Diastatic Power

So, in my quest to figure out what went wrong with my first brew, I learned about diastatic power and enzymes within malt grains.  Here’s the basic rundown for those newbies like me…

Diastatic Power comes from certain enzymes with grains.  This enzyme has the power to turn starches into fermentable sugars during the steeping/mashing process of a brew.  When these enzymes are released in the hot water mash, they can do their work and break down the grains in the mash and create fermentable sugars, which obviously brings up your potential alcohol content.

Some grains (specialty grains) do not have this enzyme, or have very little.  When a grain does not have enough diastatic power from this enzyme, it’s starches are NOT converted into sugars.  Therefore, only color and flavors are added to the wart, and this is considered ‘steeping’. Ex. Chocolate Malt, Crystal/Caramel Malt, Roasted Barley are all specialty grains and will not yield any fermentable sugars during a steep, on there own.

This is one of the big mistakes I made in the first Irish Car Bomb brew.  The majority of my brew was Liquid Malt Extract and specialty grains.  Unfortunately, I steeped my specialty grains first, and since there were no ‘base malt grains’ (grains that contain the enzyme), my result had no fermentable sugars in it.  Therefore, the only fermentable sugars in my entire brew came from my Liquid Malt Extract, so my potential alcohol content was much, much lower than anticipated.

Now, if I had added a base malt in my steeping process, things would have been much different.  Some base malts (American 2-Row, for instance) have a heaping ton of this magical enzyme!  In fact, they are bursting with it.  So much so, that there’s enough to go around and convert all my other specialty grains into sugars.  Had I added some 2-Row grain (or any other high diastatic power grain) into my steeping process, color, flavors, and fermentable sugars would have been the result.  This is the definition of mashing.

Steeping yields only color and flavor, it is typically done with specialty/steeping grains with no diastatic power/enzyme.  Steeping usually only takes 30 minutes, as you are only drawing color and flavor from the grains.

Mashing yields both color and flavor, as well as fermentable sugars.  You need base malts with diastatic power/enzyme in order to mash/convert sugars.  This process is usually longer as well (60+ minutes) in order to convert as many starches to sugars, yielding a higher alcohol potential and resulting in a high OG (Original Gravity) reading.

To sum it up, because of my mistake, I thought I was mashing (creating sugars) when in fact I was steeping (creating only color and flavors, no sugars).  My resulting beer will have the flavors of the chocolate and caramel malts, but it will not have the alcohol content I was expecting.  I am guessing it will be a 3% Alcohol by Volume drink, at best.

I made a few other mistakes.  I didn’t crush my roasted barley.  This was a simple mistake at the home brew supply store, oops!  This resulted in my wort being not as dark or flavorful as I was hoping.  Roasted Barley is one of the key ingredients in a dark stout.  I am also 95% sure that I added an extra gallon of water, effectively watering down my batch a hell of a lot.  This would thin out my color, flavors, and what little alcohol content I had.

In the end, I learned a lot from this first brew, and expect it will still be a light, drinkable beer.

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