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Old 02-26-2012, 02:04 PM   #1
JonClayton
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Default Absolute worst brew day ever..

Yesterday was my second brew on my new equipment. I am having some issues getting used to the new toys and working out some bugs and would really appreciate your help as I am pretty sure i probably just made 10 gallons of bitter undrinkable beer.


The first problem of the day also plagued me on last weeks initial brew with this system. I had to fight the march pump all day because it kept sucking air and would not pump. I had no trouble pumping from HLT to Mashtun, but when recirculating mash or pumping from mash to boil kettle it would work well for a few moments and then start sucking air. Sometimes up to 15-20 mins and then randomly start sucking air causing me to shut it down to prevent burning up the pump. I was fairly convinced that the false bottom was not working clogging up the dip tube with grain but after dumping the grain and removing the bottom there was very very little grain under it. My best guess is that the grain compacted on the false bottom preventing wort from getting through and causing the pump to run dry. Has anyone else had this problem?

When doughing in we were very careful to stir well to prevent doughballs and also stirred the mash periodically while running the recirculation. Is there anything else I can do better to try to prevent the compacting?


Second, the issue that probably ruined this batch.Boil volume according to beer smith was 14 gallons to be boiled down to 10 in 90 mins. This seems right because last week i boiled off 7.5 to 5 on a 90 min boil. At any rate, 14 gallons as measured on my sight glass goes into the kettle and we start the boil with the 90 min hops. My 10 tip NG burner is a bit under powered so it boils the 14 gallons but not very hard. A hour into the boil we are still sitting at just a touch under the 14 gallon mark and start to panic as we realize we are just not getting boil off. An hour and a half comes and we are still at the same spot on the sight glass. Keep in mind by this time its dark and cold so there is a good amount of steam coming off the kettle preventing me from really seeing the level inside so I am just watching the sight glass. 2 hours in, still 13.5 gallons ish on the sight glass. 2.5 hours in, same level so we decide at this point the beer is probably done for but lets try to do what ever we can to boil it down. We hooked up the pump and started to pump half hte wort into the now cleaned out mash tun so we could run 2 burners on smaller amounts of wort hoping to get better boil office. Well... pump starts pumping and out of no where the level on the sight glass drops from 13.5 to 8 before the pump had really had a chance to move anything, i pull back over the little bit that and end up at 8.5 gallons total in bk. I added the irish moss and the 15 min hops and shut down after 15 mins.

Is it common for the sight glass to get clogged up and cause false readings? I feel like a idiot for not just paying closer attention to the actual kettle level but again pretty hard to see in there with steam rising. Another question we had is will boiling wort measure higher on a sight glass for any reason?

So at any rate my 90 min boil was about a 3 hour boil, the 90 min hops were in for the whole time and the 15 min additions went in at the last fifteen. Specific gravity was hit, 1.090 before top off 1.076 afterward. Was shooting for .073. What affects do you think the extend boil will have? I am guessing increased bitterness due to the 90 min hops staying in much longer. I think extended boil also affects the breaking down of (insert brew science words i am not familiar with here..)

Finally, how the heck can I fix the false bottom issue? I am willing to call the sight glass issue a fluke as it worked well on my first brew. The false bottom issue will have to be resolved though. Open to any suggestions.

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Old 02-26-2012, 02:26 PM   #2
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Kind of hard to tell with out knowing your set up. Pictures would help. First the Mash: Do you have a sight glass on the mash tun? If you run the pump too fast, you will create a vaccume that will suck the wort down the sight glass untill there is no more wort..... which leaves air to enter the false bottom, and into your pump (called cavitation). Your can use the sight glass as a vaccume gauge, throttling the pump during recirc and transfer, just watch the level and be sure it is equal to the level inside the tun. Which is the case with your kettle. The heat flowing around the outside of the kettle from your burner can actually boil the wort in the sight glass, producing bubbles (or at least pressure) that will give a false reading (usually high). Excessive boils (over 60 minutes), will increase the utilization of alpha acids from your hops, increase the taste of caramel and darken the wort due to the Mallaird effect (browning due to applied heat). Is your beer ruined? Doubt it. Never had a too bitter beer. Even from a brewery that accidently used 3 times the bitter hops in a pilot batch. It tasted good, and they went full scale, they called it DR. Toungue. If it is not to your liking, you can water it down with your next batch, or "correct it with some BudMillerCoors". If you have a brewing program, you can find out the exact IBU's, but even then, the theoretical thresh hold is 100. Bitter, but subjective. Keep it up, every batch gets easier and easier.




