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Old 01-14-2013, 12:14 AM   #1
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Default I Seek Thy Judgement... PLEASE help me out...

Dear HBT'ers,

I'm really asking for some professional advice here.

I brewed an AG beer a few weeks ago and BOMBED on my efficiency. I was very bummed. The next brew (a week later) I hit about 77 percent, which I was quite pleased by. I did things differently the second time.

I'd like to share with you my equipment and my method, and get some insight on how either might be failing me. HOWEVER, I'd like to mention that finances are TIGHT this year (new baby born Christmas Eve), so I cannot really upgrade my equipment at this time. So hopefully I can improve my process without having to buy more stuff...

I use a 10-gallon cylindrical drink cooler - the large orange ones available at Home Depot. I took out the spigot and installed a copper ball valve, which leads to a T-junction inside and a round length of stainless steel line, rubber hose removed. I measured the deadspace, and it's approximately 2 cups that can't pour out through the ball valve. I also drilled a hole at an angle to insert a long-stem thermometer.

I mostly brew 2.5 gallon batches - lets me make more variety while saving costs and not ending up with too much beer around since I mostly drink it and... ...I'm on a diet... (50 pounds lost since April 2012)

When I mash, I put hot tap water in the cooler - usually 3 gallons. I bring my strike water (Beersmith appears to calculate approximately 1.3-1.4 quarts per pound of grain...) to 164 degrees. Just as it's ready I dump the tap water, dump in the pre-measured grain, and add the strike water. I aim for 155 degrees so that it'll cool to 150 within the hour. I usually make sure I have at least a half-gallon of near-boiling water ready to toss in if my mash is too cool. That happened on the second brew - I had to add at least a half-gallon because I kept losing temp...

When I'm at temp, I start my timer - 60 minutes. I stir approximately every 15 minutes, keeping the lid tight in between. When 60 is up, I drain out a quart and then carefully pour back into the cooler. I do this until I don't get any more heavy particles. I then drain, and I drain pretty quick. I've never had a stuck sparge. I will usually let it sit just for a little bit to let as much drain out of the grain as I can - usually 5 minutes. Then I'll close the valve and add my sparge water. For brew 1, I added all the sparge, let sit, recirc'd, drained, and that was it. For brew 2, I added half the sparge, let sit briefly, recirc'd, drained, added the rest of the sparge (all at 170 degrees by the way) stirred VIGOROUSLY, let sit, recirc'd, then drained again. On the SECOND brew, I put the wort on the stove and started it heating for boil. MEANWHILE, I scooped off the top of the grain from the tub that was mostly "dry", until I got to moist grain. I scooped this into a nylon brewing bag, and then wrung the living sh!t out of it... I took this and dumped it into the boil kettle - a 5-gallon stainless steel pot (my 7.5 gal turkey fryer got used... ...to fry a turkey... So it's no good anymore.)

My BIGGEST concern is that wringing out the grain squeezed out stuff I DIDN'T want in my brew. However I think it gave me that least few percent. I honestly didn't taste this to see if it was still sweet. My fault. I DO think the batch sparge will be my method going forward instead of a single fly sparge. I'd love to continuous sparge, but I think that with using such small batches, this will be MUCH harder than it's worth, plus I'll need some fancy equipment which I really can't afford.

I'm sorry for making this so long, but I'm trying to get things right and get better consistency. My first batch was barely 60% efficiency - that's just such a waste!

Thanks for your time, and I look forward to the replies.

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Old 01-14-2013, 12:36 AM   #2
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The first place everyone seems to look on this thread is how you crush your grains. that seems to have an impact on it.

I have a crusher of my own, and sometimes occasionally have the LHBS crush it. I fly sparge, using a box-style cooler, some tubing and a fly sparge arm made with copper tubing, and the brew I did today hit 90% efficiency. Amazingly.

I'd look at the crush. That's a variable to try. Are you getting a good crush on your grains?

