Cold Steeping

                                                                                                              By Mike Retzlaff

Some time back, I wrote an article entitled “A Bit More On Mashing”.  In that hodge-podge of odds and ends, I noted that highly roasted grains and malts such as roast barley, chocolate malt, and black patent malt offer no convertible starches and therefore don’t require mashing.  I stated that in darker brews I usually add enough of these dark grains to the mash to adjust the pH and the rest of the roasted grains are added just before the mash-out.  The entire mash is then lautered into the kettle.  The dark grain mash additions are included only to set the pH of the mash so I don’t need to fiddle with various acids or alkalis to get the job done.

I’ve read several write-ups about various methods used to extract the color, flavor, and aroma of roast grain beer ingredients through a technique called “cold steeping.”  It is roughly the same principle as cold brewed coffee or cold brewed “sun tea.”  The reasoning behind this technique seems plausible and from all accounts, including my own limited experience, it works.  A friend has utilized cold steeping in his brewing of darker beers for a number of years and it all seems to be working quite well for him.  I’ve tried several variations on this theme and have come to my own conclusions.

I’d heard of cold steeping for some time but thought of it as a gimmick.  After playing with the concept and ironing out a few techniques, I believe it definitely serves a purpose.  What are the advantages to cold steeping?

  1. Cleaner flavor and enhanced aroma from the roasted malts and grains.
  2. Bitter and acrid compounds aren’t extracted (as much) without the heat of the mash.
  3. Additions to the mash to adjust pH may not be needed to compensate for the dark mash ingredients.

Darker malts and grains have a very high degree of friability and will generally pulverize when going through the mill.  The result is that the husks are turned into powder or shreds which can lead to stuck or very slow lautering.  By cold steeping and straining into the brew, this problem can be minimized. 

Another alternative is using dehusked malts such as the Weyermann Carafa Special series, “debittered” black malts, and other specialty malts such as Blackprinz® and Midnight Wheat from Briess Malting.  These malts avoid the problems with tannins (polyphenols) from the husks and they can work well when cold steeped also.

The nuts and bolts of cold steeping comes down to mixing the crushed, roasted malt / grain with at least 1.5 quarts of brewing water per pound.  It should be covered and left to stand on a bench, table, or counter-top between overnight and a full day.  After that, it can be strained and rinsed into a container for later use. 

There is also the technique of hot steeping which is claimed to have a shorter processing time.  Steeping the grains in 165o F water for 5 to 10 minutes is relatively pointless as it offers virtually no difference than simply adding the crushed grains to the mash in the first place.

Better results with some beer styles, such as Schwarzbier, can be attained by the extraction of color without an overabundance of the roast flavor.  Schwarzbier is often referred to as a black pilsner and should have only a subtle aroma and flavor of roasted malt.  There is also the novelty of brewing subtle beers such as Kolsch, Gose, or even Wit with dark malts by adding mostly color.  Cold steeping can really make a noticeable difference in fairly delicate beers. 

In certain styles, such as Porter and Stout, the roastiness can be gotten without the acrid and burnt flavors often associated with many interpretations.  Stouts generally have a little bite and the formulation should take this into account. 

Some methods call for the steeped liquor to be added at the beginning of the boil, some wait until the end of the boil, and other methods add the steeped liquor to the fermenter.  I can’t tell any major difference between a full boil with the extract and waiting until about 10 minutes before knock-out before adding the steeped extract to the boiling wort.  That minimal boil dispels my fears of introducing infectious beasties to my precious wort.  The burnt and acrid components were not extracted into the steep liquor so it shouldn’t make much difference as to when it goes into the boil; I can’t tell that it does. 

Something else to ponder is that Guinness brews a light colored beer, adds the concentrated, steeped malt colorant after aging, and finishes as normal.  They also adjust the pH with calcium carbonate so the final product doesn’t have malt sourness. 

It’s not only roasted malts and grains that can be steeped.  Crystal and caramel malts have already been converted and don’t require mashing.  To really get a reasonable extract from this type of grain, I add these crushed malts to the mash just before the mash out.  The heat is what is needed to dissolve the sugars and get them out of the mash tun and into the kettle.

Cold steeping is another technique which will extend your brew-day but only by a few minutes. However, it’s something that can indeed refine the qualities of the finished beer in your glass. 

The application of enough subtle differences can make your brew noticeably better.

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