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Consistently 10-15 points under target gravity. What's up?

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vance

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I started brewing this summer and am... 7-8 batches in right now. Switched to kegging 4 batches ago. My last three batches - a NE IPA, a west coast IPA, and just today a light IPA/blonde ale - have all been consistently 10-15 points under gravity. I don't have specific numbers for earlier batches on hand, but today my target gravity according to Beersmith was 1.054, and my measured OG was 1.042. Here is my recipe and notes on what I did today:

8# Maris otter
1# flaked oats
1# flaked wheat
.75# cara-pils
.5# 10L crystal
.5# honey malt
.5# vienna malt

.3 oz centennial @ 55
.3 oz centennial @ 35
.3 oz centennial @ 20
.5 oz Kazbek @ 20
.5 oz Kazbek @ 10
1 oz Kazbek @ 0

I took suggestions from beersmith and mashed with 6 gallons of water, sparged with 2.375. This batch was my first attempt at building my water profile from RO water - I targeted 120 ppm sulfate and 80 ppm calcium using Bru'n water. However, I forgot to add my water additions to my mash water until about 10 minutes after my grains had gone in. Rookie mistake, usually just use tap water - salts were properly mixed in my sparge water.

I sparged using my bottling bucket. I placed it with the spigot over a second bucket and the grain bag inside (after the bag had been lightly squeezed out a bit over my kettle). The sparge water was at approximately 165 degF. I poured through over about 10 minutes, although I didn't use all the volume I collected - by the time I had gotten about 2.5 gallons in my bucket it was running really clear so I stopped the sparge.

I had a bit more volume than I wanted in my kettle. Beersmith estimated 7.5 gallons, it looked like I had about 8-8.5, so I did a 75 minute boil instead of 60.

Boil went fine, nothing unusual. Chilled to 70 in under 10 minutes, poured to a bucket, took gravity reading to get the 1.042 number, pitched yeast.

Obviously, something is very wrong in my mash. Consistently missing 15 points is not good. I even set my brewhouse efficiency at 65%, and still got it way under. My grain crush could be an issue, but I do it at my LHBS and don't have room/money for a mill in my apartment - I run it through twice already, but I can't adjust the gap and running it through three times is a bit excessive.

What do I do now to fix this?
 

IslandLizard

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Mash efficiency problems are largely related to the crush, as you already determined yourself. Many LHBS' mills have a huge gap and that helps sell more grain it doesn't make more or better beer. Milling 2x or 3x may help somewhat but is not better than once the right way. Wait until you have a large load of Rye or Wheat in your recipe. Those kernels drop right through, uncrushed!

For BIAB your crush can be extra fine, since the voile bag is your filter. The finer the grist, the faster the conversion and the higher the efficiency. 85-90% efficiency is very common in BIAB. A good squeeze after the mash, to get as much of the high gravity wort out, followed by a dunk sparge are the best. Pouring hot water over works, but is not the most efficient way. Again squeeze the bag after the sparge.

Did you add any acid to your water? If not, your mash pH may have been a little high. But not that bad so it would result in only 50% (65-15) efficiency.

How about a Corona type mill? $25.

Forgot to say, I always mill flaked good too, on a very narrow gap (~0.025"), for faster, more thorough conversion. My efficiency is around 80-85%. I batch sparge in a cooler, no BIAB.
 
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vance

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No, I completely forgot the lactic acid addition - according to the spreadsheet my mash pH wouldn't have been too far out of range without it, anyways. A mill just isn't really possible right now - I know it's not a huge investment but I'd need a grill too, and I wouldn't be able to buy any grain in bulk due to space considerations. Why wouldn't a pouring sparge work better? I still can't totally figure out all the terms people use for three vessel all-grain brewing, but my understanding was that sparging is typically just pouring hot water over the grain.

I milled the flaked grains when I did my NE IPA, but didn't for my brew today. I read that it can cause mills issues, and I noticed it not running as smoothly the last time, so I didn't do it this time around.
 

