Stuck in a 50% eff rut.. I would like to use a lifeline, phone a fellow HBTer
I could use some help with my mash efficiency.. I switched to AG after a year or so of brewing. I currently have 4 AG batches under my belt and have yet to hit a mash efficiency over 52%. I have tried no-sparge, batch sparge, and even fly sparge methods and still get less than expected results. When switching to AG I didn't expect to hit higher efficiencies at first but after this many batches it is quite frustrating to see no improvements. I have been compensating by buying more grains and longer boils, but after making my dry porter a 'caramel porter' I am needing to understand my errors.
So far I have the following ideas to troubleshoot this issue:
Is it normal to get such low efficiencies staring out?
Is using an ale pail typically good enough for volume measurements?
What are some good dial / digital thermometers to get?
Should I just splurge and get a grain mill?
I know this question gets asked a lot, but I am just looking for a lil' guidance – thanks in advance!
Are you using tap water?
How much preboil volume do you usually collect?
When you clean out your mashtun after the brew day is over, do you find a gallon or more wort in the bottom of the tun?
Well, you've kinda answered some of your own questions about accuracy of equipment. Thermometer is probably most important here. Volume is fairly important, but so long as you're reasonably close to your desired mash thickness, I can't imagine it could cause efficiency to be lower than 60% at worst.
I wouldn't be too quick to blame the crush, but it's certainly a possibility. A LHBS wouldn't be in business for long if every one of their customers were getting bad efficiency, ESPECIALLY with another shop across town as you mention.
One thing you didn't flesh out for us in your explanation that might help the diagnosis is how much grain are you typically mashing, what size batches are you doing, how much sparge water are you using, and water is your target pre-boil volume?
My AG process really got dialed in once I figured out (through trial and error):
1- what mash thickness works best for me (I find at least 1.5qts/# works for me)
2- how much water my grains absorb (.13gal/# - this is a number that will be dependent on your crush)
3- what's my actual boil-off rate (so I can know exactly when to stop sparging).
Sorry if you've heard this advice before, but knowing these numbers will allow you to get the maximum rinsing of sugars from your grain. So I have an 11# grain bill for a brew. Here's how much water I use:
-1.5qts/# means I need 4.125gal strike water
-absorption means I will lose 1.43gal (.13gal/# times 11#)
-my boiloff rate is 15%/hour
-it's a 5.5gal batch with a 60min boil, so I will need 6.47 gal at the beginning of the boil (5.5/85%)
-So I need 3.775gal of sparge water (6.47 minus 4.125 plus 1.43)
Once I figured all this stuff out, I got my efficiency to the 75% target I've been shooting for.
Few ways to test this:
1. Have lhbs run your grains through the mill twice.
2. Buy your own mill, or find somebody with a mill and have then crush it for you.
3. Go elsewhere for your grain and see if it helps. Since you asked, I would recommend Brewmasters Warehouse (they are a sponsor here). I've made a number of batches with grain crushed by them and consistently hit 70-75% efficiency.
Another thing to think about: Hitting and maintaining temps during Mash, Sparge, etc. That would also mess with your efficiency if your thermometer reading is off. Have you tested it? Have you calibrated it lately?
Lastly, I don't think its your volume measurements that are off FWIW. Unless there is something really whacky with your buckets, you aren't going to be that far off in your measurements to make this big of a difference?
Woa, thanks for the quick responses!
I will try and address most of your questions:
I am using standard east Tennessee tap water (medium hardness). My ph test strips suck and only tell me my ph is between 4 and 6.
Wort left over in mash tun:
Some wort, but no more than .75 gal... maybe .5 gal. My pickup tube goes all the way down. It is somewhat hard to measure, but I can get a better estimate next brew session.
I typically aim to collect 6.5-7gal preboil and end up with ~6gal postboil... 5.5 in ferm, 5 in keg
IMO, you should be sparging with more water. Forget the qts per pound method and just aim to get half of your preboil volume. Your efficiency should go up with that one step alone, then rinse with the other half after you drain your tun.
definitely have the lhbs run your grains through twice.
Definitely need a reliable thermometer ( unless like the monks you can calculate water temp by boiling and mixing).
Try mashing in at a lower temp
113 F for half an hour
131 F for 15 minutes
144 F for half an hour
151 F for half an hour to 40 minutes
154 F for fifteen minutes
Mash out at 164 F
Then Batch sparge at 170
It's a total PITA to do this manually, but you can do it.
I know I know the diastatic power of modern malts is ~ ~ ~ yadda yadda yadda ~ ~ ~ . But still, it's within your power to do it and see if it helps
Also you might try a decoction.
definitely have the lhbs run your grains through twice.
Get some rice hulls just in case too.
+1 on having them run the grains through twice.
I use a paint strainer bag to mash in a standard 5-gal cooler and get my grain double-crushed. My normal efficiency is around 80%. First time I did all grain (which used this method) my planned 1.050 Hefe turned into a 1.064 Weizenbock.
14 quart mash (at 150-154) plus a nice hot 12 quart sparge (around 165F) gets me 82-85% with light grainbills.
Crush. If it doesn't have significant amounts of flour, it isn't crushed enough.
Dough balls. Thinner mash helps. I mash 1.5-2.0 quarts/lb much easier to stir.
Thermometer. If your thermometer isn't accurate... well, you're toast.
pH. "Medium hardness" isn't too specific. Maybe try 5.2 stabilizer if you don't want to mess with water chem.
Even no-sparge brewing I would hit 78% efficiency on a 1.046 beer. The problem lies within the mash...
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