Like many aspects of all-grain brewing, Vorlauf is a technique that some brewers perform and deem an essential step in producing the highest quality beer possible while others believe it to be an unnecessary step and skip it entirely.
In this article, we will explain what a Vorlauf is, whether it needs to be included as part of the brewing process as well as explain how to perform it, and for how long…
What is Vorlauf?
Vorlauf is used by some brewers during the beer-making process as a means to clarify and filter the wort (unfermented beer) before moving to the boiling stage. It is a German word that means “recirculation”. When the mash has finished and before the wort is transferred to the boil kettle it is recirculated through the bottom of the mash tun (or lauter tun) through the false bottom which is designed to allow liquid to pass through while trapping insoluble materials such as particles from the grain; the particle-free liquid is then pumped or poured slowly back over the top of the grain bed. The brewer continues this vorlauf process until the wort coming out of the mash tun or lauter tun runs clear.
It is believed by many to be an important step as the particles from the grain when boiled can produce undesirable off-flavors and also produce a cloudier-looking beer. By pumping them back over the top of the grain bed, the grain bed acts as a filter of sorts and prevents them from entering the wort.
Do You Have to Vorlauf?
The vorlauf stage of the beer-making process is not by any means an absolutely essential step, many people do not use it and their beer turns out good, however, there is no question that does have benefits.
The biggest benefit is that it is an excellent means of clarifying the wort, by running it through the false bottom unwanted proteins are separated from it and it also helps to settle out insoluble matter that you do not want in your beer. It can also help to increase your efficiency by allowing greater extraction of sugars from the grains.
The clarified wort will also lead to a cleaner taste with less chance of off-flavors developing in the final product.
In the end, the brewer must make the decision as to whether or not it’s worth including this process during brew day.
How to Vorlauf
To do a vorlauf when making beer, the first step after mashing is to run the wort through the false bottom of the mash tun or lauter tun and either by opening the spigot at the bottom and allowing gravity to pour it into a container (pot, bucket, etc) and then pour it slowly back over the grain bed or use a pump to recirculate it back over the grain bed. If you are using a BIAB system simply do the same thing as you would if you had a false bottom as the bag acts in the same manner.
You will want to recirculate the wort through enough times until it runs clear which can typically take anywhere from 10 – 30 minutes. From there, you can move onto the sparging stage of the beer-making process.
How Long to Vorlauf
The length of time to vorlauf depends on the amount of wort that needs to be clarified. Generally speaking, it is recommended to recirculate the wort through the grain bed once or twice until it runs clear and does not contain any proteins or impurities. This usually takes around 10 – 30 minutes for a 5-gallon batch of beer. However, if there are a lot of solids present in the wort, more recirculation may be needed. Be sure to check the clarity of your wort after each recirculation until you are satisfied with the results before proceeding with brew day.
Frequently Asked Questions
The following are the common questions we get from people in regards to vorlaufing:
Q: What is vorlauf?
A: Vorlauf is the process of recirculating wort through a lauter tun before boiling in order to clarify it and remove proteins and other impurities that can cause problems with fermentation.
Q: When should I do a vorlauf?
A: As soon as the mash is done and right before you move to sparging.
Q: What is the purpose of vorlauf when making beer?
A: The purpose of vorlaufing is to clarify the wort by removing proteins and other impurities that can cause off flavors. Vorlaufing ensures that the finished product will taste great, have a smooth finish and be much a clearer beer than if you did not vorlauf.
Q: Does vorlauf affect the flavor of my beer?
A: Vorlauf does not have a negative effect on the flavor of your beer, however, it can improve it by preventing off flavors.
Q: Is vorlaufing an absolute necessity when making beer?
A: Vorlaufing is not absolutely necessary when brewing beer but it does help to produce a higher-quality beer. If you skip this step, there may be more sediment or particles in the finished beer and it could potentially affect flavor or mouthfeel.
Q: Do I need special equipment to vorlauf?
A: No, in most cases brewers simply perform the vorlauf in the mash tun, some will use a separate lauter tun that is specifically designed for this process, however, it is not necessary. A lauter tun is typically made from stainless steel and has an adjustable grate on one side that helps filter out impurities during recirculation.
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