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If you started with 8.2 gals there is no way you had 8-8.5 in your kettle. You won't hit consistent numbers if your volumes aren't on, so I think you need to get all your measurements sorted and then tell Beersmith what to do according to your system. The defaults may or may not be correct for you - you need to put the work in to get your settings correct. That being said, with that grainbill I think you do probably have efficiency issues but it's hard to say without accurate volume measurements. Kai has good info on his site about troubleshooting things like conversion efficiency vs. lauter efficiency - see link below.

As far as the sparge, I think it's difficult to fly sparge effectively with the grains in a bag. You might try dunk sparging instead in your bucket, and stir the crap out of it before collecting your sparge. You don't want to overshoot your volume with batch sparging thoughor you lose efficiency, so get your volumes sorted first.

Troubleshooting efficiency
 
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If you started with 8.2 gals there is no way you had 8-8.5 in your kettle. You won't hit consistent numbers if your volumes aren't on, so I think you need to get all your measurements sorted and then tell Beersmith what to do according to your system. The defaults may or may not be correct for you - you need to put the work in to get your settings correct. That being said, with that grainbill I think you do probably have efficiency issues but it's hard to say without accurate volume measurements. Kai has good info on his site about troubleshooting things like conversion efficiency vs. lauter efficiency - see link below.

As far as the sparge, I think it's difficult to fly sparge effectively with the grains in a bag. You might try dunk sparging instead in your bucket, and stir the crap out of it before collecting your sparge. You don't want to overshoot your volume with batch sparging thoughor you lose efficiency, so get your volumes sorted first.

Troubleshooting efficiency
I still can't figure out how the hell to get volumes in my kettle. I tried the battery technique, didn't get any usable results. What default beersmith settings may not be correct, and how do I figure out the right numbers?

What's the difference between sparging types? My understanding is I was batch sparging, which seems to be a commonly used technique. I'm not sure if the idea of dunk sparging I have is correct, but I'm not sure how that would really work...
 

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I also saw the question of volumes. You really need to collect the proper amount of wort with the mash and a full sparge. I don't sparge to a specific volume. I drain the mash and measure the volume collected. I then sparge with what I need to get to my preboil volume.

Other considerations are calibration of your hydrometer or refractometer. Does it read 1.000 with distilled water? If you use a hydrometer are you cooling your sample to the calibration of the hydrometer? They are usually calibrated for 60 degrees, sometimes 68.

I also suggest a corona style mill. You can make a bucket mount for it then store it inside the bucket. I don't know what you mean by "I'd need a grill too"

There are many ways to sparge. A dunk sparge will immerse all the grain in the water. If you pour water through the grains it might channel through only part of the grain bed, rinsing out only some of the residual sugars.
 

day_trippr

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"Crush Matters", and I'm betting most of the "miss" you're seeing is due to a less than stellar crush.
I've been tightening my mill by two thousandths for each of the last three batches, going from .039 to .033, and extract efficiency has gone from 73% to 80%.

As for Beersmith, for batch sparging I set Beersmith to use equal volumes for mash and sparge and make sure the drain before sparge is enabled.
For example:

bs2_mash_profile.jpg

The volumes aren't actually equal but they're a lot closer than what was described.
I rarely miss pre-boil volume and gravity since finally getting the handle on BS2 - which wasn't easy as the gui fought me most of the way :drunk:

Cheers!
 

kh54s10

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For measuring the volumes I have a dip stick. I poured 1 gallon of water into my boil kettle, dipped in the stick, cut a notch, added another gallon, measured and notched etc until I had 8 gallons marked. My preboil amount needed for boil off is about 7.2 gallons to end up with 5.25 into the fermenter. Making the marks is really best if you heat to mash temperatures, I did it with cold tap water. Close enough for me as long as I get to just above the 7 gallon mark which I notched larger than the rest of the marks.

Batch sparging it more for a traditional mash tun, no bag. Pour in your sparge water, stir the grains, vorlauf, (slowly drain some wort into a pitcher until it runs clear adding it back on top of the grain bed.) then drain to the boil kettle. In BIAB the grain bag is already in the boil kettle.
 
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vance

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I also saw the question of volumes. You really need to collect the proper amount of wort with the mash and a full sparge. I don't sparge to a specific volume. I drain the mash and measure the volume collected. I then sparge with what I need to get to my preboil volume.