Also make sure the pumps are oriented with the inlet and outlet in the vertical direction. NOT like mine, but I dont seem to have a problem. Also note the bleed valve on the output side of the mash/kettle pump. This will prime the pump, bleed air, and it is my port to attach my tranfer hose to the chiller and fermenter

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Old 02-26-2012, 04:07 PM   #3
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How close is your pickup tube from the bottom of the mash tun? It could be the weight of the grain on the false bottom is pushing the dip tube very close to the bottom and is cutting off flow.

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Old 02-26-2012, 04:42 PM   #4
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Nano, very good points in deed. I don't have a sight glass on the mash tun but I think the change in pressure around it might be part of the issue. We noticed once we figured out what had happened that if I blew over the top of the sight glass the level would dip. So basically, disrupting the pressure over the top of the sigh glass would affect level.

JRems, you are touching on another good point. The pick up tubes are almost flush with the bottom which is nice because it will drain the keggle virtually dry. However, we noticed yesterday that the weight of 25lbs of grain had crushed the false bottom down so badly that I could barely get it out since it would no longer fold at the hinge. Once I got it out I had to bend it back a bit before it would fold again. I bet the grain was indeed pushing down on the fb/pickup tube.

I also have a ball valve on the output side of my pump but I usually just run it wide open. I can try reducing the out a bit to see if that helps.

My pump is mounted horizontally on the bottom of the stand with the in and out pointing left and right. Maybe I should rotate the head so make the in/out vertical as you suggest nano.

I am will post some photos a bit later, need to touch up a spot or two of paint that I burned off anyhow so that I can take some photos for the stand builder.

Anything else? Sounds like I have some good suggestions to play with.

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Old 02-26-2012, 09:13 PM   #5
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How long did you let the grains dough in before starting your pump? The first time I recirculated on my new rig I doughed in and fired the pump right up which compacted the grain bed. Ive learned and read from others on here its best to let the grains sit for 5-10 minutes in the mash to fully absorb the water before firing up the pump. I havent had a problem with grain bed compaction since.

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Old 02-27-2012, 02:15 AM   #6
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Bisco, you may have just nailed it. I too fired right up after dough in , actually, I think I even fired it up as my friend was still doing the initial stir. Next time I will let it soak for a little while first.

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Old 02-27-2012, 04:29 PM   #7
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March Pumps are a PIA, but they are also great if you can get them to work. The two problems with March Pumps is cavitation and pump flow at height. They are not self-priming so the pump needs to lower than the supply.

WE have somewhat solved these two problems by doing the following:

1. Full Bore ½ inch inlet. WE have a stainless steel elbow screwed on to the pump. Attached to that WE have a ½ inch Sanitary Fitting. WE are going to replace this ¾ inch sanitary elbow when WE find one. (1/2 FPT to 1/1.5 Sanitary Tri Clamp)
2. 90 degree 1 inch Sanitary Elbow that is pointing up on the pump.
3. ¾ Inch silicone hose with sanitary fitting. These are as short as WE can make them (have to keeps the pumps away from the flame and heat)
4. 90 degree 3/4 inch Sanitary Elbow that is pointing down on the supply side (MLT, HLT and BK).
5. All pumps have two outlets. A SS T is placed on the outlet and SS ball valves are on the T.
6. On one of our Supply outlet (HLT), WE have a SS T with a ball valve facing up prior to the 90 degree down elbow. This is an air bleed valve. WE had one on the BK but removed it due to a problem with the weldless fittings which WE will discuss below). This ability to purge the Air works great. Would be a great thing to be able to do prior to all pumps.
7. On the pumps without the bleed valve, WE attach a hose to the top Ball valve and hook the outlet above the top of the supply in order to prime the pumps. This takes some time and effort but does work.
8. WE get the pumps recirculating and primed prior to WORT using only hot water.
9. WE use a thinner Mash and Batch Sparge to aid in flow of the Wort. WE also restrict the outlet flow of the Wort out of the MLT so as not to suck the supply quicker than it can drain naturally. We did have a pick up tube on the MLT which sits on the shelf as it restricted the inflow and that is bad. WE considered a Wort Grant but the KISS principal applies to that.
10. WE stop the pumps at the first sound of a pitch change and purge for air ((6 or 7). Once a pump starts cavitation, it only gets worse.
11. WE keep the height that the WORT needs to be pumped to the minimum. Generally we use a one level rig. WE used to pump higher so we could gravity flow the WORT and Sparge before we got a second pump.
Another general rules is that you cannot pump boiling water. Just under boiling yes, but boiling will cavitate.

