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This month's question: What type of beers work well with a no-sparge process? How do I work out my recipe and starting gravity?

Answer: The no-sparge brewing process is a useful all-grain technique with a number of advantages. About the only down side to the technique is that it is less efficient. Hence, you will have to buy more grain to get your target volume and starting gravity. However, these are usually offset by these many advantages:

  1. Save time. You can easily shave an hour off your brewing day.
  2. Less equipment. You can avoid the expense of a sparge water tank and an extra platform on your brewing system.
  3. Avoid astringent flavors. Sparging tends to extract phenolics and tannins that can degrade the flavor of your beer.
  4. Make high gravity beers. The gravity of the runnings is considerably higher than a sparged batch. You can avoid extra boil-down time you would otherwise need.
  5. Use it as the starting point for a parti-gyle.

You can make just about any style of beer and the technique can work regardless of whether you are using a single infusion, step infusion or decoction mashing. There are basically three things to consider when calculating your recipe and gravity. First of all, the gravity of the runnings will depend on the ratio of water to grain. Make sure you use the total water used, not just the first addition. Second, the grain will absorb some water than you cannot retrieve. Finally, boiling will reduce the volume and increase the gravity. I'll walk you through an example to show how this works.

You may have calculated your point-gallons per pound of grain in the past. You can start with this number, which should be somewhere between 25 and 30. I typically get 27 with my system. For example, if you mash 10 pounds of grain with 5 gallons of water you will have 10 x 27/5 = 54 points, or a specific gravity of 1.054. But, you will lose some of that 5 gallons absorbed into the grain. Figure 1.25 pints per pound. Hence, you will lose 1.25 x 10 = 12.5 pints, or 1.56 gallons. So now you are down to 3.44 gallons. Next, you'll lose volume from the boil. Figure 20%. Now your volume is only 2.75 gallons, but the gravity has increased by 20% to 1.065. If you top this up with water at the end of the boil, you can make 5 gallons of beer with a starting gravity of 1.036. But most all-grain brewers prefer to do a full-volume boil.

So you have to do a bunch of math to get five gallons, right? No, I was kind enough to work it all out for you and put it in the table below. Note that you should use a thin mash for low gravity beers and a thick mash for high gravity beers.

 This table assumes:

27 point-gallons per pound of grain
1.25 pints per pound absorbed by grain
20% boiling volume reduction

 Recipe Table for No-sparge Brewing for a 5-gallon batch

OG of wort

1.035

1.041

1.048

1.051

1.054

1.057

1.059

1.064

1.069

1.074

1.080

Pounds of Grain

8

10

12

13

14

15

16

18

20

22

25

Gallons of water

7.5

7.8

8.1

8.3

8.4

8.6

8.8

9.1

9.4

9.7

10.2