I don’t know about you, but when I first got into brewing beer I felt so confused all the time. There are so many terms that were unfamiliar at the time and lautering was just another one to the list.
So as you are eager to understand, what exactly is lautering and why is it something you need to know? The term lautering is said to come from the German word abläutern or ‘to rinse’. Lautering is the process of separating wort with extracted fermentable sugar in it from the grain used in mashing, the first stage in the brewing process. It includes the mashout, recirculating & sparging of the wort.
If you are following an all-grain recipe then you really need to pay attention to the lautering process as it can really determine how successful your final beer will be.
In this following article, I’m going to answer some common questions on lautering and hopefully fix some widely believed misconceptions.
What is the purpose of Lautering?
In order to make beer, we need certain compounds in the wort which we pitch in our fermenter. If your wort doesn’t have sugar in it then the yeast you introduce won’t have any ‘food’ in which to do its important job, create alcohol.
As you probably know, we get this sugar by using heat and the enzymes already present in malted grain to convert starch into usable and fermentable sugar. This is done in the stage of brewing known as mashing.
However, as soon as the mashing is finished, we aren’t much interested in the grain as brewers. It’s almost done its job and we want to get the prize we’re been working for during the long mashing process, that lovely sugary wort!
This is where the lautering process comes into play. It’s simply the name for what we do as brewers to separate the wort from the grain. Depending on the recipe you are following this may be done in slightly different ways, but there are three main stages to any lautering process: the mashout, recirculation, and sparging.
The mashout is the name given to a process which happens at the end of the mashing process. After you have maintained your grain at a constant mash temperature, around 145-158°F (63-70°C), for about an hour you need to raise the temperature of the wort.
The reason this is done is to stop the enzymes that we have been taking advantage of from carrying on breaking down the starch in the grain. Although we love the sugar that these eager enzymes create for us, we don’t want them to continue to break down the grain and release tart tannins into our lovely wort.
This is especially true when you are planning to spend some time rinsing your grain to extract the sugars which haven’t yet passed into the wort. So, this is why the mashout is an important step in most lautering schedules.
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This step in the process is as it sounds, the wort is passed back through the grain after it has been drained out of the mash tun. This is possible with most mash tuns which have a built-in false bottom to collect the grain while allowing the wort to be drained through a spigot. Another method is to use a sieve or colander and a second vessel.
If you are a professional brewer with more advanced equipment the way you do this is very different from the average home brewer.
Commercial brewers (buy beer from local breweries) will keep passing their wort through the grain bed which is formed as part of this process until it is totally clear. However, for most homebrewers recirculation is connected to another term and process known as Vorlauf.
Here we are trying to set up a good grain bed which we will need for the next stage of sparging and also to remove as much organic material from the actual wort itself as possible.
Sparging is a term that is often confused with lautering although the former is actually part of the same process described by the latter.
Once you have drained away your wort from the mash tun or container you have been using to mash in, you are left with the grain which has settled as an even grain bed on the false bottom or stainer you have been using. Here I should just point out that for most sparging operations you do want to totally drain the wort away, but for one method this isn’t the case. More on this later.
There are three common sparging techniques which you can choose from depending on your recipe and equipment: No sparge, batch sparging, fly sparging.
I go into a lot more detail about each of these techniques and more in my fall article: What Is Sparging? Beginner Brewer’s Guide for Better Results.
No Sparge is a term that refers to a single draining of the wort through the grain with the additional sparge water added to make up the full quantity of water need for a boil. There is no extra rinsing of the grain in this process which is also known as the English sparging method. It has its benefits in terms of flavor and finish of the beer.
Batch sparging involves draining the wort and then adding smaller proportions of the sparge water which has been prepared over the waiting grain bed. The additional batches of wort are much weaker than the first batch and are added to it in order to reach the required quantity of wort for the boil. In the past, different beers were made from each batch for different groups in society and for different requirements.
Fly sparging or continuous sparging is a process that slowly introduces sparge water from a hot liquor tank into the wort which then drains through the grain bed over the course of 60 minutes or so. For this type of sparging process, you require a special piece of kit known as a sparge arm. (check out my full article on how to use a sparge arm more effectively)
What is Vorlauf?
Again this is a term which comes from the Germans, gotta thank them for their contribution to the brewing community really. Love me some of that Weizenbier!
The main aim here is to prepare your grain so that it can act as a filter when we come to sparging later on. Another aim is to try and clarify your wort as much as possible before you boil it. Both of these aims have the same goal, to limit the amount of grain matter which gets into your kettle boil or totally remove it. When grain is heated about 170°F (77°C) it’s going to start releasing nasty tannins into your tasty beer. A big no, no!
