The type of amylase used varies depending on the purpose they’re supposed to serve. While some grains, like malted barley, tend to have enough enzymatic power to convert their own starch and that of adjuncts to fermentable sugars, some grains you use only have starches suited to add flavor to the fermented drink.
When you find yourself in this situation, it begs the question: what is amylase, and which is the best amylase to use? Amylase is an enzyme used to convert starch to sugars. The best amylase is one that can effectively break down all starches into fermentable sugars. So, in this case, using a combination of the common enzymes – alpha and beta-amylase – usually does the trick.
Not only will you yield the desired amount of alcohol content, but you wind up with a tasty drink. In this post, we’ll discuss which amylase is best for brewing and distilling and how to use these enzymes.
Table of Contents
The Problem: Starches Vs. Sugars
Before fermentation begins, starch has to be converted to sugars. Grains typically contain a high amount of starch, but not all have the ability to convert the starch to sugar. This is where brewers and distillers use commercial enzymes like amylase to assist the grains in releasing sugars.
Normally, malters germinate and malt their grains to activate amylase within the grain. But if you’re using adjunct grains that possess no ability to convert their starches to sugars, then it’s best to use commercial amylase.
What Does Amylase Do?
Amylase is an enzyme used to convert starch to sugars. It does this by breaking down long strains of starches into different molecules and dextrin so the yeast can interact with each one of these small strains. There are two common types of amylase used in the distilling and brewing industries: beta-amylase and alpha-amylase.
Alpha amylase is responsible for breaking down long chains of starch molecules. It’s used mostly when brewing beer because it breaks down just enough chains for the yeast to convert the sugar to the preferred ABV (3-10%). It works best at temperatures of 155-156°F (68-69°C). Anything above and below the optimum temperatures causes amylase to lose its effectiveness.
Beta amylase breaks down the fermentable sugars into smaller dextrins. It works similarly to glucoamylase in that it makes it easier for the yeast to consume all sugars. When making spirits, alpha and beta are both utilized because they break down sugar in its entirety, which yields more alcohol by volume.
It works in conjunction with yeast, so you can add it when pitching your yeast. It works best at room temperature, with the ideal temperature being anything below 80°F (26°C). Similar to alpha, anything below or above the recommended temperature reduces the potency of the enzyme.
Understanding The Diastatic Power Of Grains
The grain’s ability to convert starches to sugars is only effective as its diastatic power. Diastatic power is the grain’s ability to convert starch to fermentable sugars. Understanding diastatic power gives you insight as to whether or not there are enough enzymes in your grain bill to convert all starches to sugars.
Unmalted grains don’t have enzymes because they have been denatured. Equally, just because grains have been malted, it does not necessarily mean they have enzymatic power. An example of such grain is corn. Diastatic power is measured in Lintner (°L). As a general rule, the grains you use should have a diastatic power of 30-35°L to convert their starches.
Most base malts have high enough power – 180°L, to convert themselves and any other adjuncts you add to the grain bill. Specialty grains like chocolate malts don’t have diastatic power and are usually added for flavor purposes.
So, how do you determine the diastatic power of your grain?
Here’s a simple calculation you can use to establish the enzymatic power of the grains you’re using.
How to calculate diastatic power
Assuming you bought your ingredients from a homebrew retailer, details of the grain’s diastatic power will be mentioned on the packaging. Once you have the relevant information, follow this method to determine both (or more) of the grains you’re using.
- Let’s say you decide to use 6-row grain as your base. It has a diastatic power of 160°L, and you decide to use a kg of this grain.
1kg of 6-row grain =160°L
- Multiply the mass of the grain by its diastatic power.
- And to this, you decide to add adjunct grains like flaked corn. Corn has no diastatic power and you decide to use 3kg of the grain for the flavor compounds.
3kg of flaked corn=0°L
- Multiply the mass of corn by its diastatic power.
Now we have to determine if there’s enough enzymatic power to accommodate all the grains used.
- Between the 6-row grain and flaked corn, we have a total mass of 4kg. So you divide, and we have a diastatic power of 160°L.
Because you need a minimum of 30°L for the grains to convert starch to sugars, this gives you enough enzymes in the way of preparing the grains for fermentation.
When Is Amylase Necessary
Whenever you use grains that haven’t been malted, it’s best to use amylase. For example, if you use corn, you’ll always want to add amylase if there’s no high diastatic base grain in your grain bill. Here’s a detailed explanation of when to use the enzyme when brewing or distilling.
If you’re using adjuncts that might potentially reduce the diastatic power of your base grain to below 30°L, then it’s best to employ the enzyme. In this case, the recommended enzyme to use would be alpha-amylase. When brewing beer you’re not looking to yield a high ABV beverage, just enough to break down the sugars to yield a beer of 3-10% ABV.
