It's a beer world after all!
A mash fork was a traditional brewing tool used to manually mix the mash during mashing. It is used to ensure
even heat distribution and uniform viscosity and to break up dough balls formed during the mashing process.
Usually made of a hardwood such as beech or maple, a mash fork, with its open lattice design, was able to move
easily through a thick mash without risk of breaking. The mash fork played a role similar to that of the lauter rakes
in a larger modern brewery.

Before the introduction of what we think of as modern brewing equipment and techniques, brewers had to make
do with undermodified and inconsistently milled malts and poor temperature control, sometimes leading to gummy
mashes that would not run off properly. Skillful use of a well-made mash rake could make the difference between a
successful brewing session and a useless mass of wasted grain.

Today, the mash fork is largely a thing of the past, although the occasional enthusiastic craft brewer still has one
made. They also live on as an evocative symbol of traditional brewing and form part of many heraldic-style
symbols used by brewer’s guilds and associations, including the Master Brewers Association of the Americas..

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Nitrogen (N2) is an element most often found in beer in its gaseous form (N2). In its gaseous state, nitrogen is
important to brewers as a plentiful and inert gas (N2makes up 78% of the atmosphere). N2 is often used to purge
vessels or packages of unwanted oxygen in applications varying from purging a brew kettle to avoid hot-side
aeration to purging packages of hops for storage. Also, N2 is used as an ingredient in nitrogenated beers, where it
adds no flavor but produces very fine, stable bubbles and is usually separated from other atmospheric gasses
using a nitrogen generator; the nitrogen can then be used immediately in its gaseous state or liquified for later use.

In bars and restaurants, nitrogen is often part of a gas blend (with CO2) used to drive draught systems. At normal
draught system operating pressures, nitrogen is far less soluble in beer than CO2 and therefore can be used to
help push beer to the tap without concern about dissolution of nitrogen into the beer. The proper ratio of nitrogen
to CO2 will depend on temperature, pressure, and the desired carbonation level of the beer.

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Friability refers to a material’s ability to be easily crumbled.  In brewing, friability is a measure of the hardness of
grains of malted barley. It is, in effect, the grain’s resistance to being broken. A friable grain is one that crushes
crisply and cleanly into several separate parts. Friability may be easily assessed by chewing a sample, but this
requires experience; it is measured objectively with a friability meter.

Friable grains are desirable in brewing because they indicate that the malt is dry and has been well stored. As a
result, its enzymes are likely to be active when hydrated in the mash. In addition, proper drying and storage limits
growth of mold or other spoilage organisms that could result in problems in brewing. It is important not to over-dry
malt; malt with too low a moisture content may shatter during handling and may be powdered by milling, leading to
difficulties in the brewhouse and subsequent quality problems in beer.

Friable grains will also crush into suitable sized pieces to provide proper filtration in the mash bed. Softer grains
may be termed “slack” and are more likely to be flattened than cracked in milling. Such grains offer less exposure
to the mash liquor and take longer for their starch to dissolve and digest. Poorly dried grains or ones that absorb
moisture during storage are more likely to be slack. Grains that are improperly modified, and are therefore still
hard, are referred to as “glassy” or “steely”.

Hope you found this month's column of interest.  If you have any questions about beer or brewing
or just want to submit a word for me to discuss here just
e-mail it to me.


Thanks and Cheers!
Mash Fork //  Nitrogen // Friability
A new column by
Jack O'Reilly
Jack O'Reilly attended the
famous Siebel Institute/ World
Brewing Academy in Chicago.
I'm very excited to be part of the BeerNexus team.  I think my many years in the
beer business both as a brewer and manger will enable me to explain and
investigate many topics of interest for those who really love craft beer. Hope you
join me every month.  
Cheers
!
Jack
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More by Jack: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11