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Old 02-07-2013, 01:56 PM   #21
Echoloc8
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[...]Everyone, regardless of system type and sparging method, should be getting 95%+ conversion on every batch regardless of recipe. If you're not getting that, something isn't working right.[...]
I have the feeling I'm misreading, and falling prey to terminology issues. Did you just say that no one should be happy with less than 95% efficiency (even if like Yooper above you get something like 72% every time), or are you making a point about conversion that's separate from sugar extraction?

-Rich
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Old 02-07-2013, 02:22 PM   #22
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As others have said, crush is the first thing to look at. Invest in a malt mill if you can, otherwise beg your LHBS to double crush or search around for a brew club where you can ask someone to use their mill [...]
More than getting my volumes right, or technique (stirring/pH monitoring/gravity testing) in the mash?

I started the thread specifically not wanting to make a big purchase, and $150ish for a milling setup is just that when I've never had any indication that my LHBS's crush is anything but workmanlike and consistent.

Other downsides to home milling include:
  • Making a lot of noise the night before or first thing in the morning of brew day (wife acceptance fail)
  • Making a lot of dust if done indoors (also a wife fail)
  • Drawing attention if done outdoors (I live in Alabama and do not need busybody attention on my brew day)
  • Storage for the beast and its hopper
  • Wear and tear on my nice, expensive power drill

...all of which make getting my own mill a non-starter. I know people in my local club who mill, but they all live 30-50 miles from me, which would significantly complicate the prep for each batch.

The owner of my LHBS is actually very cool, and I could probably wheedle or cajole him into double-crushing or letting me do it, but I'm pretty sure there are cheap or free things I can change about my process that will pay off with less grief.

I don't mean to trigger a "well, if you truly cared about efficiency or consistency you'd pony up for a mill" response, but crush changes aren't worth it for me at this point.

If I get to the point where I know I've improved my processes and I'm still getting efficiency swings I can't otherwise account for, I'll look into crush tuning.

-Rich
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Old 02-07-2013, 02:59 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by Echoloc8 View Post
I have the feeling I'm misreading, and falling prey to terminology issues. Did you just say that no one should be happy with less than 95% efficiency (even if like Yooper above you get it every time), or are you making a point about conversion that's separate from sugar extraction?

-Rich
Right, the terminology needs to be precise here. When people talk about "efficiency", they usually mean "mash efficiency" or something like it. Mash efficiency is usually defined as the mass of sugar that ends up in your kettle divided by the mass of sugar that could be theoretically extracted in your grain. If you've got a tun full of grain that could potentially yield ten pounds of extract and eight of them end up in your kettle, you've got 80% efficiency.

The trouble is, just knowing mash efficiency is almost useless for troubleshooting. You really want to consider conversion and lautering efficiency separately because they have very different causes and very different implications for a consistent process. To troubleshoot efficiency problems you need to figure out where the missing sugar went. There are really only two possibilities:

1) Conversion losses: Conversion is a biochemical process, and you can measure your conversion efficiency by testing the gravity of your first runnings and doing a bit of math on the value you get. Whatever distance you are from 100% conversion efficiency is caused by the failure of some starches to be converted to sugar. This number really shouldn't be much below 95% under any circumstances, and if it is it is a sign that something isn't right.

2) Lautering losses: Lautering, on the other hand, is simply a mechanical process, and in batch sparging it is ultimately just a function of how much water you leave behind absorbed in the grain or in deadspaces. This number should vary considerably from system to system and also a bit depending grist bill size, but there's nothing *better* about a high lautering efficiency except for a bit of savings on grains. Two years ago I had a schmancy fly sparge system that sat at 88% efficiency batch over batch, but over time I've torn it down into a no-sparge 68% efficiency system. I usually brew in my kitchen while taking care of a three-year-old, and the simplicity is worth a few bucks in malt.

Ultimately, (2) is just a choice you make in balancing equipment, time, and preferences. (1), however, should be pretty much the same for everyone. When people see significant swings in mash efficiency from batch to batch, the issue is *usually* conversion. When people are having problems with conversion, the issue is usually crush. It's fine and dandy for your lautering process to be as efficient or inefficient as you find important, but if you are losing points to conversion you will have exactly the kinds of inconsistent results you are describing.

You shouldn't run out and buy a mill, because it could be a lot of different things. If I were in your position, I'd take the time to do the proper diagnostics to figure out where the missing sugars are going. It's worth getting into the habit of checking conversion on every batch, and if you come up low you can extend the mash, test your pH, check your measurements, etc.
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Old 02-07-2013, 04:12 PM   #24
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Ultimately, (2) is just a choice you make in balancing equipment, time, and preferences. (1), however, should be pretty much the same for everyone. When people see significant swings in mash efficiency from batch to batch, the issue is *usually* conversion. When people are having problems with conversion, the issue is usually crush. It's fine and dandy for your lautering process to be as efficient or inefficient as you find important, but if you are losing points to conversion you will have exactly the kinds of inconsistent results you are describing.

You shouldn't run out and buy a mill, because it could be a lot of different things. If I were in your position, I'd take the time to do the proper diagnostics to figure out where the missing sugars are going. It's worth getting into the habit of checking conversion on every batch, and if you come up low you can extend the mash, test your pH, check your measurements, etc.
Awesome, thanks for this. I know that one of the weaknesses in my current process is that I don't check gravity until post-boil, when it's too late and there are too many varying factors that have already had their say. Since I have a refractometer that will be easy to do from now on.

From my first runnings and preboil gravity measurements I can compare with matching Beersmith calcs to check for incomplete conversion, right? Seeing this number vary would then point to a crush issue, if I'm understanding you. (Also presuming my thermometers aren't 20 degrees off in either direction.)