Another place to look is your thermometer. have you calibrated it? boil water and take it's temp--it should be RIGHT at 212. then throw a bunch of ice in a glass, pour water into it, and throw it in the freezer for 1/2 hour. it should be at or a degree above 32. while this would prob have more to do with unexpected ABV, it's nevertheless a common variable that people screw up.

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Old 01-14-2013, 12:42 AM   #3
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Did you stir your mash on the first batch?

I stir during the mash, not the sparges.

I notice you disturbed the grains in the second by doing the squeezing exercise.... does that make sense?

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Old 01-14-2013, 01:34 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dynachrome
Did you stir your mash on the first batch?

I stir during the mash, not the sparges.

I notice you disturbed the grains in the second by doing the squeezing exercise.... does that make sense?
+1. I actually don't understand that either. I thought it was me but why did you do that?
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Old 01-14-2013, 01:53 AM   #5
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Hmm, I replied to this... At least I thought I did...

Yes I stir during my mashes - always, every 15 minutes.

Yes I wrung out the grains - only after sparge was complete and wort was on the stove. I did it to get the last bit of sweet liquid out of the grains. I didn't think it was a great idea, to be honest, but it was strained at least. What else did I wring out of the grain that I shouldn't have?

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Old 01-14-2013, 02:11 AM   #6
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First of all like previously mentioned a finer grain crush will help you the most. While mashing and sparging you should stir the mash a few minutes before draining. Not 30 minutes ahead a couple minutes ahead of draining. Think of your job being to force all the sugars up out of the grain bed and into the water right before draining. Some will say "your wort will be all cloudy if you don't let it settle." Trust me, a cloudy running wort has more sugars in it then a clear wort. Remember that the cloudiness will settle out in the kettle or worst case in the fermentor. I do whirlpool my wort and have it sit untouched for 25 minutes after it is cooled. All the cloudiness will fall out especially if you use a whirlfloc or Irish moss at 15 min left in the boil. Good luck and good brewing!

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Old 01-14-2013, 02:22 AM   #7
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You don't have to bag the grains and squeeze them, you can just continue to sparge..... Or just plain BIAB....

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Old 01-14-2013, 02:31 AM   #8
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Actually I've had no problem with clear beers - I use whirlfloc ALWAYS and am always VERY diligent about not disturbing the trub when racking to bottling bucket. My AG beers have been SUPER clear, whereas my partial-mash beers were always a bit cloudy.

When I drain my initial mash (I know this has a name but I forgot it) it's always very cloudy - sometimes almost scarily so. In fact my second brew was so cloudy I was worried about it - thinking I used wheat when I hadn't meant to. By the time I was filling my satellite fermenter after the boil, it was as clear as apple juice. I was shocked.

It's just my efficiency. My efficiency sucks... I think I'm not sparging properly. Like I said - wringing the grains was out of desperation...

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Old 01-14-2013, 02:33 AM   #9
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You don't have to bag the grains and squeeze them, you can just continue to sparge..... Or just plain BIAB....
But sparge with what? I mean I already had enough wort...

I know NOTHING about BIAB... I've heard of it, but really didn't research it because I felt like I was already trying to master too many things at once...
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Old 01-14-2013, 02:45 AM   #10
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Generic AG trouble shooting routine:

Did you get your temps right? (thermometer verified?)
Did you get your volumes right?
Did you mash for an appropriate length of time?
Did you do your calculations/use your software correctly?

Once you check of the "duh" categories, you can start to break it down.

Take a gravity reading of the first runnings. What conversion efficiency did you get? If much less that 100%, then the first thing to look at is crush. If you tighten the crush and still have issues, then you'll need to start learning about water chemistry (or but some RO water.)

If your conversion efficiency is high, but your overall efficiency is low, then you've isolated the problem to the sparge process. There is a sticky thread detailing ideas to optimize your sparge process.

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