This title of the blog is a real question we received from a curious brewer. It's worth noting that we have a photo of a cooler on the first page of our site, and yes, we've made hundreds of cooler bags. Perhaps brewers are beginning to realize that The Brew Bag, a fabric filter, is simply an alternative to the PVC, copper, or braided cord filter, and that using fabric simplifies lautering and makes for a stress free brew day. A stuck sparge can be a thing of the past. Spending hours constructing the mash tun filter can be a thing of the past.
I'll say this up front - we make the filters - we'd like to sell everyone a filter. We know that is blatantly self-serving, but we also know that innovation kept secret is just a good idea stored in a closet with no benefit to anyone except the key holder.
With equivalent results in less time, the fabric filter allows the lautering process to be changed . In addition, and because of the filter, brewers can now grind finer thereby boosting conversion potential while increasing efficiency. Those are facts substantiated by brew houses all over the country and in test results easily accessible on the internet.
The use of fabric for wort filtering is now old news that has been delivered as "Brew In A Bag". Most brewers view BIAB as a deviation from the traditional method of using three vessels and sparging. Even though both use grain, there is still a significant portion of the home brewing crowd that view the Brew In A Bag method as a step towards all grain brewing - but we all know both methods use grain and nothing else.
All accepted and readily available instructional material on home brewing contains at least one reference to avoiding a stuck sparge. It may be found in the grinding your grain section, lautering, mash water volume, type of grain used, construction of the filter or material, or even in the choice of the mash tun. It's always pointed out because it's a fact that needs addressing. We believe that a stuck sparge is a another way to say the filter clogged. So if the filter gets clogged and the mash/lauter process is built around avoiding that issue - why not use a different filter?
Mashing, in and of itself is fairly simple and does not require mechanical manipulation, so putting some grain in a tub and adding hot water will get the job done. However, getting the wort out of the mash tun is the lock that needs to open to get the beer in your hand. The mash tun filter is the key to every process that occurs prior to opening the ball valve to release the wort.
Here, in no particular order are the considerations taken when using a typical manifold filter or braided cord. These considerations are eliminated, along with a stuck sparge, when using a fabric filter.
1. Use a low mash water to grain ratio to "set" the grain bed onto the filter. A thin mash allows particulates to move and clog the pick up holes. (a thin mash converts faster and more efficiently)
2. Test your grist to make sure it's not too fine, otherwise it will clog the filter. (fine grind of .025 exposes more surface area of the grain allowing it to convert faster and more completely)
3. Adding too much sparge water to the mash tun will loosen the grain bed, allowing particulates to float and clog the filter.
4. Adjust the ball valve opening based on the grain bill so the wort does not come out too fast and pull particulates into the pickup holes.
5. Drain slowly and add sparge water evenly - that washes more sugar off the grain. (high water to grain ratio washes the same amount)
6. Never stir the grain bed after it has been set, the particulates will move and clog the pick up.
7. Because they produce a gel and have no hull, add rice hulls to the mash when using wheat or rye.
8. Low efficiency is caused by sparging to fast. (that's low efficiency, not conversion, the sugar is there but the process prevented it from getting into the boil kettle)
9. To reduce trub which causes off flavors, sparge slow until the wort is clear. (not so)
10. This is the only way to make great beer, I've been doing it this way for years.