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Old 02-05-2013, 10:25 PM   #1
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Default Advice on best ways to control my mash (LONG)

I've had a few low-efficiency brew days lately, and I'm working on improving my control over the consistency of my mash process.

I batch sparge with a Rubbermaid cooler; I'm not looking to add any automation at this point, but I know I can do more to improve my awareness of efficiency and gravity before everything's in the fermenter.

I use Beersmith, and have calibrated it fairly well for my equipment, so things like tun dead space should be well accounted for.

One variable I don't have much control over is crush. I almost always get my grains from my LHBS, and he never changes his crush, and won't double-crush; the good news is it's consistent, and when everything goes well I typically get 70-75%, which is dandy for me.

Regardless, I've had a few surprises lately, and I'd like to minimize them to whatever extent I can. I've gotten more familiar than I like with using DME additions to compensate mid-ferment for a lackluster OG I lacked the time or will to handle pre-pitch.

To make my goal clear:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Echoloc8
I am telling the thread three times: I'm not going for maximum efficiency, but for maximum consistency. I apologize for doing a poor job of making that point from the start.
Any help would be appreciated! I'm looking for the best-payoff things I can do for measurement and control without having to make big equipment purchases.

To start with, here are my mash-related tools:
  • Beersmith 2.1
  • Mash tun: either 5-gal or 10-gal cylindrical cooler, depending on batch size and whether we're at my buddy's place (the 10-gal is his). Both use "torpedo" braids [edit: actually, "bazooka screens"].
  • Digital probe thermometer, calibrated against an analog thermometer every other brew or so
  • Boil pot: 10-gal aluminum
  • 4-gal pot and 5-gal stainless pots for strike/sparge heating
  • Heat source: electric range with electric bucket warmer/heat stick
  • Hydrometer
  • Temp-correcting refractometer (new Christmas present, not yet used)

And here's my current process:
  • Heat strike water
  • Dump all grains into mash tun
  • Once strike water is to temp, pour whole strike addition onto grains
  • Stir mash vigorously with mash paddle, destroying dough balls, using both rowing and slicing motions (paddle perpendicular to stroke, or parallel, respectively)
  • Check temp of mash: add hot water if low, or stir/add cool water if high (seldom needed if I follow Beersmith's numbers)
  • Cover tun, wait for entire mash duration (I don't stir at the halfway point)
  • Heat mash-out/sparge water midway through mash time
  • Open tun, check finishing mash temp
  • Add mash-out water if Beersmith calls for it
  • Vorlauf until wort is clear (~2 quarts, usually)
  • Run off first runnings into boil pot
  • Add sparge water; stir; let settle; vorlauf; run off. <-- Repeat for as many sparge batches as Beersmith says
  • Move full boil kettle onto stove; add heat stick; crank 2 eyes
  • Boil, adding hops, adjunct syrups, whirlfloc, etc.
  • Chill, stirring wort with sanitized mash paddle (~15 min)
  • Pull chiller; whirlpool; wait 20 min
  • Autosiphon into fermenter
  • Top up to volume with water if needed
  • Check OG
  • Freak out about numbers (as required)
  • Pitch

Here are the steps I know I can change/add to minimize surprises:
  • Add grains to strike water instead of vice versa; downside, this can take 2 people to do well, and might cause loss of temperature, right, if it takes too long?
  • Do a mid-mash stir
  • Do pH tests of the mash
  • Do iodine/conversion testing
  • Use refractometer to check preboil and midboil gravity (will need to read up; I know it can be fiddly)
  • Do some real calibrating of volumes for my 10 gal boil pot; right now I eyeball based on the height of the vessel, and I know it's bitten me

Thanks for reading, if you've lasted this far!

Anything I've missed, or any suggestions which of these ideas make the most sense for consistent mash results, and which the least?

-Rich
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Old 02-05-2013, 10:54 PM   #2
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I lasted the read and have to say that all the things you listed in terms of improving your efficiency are spot on and all are important.

