second runnings – beer for nothing and your chicks for free

On Friday I made my second attempt at brewing a double digit ABV beer. My first try, a double IPA, missed the mark, coming in at around 9%. The IPA was a 10-gallon batch that pushed the limits of my mash tun with a thicker-than-usual mash using 32 pounds of grain and two pounds of turbinado sugar in the boil.

This time around, I decided to take a different approach. Rather than going Captain Kirk again on my mash tun and risk falling short or going back in time, I brewed a 5-gallon batch of barleywine using 24 pounds of grain. While the barleywine still fell short of my anticipated original gravity, it came in at 1.106, which should give me anywhere from 10.5 to 11.5% ABV by the time it’s all said and done.

After sparging the barleywine mash, I sat there staring at grain in the mash tun. What was I to do? I couldn’t let all that perfectly good sugar to go waste. Then it dawned on me: do a second runnings beer!

The barleywine is on the left, pale ale on the right. Same grain, different density.

I had read about brewers in ancient times, or at least the 19th and 20th centuries, who would brew a high gravity beer for special occasions and well-paying customers. They would brew a second beer from the leftover mash, which would be a lighter session beer for the factory workers and others of their ilk. The term “second runnings” refers to the second wash of the grains which becomes the wort for the second, lighter beer.

It’s an easy process. Once I had sparged the barleywine to my desired boil volume and drained the mash tun, I added more hot water to the mash tun while the barleywine was brewing and let it sit. After the barleywine was all done, I drained the second runnings into the brew kettle, sparged the grains again until I achieved my boil volume again, and brewed it up like normal.

While the barleywine came out a deep amber at around 1.106 OG, the second runnings beer (which I’m calling a pale ale) was a bright yellow with an OG of 1.032. I’m hoping it’ll end up being around a 3% ABV beer, which I’ve moderately hopped and plan on dry hopping in secondary.

You can play around with second runnings beers, too. The sugar concentration point is much lower than the first runnings beer, so it will come out lighter in color and density. You can add small amounts of specialty grains to your second runnings mash, such as roasted barley or caramel malts, to impart more color or different flavors to your session beer.

I wouldn’t worry about letting the second runnings water sit in the mash tun with the grains for a while the the first runnings beer is brewing. At that point the sugar conversion will be complete, so it won’t hurt anything if it’s hanging out for a while.

For an extra few hours, a couple ounces of hops and a yeast packet, probably totaling $10, I’ll have five bonus gallons of a refreshing pale ale ready in about two or three weeks to hold me over while the barleywine finishes out and mellows over the next three to five months. Not a bad deal!


About Brian

I like beer.
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2 Responses to second runnings – beer for nothing and your chicks for free

  1. Brian says:

    How’d the second runnings come out? This seems like a great way to get your “winter warmer” beer and your “early fall” beer in at about the same time.

    • Brian says:

      The second runnings were ok. Came in a lot lighter than I thought, around 3.5% ABV. The body was very light, and I should have used more hops than I did.

      The biggest hurdle in doing a second runnings is that it’s really hard to predict what you’re going to end up with in the second sparge, unless you’ve done it before with that particular recipe.

      I think it’s totally worth experimenting with, and all it costs you is a couple hours, some hops and yeast!

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