by Mike Retzlaff
Many years ago when I started home brewing, my first few batches were extract or extract with “specialty grains.” Within just a few batches, I went to all-grain. Following the instructions garnered from Charlie Papazian’s book “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing”, I built a “ZAPAP” lauter tun. It consists of two nested plastic pails. The bottom pail has a 5/16” hole drilled through the side near the bottom. A short length of 3/8” diameter of plastic tubing is forced through the hole. A valve is attached to the outside end of the tubing. The top pail has a series of 1/8” holes drilled through the bottom of the upper pail. They are spaced apart enough to not touch each other and they virtually cover the whole bottom. This is the false bottom of the rig and simply makes it a big colander.
Once fitted together, the finished mash is poured into the upper pail. The wort flows through the holes into the bottom pail while the mash acts as a filter bed. The valve on the tubing is opened to allow the flow of lautered wort into the kettle. The first runnings are returned to the ZAPAP and the sparging is accomplished in the same setup. As crude as this seems, it worked just fine for a number of years. I retired my ZAPAP when I bought a false bottom and started using an Igloo cylindrical water cooler as a mash / lauter tun. The false bottom was eventually replaced by a bazooka screen. The march of progress seems relentless . . .
Sometime later, I put the old upper pail, the one with all the holes, back into service. I started using it as a hop-back. I sanitize it and nest it at the top of my plastic fermenter. I line the hop-back with a fine mesh nylon bag to run the wort through. The mesh bag collects all of the hops (whole or pelletized) along with most of the trub. It works like a champ!
A few years later, I realized that I had rediscovered a piece of old German brewing hardware called a trubsack. The original mesh bags look like a conical minnow net and work in exactly the same way but strain out hops and trub instead of minnows.
Most brewers today seem to use the whirlpool technique to collect “clean” wort for the fermenter. This effect was discovered many years ago but got started commercially around 1960 and has gained popularity among most brewers; home and commercial. It seems quite appropriate for commercial brewers as it is less liable to hot side aeration than the old hop back (aka hop jack). All sorts of innovative designs are now built into many new high-end homebrew kettles. Brewers also add hops to the whirlpool which augments the addition of flavor and aroma without the extra IBUs; something formerly done in the hop back. My observations, of most home brewers who whirlpool, indicate that they don’t deliver a cleaner wort to their fermenter than I do with the old trubsack so I don’t have any incentive to change. I’m not that set in my ways but I’ve never felt the compulsion to do things just because “everybody else is doing it.” I suspect the technique of BIAB (Brew In A Bag) is an adaptation of Dave Line’s suggested technique in his “The Big Book of Brewing” back in the late 1970’s. His nylon mesh bag technique was pre-boil but I’ve adapted it to post-boil.
The fine mesh nylon bags I use are 18¾” X 19” supplied by BSG (Brewers Supply Group) and are usually readily available from your local homebrew supplier or a multitude of on-line retailers. They snugly fit the rim of my 5 gallon plastic ZAPAP upper pail.
There seem to be endless methods of skinning a cat. Most other major aspects of brewing have a variety of techniques to accomplish the various tasks required to make a batch of beer. Who else brews exactly as you do? Who brews exactly like me? I’ve taught a number of others how to brew and each of them has deviated from my methods for as many reasons as there are brewers. Some have developed a better or easier way and I’ve adopted some of their techniques. However, some of their changes just make me shake my head but then, life would be boring if everyone was just like me!