BeerSmith leaving me massively confused

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Lurked and read many threads here for a long time (such a fantastic wealth of information!) , but I finally decided to make an account because I'm stumped and need the help from the great minds in this forum.

I have an old copy of BeerSmith 2 from my forgone extract brewing days and I don't really see the need to go to BS3, so I still use BS2.

I used to just sort of wing it when it came to recipes, either using other people's recipes or just trying to get a ballpark figure of what to hit for my OG and FG. However, I decided that with moving to all-grain and getting back into homebrewing, I want to really dial in my system to get reliable numbers.

My Irish Red Ale had a pretty basic grain bill: 10lbs 2-row, 1/2 lbs caramel 40L, 1/4 lbs roasted barley (300srm), 1/4 lbs caramel 120L. When I brewed this recipe, I got numbers that were wildly off from what BS2 had estimated.

Grains were mashed in a 10-gallon cooler with 3.5 gallons at 152F, BS2 said to use 3.3 but I said screw it and used 3.5. I then did a single batch sparge with 5 gallons heated to 168, exactly like BS2 said. Their estimate was 7 gallons of pre-boil wort. I wound up with 7.75 gallons. Even assuming I was off with my BS2 equipment profile's 0.13 tun deadspace and adding in the 0.2 additional mash water, this was higher than expected.

The other thing that threw me off was that my pre-boil gravity (using hydrometer) was 1.030 rather than the estimated 1.043. This gave me a mash efficiency of 57.9% rather than the estimated 75.3% in BS2. Frustrated, I threw in 3.3 lbs of golden LME. When I boiled (90 minutes) and chilled (immersion chiller) to a 5.5 gallon batch and took my OG, it was now 1.073. When I went back to BS2 and added the extract to the recipe, I got an estimated OG of 1.075 with the estimated mash efficiency (75%) and BH efficiency (72%). This leads me to believe that my pre-boil gravity was somehow off (issue with hydrometer?) and I likely actually had a better mash efficiency than I thought.

All of this leaves me very confused. Either my LME was on steroids or else something was way off during my process of taking readings. I have a crappy brew kettle thermometer but, AFAIK, it has tested accurate when I checked against boiling water. I could probably be off a bit with my temps, but I think they're not wildly off. I'm wondering if maybe this was an issue with the grains? I did not crush my own grains; the LHB store I went to started doing it themselves during COVID and has continued with this policy. But it seems that my OG was pretty spot-on with what BS2 estimated after I added the LME.
 
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Derp. I'm a total idiot. I didn't factor in the heat of the pre-boil wort when I took hydrometer readings! My pre-boil wort should have been roughly 1.040 or so, which is close to (slightly better than) what BS2 estimated.

However, I'm still confused as to why I had such a notably larger volume of pre-boil than what was estimated.
 
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Ok so you had an extra half gallon of pre boil wort, .75 but you stated you used .2 more then bs2 said. Not a huge deal, likely it is your equipment profile or possibly your volume markings are slightly off, or a combo of the 2. That said if the lme wasn't in your recipe then your mash efficiency was low, likely due to the extra water and probably the crush from you lhbs.

Edit: Take notes and make adjustments for your next brew, you can mill yourself to know that your crush is where it should be or maybe ask the lhbs to mill twice. Its not to bad milling 12lbs of grain by hand with a basic grain mill.
 

Elric

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did you also allow for expansion when taking your water measurements? If you started with cold tap water and post mash measurements were close to boiling you are looking at around 5% expansion, that would contribute another .4 gallons or so with an 8.5 gallon starting point.
 

Spundit

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IME Getting your equipment profile dialed in takes a couple brews. If your mashtun dead space is set appropriately the issue is probably with the grain absorption setting. It appears beersmith is expecting 0.42quart per pound of grain. If my calculation is right you are saying you only got 0.23quarts per pound.

0.23 qt/lb is very low and I don't think you would get that unless you really squeezed the water out of the grain. I get 0.35/lb and I do a little squeezing in my electric brew system.

There is also the hot water vs cold water volume issue. Hot water takes up more space than cold so there could be a discrepancy in your measurements if beersmith is expecting cold and you are measuring hot. I use brewfather and it has an option on how to handle this.
 
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did you also allow for expansion when taking your water measurements? If you started with cold tap water and post mash measurements were close to boiling you are looking at around 5% expansion, that would contribute another .4 gallons or so with an 8.5 gallon starting point.
That very well could explain the issue and not something I had thought about.
IME Getting your equipment profile dialed in takes a couple brews. If your mashtun dead space is set appropriately the issue is probably with the grain absorption setting. It appears beersmith is expecting 0.42quart per pound of grain. If my calculation is right you are saying you only got 0.23quarts per pound.

0.23 qt/lb is very low and I don't think you would get that unless you really squeezed the water out of the grain. I get 0.35/lb and I do a little squeezing in my electric brew system.

