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Old 09-13-2007, 01:42 AM   #1
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Default Importance of mash water volume

Hey gang, I just had a question on the volume of water used for the mash. With a false bottom, hoses, and coil (herms) I have to add more to get the water level above the grain bed.

I just made the leap to all-grain a few months ago and the results have been underwhelming (reminds me very much of what I was making with the Mr. Beer kit a couple of years back). Now that I've started digging into potential problems, I've pretty much convinced myself that it is at least partially due to my local water profile. The bicarbonantes are off the brewing charts at 459ppm. So I've loaded up on RO water and all of the various salts to make my own water next time around (plus ColorPhast strips to actually see what I'm doing rather than winging it and hoping the beer gods are smiling on me ).

I have high hopes of that change alone making a noticable improvement, but in researching the off flavors I'm getting (closest matches I've been able to make are apple'ish / clove'ish. Noticable, but not overpowering) I ran across at least one reference talking about making sure the mash water volume was correct. After my first batch, I didn't even bother measuring the rest... Just made sure that it covered the grain bed when the recirculation was going. I know that tons of folks use false bottoms and lots recirculate in some form or fashion, so I was just wondering if needing more water than is called for is really a factor or not.

Anyway, what I've made so far is drinkable (and will be drank!).... I was just hoping for more after 3 months labor and an untold sum of money building my Brewflex. Want to tackle as many potential problems as I can for the next brew.

Thanks!
Jason

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Old 09-13-2007, 01:49 AM   #2
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1st off, your setup is killer. I'm jealous. As far as off flavors, those fruity flavors can come from high fermentation temps. You have to remember that the fermentation process is going to be a few degrees higher than the ambient temp of the room.

Also, flavors could be from your water. Dunno about that one though, I've been lucky enough to have tasty water where ever I've lived.

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Old 09-13-2007, 02:15 AM   #3
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Thanks seefresh. Good point. As long as trying to improve things, that is admittedly something that probably needs some attention too. I keep the house cool, but some point along the way I did slip away from keeping the carboys in a water bath.

Maybe I've read the words "relax, don't worry, have a homebrew!" a few too many times.

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Old 09-15-2007, 03:30 PM   #4
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Fermentation temps are more important than most people give them credit for. Apple and clove flavors may be from higher than ideal temps, but yeast strain is more often the cause. What yeast have you been using? If you know that you are going to be fermenting without temperature control you should choose a yeast that can work well at those temps. Cal Ale yeasts tend to be clean with a love ester profile, even at higher temps. Yeast (and the beer to suit them) like saisons brew well up into the 80's or low 90's.

Green apple flavors (think Budwiser) are often a product of unfinished fermentation. Be careful crash cooling "finished" beers.

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Old 09-15-2007, 03:52 PM   #5
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There is a great little utility called MashWater 3.3. This program was written by a very well known and respected member of a few of the other beer forums. Here is a link to JT's Beer Home Page. This utility is for those of us who batch sparge and will help you calculate your water volumes and temperatures very accurately. It even takes into account your equipment losses once you figure out what they are and input the data into the program. I have found it to extremely helpful. I can assure you that the executable file that I linked to is clean and can be trusted.

I have also found a very useful tool for adjusting water chemistry that is available in a freeware program. It is called Brewater. Check out the link and scroll down a little and download BreWater 3.0. It is quite an amazing little Windows Utility. It has drag sliders that let you make adjustments to ion concentrations without having to type in the numbers. I have used it with much success so far.

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Old 09-15-2007, 04:01 PM   #6
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This is brewing art.

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Old 09-15-2007, 04:41 PM   #7
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So, I did this experiment this summer... I brewed 10 gallons of IPA using my own well water (which I always do) which is great water. Then I brewed 10 gal of the exact same recipe, same process, same mash and boil time with water from my dear old ma's (also great water) house twenty miles away. TOTALLY DIFFERENT FLAVOR IN THE FINISHED BEERS!!! Sorry for shouting there.

Anyway, I wasn't surprised I guess. Water makes a huge difference.

cheers, -p

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Old 09-16-2007, 02:22 PM   #8
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As Catfish mentioned... green apple flavors are usually do to not pitching enough yeast and incomplete fermentation. Did you use a starter and if so, how much?

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Old 09-16-2007, 02:40 PM   #9
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Mash water volume is important, but 1.25 to 1.75 quarts per pound is a good working range. I've seen people mash as low as 1.1 and I've done PM's over 2.5 with good results. Higher numbers, in theory, mean a slower, but more fermentable conversion. An hour will do it regardless of ratio. Temperature and pH are probably more important.

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Old 09-17-2007, 01:50 AM   #10
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Thank you everyone for the comments and suggestions so far. It sounds like my initial question about maybe using a little too much water during the mash may not be that big of a deal... But also that I have more things to tackle than I originally thought.

The yeast I've used so far on the new system has all been White Labs Dry English Ale. Planned it so that I had 3 recipes that all called for the same so that I could recycle. Underpitching? Yeah, probably.... I didn't want to air out too much dirty laundry on myself here, but historically I've made a starter the day before brewing, and only cooked up one batch of wort to add (1/2c DME & 1 pint water). My starters have been in a quart Mason jar... Sometimes I'll gently pour off some of the liquid and add another round of wort the next day, but I admit I usually just do one. To redeem myself here, I did order myself a shiny new 2L beaker last weekend. It got mis-shipped to someone else, but should be here soon. Healthy starters are part of my new plan of attack. Threw together a little stirplate too based on the PC fan idea that you guys came up with.

I don't think I've used Mashwater yet, but I definitely found Brewater... Cool app! The rest of my salts were in the same shipment as my missing beaker, but I'm pretty pepped about getting to make my own water. Picked up a nifty scale on eBay to make sure the salts additions are inline with Brewater's recomendations.

Also made a trip to Home Depot today and got the goods to get started on a fermentation box to control my temps. I'm gonna make an attempt to make it a presentable piece of "furniture", so I'm gonna hold off brewing for a couple of weeks while I get that together. After that, I'll throw all of this together and see what comes out!

Again, thank you all very much for your suggestions!!
-jas

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