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Old 01-12-2007, 04:22 AM   #1
hopandgator
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Default all grain extraction help desperately needed

Dear Brewers-
I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I really need some help, and I'm hoping that someone on this forum might have some good advice. I've been brewing for a couple years, and have made a number of good beers of all different styles. For the first year and a half or so that I brewed, I was consistently happy with my results. I have made a number of all-grain brews, and gotten reasonable extractions and tasty beer.
But, over about the last five months, every brew I have attempted has been middling to awful. I'm wondering if someone has some advice about what might have gone wrong.

Let me give you some details about my brew setup/situation. I suppose there could be a number of factors that could be screwing me up, but I don't know which, so I think I'd better just be as detailed as possible.
In the past, I was doing my mashes in a rectangular picnic cooler, with a manifold in the bottom made of PVC piping. I had three parallel pipes in the bottom with thin slits cut in them, and a plastic valve outside the cooler for draining. I would usually mash for one hour at 152 degrees, then spend about an hour sparging by just pouring the 170 degree water over the grain bed with a pitcher. This method was getting me reasonable extractions (at least 70%), although I thought I could do better. I wanted to get up toward 80% efficiency, so I could try to make some stronger, more full-bodied beers. Anyway, like I said, the beer was normally pretty solid. I was doing my primary fermentation in a plastic bucket, and then racking to a glass carboy for secondary, and then bottling. All of that I hope sounds reasonably standard.

This past summer I moved into a new house. I decided to build a mash tun out of a cylindrical cooler, hearing that this could give slightly better extraction efficiency, and instead of a manifold I installed a Phils Phalse bottom, reading that this encourages the most uniform possible flow through the grain bed. Also, hearing that fermenting multiple times in my same plastic bucket could *possibly* lead to off-flavors in the long run, I started doing my primary and secondary in different carboys. I really went overkill in also building a sparger that spins over the grain bed and sprays it completely equally. Lastly, I purchased a powder that, when added to the mash, promises to adjust the pH to exactly 5.4, making pH issues not a worry.
However, all of these changes, which I hoped would be subtle improvements, have just led to worse beer. For one thing, my extractions have been terrible. Using 12 pounds of grain, I'm often getting 6 gallons of wort at like 1.035. For another, my beer justs tastes funky - kind of like chlorine. I suspect that the second problem may be a reflection of the first - thin beer probably makes it easier to taste off-flavors, but I don't know. But in sum, the beer tastes weak and barely drinkable.

Can ANYONE tell me something obvious that I seem to be overlooking here? I just don't know why my extractions have gotten so bad when my beer used to be good. I always have my grain crushed at the brew store and I insure it's a good crush. I always check with iodine to be sure that conversion is complete, and just to be sure I have started mashing for an extra half hour (to a total of 1.5 hours). I take at least an hour to sparge, with my water always at 170 degrees, so I am draining very slowly. I always use a fresh vial of White Labs yeast. Obviously, I always am extremely careful about sanitation (I use Iodophor, and I rinse equipment with water that has been boiled for 5 minutes). I cool with a copper coil wort chiller that is very efficient and usually gets the temperature down in about 30 minutes, and I always pitch my yeast at 75 degrees.

Could it be the water in my new house? Could something just have gone wrong with my sanitation several straight times to produce the off-flavors? Is the cylindrical cooler or new sparging system somehow hurting more than it's helping? Should I go back to primary fermentation in the plastic bucket rather than the carboy?
I should mention that I was using the tap water at my old residence, and where I live now is only about 4 miles away, so I wouldn't think that the water difference would be tremendous.
Any suggestions at all would be greatly appreciated. Last year I was honestly loving homebrewing and taking every opportunity to work on my beer, but now I'm just getting exasperated and nothing I try seems to help my beer. I've been asking people at brew shops and reading books from the library, and nothing seems to help. I just don't know what's different now that is screwing things up.

Thanks so much to anyone who reads all of this and can offer some help.
Martin

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Old 01-12-2007, 04:40 AM   #2
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Hmmmm.

I will give this a shot.

I think the timing of the sucky brews and your move is too big a coincidence to ignore. I would strongly urge you to experiment with store bought water or perhaps filtered water to check. Hell, drive back to the old house and get 15 gallons to see ! Beer is 98% water, it nees to be excellent, not just ok.

Clorine taste - Do you boil then cool your mash and sparge water? I used to live in an area where I had to do just that. It will eliminate the clorine you have in suspension.

I typically sparge with 190 degree water which brings the mash temps up. Adding 170 degree water takes a long time to raise the temp of the grainbed to 170 due to heat absorbtion. Once optimal temps have been reached, I use 180 degree (or so) water to maintain it.

Whenever I troubleshoot a problem, I eliminate all the changes then add them in one at a time until the problem re-appears. It is worth a thought.

Others might have differing opinions, the grain of salt is included. The methodology of troubleshooting is unavoidable however.