There is also the hot water vs cold water volume issue. Hot water takes up more space than cold so there could be a discrepancy in your measurements if beersmith is expecting cold and you are measuring hot. I use brewfather and it has an option on how to handle this.
I didn't squeeze or press at all, so I think the correct answer is BS2 is giving me cold/room temp volume measurements and I'm measuring hot.

I gotta admit, I'm usually fairly savvy at figuring things like this out, but BeerSmith has really thrown me for a loop with how much crucial data there is. I'm used to just dumping the LME from a kit, boil some water, boil the hops, top it off to the right amount and then let it ferment. On the other hand, I do like a good challenge and moving to whole grain has been a really fun experience.
 

csantoni

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On the other hand, I do like a good challenge and moving to whole grain has been a really fun experience.
I’m fairly new to all-grain having come from many extract batches and I’d say it took 3 all-grain/mostly mash batches before I got my equipment profiles in BS to match my reality. Taking copious notes throughout and measuring everything at every step got me there and now I find BS to be a powerful tool.

However, as someone who works in software, remember it’s a tool. Getting enough experience to know how to adjust when reality doesn’t match the tool is key. I’m still working on that but to me that’s the fun part of the process.

ETA: I moved to all-grain after one partial mash batch because I thought it was so much fun, so I agree with your motivation!
 

Bobby_M

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The error is the assumption that beersmith knows what you're doing. When you say that BS estimated an efficiency of 75.3%, based on what? Your system efficiency is very specific/unique and you have to figure out what that is and put that in your BS equipment profile. Ending up with more wort than BS thought usually just means the grain absorption rate or the mash tun deadspace needs to be tweaked slightly. Of course, if the volume is higher, the gravity is going to be more diluted so the preboil is expected to be a little lower. However, you did have a relatively low efficiency. Your crush may be too coarse. When batch sparging, you should target equal runoff volumes. If you used 3.5 gallons to mash with 11LB of grain, that first runoff (you did fully drain the tun before sparging correct?) was only about 2.5 gallons. The sparge of 5 gallons means that second runoff was almost twice the volume. You would do better to mash with 4.75 gallons (first runnings of 3.75 gallons and then sparge with 3.75 for a total preboil of 7.5. The last thing.... did you stir the sparge water in really well for about 3 minutes?
 
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The error is the assumption that beersmith knows what you're doing. When you say that BS estimated an efficiency of 75.3%, based on what? Your system efficiency is very specific/unique and you have to figure out what that is and put that in your BS equipment profile. Ending up with more wort than BS thought usually just means the grain absorption rate or the mash tun deadspace needs to be tweaked slightly. Of course, if the volume is higher, the gravity is going to be more diluted so the preboil is expected to be a little lower. However, you did have a relatively low efficiency. Your crush may be too coarse. When batch sparging, you should target equal runoff volumes. If you used 3.5 gallons to mash with 11LB of grain, that first runoff (you did fully drain the tun before sparging correct?) was only about 2.5 gallons. The sparge of 5 gallons means that second runoff was almost twice the volume. You would do better to mash with 4.75 gallons (first runnings of 3.75 gallons and then sparge with 3.75 for a total preboil of 7.5. The last thing.... did you stir the sparge water in really well for about 3 minutes?
I think my problem was with being an idiot and not really thinking things through. The high pre boil was me not taking into account shrinkage between hot and cool, the hydrometer reading was me not adjusting for taking a reading from hot wort.

I tend do what BS suggests, which means I usually batch sparge with higher volumes. I’ve had great success using the suggested water temps from BS. It’s been really spot on for all four all-grain brews I’ve done.

I did stir the sparge water really well. I also vorlaufed the sparge runnings, which I’m not sure you’re supposed to do but it made sense to me; less grist in the boil.

I just finished up a sweet stout after making some minor adjustments in my equipment profile and my numbers were very close to BS estimates, with pre-boil mash being slightly above estimated gravity and volumes being nearly exact.

I think I’m getting the hang of things. I just made a lot of dumb mistakes at first and was taking some of the readings incorrectly.

I greatly appreciate all the help from everyone! A fantastic forum full of great folks!
 
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Yeah, you want to stir it up after dumping the sparge water in and you do want to vorlauf as well. I batch sparge also and I always stir in my sparge water well and vorlauf.
I have been doing single batch sparges mostly out of laziness, but I’m amendable to doing two batch sparges. Do you have any experience with that? Is there any really notable difference between two versus a single sparge? From what I’ve read, I’ve gotten a lot of differing opinions that it’s better to do two and some say the difference isn’t that notable.
 

hout17

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I have been doing single batch sparges mostly out of laziness, but I’m amendable to doing two batch sparges. Do you have any experience with that? Is there any really notable difference between two versus a single sparge? From what I’ve read, I’ve gotten a lot of differing opinions that it’s better to do two and some say the difference isn’t that notable.
I've only ever done one sparge but I'm sure someone here can comment on that.
 

