Beer
Another option is to use the wort from NEM and mix it with a super high adjunct mash. The goal here is to take advantage of all the enzymatic power in the cold separated wort and use it to convert sugars in a mash that could consist of 80% adjuncts. Some adjuncts that come to mind are corn, rice, and sorghum. The results could be very unique!
Boosting Flavor and Color
Cold extracted wort can be added to a traditional beer in order to increase flavor and color. One example and a tempting prospect is to add a cold extracted wort from an Oatmeal Stout to an identical Oatmeal Stout recipe in order to boost flavor without adding a lot of alcohol to the final beer. 5% ABV “Imperial Stout” anyone?
Creating a Cleaner and Drier Beer
This last idea messes with my head a bit because it seems counterintuitive. Let’s use an example beer to see if it makes sense.
We’ll start with an IPA recipe. Then increase the base malt or add an adjunct. After that, remove some or all of the specialty malts in the traditional mash. Using the NEM method with those specialty malts, we’ll extract the flavor and color but only a small amount of the fermentables.
What’s the result? You get a dry IPA. It’s drier because of the decreased percentage of sweetness added from the specialty malts. I think I just tricked myself into brewing a Brut IPA!
This could be used with other styles as well. Two examples are Dry Stout and Irish Red Ale but it need not be limited to those!
Cold Extraction Process
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty on how to do a non-enzymatic mash…step by step:
- Crush all grain for the cold mash.
- Using a 5 gallon bucket or other suitable container, mash in with cold water. Add enough water to adequately hydrate the grain. You can measure how much you’ve added at this step and predict your total required water for the brew or wait until the wort is in the kettle to top off to the correct volume.
- Leave the mash to soak at refrigeration temp for 8 hours or more. There’s also a faster way that we’ll cover below.
- Gently move the bucket from your fridge to a position where you can siphon off the wort. Siphon the wort into your boil kettle. It is important to not get all the gunk at the bottom of your bucket into your kettle. If added to the kettle, this will scorch and be a pain to clean up. It will also add an acrid burnt flavor to your brew. No thanks!
- Once in the kettle, raise the temperature to 149 F (65 C) and rest until conversion is complete. 60 minutes is fine but it might not take that long.
- At this point, depending on your goal, you may be adding other wort to the kettle.
- After conversion is complete, simply bring it to a boil and proceed with your brew day as usual. It’s fine to add water or other wort to get your target boil volume now or anytime after you’ve transferred from the bucket. That’s the process in a nutshell.
Extraction can be achieved in an hour if the mash is being stirred or otherwise mixed. This obviously requires more equipment. If you’re set up to recirculate your mash with a pump, this could be a big time saver.
One potential drawback is that the wort will likely be very turbid and will require a significant amount of filtering (vourlafing) to get a less hazy wort into the kettle.
Recipe Design for a Low Alcohol Beer
It is necessary to adjust your overall brewhouse efficiency when brewing a low alcohol beer to get accurate estimations of the starting and finishing gravities. I’ve found that setting my brewhouse efficiency at 25% will give a reasonable prediction.
Make sure your hop utilization is set at your normal rate. That’s typically 80-100% depending on your boiling temp based on what altitude you’re brewing at. Don’t forget this step or you’ll end up adding way too many hops.
My process goes like this: I start with a typical recipe, input my grain bill into my brewing software and then adjust my brewhouse efficiency to 25%. After that I add my hops to target my desired IBU.
Voila! Now you’re ready to cold mash and proceed with the brew like usual.
There are many options and ideas for using the NEM method. This is a very underutilized and unexplored method with a lot to offer those willing to experiment. So what are you waiting for? Grab a five gallon bucket of cold water and some grain and get your extraction on!
Looking for More Info?
Achieving balance in a beer with an ABV of 1.5% is a delicate thing. Depending on the style and recipe, I recommend scaling back the IBUs by 35 – 50%. Because this is somewhat uncharted territory, experimentation and reiteration will be necessary.
When I brewed a Saison this way, I targeted 12 IBUs. Normally, I’d shoot for at least 20 IBUs if not more.
Once again, there is a need for experimentation. The best result I’ve seen is using NEM to make a 1.4% ABV Saison. It didn’t fool anyone into thinking it was 6% ABV, but it was very flavorful and thirst quenching. My opinion is that there is no substitute for the flavor and body that alcohol adds to a beer. But you can still make really delicious beer with NEM.
What Yeast Should I Use If I’m Making a Low Alcohol Beer?
Using a yeast that expresses a lot of flavor is a good idea. There are also certain strains that produce significant amounts of glycerol, most Saison strains do this. Glycerol adds sweetness and body to beer.
Other strains to consider include anything that throws a lot of esters. I’m inclined to think that using a yeast that is a poor attenuator could be a good idea too, but my experience with Saison is proof that attenuation isn’t the only thing that matters. The mantra here is to try, reiterate, and try again.
Will My Beer Get Infected if I Cold Mash for 8 Hours or More?
The short answer is no. Because you’re extracting at a cold temperature, this is an environment that doesn’t favor bacteria growth. There is no threat unless you’re soaking your grain for a week or something crazy long. Don’t go beyond 24 hours and all will be well. Don’t forget too that you’re going to boil this beast, so even if something gets funky it won’t end up in the final beer.