The sugars are the sugars, once lautering finishes. This really helps me understand the value of the Gravity Points figure I see bandied about, e.g., 1.045 * 6.5 gallons = (45 * 6.5) = 292.5. That same 292.5 GP will apply if I reduce to 5.5 gallons (1.053 SG then), or increase to 7.5 (1.039 SG). Eureka!

This eases my worries about boil volume control. Get my extract right, and then I really just need to dial in my boiloff rate, and err on the side of too much boiloff than too little. Dilution is easy once the range is off; concentration less so.

Okay, a follow-on question: let's say I've got my first runnings, and used an accurate volume measurement and refractometer reading to determine that I've undershot on conversion. Should I heat the runnings (running off will have cooled them) and add them back for additional mashing? Sparge water (already heated to near-170) would be denaturing-hot, right? I guess I could get the temp of the grains and add enough sparge water to get back to saccharification temps... What's the best method short of pumped recirculation to extend the mash?

-Rich
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Old 02-07-2013, 06:04 PM   #25
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I don't think that Beersmith will do that. You need to compare your redings to the chart at braukaiser.com linked to in Malfet's earlier post.

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Old 02-07-2013, 06:52 PM   #26
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Awesome, thanks for this. I know that one of the weaknesses in my current process is that I don't check gravity until post-boil, when it's too late and there are too many varying factors that have already had their say. Since I have a refractometer that will be easy to do from now on.

From my first runnings and preboil gravity measurements I can compare with matching Beersmith calcs to check for incomplete conversion, right? Seeing this number vary would then point to a crush issue, if I'm understanding you. (Also presuming my thermometers aren't 20 degrees off in either direction.)
I don't know what numbers Beersmith offers or how it calculates them, so I can't say for sure on that. But, it's not too hard to calculate your first runnings gravity. The formula and its explanation are posted on Kai's website, and I think he's got a spreadsheet up there too. If Beersmith gives you expected first runnings gravity, that *should* be the same thing.

(As a side note, don't get too hung up on hitting your expected conversion numbers exactly. Extract potential (and moisture content) for malt varies more from sack to sack than most people realize, and likewise unless you do your own congress mash you're just using average values. You can expect your calculated conversion efficiency to be +/- 5% from the actual value.)

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Originally Posted by Echoloc8 View Post
Okay, a follow-on question: let's say I've got my first runnings, and used an accurate volume measurement and refractometer reading to determine that I've undershot on conversion. Should I heat the runnings (running off will have cooled them) and add them back for additional mashing? Sparge water (already heated to near-170) would be denaturing-hot, right? I guess I could get the temp of the grains and add enough sparge water to get back to saccharification temps... What's the best method short of pumped recirculation to extend the mash?

-Rich
Depends on your process. The easiest thing to do would probably be to open your cooler at the end of mash, give it a crazy big stir, vorlauf a bit, and then take a reading from that. You don't have to wait for the whole thing to have run out. If you think you need more time and your temperature has dropped a bit, you can add a smaller quantity of hot water to bump it back up a few degrees.
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Old 02-07-2013, 10:02 PM   #27
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Wow, nothing like reading the instructions!

Read Kai's article, and fiddled with the spreadsheet he provides. I'll be digesting this for a while, but I'm beginning to see both the complexities of efficiency calculation and the rationale. It's great to see Kai lay it out all the way to "Here's where all the sugars went, adding up to 100%." Nice to know there's no magic involved, just some complexity.

Time to put on my big-boy-brewer pants and A) calibrate a stick for my boil kettle, and B) learn to use my refractometer for mid-process SG readings.

Now if only I had a brew day planned. All my fermenters are full!

-Rich

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Old 02-08-2013, 12:41 AM   #28
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Wow, nothing like reading the instructions!

Read Kai's article, and fiddled with the spreadsheet he provides. I'll be digesting this for a while, but I'm beginning to see both the complexities of efficiency calculation and the rationale. It's great to see Kai lay it out all the way to "Here's where all the sugars went, adding up to 100%." Nice to know there's no magic involved, just some complexity.

Time to put on my big-boy-brewer pants and A) calibrate a stick for my boil kettle, and B) learn to use my refractometer for mid-process SG readings.

Now if only I had a brew day planned. All my fermenters are full!

-Rich
Buckets are cheap!
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Old 02-08-2013, 02:51 PM   #29
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Buckets are cheap!
Ha! This is true, but I'm also out of space to keep new fermenters.

-Rich
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Old 02-08-2013, 03:19 PM   #30
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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
This has helped me a lot. I just found a cheap piece of 1x1 that I had laying around the garage and used that to mark off volumes. I also went to a restaurant supply store and bought a 22 Qt bucket with qt. volumes marked on it. I tested that by adding water from a 2Qt bowl I know is accurate and it was spot on. Then I would fill up a gallon, dump it in my boil pot and mark with a sharpie, each subsequent gallon. Since I only use that for measuring water, the marks haven't faded on it at all. Just measure the wort you get in the kettle from your first mash, then subract that from what you want your pre-boil volume to be and that will tell you exactly what you need to sparge with.

Volumes are a big deal and until I did this, I found I was always, off, even using water calculators I always had more water left in the tun than I wanted. The two things that seemed to have helped my efficiency the most were correct water volume and my own mill to crush to my preference.

As others have said though, once you get to the 70-75% range, you are doing OK. At that point, rather than chasing the numbers, just enjoy the consistency. I think bein consistant is better for making good beer than getting higher efficiencies, but being of by 5% + or - every time.
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