Efficient Mashing Procedures (2)


In the previous iStill Blog post, I talked about how the iStill Masher helps you by making cooking and mashing easier as well as more efficient. In this post I will deal with how enzymes can help you out as well.

Cooking and mashing of old

Depending on the grains you use, when making whiskey, you just need to mash or you need to mash as well as cook. The cooking part consists of bringing water and grains to a boil. The boil is needed to open up the grains in such a way that the starches are released. And when the starches are released, mashing takes place. Mashing is the process where the now released starches are broken down into smaller, more fermentable sugar strains.

The harder the grain, the higher the temperature and the longer the boil needs to be in order to liquify the starches in such a way that they can be mashed. Corn and some types of wheat usually need boiling for them to release the starches.

Mashing is the process where the now released starches are cut into smaller molecules. Usually this takes place in two steps. And those two steps are performed by enzymes available in malted barley. Alpha and Beta amylases, they are called. One (Alfa) converts the starch to dextrines. Dextrines are shorter chained molecules than starches, but they are still not small enough for the yeast to comsume and make alcohol from. So there is a second enzyme needed (right, Beta), which will convert starch as well as dextrines into maltose. And maltose is perfectly fermentable.

Of old, boiling is used to liquify the starch content of grains, while malted barley is used for the mashing process. The reason is that malted barley has a lot of Alfa and Beta enzymes. Enough to convert both its own starches and the starch present in adjunct grains, like rye, corn, wheat or whatever.

In the USA

Master Distillers in the USA use 6-row malted barley. This variety has a very high amount of enzymes or, as it is also called: it has a very high diastatic power. As a result of this very high diastatic power, American distillers only use around 15% malted 6-row barley in their total grain bill.

In Europe

In Europe 2-row malted barley is used. It has less diastatic power, but better taste. As a consequence, when old styl mashing is applied in Europe, more malted barley is needed. Around 30% of the grain bill is usually made up of malted barley. The advantage is that the drink will get a nice, malty note. The negative is that … you might be looking for a pure rye or corn or wheat taste, rather than that twist of barley.

The good and the bad

Taste aside, it is a pain to work with malted barley. There are a few reasons why that is the case:

  1. Malted barley, once milled, looses its diastatic power quickly;
  2. Malted barley is prone to (lacto bacterial) infections;
  3. The enzymes in malted barley work at very specific temperatures;
  4. If you mash at too high temperatures, you won’t achieve full sugar conversion, lowering total yield.

Alfa amylase works best at around 73 degrees Centigrade. But at that temperature the Beta amylase already starts to denature and loose its mashing qualities. As a result beer makers usually choose the compromise temperature for mashing of 65 C. It will give you dextrins as well as fermentable sugars.

Please understand that in beer making malted barley (and both Alfa and Beta) plays a key role, since a beer needs both dextrins and maltose. The maltose fuels the yeast to make alcohol. The dextrins give the beer a sweet touch.

in whiskey making we want fermentable sugars only. Residual dextrins – and the sweetness they add to a beer – do not translate over during distillation! Distillers beer, therefore, is only about starch liquification and consecutive sugarification. That’s also why good distillers beer tastes like crap (very sour): all dextrins were mashed into fermentable sugars.

Many distillers use a beer makers procedure and mash at 65 C. That temperature is too high, because even at 65 C the Beta amylase, needed for starch to maltose conversion, denatures quickly. Distillers, aiming for a high yield on fermentable sugars, better mash at 60 to 63 C. If you want to keep on using malted barley for mashing, that is.

Cooking and mashing with enzymes

If you use malted barley, because you want that malty taste to come over in your whiskey, please keep on using it. But if you use malted barley for the Alpha and Beta amylases only, there now is an easier way. That way is called “enzymes”. There are companies around that sorta “harvest” these enzymes nowadays. For liquification as well as starch break down. And the really good news is that you can buy them!

Specialty Enzymes and Biotechnologies (SEB) is a company that does so. Two of their products are of interest to Master Distillers wanting to use enzymes:

  1. SEBrew HT;
  2. SEBmalt Super.

Bring water to a boil, add the grain, and then add the SEBrew HT. Use 1 gram per kilo of grain. Keep the temperature for 2 hours between 90 and 70 C and you will achieve perfect liquification of your grain starch.

Now, cool the mash to 60 degrees Centigrade and add the SEBmalt Super. Half a gram per kilo of grain will do it. Keep the temperature at 60 C for an hour, while agitating, and you will achieve perfect attenuation.


When you use enzymes, cooking and mashing becomes easier. It allows you better control over revenue as well as the taste profile you desire. It is the perfect replacement for malted barley in your mash bill. As long as you are not after a malt taste, off course!



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