Decoction is a meandering path to take to arrive at a beer; you can get a fermentable wort (not the same wort, though) into the boiler with less time and effort, but I think it’s safe to say that for most homebrewers, this whole thing we do is about the journey at least as much as it is the destination.
It’s like espresso, or a tea ceremony – beautiful, but admittedly a pain in the ass to go through for a cup of coffee, a mug of tea, or a krug of beer, and if all we’re ultimately after is a cup of coffee, a mug of tea, or a beer, then what’s the point? I’d say you’re right – but I’d also say it’s a slippery reductionist slope for something as complicated and imbued with tradition and ritual as doppio ristretto, wild Lung Ching leaves, or Pilsner. The effort of preparation and presentation, the mastery over minutiae elevates the whole. It’s still just a coffee, a tea, a beer – but it’s also an experience.
Plus: decoction is very old-school. The reliquaries of old brewing traditions are arguably more on display in the sour, hot-fermented, farmhouse, monastic, raw oat- and spice-laden ales of Belgium, but let’s not forget that decoction mashing lagers is a dinosaur too.
It came about because those cold-fermenting, Alpine cave-cellaring, brown beer-brewing Saxons and Slavs didn’t have thermometers: they could guess closely at body temp and see boiling, but the amylolytic range would have been smack in the middle of thermal terra incognita. But, if we get the mash to blood-warm first, then remove part and boil it, then stir it back in, repeat a few times – boom, wort. Regulating the volume of the boiled portion regulated the temp increases in the main mash once it was added back; add in variations in regional water, local hop varieties, and malt production techniques – boom, classic beer styles.
Someday I’m going to have to explain to my daughter why Flavor Flav wore a clock around his neck all the time (“Because he never knew when Chuck D might need to let all the suckas know what time it was, sweetie”) and it’s going to seem just as arcane and gnostic as some handsomely bearded forefather of our craft sticking his impeccably hygienic Middle Ages finger into the wooden vat to check on how the phytase rest was coming along.
If you can make roux or redeye gravy, then decoction mashing – even a triple, like today’s – isn’t really difficult, just involved – it only asks that you, the brewer, be willing to wander a bit before getting to the boil. It’ll also probably be a longer brew day than you may be used to – this mash took me somewhere around 5 hours from heating strike water to starting the sparge, and I was not wasting time – so remember to budget for that. Tag along on someone else’s brew day before you undertake your own (that’s what I did back in the day) but don’t be afraid to jump in and try it, either – the worst thing you’ll end up with is beer. For the reader who in an earlier thread was lamenting the lack of resources on the how-to of decoction, I’ll reiterate here: New Brewing Lager Beer by Noonan and Bock by Richman are both full of good stuff.
Now, let’s show our work:
Target OG: 1.048
- 97.5% Weyermann floor-malted Bohemian Pils
- 2.5% Weyermann Acid Malt (Sauermalz)
- 95F for 20′
- Decoction 1: pull 20 qt thick mash* – rest at 148F for half a bagel, 156F for the other half, then boil for 20′ and return to main mash**
- 126F for 30′
- Decoction 2: pull 20 qt thick mash – rest at 156F, preheat espresso machine and pull a doppio, then boil for 20′ and return to main mash
- 147F for 20′
- Decoction 3: 20 qt thick mash – rest at 156-158F, help dig your neighbor’s stuck front-wheel drive sedan out of the snow in the alley (you can skip this rest if no one is stuck in the snow in your alley), then boil for 20′ and return to main mash
- 156F for 20′
- Mashout at 170F for 10′
* For a 10 gallon batch; for decoctions, I pull 1 quart of thick mash per pound of grain in the grist.
** We may not need to return entire volume of decoction to main mash in order to reach the next rest temp – watch the thermometer, YMMV, etc.
- Czech Saaz (whole, 3.1%aa) at 90′ to 16.5 IBU
- Czech Saaz (whole, 3.1%aa) at 60′ to 15.5 IBU
- Czech Saaz (whole, 3.1%aa) at 30′ to 12 IBU
- Chill wort to 44-45F, O2 and pitch with 2nd-generation Wyeast 2000 Budvar Lager
- Free rise up to 55F over approx. 36 hours; right now it’s holding around 52 with good krausen and spice/sulfur offgas … and that brings us up to present. Once TG is reached and diacetyl dealt with, it’ll be dump, harvest, rack, crash cool, and see you this summer.