Although it may sound like a common brewer’s injury, a sparge arm is something that will help your brew day rather than hinder it. This tool is essential if you want to use the fly or continuous sparging process in order to get the most out of your mashed grains.
So, what exactly is a sparge arm and what do you use it for? A sparge arm is a piece of brewing equipment used in fly/continuous sparging during the lautering phase. It is basically an adjustable unit that has a tube with a disc, plate or other outlet port at one end so hot water trickles evenly into a mash tun filled with grain to extract fermentable sugars.
Sparge arms come in several different designs but they all have the same goal, to help you extract as much fermentable material as you need in order to produce the best beer you can from your ingredients.
In the following article, I’ll go into a little bit more detail about sparge arms and how to use them. I’ll also give you some suggestions on choosing the best one for your set up.
What is sparging exactly?
Sparging is a term which basically means ‘sprinkle’ and refers to the pouring of water onto grains in order to rinse them and get as much usable material possible for fermentation.
Sparging takes place as part of the lautering process which probably comes from the German word for ‘to rinse-off’. Once you have mashed grains, we don’t actually want the grains themselves in the wort, so in short sparging is one step in separating the grain from the sugary wort mixture our beery eyes are set on.
There are many different ways to sparge your wort and these have developed over time and have different effects on the finished beer. The most common technique among professional and amateur brewers is probably fly or continuous sparging. It seems to bring about the best efficiency in collecting fermentable sugars and is therefore favored more than other techniques such as batch sparging or the ‘no sparge’ method.
If you’d like to find out a lot more about sparging and what temperature your sparge water should be as well as how much you need to prepare, then head over to my full article “What Is Sparging? Beginner Brewer’s Guide for Better Results“. I’ve packed it full of useful tips and explanations for the questions you have been wondering about but probably weren’t able to find the answers to yet.
Do I need to sparge when using an extract recipe?
Sparging is a stage in all-grain recipes, so when you are following an extract recipe from a kit you may have purchased online or in-store, you don’t need to worry about doing it.
The reason why is because an extract kit contains liquid or dry malt extract. This is resulting wort of the sparging process which the manufacturer of your kit has already carried out for you. This is why the first major step of an extract recipe is the boil. Although there is nothing wrong with spending your entire career as a brewer working with extract kits, nothing really beats seeing a beer created from the raw materials themselves.
So, unless you are dealing with an all-grain recipe, you don’t need to worry about lautering, and therefore sparging.
When do I need a sparge arm?
As I previously mentioned, there are different techniques of sparging grain and a sparge arm isn’t needed for all of them.
If you are using the ‘no sparge’ method, also referred to as the English method, you basically just fill your mash tun with the additional sparge water and then allow it all to drain out into your kettle, ensuring that you collect enough wort for the boil.
Batch sparging is a similar process but rather than draining your wort through the grain bed once, you drain it several times. Each time you add additional hot water you mix it gently with the grains to get the sugars to mix with the new ‘wort’, then you drain that wort through the grain bed. Each batch will produce a slightly weaker wort which is then added to the main wort batch. In the past, this is how ancient brewers produced beer of different ABV for different people and activities during the day.
I’ve covered all these different types of sparging methods in more detail as well as how long they take in my full article here. Have a read of it if you want to find out even more about ‘No Sparge’ and batch sparging.
So, after telling you when you don’t need one, when exactly do you need to use a sparge arm? Well, if you are following the most popular method of sparging, fly or continuous sparging, a sparge arm sure comes in handy. The idea behind this method is that you add continually adding hot water to your mash tun as the wort is drained out of it into a kettle. You do this slowly and with precision in order to extract as much fermentable sugar as you can from your grain over the course of about 1 hour. It takes a lot of surveillance so, don’t try this if you are likely to be distracted on brew day.
How to use a sparge arm effectively
The sparge arm was designed to evenly sprinkle hot water over the submerged grain and to avoid that water from being concentrated in any one place.
So, the first thing to make sure is that your sparge arm has been thoroughly cleaned. If the output port is blocked in any way or there is some debris on a splash disc or plate, you might not get that even spread which is so vital.
Also, make sure that you have adjusted the height and position of the sparge arm correctly. Some models will just allow you to adjust the height of the unit above the surface of the wort, while others will allow you to adjust the horizontal position as it is spans the lip of the mash tun or container being used.
If you have the sparge arm too low down, it may not spread to the farthest corners of the container you are using. Also, if the sparge arm isn’t central when placed across the pot, it may only target one particular area of it.
Another consideration is the flow of water through the sparge arm. As a general rule of thumb, you want to keep the surface of the wort in the mash tun at about 1 inch above the surface of the submerged grains. Keep a keen eye on how much wort is being drained into the kettle (buying one with a clear measurement on the inside is really helpful here) and try to match that wort drainage with how much water you are introducing from the hot liquor (just hot water) container.
Which sparge arm to buy
There are several different models of sparge arms on the market and each of them will do the job to a certain degree. However, I would recommend the following units if you are just looking to add to an existing mash tun set up.
Ultimate Sparge Arm
The Ultimate Sparge Arm, well the name says it all really but seriously, this is a really good unit and I like the fact that it uses the spray disc technique to spread the sparge water more evenly over the surface of the wort.
It allows you to clip the sparge arm onto the side of your mash tun or whatever container you are working with then you can adjust the height of the arm up or down. This is ideal if you are now working with say, 5-gallon batches, because if you ever need to brew a larger amount you don’t need to upgrade your sparge arm too.
I looked around and I couldn’t really find a better deal or faster delivery than on amazon. If you have a brew day coming up, I recommend you check out the latest deals and find out if Amazon is the best place to buy at the time of reading.
Imperial Sparge Stainless Steel Arm
I don’t know how they come up with these names, but using this sparge arm makes you feel like you are a royally appointed brewer or something. Anyway, this is a slightly different design but does the same job as other sparge arms. You can adjust the ‘arms’ of this arm so that it spans any pot with up to a 24-inch diameter. The hose with the sprinkler ( which looks like those fire sprinklers in your building) is also adjustable so you can raise or lower it based on the amount of wort you are working with.
Although it’s a good sparge arm, it’s not my first choice but it’s great for a budget below $100 and will serve you very well for that price. Again, for this sort of purchase, I can’t find a better deal today than on Amazon but do check it out yourself as prices may have dropped even more since I wrote this (I hope so for you!).
Stainless Economy Sparge Arm
We all know that brewing can quickly take over your bank account, so if you need to watch the pennies while still enjoying a great brewing experience, I’d say begin with this unit as a nice starter option.
Again, it’s a sparge arm which spans the top of your mash tun or container in use but unlike the Imperial Sparge Stainless Steel Arm, it’s not adjustable and will only work for a mash tun with a diameter of 20 inches or less. So, go an measure your pot before you buy this.
You can also adjust the height of th sparge arm, so apart from being limited to a certain pot span and maybe looking a little basic, it’s up to the job of most sparging projects and is really good to invest in if you aren’t sure about completely switching to all-grain brewing.
If you are interested, head over to Amazon and see what they are asking for one at the moment. However, I might suggest that you just save up a little bit longer and go for one of the other two options I’ve mentioned above.
Other related articles
If you are interested in reading more about the sparging process, why not check out my article on this topic?