WE have two Blickman Kettles (10 gal and 20 gal). These have Weldless fittings. These are a real PIA. I had to remove the Bleed Purge T from the 20 gal kettle due to it leaking excessively. The liquid I could deal with, but air infiltration into the supply caused the pump to cavitate continuously, so WE took it off. WE believe that Weldless fittings are the main culprit of cavitation once you have a pump working. WE have a Stout MLT that has a welded fitting. Once I get that pump primed, it does not suck air. I am replacing the Blickman kettles with Stout for that reason.

I know that not everyone can afford a welder or a welded kettle, but if you have a choice, go welded. Stout prices are better than Blickman so if in that market, I would go Stout. If making your own keggle, find a welder to weld on a fitting (Brewers Hardware or St Pats as a source).

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Old 02-27-2012, 05:11 PM   #8
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It does sound like the OP's pumping rate through the mash was too high. The sight glass in the mash tun can be a good indicator of the head loss through the grain bed. A brewer does have to throttle the flow through the mash bed. The great thing about a centrifugal pump like a March is that you can throttle the flow down to zero at any time without damaging the pump as long as the throttling valve is on the output side. The OP should consider throttling the pump to limit the amount of head drop he sees in the sight glass. Do not let the level in the sight glass fall below the bottom of the sight glass tube. That will help limit the headloss through the bed and reduce the potential for compacting the bed and creating a stuck mash.

The permeability of a grain bed varies during the mash. The initial permeability of the bed can be relatively low and more throttling is needed. As the grains convert, sugars extracted, and the bed rearranges, the permeability of the mash will typically increase. Then the throttling valve can be opened a bit more. Don't be surprised if the outlet valve cannot be fully opened. The maximum allowable flow rate through the mash bed is dependent upon the bed depth, the fineness of the crush, and the viscosity of the wort.

I would not be surprised that the source of the air in the pump was from the sight glass. When the suction in the bed is high enough to drop the level in the glass, air will enter the bottom of the mash bed and enter the pump. Use the valve to keep the liquid level in the sight glass and this problem will go away.

Don't consider a sight glass and bad thing. Consider it your indicator of when you are pumping too hard. All pumped mash systems can benefit from having a sight glass.

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Old 02-27-2012, 05:18 PM   #9
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Pix of my connections

bleed-t.jpg   hose-connected.jpg   pump-valve-.jpg   supplymlt.jpg  
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Old 02-27-2012, 05:19 PM   #10
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I actually don't have a sight glass on the mash tun, only on the HLT and Boil Kettle. It sounds like a glass on the mash tun could be a good indicator of head loss but at the same time an open invitation to let air into the system? I think I would like to stick with no sight glass on the mash tun unless it's really needed. What ever you folks think will be my next move on that. My sight glass coupler is above the false bottom level on the hlt and bk, is that normal?

I have been extremely paranoid with my march pump to avoid burning up the pump. I have a ball valve on the out put side but usually leave it wide open, I did play with reducing the flow but only after cavitation had set on saturday. From what I am hearing here it sounds like I could prime the pump and then cut the flow to zero on the output side before starting the mash recirculation. I could then play with adjusting the the flow so that I get a decent circulation without compacting the mash?

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