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Dough balls, and other confessions.

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  • Dough balls, and other confessions.

    We all learn by advice from other people’s experiences (literature, discussion forums. etc.), and personal experience. With enough experience we learn that some of the things we have picked up from others just don’t seem to be true. They may be misconstrued adaptations from an industry that has entirely different aims than ours in the making of their product, or they could be forms of “urban myths”.

    One of my favourite quotes from a scientist of note is “We cannot judge the quality of a hypothesis by the number of people who believe in it:”

    I might mention, that scientist is the one who virtually discovered extra nuclear inheritance (it didn’t come from the chromosomes in the nucleus), and he did it before the structure of DNA was even known, and he did it studying our old pal; Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

    Yep. Beer yeast. And he did it in the 1940’s!

    You guys might want to look that up. Just for fun, I won’t tell you his name, but it was working with “petite mutants” where he turned over this monumental intellectual stone.

    Since a large part of my knowledge has come from personal experience, and a huge amount of that purely serendipitously appearing from my “mistakes”, I thought it might be of value to pass that on.

    Why should you listen to me?

    Because i am a Master Brewer class VIII.


    I have taken the liberty of giving myself this title, as I have broken 8 hydrometers through the years The last one was about 15 years ago, so I have at least learned to avoid THAT… and I consider that a reflection of the practical knowledge about brewing in general that I have accrued.

    What I would like to address now is the subject of “dough balls”.

    After exactly two-stove top brews of 20 liters since I went all grain, I started scaling up. In every successive evolution of my brewing set-up, I have always been an “add the grains to the strike water” guy. Some people do it the other way around, and there is nothing wrong with that…. I just don’t have any personal experience to share about that.

    Starting then at 60 liters, the grains started becoming larger in volume, and instead of dumping with one and stirring with the other, it became dumping it all in and then stirring. I made a special stirring paddle for this, which I still use.

    When the grains go in, some of them mix in to solution straight away, and some stay in large masses. Huge blobs of grains that just didn’t seem to want to join the bath, and I would stir, poke, and smack these things until they were all gone. As my brewery set up increased in size, so did the amount of time fighting those irritating buggers.

    In the 1990’s I found to my surprise, and joy, with a new toy called the internet, that there were other people out there messing around with this stuff, so I started listening in, and gradually contributing myself. Mostly I limited that to piping up when some very opinionated voices were writing, in my opinion, counter-productive “untruths”, but I also believed a lot of the stuff I read, because I didn’t have enough experience on that particular topic to think otherwise.

    Some of the discussion revolved around “dough balls”. “Ahaaa,” I thought. “These things have a name, so other people have been dealing with them as well, and there must be some information to be gleaned from here”.

    Anyway, some of the discussion revolved around grains to liquor vs. liquor to grains when mashing in, and other aspects.

    I thought that since people were talking so much about this, it must be really important to deal with, and my dough ball war, increased in intensity. I had become convinced that those things would just stay there through the whole mash, and I’d miss out on a lot of extraction.

    I’m guessing it was about 15 years ago, I just had dumped my grains in (I was at 120 liters then), and was just about to start the “battle against the bulges”, when my phone rang. It turned about to be something medical that I should pay attention to straight away, so with telephone in one hand, empty grain bucket in the other, I stared down at the monsterous balls in the wort and just said: “I’ll deal with YOU later”.

    I put the stuff down, and went and took care of what needed being done. It turns out I could fix that in about 15-20 minutes, and then I climbed back up to the top of the mash tun, paddle in hand, and imagined with trepidation, that somehow the balls had gelatinized on the surface, and would require an even more intensive fight than usual.

    With a “Ty Cobb” double handed grip on my stirring paddle, I peaked over the edge…. And….. and….and, and, and---- I couldn’t find them!

    I haven’t been in a dough ball battle since. I dump the grains in, poke ‘em a bit so they are at least not larger than volleyballs, go away for about 15 minutes, and then come back and give it an easy stir. You might find a few little ones then, but by then they have at least capillarily wetted, and break up easy as pie.

    So I have spent literally decades standing like a grumpy fisherman in a boat trying to catch pike by smacking them with a paddle- for nothing!

    Anyway, I spent all those wasted man hours doing that …. Just so you don’t have to.

  • #2
    This is a great anecdote. In my system I find English malts like Maris Otter, Pearl, and Golden Promise “dough balls” form more readily. I too battle them but at some point have to love with it.