Because sugars convert to alcohol when fermented, a high ABV is desired when making whiskey. In this case, you’ll add amylase when using an all-corn whiskey or if your base grains can’t sustain the conversion of the adjuncts. When making whiskey, it’s best to use both alpha and beta amylase. First, the alpha enzyme will break down the large starch molecules, then the beta will break down the smaller chain to help yield more alcohol.
When making an all-potato vodka, alpha-amylase effectively breaks down the crop’s starches. You can also add a beta-amylase to break down the smaller chains of the crop so the yeast can convert all the sugar to alcohol.
The Best Amylase for brewing (Where to buy)
There are various amylases in the market. We’ve included the ones that are ideal for brewing or distilling.
1. Beta Amylase Enzyme Powder
This beta amylase is mainly used when brewing beer. It works at temperatures of between 40-65°C (104-149°F).
2. FERMFAST Alpha Amylase Enzyme
FERMFAST is a product by the well-known brand, LD Carson. It works best for all types of grains, potatoes, and various starch-based produce. The amylase breaks down the long starch molecules right through to small dextrin. Also, it’s not easily deactivated by heat.
To get more value for your buck, it’s best to use an amylase that breaks down both the large and small starch molecules, which in this case is the FERMFAST Amylase. It brews various grains and produce, so you’re not limited to what you can distill or brew. This eliminates the need to have various products for different purposes.
How To Use Amylase
Amylase works best when used according to the stipulated intervals. Alpha amylase is often added after you’ve gelatinized (steamed) your grains and allowed the temperature to drop to 155°F (68℃). Beta works best at room temperature and can be added together with the yeast.
How Much Amylase To Use
Usage varies from one product to the next, but here’s a general guide.
- Alpha amylase- ½ -1 teaspoon for every 5 gallons (18 liters) wash.
- Beta amylase- 50-100g per 100 pounds (1 -1 ½ teaspoon) for every 5 gallons (18 liters) wash.
What Temperature Do You Need To Keep Amylase
Temperature does affect the activity of the type of amylase. Temperatures too low or too high can deactivate the enzyme. A study found that optimum temperatures for beta-amylase to remain active are between 40-50℃ (104 -122 ℉), and inactivity occurs at temperatures of 70℃ (158 ℉) and above. Optimum temperatures for alpha-amylase are between 50-55℃ (122-131℉) and it loses all activity at 70℃ (158 ℉).
Step-by-step instructions for using Amylase
Here’s how to use each of the amylases at varying temperatures.
- Heat your grain and water to a maximum of 155°F (68℃).
- Add your alpha-amylase. Maintain the temperature of your heat source at 155°F.
- Turn off your heat source and cover your pot with a lid.
- Let it sit for 90 minutes. This is enough time for conversion to happen.
- Allow the wort to cool down to at least 122 ℉, then add the beta amylase if you’re using it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is the difference between α-amylase and β amylase?
Though alpha and beta amylase are very similar in that they break down starch molecules, there are some slight differences between the two. Alpha is responsible for breaking down larger starch molecules, and beta breaks down the smaller molecules and converts them to dextran.
Q. What temp does amylase work best at?
To reap the benefits of the amylase you’re using, it’s best to add amylase at different times. Alpha amylase is usually added when your grains are still steaming at temperatures of not more (or below) 155°F (68℃). Beta works best at room temperature, so you can add it when you’re pitching your yeast.
Q. When should I add amylase?
It’s best to add amylase when brewing beer and spirits from unmalted grains or grains with low diastatic power. Temperature is of the utmost importance when adding amylase – anything way above or below the optimum temperature results in inactivity. Here’s a quick guide for adding amylase.
Heat your grain and water to a maximum of 155°F (68℃).
Add your alpha-amylase. Maintain the temperature of your heat source at 155°F.
Turn off your heat source and cover your pot with a lid.
Let it sit for 90 minutes. This is enough time for conversion to happen.
Allow the wort to cool down to at least 122 ℉, then add the beta amylase if you’re using it.
Q. How much amylase do I need for a 5-gallon batch?
For every 5-gallon batch, it’s best to use 1 ½ teaspoons of amylase or follow the instructions on the packaging.
Though some brewers and distillers are still skeptical about using amylase, these enzymes have some upsides. When using grains like corn with no diastatic power, they’re not going to do much in the way of producing alcohol in your final spirit. But, employing amylase is a surefire way of ensuring that you harness the power of your grain without compromising alcohol content and flavor.
The enzyme goes a long way because a teaspoon is often enough to convert all starches to sugars. So, if you’re still on the fence about using amylase, perhaps you can try using one of the recommended brands in this post. Who knows, you might just enjoy the rewards thereafter.