Grizwold1

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It's a function of the law of diminishing returns. Each successive sparge will yield a llittle less until you essentially have a continuous sparge, or "fly" sparge. You just have to decide where "good enough" is, for many it is a single batch as described by Bobby above.
 

mashpaddled

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Probably just piling on at this point but are you sure about all of your volume measurements? It's pretty easy to be off if you're using preprinted markers on a large vessel. Brew buckets and bottling buckets are notoriously off--sometimes as much as half a gallon. Are you sure kettle volumes are precise?

Also, grain absorption can be off for several reasons. If you live in a humid climate you'll absorb less moisture as the grains are less dry. If you don't stir well and break up grain balls you'll absorb less and therefore more liquid will come back out.

By the time you account for the extra 0.2 gal you added you have 0.55 gal to account for which isn't a huge amount of liquid. Lots of small factors can come together to make up half a gallon of liquid.
 

doug293cz

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I've only ever done one sparge but I'm sure someone here can comment on that.
It's a function of the law of diminishing returns. Each successive sparge will yield a llittle less until you essentially have a continuous sparge, or "fly" sparge. You just have to decide where "good enough" is, for many it is a single batch as described by Bobby above.
A single batch sparge gives you about an 8.5 percentage point increase in lauter efficiency over a no-sparge process (all else being equal.) A double batch sparge gives you about 3 percentage point increase in lauter efficiency vs. a single sparge. These differences are based on equal runnings volumes for the initial and sparge run offs. Modeling has shown that lauter efficiency changes very little for single sparge when run off volume ratios vary from 60:40 to 40:60, so being absolutely precise isn't that important.

The chart below shows how lauter efficiency varies with grain bill size (normalized as grain bill weight divided by pre-boil volume.) Bigger grain bills absorb a larger fraction of the total wort, so less of the sugar makes it into the BK. thus lowering lauter efficiency.

Efficiency vs Grain to Pre-Boil Ratio for Various Sparge Counts.png


0.12 gal/lb is a typical grain absorption rate for a traditional mash tun (unsqueezed.) Based on your volume numbers, I calculate your grain absorption rate as 0.068 gal/lb, which is highly unrealistic. I suspect you have significant errors in you volume measurements, and these errors are more than can be accounted for by not correcting for thermal expansion. How are you measuring volumes at different points in your process? As has been mentioned several times above, manufacturers' markings on kettles, fermenters, etc. are notorious for being inaccurate. The best way to make measurements is to make a dipstick by adding a gallon at a time to a vessel, and then marking the stick. You can also use an SS ruler, and note of the measurement for each increment of additional volume.

You can easily measure the MLT dead space by putting about a gallon of water in the MLT, draining it using your normal brew process, and then dumping any residual water into a measuring cup (or weighing the residual water. Water weighes 8.33 lb/gal @ 68°F.) Once you measure this, you can update your BeerSmith equipment profile.

Your low pre-boil SG could be a result of not mixing the sparged wort adequately with the initial run-off wort. This is a very common problem. It takes a lot more stirring than you think it should to totally homogenize the wort.

Finally, BeerSmith does not predict efficiency. It just uses what you input as your BrewHouse efficiency to back calculate your mash efficiency, based on the post-boil volume losses that you input in your equipment profile. It then uses this estimated mash efficiency to predict your SGs. BS's method does not correct for decreasing efficiency with increasing grain bill weight.

It is possible to predict mash and lauter efficiencies if you know your typical conversion efficiency (which does not depend on the grain bill size, or water volumes.) The Priceless calculator does this, as does some other brewing software. You can also use my spreadsheet for predictive modeling.

Brew on :mug:
 

csantoni

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Finally, BeerSmith does not predict efficiency. It just uses what you input as your BrewHouse efficiency to back calculate your mash efficiency, based on the post-boil volume losses that you input in your equipment profile. It then uses this estimated mash efficiency to predict your SGs. BS's method does not correct for decreasing efficiency with increasing grain bill weight.
THIS ^^^

This is what finally made all the BS numbers make sense to me. I thought if I told it all my volumes & gravities it would tell me my efficiency % so I could adjust for future batches. Nope. You have to figure out your efficiency and input that to the recipe in order to get accurate estimates.
 

Bobby_M

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I tend do what BS suggests, which means I usually batch sparge with higher volumes. I’ve had great success using the suggested water temps from BS. It’s been really spot on for all four all-grain brews I’ve done.
Right. It does pretty well with the temperature targets. I'm suggesting that you go into the mash profile and modify the strike water volume higher until the sparge volume equals approximately half your desired preboil volume. If you're targeting 7 gallons preboil, increase strike water volume until it tells you that you need to sparge with 3.5 gallons. You will see a few % points of efficiency improvement with no downsides.

Note, for others that may read this as a wider suggestion than it is, my comment above is ONLY for batch sparging otherwise it's irrelevant.
 

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Probably just piling on at this point but are you sure about all of your volume measurements?
It's been awhile since I've used BS water numbers since I started figuring that part my self, but I do remember a version of BS screwing up the preboil volumes but coming back to almost correct at the end.
 

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