The process involves recirculating your wort a little at a time through a sieve or colander back through your grain. So, you need to place your strainer above the surface of the wort and then pour small quantities of it slowly and carefully back into the top of the mash tun until it runs fairly clear. I don’t mean that it should look like water, but it should be free of as much floating grain as you can manage.
At the same time as you are trying to extract all the cloudiness and organic matter from your beer, you are also setting up a nice and even grain bed which will act as a filter for the next stage of the process. If you don’t pour/recirculate your wort with care, you may later find that the grain bed breaks up and clogs your spigot or, worse, end up in your wort.
How long does it take to lauter?
The length of your brew day is set in stone in many ways, especially when it comes to your boil and how you need to treat your hops. However, the lautering phase is more subjective and you can adapt it from brew to brew even when using the same recipe. So, it could take anywhere from 15 minutes to about 90 minutes.
As I’ve mentioned before, the key stages of the lautering process are the mashout, recirculation or Vorlauf and sparging.
The mashout usually takes about 10 minutes to achieve and is generally recommended if you are planning on batch or fly sparging. It could perhaps be omitted if you were simply going to follow the English method of ‘no sparge’ drainage of the wort.
When recirculating the wort, what is known as Vorlauf for most brewers, the process’s length depends on how particular you are about clarifying your wort. You can cut down the time here by leaving the wort fairly cloudy and adding a fining agent later in the boil.
Sparging is by far the longest stage of lautering and so if you are pressed for time on brew day this is where you will see the biggest difference in time spent lautering. Batch sparging is considerably shorter than fly sparging but is argulably less efficient. So all in all, plan about 90 minutes for fly sparging, 30-45 minutes for batch sparging and around 10 or 15 minutes for a no sparge drain.
In order to lauter your wort effectively, you need certain pieces of equipment in your brewing arsenal. Although you can do this well will the bare essentials, it can be a tricky process if you don’t have the right tools to help you.
In pure layman’s terms, you will need to have at least two large vessels and perhaps even three depending on the sparging approach you take. On container is needed to collect the wort you pass through the grain bed and another to store the hot sparge water. You’ll also do well to get a large colander or strainer of some sort and may even want to invest in a small pump to help circulate the water or wort.
If you don’t want to worry about sourcing every little piece of equipment, I’d recommend that you invest a little bit of money in a dedicated kit that will solve all your lautering needs.
This really efficient piece of kit comes with a dedicated mash tun which will help keep your mash at the desired temperature throughout your mashing process as well as a hot liquor tank for storing the sparge water you’ll need for lautering. The kit comes with a false bottom for your mash tun to create an effective grain bed and a sparge arm which makes fly sparging really simple.
Another consideration, if you’re anything like me, is the actual space you need for brewing. If you have to brew in a confined space then this is a very useful set up as you can place the hot liquor take on the mash tun and severely cut down the footprint of your brewing equipment.
I’ve spoken to a lot of brewers about this very question and most people say that if they were looking to invest in a dedicated lautering system, this is the one they would go for. If you have a brew day coming up, then check out the best price for this which is normally found on Amazon. What’s more, with prime you can probably get it delivered in the next couple of days, just in time for your next batch!
Interested in building your own lautering system? Check out my article on choosing the right sparge arm to do the job.
Lautering on a BIAB brew day.
If you haven’t heard about it, BIAB refers to the method of mashing grains directly in a permeable brewer’s bag hence the name Brew In A Bag.
This phenomenon came about as a quest to make all-grain brewing easier and less intimidating for the wider brewing community. Basically, after mashing the grains you simple remove them in one fell swoop by lifting out the bag. But this begs the question, do you have to carry out the lautering process with the BIAB technique?
Well, in simple terms no, but reality it might be necessary. The main issue is with the efficiency of extracting fermentable sugars from the grain without lautering them, so in some cases it is necessary.
I’ve gone into a lot more detail on this small question in another article. If you want to find out in which situation it is recommended that you lauter your BIAB brew, then check out my post: Sparging BIAB on Brew Day (Essential Guide of What to Do!)
Do extract kits need lautering?
No, most extract-based kits that you may find online or in your local brew shop simply don’t require lautering. This is simply because you aren’t going to working with the raw malted grains yourself. The process of mashing and lautering has already been carried out on your behalf and the finished wort is provided for you either in liquid or dry form as LME or DME.
You might find these articles useful
As you have been reading about lautering, you might be interested in some more articles which I have written around similar topics.
To find out more about sparging and the different options check out my article: What Is Sparging? Beginner Brewer’s Guide for Better Results
If you are going to be building your own lautering system and plan to do a lot of fly sparging, check out my article on choosing the best sparge arm: What Is a Sparge Arm & How Does It Improve Your Homebrew?
If you are getting into your BIAB and have always wondered about the lautering process and a BIAB recipe, check out my article: Sparging BIAB on Brew Day (Essential Guide of What to Do!)