Breakless Brew Day


Mashing the grains in my brewpot.

I brewed over the weekend. I was going to brew a version of my Copper Clipper recipe, which is just a lower-gravity, “summer” version of my Copper Ale recipe. However, I got better extract efficiency than I expected, so I ended up brewing the regular-strength beer. Oh well. One interesting thing about brewing is you never know when something you’ve never seen before is going to pop up.

For the most part, my brewday went well. I brewed a 3.0-gallon (11-L), all-grain batch and followed my normal procedures. I treated the water for chloramines and added some minerals to make the mash pH fall in a reasonable range. I tasted the water to confirm that there were no off flavors. I also crunched a few kernels of malt and smelled the hops to confirm they were fresh.

I mashed in my brewpot and held the temperature around 152 °F (67 °C) for 60 minutes, then mashed out. Next, I transferred the wort to the lauter tun (a 3-gallon beverage cooler, lined with a nylon steeping bag), and collected the wort by “pulse sparging” — collecting a couple cups of wort, adding the same amount of sparge water on top of the grain bed, waiting 30–60 seconds, then repeating. (It’s a lot like continuous sparging, but done a couple cups at a times instead of continuously.) I collected about 4.0 gallons (15 L) of wort and boiled it down to 3.0 gallons (11 L) over 90 minutes. After cooling the wort, I transferred it to a carboy, aerated, and pitched one sachet of dried yeast (Safale US-05). The next morning, it was bubbling and has been fermenting for the past couple days at 72 °F (22 °C).


The Problem — Poor Hot Break

There was, however, one problem during the boil — the hot break was almost non-existent. Instead of seeing big, fluffy flakes of break material, I just saw a muddy-looking wort. I added a pinch of calcium, in case the boil pH was little high, but that didn’t help. Neither did the second pinch.

One difference this time around was the base malt I used. I normally use US 2-row brewers malt for this beer, but this time I used a British Maris Otter pale ale malt. I noticed during the recirculation stage that the wort didn’t clear to the degree it usually did. So, I was expecting more hot break than usual. But, as I mentioned, that didn’t happen. Also, after cooling, it didn’t seem like there was as much break material at the bottom of the kettle. (Plenty of hop sludge, though.)

British malts are generally lower in protein, so that might have contributed to the disappointing break material. Or, the pH of the mash and boil might have been off and the protein in the wort never coagulated. (I didn’t measure the pH this time around, but I think this is the least likely option.) Or, as is most likely, everything might be fine, but just looked different than I’m used to. (I’ve had other batches with disappointing break material that turned out fine, but this one seemed particularly lacking.)

So, I’ll be curious to see how this batch turns out. It’s happily fermenting now, and smells like fermenting wort normally does. I’ll be curious to see how (or if) the wort clears after fermentation, and if the resulting beer is clear. If the break material didn’t form and the wort has too much protein in it, this could lead to hazy, biologically unstable beer. On the other hand, if the protein level in the malt was very low in the malt, there should be no problems with haze, but the fermentation might suffer. And on the other, other hand, if it’s all fine, I’m just worrying over nothing. In any case, it’ll be a chance to learn something about brewing.


Upcoming Batches

I’m brewing my pale ale this coming weekend, so I’ll see if my usual US 2-row malt gives me the usual break material. After the pale ale, I’m going to crank out my first batch of exercise recovery ale, and then maybe try an IPA with catnip. (Yes, catnip, people make tea from it sometimes.)


Related articles

The Easy Way to Hit the Proper Boil pH

Wort Boils Above 212 °F (100 °C)

Tannins in the Boil



  1. I am very interested to hear what you determine as my beers almost always have poor hot break. gypsum additions sometimes help but not always. I brew using well water with a ph around six and the fort going into the boil kettle is generally 5 or lower. could ph being too low contribute to this problem?

    • Chris Colby says

      Yes, pH has a big influence on hot break. Post boil wort should end up being pH 5.0–5.2. The biggest, fluffiest hot break generally occurs around pH 5.2. At pH values below 5, break formation is hindered. The usual problem with boil pH is that it ends up being too high, and adding a little calcium to the boil usually takes care of this. If your pH is too low, calcium is going to make matters worse.
      The amount and quality of hot break is also determined by the amount of protein in the malt and tannins from the malt and hops. I like seeing big chunks of hot break floating in otherwise clear wort during the boil, but have brewed many batches that didn’t look this way and still turned out fine.
      You might try treating your brewing water overnight with some sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to see if you can’t get the initial pH around 7. The pH of your water doesn’t matter much in the early stages of the mash (it’s heavily buffered by amino acids in the wort), but it matters more and more near the end of sparging.

  2. Herb Meowing says

    Colby wrote:
    “…(pH) matters more and more near the end of sparging.”
    Assumes everyone fly-sparges.

  3. so should i treat my sparge water or my strike water or both?
    I batch sparge by the way.

    • Herb Meowing says

      Treat both volumes.
      Add salts and minerals to the grist, then mash-in as usual.
      Add your ‘batch’ sparge salts and minerals to the boil kettle.

    • Chris Colby says

      Your strike water should be treated to facilitate the mash pH reaching the desired level. The mineral content of your sparge water is less important. It’s just rinsing the grains. I usually make my water in one big batch so there’s no difference, but if you’re mixing strike water and sparge water separately, just make sure the sparge water isn’t loaded with carbonates.

  4. My hat is off to your astute command over this tovap-brico!

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