If you make those changes you should see improvement but that being said 70-75% efficiency is still a good place to be and if the beer is good don't lose sleep over chasing numbers!

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Old 02-05-2013, 11:07 PM   #3
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Thanks for getting through it!

70-75% is when everything goes well. I've had some days where I was going for 1.065 and wound up at 1.050, which is a significant efficiency hit, and nowhere near 70%. That's the sort of thing I'm looking to head off at the pass.

-Rich

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Old 02-06-2013, 02:29 AM   #4
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DME additions during fermentation?
Have not heard of that before. Sure it is a good idea?
Seems like lots could go wrong.

Until you have your own mill and purchase grain by the bag,
maybe don't worry so much about efficiency. Instead keep that DME
and some treated water handy on brew day. After you have collected
all the wort from sparging, adjust the gravity and/or volume before
you start the boil.

You will want to calibrate your boil pot (I use a dip stick), and figure
out your evaporation rate so you can hit your original volume and
gravity after the boil without more adjustments.

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Old 02-06-2013, 02:48 AM   #5
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Do you stir after adding sparge water, let settle for a bit, then vorlauf?
Stirring after sparge water addition might help with grains making contact with water and increasing extraction.
A personal mill does help, but only 5-10 percent with my experience. Otherwise, I just plan for it, buck up for the few dollars of extra grain, and remember that mid-range efficiency is good for quality of your extraction.

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Old 02-06-2013, 03:27 AM   #6
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The thing that immediately jumps out to me is the volumes. "Eyeballing" just doesn't cut it if you are going for consistency. Get a measuring stick for each pot and calibrate it. eg add a quart at a time and mark it off.

After that, stirring is good for maximizing efficiency but GREAT for consistency.

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Old 02-06-2013, 02:07 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bob352 View Post
DME additions during fermentation?
Have not heard of that before. Sure it is a good idea?
Seems like lots could go wrong.
This is the thread that taught me the method I use for post-pitch grav corrections:

http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f36/help...ravity-361948/

Basically, calculate the DME needed to bring your addition to the target grav, then how much you need to offset the SG points you missed, boil, chill, and add while the fermenter is still at high kraeusen.

I've used it three times now, and it's pretty bulletproof if you're careful about sanitation.

-Rich
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Old 02-06-2013, 02:09 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rdkopp0153 View Post
Do you stir after adding sparge water, let settle for a bit, then vorlauf?
Stirring after sparge water addition might help with grains making contact with water and increasing extraction.
Sorry, yes, I always stir and settle sparge additions before vorlauf.

-Rich
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Old 02-06-2013, 02:14 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by billl View Post
The thing that immediately jumps out to me is the volumes. "Eyeballing" just doesn't cut it if you are going for consistency. Get a measuring stick for each pot and calibrate it. eg add a quart at a time and mark it off.

After that, stirring is good for maximizing efficiency but GREAT for consistency.
Yeah, consistency is what I'm after. I don't really care about efficiency, except insomuch as it means predictability.

What's the method you prefer for marking a stick? A dedicated dowel? Using a Sharpie on the mash paddle? Notching? In my experience Sharpie fades/dissolves in the mash or boil, which is scary. But then making notches in something I sanitize to stir my chilled wort with is no good: can't sanitize it any more.

I guess the dedicated dowel approach makes the most sense.

-Rich
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Old 02-06-2013, 02:30 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bob352 View Post
You will want to calibrate your boil pot (I use a dip stick), and figure out your evaporation rate so you can hit your original volume and gravity after the boil without more adjustments.
This is a big one. I'm on an indoor electric setup (range + heat stick), and the good news is this means I can adjust the eyes' dials to get very close to the same boiloff rate each time, but what's the best way to get a read on that rate? Pre-and-post-boil volume measurements over a few brew sessions?

-Rich
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