Cheers,

knewshound

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Old 01-12-2007, 04:59 AM   #3
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I like knewshound's ideas.Are you on well water or city water?I doubt the equipment change is the problem.I don't know how the ph powder works could it be lowering the ph too much?Don't give up i'm sure you will find the answer

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Old 01-12-2007, 07:28 AM   #4
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I too would first look at the H2O then maybe at your sourounding trees and the pollen they put off. more than likely you can eliminate your system or any componate there of, unless you did something drastic as this dosent seem to be the case. pollen is a big factor as it adds (depending on the pollen) an unformentable to the wort thus makeing it not what you are shooting for. I would though start with the water just go buy 15 gallons of good water. I too use 5.2 for the mash and have had GREAT luck in the past but remember you must add your salts to ALL water and at the same intervels.
JJ

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Old 01-12-2007, 12:33 PM   #5
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Lengthening the time of your mash is unlikely to increase efficiency. Conversion happens rather quickly.

A longer and slower sparge may help as well. How long do you sparge?

While I agree with all the posts above regarding the off flavors (chlorine) that you mention, it is not likely that water quality will cause the efficiency problem you have.

With 12lbs of base grain, you should be getting wort higher in gravity than 1.032. Are you crushing your grain the same way? Did your grain mill's settings get moved/changed during your move? Is your scale for measuring the amount of grain off calibration?

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Old 01-12-2007, 12:49 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hopandgator
I should mention that I was using the tap water at my old residence, and where I live now is only about 4 miles away, so I wouldn't think that the water difference would be tremendous.

Your water could be extremely different! Do not assume it is the same. But, all that being said, how does it taste? If your water is barely drinkable your beer will not be either. Your water chemistry can have a significant impact, a water test is perhaps something you should look into (they are not that expensive). However, I would first look to the process. You have changed from one method of doing things to another. There are perhaps things which you are overlooking. I agree with sonvolt and would look at my efficiency and sparging process. Fwiw, I have a 5 gallon cylindrical and get super efficiencies fly sparging.
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Old 01-12-2007, 12:52 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hopandgator
For another, my beer justs tastes funky - kind of like chlorine.

If it is after the boil and you are on city water then they are most likely adding chloramines which are not removed by boiling.
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Old 01-12-2007, 01:47 PM   #8
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Go back to the basics, I suspect that the Ph powder may have some affect on your brew. I adjust my Ph with a Ph meter and in my case vinager to lower the ph of my brew water. What does this powder do raise or lower the Ph?

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Old 01-12-2007, 02:31 PM   #9
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I agree with those who are focusing on the water.... I had a similar experience some years ago when I temporarily moved to the city... yuck, on many levels.

I'm also wondering about your new mash tun/cooler- what kind is it? Does the plastic give off flavor? I think what I'd do is heat up some H2O to 190 or so, let it sit in the cooler for awhile, and then drink it to see how it tastes... just a thought

-p

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Old 01-12-2007, 06:28 PM   #10
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Thanks so much to everyone for all the replies. Let me try to give a little more info.
The water out of my tap might be the problem...I've had some visitors tell me it doesn't taste all that great, although honestly it tastes fine to me. But, I'll definitely try using distilled water in my next batch and see if that helps.
Still, I'm worried about what Sunvolt commented on...even if the water doesn't taste great, why should that be affecting my mash efficiency so much? I should still be able to get decent extractions, shouldn't I?
Let me tell you guys what I'm doing as far as mashing/sparging, and let me know if there's anything I'm really doing wrong.
The cooler is a 5 gallon cylindrical Igloo. The plastic seems fine and I don't think it's generating any terrible flavors. At the bottom I've got a circular Phalse bottom. I've got a brass ball valve outside the base of the cooler, and I drain the wort out through vinyl tubing into the bottom of my brewpot. I typically use 10-12 pounds of grain, which I have well crushed at my local homebrew store. I add my strike water at just under 175, and aim for a mash temp of about 154. I always do small water adjustments to make sure I've gotten the temperature right, and I always stir the mash up very well. I add the pH stabilizer and I've tested with litmus paper to see that it is holding the pH at 5.2. I usually test with iodine at the end to see that conversion has been completed before sparging.
All that makes me think the problem has *got* to be with my sparge, but I don't know what I'm doing wrong. As I said in the OP I've got a spinning sparger that sprinkles the water (at 170, and treated with the pH powder) over the grainbed. I'm draining very slowly, and I usually end up using about 5 gallons of sparge water.
Let me ask this...could I be using too much sparge water, and could this be diluting my wort too much? Should I drain a great deal of wort initially before I start fly sparging? Should I maybe cut off the sparge early, and then drain everything that's left in the cooler? Would recirculating more wort help? Or should I just really slow down the pace and take like an hour and half to sparge?
I'm sorry for all the questions and long posts, everybody, but as you can see I'm just quite frustrated. I've read the books on this, I've asked everybody at the homebrew shops around here (I live in St. Louis), and I just can't tell what in the world is wrong with my mash technique.
Thanks so much again for the advice.
Martin

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