I brewed an ESB recipe that I found on the Internet, with a few minor changes I made to it (substituted Crystal 80 with Crystal 60 and a tad of Crystal 90, upped the hops a bit, used different yeast). Everything went great during the mash...I used Beersmith to calculate the strike temperature and amount to use, and I hit my target mash within two degrees (wanted 154, got 152...which I'm more than happy with).
So, then I vorlaufed, and drained into the kettle. I then added the sparge water, which was also calculated by Beersmith. This is where I ran into my first issue. I was left with 1-2 qts. of sparge water in my pot when my cooler was completely filled. I'm guessing I calculated with an inaccurate grain absorption rate (I used what seems to be the standard of .1 gal/lb). I'll have to do some thinking here.
Anyway, after I got everything in the kettle, I realized I was a little short on my desired boil volume. I ended up adding the remaining water that was meant for sparge water, which got me close to my target, so I thought "good enough".
The whole boil went well, except for the fact that after sixty minutes, I was quite a bit lower on my final volulme than I wanted (about 3 qts). Obviously my evaporation rate is quite a bit higher than I estimated. I added some water to get close to desired volume before chilling, so not really a huge issue, I guess.
My immersion chiller did not work very efficiently. It took about 35 minutes to get to pitching temp, where I was expecting about 20 minutes. Wort temp dropped like crazy all the way to about 100 degrees, but then it slowed down to a crawl to get to pitching temp. Law of diminishing returns, I suppose. Finally I got the wort to 68 degrees and I was ready to put the stuff into my carboy for fermentation. This is where things got bad.
First off, Bazooka T screens are useless, as far as I'm concerned. I used all pellet hops, and the Bazooka T is a magnet for them. I spent about 30 minutes using my mash spoon to scrape break/hop sludge from the screen to allow the wort to go through the valve. I was not too happy about it, to say the least!
I think I'm going to have to look into exclusively whole hops, which I think would work well with the Bazooka T, or bite the bullet and buy one of those damned Hopstoppers. Any opinions would be appreciated.
I ended up with 5.5 gallons in the carboy. I calculated my recipe for a finished volume of 6 gallons, with the hopes of getting 5.5 in the carboy, so I was pretty psyched about that! Unfortunately, so much sludge got through, seemingly due to me scraping the hell out of the Bazooka T and putting all that junk into suspension. I'm not too worried about it, because it should settle out in primary, but I'm beginning to guess I'm actually closer to 4.5 to 5 gallons of wort, once all the junk is factored out.
I calculated a OG of 1.065, and got a reading of 1.070. I'm not sure if it's because I ended up with less volume that the gravity was higher, or because there was so much crap floating around in the sample I measured with, or a bit of both. Either way, it's pretty close, which I'll take on my first AG.
Overall, I'd say things went really well, with just a couple of minor hiccups. I'm really looking forward to getting this process down to a tee, like many here already have. I couldn't have done this without all the help you've all given me the last few months. Thanks to all who took time to answer my questions!