Single Step Infusion Mash – Vs. RIMS & HERMS

Whether you are just starting out brewing extract beers or have been brewing all grain beers for a while, you may want to read this.

Many home brewing books and online articles discuss R.I.M.S (Recirculating Infusion Mash System) & H.E.R.M.S. (Heat Exchange Mash System) as a way of precisely controlling step mash temperatures in the home brewery. Lets look at the two concepts to fully understand them.

What is R.I.M.S.? It is a concept of producing beer that takes the runoff from the grain in the mash tun, and pumps it through a heating element and back on top of the mash bed. The concept implies that you can do multiple temperature rests (no longer needed due to fully modified malt these days). The concept does not address issues of stuck mashes, grain in the recirculating system, or overshooting temperature problems.

What is H.E.R.M.S.? It is a concept similar to R.I.M.S., but that utilizes a coil of copper tubing inside a hot water tank (in place of the heating element). This concept was developed as a result of home brewers burning up their heating elements and ruining their beer when they incurred a stuck mash (due to over suction by the recirculating pump), as well as related burnout problems from grain getting in the recirculating lines.

Why do people do R.I.M.S. or H.E.R.M.S. instead of single infusion?
I believe part of the reason is that it seems “cool” and that most people don’t have much experience insulating a mash tun, nor do they feel like they could do a good enough job to keep the temperature from dropping more than a couple degrees. However, single infusion is by far the most effective, less costly and most accepted way of brewing beer in the world today!

Why all the methods of producing the same thing, beer? Mostly, home brewing books and the home brewing industry alike are both guilty of misinforming new brewers into believing they need some pretty complicated (not to mention expensive!) equipment to make a simple batch of beer! Why would they do this, you might ask? Simple…they want to sell you pumps, heating elements, temperature controllers and anything else that they can stick those labels to!

I personally got fooled into believing that all that stuff was necessary to brew a batch of beer, as if the process was more important than the ingredients themselves! Only after much pain and toiling (2 Years) with the system, with little success on an “automated brewery”, I realized I was wasting time & money and not really doing what I wanted to do…which was brew beer! I had built temperature controllers, used flow switches, pumps, sight glasses, you name it, I did it. None of it ever worked right! I had a hard time coming to this realization, as all the money I had spent (thousands of dollars) made it even harder to believe that the R.I.M.S. process is doomed to fail by nature!

I had had grain get past the SABCO false bottom I was using, clog the recirculating line, and had the heating element burn up which ruined the beer and the lines, (and all my hard work too). The epoxy that held the heating element housing together also melted! (I purchased all of these items through reputable Home Brew Shops). I was heartbroken! I didn’t want to believe my friend, but he said he never had any problems when he brewed doing single step infusion. “You just heat up some water, add the grain, stir, and come back in an hour to finish the process.”

Forever, my friend Roger Preecs (Feather River Brewing Company) had been telling me that single step infusion was what all the big breweries did, and what he did every week. Surely if 95% of the brewery’s were doing single step, they could not survive if it did not work, right? Also, how many commercial breweries have you heard of that use R.I.M.S. or H.E.R.M.S.? None that I know of. If you are anything like I was, you would probably want to disagree and think that it doesn’t matter what they do. Well, I guess it all just depends on whether you are into it for the beer or the building of equipment that is doomed to failure by the nature of the process.

Large-scale breweries can also afford the best equipment, and the brightest people to make their beer better and less expensive. Sometimes, it is nice to learn by watching how those people spend their money before we start doing things. That way we can all save some money. When I started brewing, I wanted to make great beer for half the cost of buying it…my goal was always to make my labor count and to save money and have a great time doing it. Most home brewers I met have felt the same way.

I have seen many home breweries online where they spent an enormous amount of money on R.I.M.S. & H.E.R.M.S., and I am both amazed and confused. I am amazed by their ingenuity (although I know in my heart that none of those systems work even half as good as they look), and the testimonials by the builders of those systems are of course biased (as I was when I first built a R.I.M.S system). I am also confused as to why they spent so much and did a ton of work for what is really a simple process. Mainly, I know they had all been mislead just like I was. My friends used to be amazed at how I had my electronic control box and pumps and lights etc…I was too ashamed to let them know it was really a hunk of junk and didn’t want to talk about the problems I had!

I guess the term “Keep It Simple Stupid (K.I.S.S) really does have some important points. Brewing seems to be one of those things that works best when you keep it simple, and understand the process.

I started to think why R.I.M.S. didn’t work, and the problems I had. Mainly, recirculating the wort constantly will cause a stuck mash (Grain compacting together). That happened often. Also, sucking it through with a pump would definitely cause some grain to get stuck in the pipes. Think about what flour looks like when you add a little bit of water to it…it turns into a kinda playdough type substance…gummy. Barley performs in a similar manner, and wants to stick together and cause a stuck mash. Run a bunch of hot sticky wort through it over and over and you are creating a situation that inevitably leads to a stuck mash.

I wanted to know, why does single step infusion mash work when all those books tell me I have to do step mash? After reading some books on malting processes, and talking to friends that had successfully used single step infusion, I realized something. Step mash is a thing of the past, when malteries did not process the malted barley to the extent it is processed today. In the old days, the brewery was responsible for actually doing part of the malting process right in their mash tuns! Such steps as a “protein rest” are no longer necessary, because the malteries have already converted the grain to a point where only a single temperature rest is required for saccharification (starch conversion). This is why the big breweries do this. It produces great beer at less cost, less labor, less time.

If you wonder how malteries do this, read up a little on the malting process (it includes steeping the grain in water, allowing it to germinate, then kiln drying it). Surely, the sprouting process allows some changes in the composition of the grain, and malteries are now selling fully modified malt.
I have since brewed all types of beers, with all types of grains and have had great success doing the single step mash. I redesigned my mash tun to keep the temperature stable. I no longer had to spend several extra hours each day messing around with unnecessary temperature steps – One step is all I needed! The process is simple, easy, effective, and produces great beer too!

I wanted my mistakes to be known, to save brewers from the headaches and heartaches (and empty wallet) that I went through. I wanted to at least help brewers know what is really needed to brew great beer. Nothing fancy, just simply adding hot water to your grains, stirring, and coming back in an hour.

So whether you decide to build your own brewing system, or to purchase a premade one, please take with you the knowledge you have gained from this article to help you make wiser decisions down the road. You will be happier in the long run.

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