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What Is Mash?

Fermentation and Malting


In the last lesson, “What is malt?” we learned that malting is a process in which the germination process of a grain is kick started and then abruptly stopped, capturing the enzyme that converts starch into sugar.

Out of all of the grains, barley’s malt is the most powerful. Because of this, barley is often malted and the malt left over is added to batches of un-malted grain. The malted barley will easily convert the starches in the grain batches into sugar–which is fermentable.

So how does the malt convert entire batches of grain into fermentable sugars? Through mashing of course!


What is mash?


It’s best to think of a mash as a soupy concoction.

Here is what the process of mashing looks like:

  1. Milled grain is added to a large, special vessel (it is like a washing machine with agitators and temperature controls).
  2. Water is added.
  3. Next, the malted grain (which contain the special enzymes) is added.
  4. The heat is turned up to activate the conversion process.
  5. At this point the enzymes created from the malted grain are converting all starches into fermentable sugar.
  6. This soupy concoction is called mash.
  7. This is the product that will be fermented.
  8. Mashing lets enzymes within the malt break down the starch in the entire batch of grain into fermentable sugars.


Mashing simply introduces converted grain (malted grain) into unconverted grain (un-malted grain).

Mashing is the process of combining a mix of milled grain (grain bill), with water and heating this mixture up. Doing this allows the enzymes in the malt to break down the starch in the grain into sugars. Mashing allows for all of the starch to be converted into fermentable sugar from the enzymes in the malt.


Converting batches of grain


Once you have malted grain, (at least some), and created a mash using some of that malted grain, then you can ferment it! As we have already learned, the malting process creates enzymes that break down starch into fermentable sugar.  Sometimes all the grain used in a fermentation batch will have been malted, such as in malted whiskey. Malt creates enzymes that convert starches into sugar.  So in reality, you only need enough of those enzymes to convert all the starch in a batch.


  • It’s like coloring your hair.  You may have a big tube of hair color, but you don’t always need to use all of it to have it effectively color your hair.
  • It’s like a gallon of paint.  You may have a gallon to paint a bathroom, but that doesn’t mean that you will need the entire gallon to paint the room.
  • It’s like your new red bedding.  You can wash the entire bedding kit with your white load to color your whites pink, but you only need one red pillow case to do the trick.


Some producers want a strong malt flavor in their product, so they’ll use all malted grain.  Some don’t want a ton of malt flavor, so they will only malt enough to convert the whole batch of un-malted grain.


Milled grain


Grains. Not yet milled.
Milled.  Not whole, but net yet flour.



The grains on the left are not yet milled, whereas the grains on the right have been milled. Why is milled grain important?

You must use milled grain in the mash because it allows the water and enzymes access to the center of the grain-without access, conversion is not possible.

Think of it in terms of the example above: It’s like your new red bedding.  You can wash the entire bedding kit with your white load to color your whites pink, but you only need one red pillow case to do the trick.

Imagine if the white load was covered with the product in the video below, the red bedding wouldn’t have an effect on it…it can’t penetrate it! It’s the same for grain that has not been milled.



And there you have it. Today you learned what mashing actually is and why it is so important in alcohol production. If you are ready for the next lesson, click here: “What is distillation.”


  1. What is fermentation
  2. What is malt
  3. What is mash (You’re here.)
  4. What is distillation
  5. What is Vodka made from?
  6. What is gin made from?

Or quench your thirst and learn about Popular Bar Drinks.


    For a more in depth look at spirits and wine, enroll in the Sprits and Wine Master Class, exclusively on This informative series is a shadow of what is taught in the course. Learn more>>

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