The paddle comes down with a sharp stroke and plunges into the sloppy mixture of grain and hot water. The mash resists at first, struggling to keep the husk material bound up in tight dry clumps, but after a couple of firm swats the moisture seeps in. A trickle and then a gush as the mash relaxes and accepts.
It takes a nice paddle to administer a good paddling, so it is project time here at Screw Up Beer.
Sourcing your wood
There is a lot of debate on the best wood for a mash paddle. Honestly, I don't give a damn what kind of wood you use. Just remember, what kind of wood do you want to be sticking in your beer?
The ideal mash paddle is made from a hardwood with small pores. The opening size is fairly important because you don't want your paddle to stain from dark wort. We will see if this is true.
Soft woods, or some hardwoods like red oak, aren't used for cutting boards because they have large pores and can harbor bacteria. While any bacteria on the paddle will be killed during your boil, hardwood is a lot more durable. Maple, white oak or poplar are all good choices.
I wanted only quality wood in my beer so I used maple. It was a little tough to find because big box building supply stores do not carry it. They do, however, carry poplar. Out in the hinterlands of Idaho, where I live, a local lumberyard won't carry it either. Call around to try tracking down the best wood you can get your hands on.
Something to be aware of is your pieces of hardwood will come in random lengths and widths. No one could explain why. Somewhere between four and six inches width and three feet long is about what you are looking for.
When adding grain to hot water the grain has a tendency to clump together in balls. The outside of the dough ball will be wet and gooey while the inside will be bone dry. In function, a mash paddle has to be able to stir a fairly viscous liquid but it also needs holes to break apart the clumps.
Like any good paddle, you want it to take control of your mash. It should leave the mash stinging, breathless, supple and submitting to your wishes. You don't want it hurt, scarred or damaged.
For a truly basic model you would just drill holes in the paddle.
But who wants to be that boring? Take some pride in your shit. Your mash paddle is a statement on your brewery, and by association, your beer. The brewer who says, "I just use a plastic spoon because it is cheap," is violating Brewing Maxim #1: "Don't be a cheap ass!" This is the same person who will cut corners in their beer by using a cheap grain bill or cutting their mash with Captain Crunch.
With tools as simple as a jig saw or a dremel you can do pretty much anything which could go on a pumpkin. A skull, bio-hazard symbol, sports logos, the bat symbol or any letter would all look cool. If you have access to a scroll saw you could do some pretty complex designs like Darth Vader's head, pin up silhouettes, a picture of your favorite beer blogger or pretty much anything you can conceive. It is a given, your biggest passion is brewing beer so just Google stencils of your second biggest passion and print something out which will fill most of your paddle width.
I wanted a grizzly bear track because I thought it looked badass and I call my homebrewery the Bear Track Brewing Company. My second choice was Darth Vader's head.
Before I brew I lay all of my brewing supplies and equipment out and double check everything. Do the same thing with your paddle. Use a pencil to draw a line down the exact center of your board. Measure your palm to get an idea on how big you want your handle and shaft to be. This is going to be YOUR paddle, make it comfortable for you to use. Evaluate the size of your paddle and make sure you have at least one straight edge. Then tape your chosen stencil to the paddle.
At this point, take a moment to consider your paddle. Is the handle long enough? Is the paddle spoon wide enough? Is your shaft too big? Did you giggle when you thought about your shaft size?
Once you are 100 percent committed to the paddle, make your cuts. I had a new dremel so I incorporated a lot of curves into my design. However, I had better luck and found there was more control with just a jig saw.
When the cutting is done you are going to look upon the new paddle and say, "Dammit, this looks like shit!" The edges will be all splintery, the straight cuts will look like they had been made during the height of a severe epileptic seizure and you will swear your stencil cutout had been done by a beaver on meth.
At least that is what mine looked like.
Giving a Sand Job
In order to slap your paddle into shape it takes sanding. A lot of sanding. You will spend hours slowly sanding your paddle. It will not take long before you will hate sanding. Start with a 60 grit until all the dings and pits are gone, smooth it out with 100 grit and polish with 220.
So this actually happened to me. I go to my local lumberyard and buy a couple of packs of sandpaper. I take it to the counter and the guy actually said, "Doing some sanding?"
It took all the self control I could muster not to say: "No, masturbating."
I have chosen not to finish my paddle. In theory, I could use some sort of food grade mineral oil for a finish but I would rather not add anything oily to my beer, which could effect head retention. I'm going in commando and hope there are no problems.
Be nice with your new paddle. Don't smack anything hard enough to hurt it, just enough to mean business. And even if you ask nicely, it is unlikely your wife will let you take a picture of her butt being smacked.