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7 Reasons You Need To Try Non Enzymatic Mashing

Updated: Jul 23, 2023

Last week I came across an interesting power point slide pack dating back to 2017, discussing a 'new' technique - non enzymatic mashing (NEM). Having no clue what this could be about, I skimmed the presentation and the phrase "new malt flavours" jumped out. Intrigued, I read more... and there are some great reasons to consider this method!

Ever heard of cold brew coffee? This is the equivalent of that for grains. The consensus from every paper, presentation, and article I've found since is that you get an increased flavour, aroma, colour, better head retention, and improved mouthfeel through a higher density and intensity of the water soluble refined malt components. These components aren't masked by the coarse starch binding structures like dextrins, beta glucans, and large haze forming proteins (all of which stay in the grains) that normally become dissolved in the wort in traditional mashing.

Above - A pic of an early method of recirculating the wort while mashing.

How does it work? To understand NEM it's best to start with how traditional mashing works. Milled malt is combined with hot water (typically 60°C to 72°C, or 140°F to 162°F) to enable the enzymes to liberate large proteins, beta glucans, complex unfermentable sugars, and dextrins. This group of compounds makes up approximately 75% of the resulting gravity. The remaining 25% consists of the readily soluble refined malt components that contribute to aroma, colour, head retention, enzymes, and free amino nitrogen (FAN). NEM uses milled malt with cold water (fridge temperature) to absorb only the 25% of readily soluble compounds over a period of 8-12 hours if steeping the grains or 1-2 hours if stirring/recirculating the grains or wort. The left over grains are still heavily starch laden and are perfect to be used as an 'all grain' adjunct to add sugars to a beer.

It's important to note that it is the malting process where the enzymes break down proteins to form the smaller proteins and amino acids necessary for good yeast health, head retention, and full mouthfeel. Additionally, it's the heat during the kilning process of malting that creates the Maillard compounds responsible for a majority of the colour and aroma, and the roasting process that creates the same in dark malts. All of these components mentioned above are not created during the mashing process.

What are the potential applications? NEM can be used as a replacement for, or supplementation to, traditional mashing. As mentioned earlier, it's also not just the NEM wort that's valuable - the 'spent' grains have their own desirable uses too. Consider the following ways to use this technique:

  1. Use NEM wort to create a delicious low alcohol beer. NEM results in a wort that's intense in flavour, but low in specific gravity; A standard recipe converted to NEM results in around 20-25% of the alcohol. Put plainly, your standard 6% recipe will result in 1.5% or less, yet still have full flavour and aroma with great mouthfeel and head retention.

  2. Use NEM wort for another NEM mash to increase the concentration of the cold water soluble compounds even further!

  3. Use NEM wort to convert adjunct-heavy brews, as the wort is loaded with enzymes

  4. "Re-brew" NEM wort, using it to mash in fresh grains, obtaining the flavour of ultra-high gravity beers without having the complications associated with ultra-high gravity wort - essentially creating a session ale that tastes like an imperial stout - all without the cloying effects of beta glucans and dextrins. Use NEM wort to boost the malt flavour of a favourite recipe while maintaining a clean, dry beer.

  5. Use NEM to extract all the flavours, aromas, and colours of the specialty malts in your normal recipe, then use the NEM wort in the traditional mash with your base malts to get a dry brew that's still loaded with flavour - something you can't accomplish using traditional mashing alone (at least, not without adding expensive enzymes).

  6. Follow the same process as above, but reduce the amount of specialty malts (as the characteristics they add will be significantly amplified using this process) still resulting in a beer similar to your original recipe, but drier.

  7. "Re-brew" NEM used grains in place of other adjuncts to create estery, dry beers - create strong beers that traditionally would use sugar to obtain higher alcohol without adding colour, but as the NEM wort will take most of the colours and flavours you can instead do it using only grains! Belgian Tripel, anyone?

Tips on how to execute NEM:

  • Milling your grain: shy away from milling your grain too fine as you don't want high amounts of flour - coarser is better, the water soluable components you're after will still dissolve during the 8 hours

  • Water to Grist Ratio: Aim for 3-5 times as much water (by weight) as compared to your malt

  • Mix thoroughly ensuring there are no dough balls, same as you would during a traditional mash

  • Option 1: Do this in a container or vessel and store refrigerated for 8 hours, up to 24 hours (8 hours is all that's required but it can be done in advance). Can be as simple as a food grade bucket in a fridge, or as complex as a glycol chilled vessel

  • Option 2: Instead of a lengthy time in the chiller, you can stir/vigorously agitate the mash, or continuously recirculate your wort while keeping it chilled for 30 minutes to 2 hours

  • Lauter the same as you would a normal mash. Take care to not transfer any solids that have settled on the bottom, as they're prone to scorching if added to your kettle, resulting in a not-so-lovely burnt flavour

  • Convert the Sugars: Once the wort is separated from the grains, raise it to your traditional mash temperature to complete conversion. This may take anywhere from 30-60 minutes.

  • The rest of the brewday proceeds as normal

How to tweak your brewing software for low ABV recipes

Adjust your brewhouse efficiency to give you a close prediction of where your SG and FG will be. As mentioned before, you're going to obtain approximately 25% of the available gravity-forming compounds - setting your efficiency to this will be a close bet. Make sure it's only your brewhouse efficiency that you're changing, and not other things like hop utilization (as that part is unaffected).

Consider dialing back the IBUs as you won't have the sweetness normally contributed by the alcohol to balance out that bitterness. While this is always a matter of preference, anywhere from 30-70% may be appropriate - it's all about balance, and the perceived bitterness doesn't always align with IBUs. I'd recommend starting in the middle (around 45-50% less) and adjusting to taste.

*The original slide pack was put together by Briess Malt & Ingredients Co. and they've since reposted on their site with update information. You can find it all here.

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