Other considerations are calibration of your hydrometer or refractometer. Does it read 1.000 with distilled water? If you use a hydrometer are you cooling your sample to the calibration of the hydrometer? They are usually calibrated for 60 degrees, sometimes 68.

I also suggest a corona style mill. You can make a bucket mount for it then store it inside the bucket. I don't know what you mean by "I'd need a grill too"

There are many ways to sparge. A dunk sparge will immerse all the grain in the water. If you pour water through the grains it might channel through only part of the grain bed, rinsing out only some of the residual sugars.
Not really sure how to get to that. How do you measure your volumes? Like I mentioned I tried to etch my kettle, but with absolutely no luck over a few different attempts - not really sure where to go from here, my volumes after everything goes into the kettle are just guesses right now.

As far as I know it's calibrated. I'll check, I might have some distilled water laying around. I just replaced it a few brews ago, because the first one I bought was reading way off.

I meant I need a drill, not a grill - I don't own one atm. I really don't have any more space for homebrew equipment though, so it's homebrew store mills for the foreseeable future.

Still not sure what you mean by dunk sparge. I see the channel problem with pouring water though. How do people typically get around that?

"Crush Matters", and I'm betting most of the "miss" you're seeing is due to a less than stellar crush.
I've been tightening my mill by two thousandths for each of the last three batches, going from .039 to .033, and extract efficiency has gone from 73% to 80%.

As for Beersmith, for batch sparging I set Beersmith to use equal volumes for mash and sparge and make sure the drain before sparge is enabled.
For example:


The volumes aren't actually equal but they're a lot closer than what was described.
I rarely miss pre-boil volume and gravity since finally getting the handle on BS2 - which wasn't easy as the gui fought me most of the way

Cheers!
Really wish I had money/space for a mill of my own. Maybe some day... I'm not trying to do a full sparge, I was under the impression that a common technique was to do most of a full volume mash and then use a small sparge to extract a few extra points. BS and Bru'n water are still ridiculously overwhelming to me... I'm fairly sure my equipment and other profiles are way off but I don't know what numbers I'm supposed to have and how to get them.
 
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vance

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For measuring the volumes I have a dip stick. I poured 1 gallon of water into my boil kettle, dipped in the stick, cut a notch, added another gallon, measured and notched etc until I had 8 gallons marked. My preboil amount needed for boil off is about 7.2 gallons to end up with 5.25 into the fermenter. Making the marks is really best if you heat to mash temperatures, I did it with cold tap water. Close enough for me as long as I get to just above the 7 gallon mark which I notched larger than the rest of the marks.

Batch sparging it more for a traditional mash tun, no bag. Pour in your sparge water, stir the grains, vorlauf, (slowly drain some wort into a pitcher until it runs clear adding it back on top of the grain bed.) then drain to the boil kettle. In BIAB the grain bag is already in the boil kettle.
I know my gallon to inches correspondence for my kettle, I just haven't gotten around to figuring out where to find a dipstick/how to etch it. I can measure cold volumes with a measuring tape (that's what I do when measuring out mash water) but didn't want to put a measuring tape into my wort. Having volumes etched on seemed so much nicer and simpler...

I guess the stirring step is the one I was missing, I just left the bucket spigot open and poured straight through. Maybe I'll brew again soon and try something different... How do people usually sparge when doing BIAB? Obviously crush is part of it but I have no idea how y'all are consistently hitting 85% efficiency numbers.
 

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If you know the inches per gal then just get a big metal ruler, or a plastic spoon or something and mark it.

Many people just do full volume mash with BIAB, no sparge. But if you want or need to sparge, I think dunk sparging is easiest. It's really just a batch sparge, dunk your bag in a bucket with your measured sparge water volume and stir the crap out of it. I will say Beersmith doesn't handle BIAB with sparge well, you need to do one of several possible workarounds. You may try Priceless brewing's calculator instead until you get a handle on the volumes.
 

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Try double crushing. I do this at my LHBS and it seemed to be good for a 5% boost in mash efficiency. However, if the mill isn't set right to begin with, then double crushing won't help much.

As a test, you could "crush" your grains in a blender. Turn them into dust, or pretty close to it. With BIAB this is acceptable. See how this effects your efficiency.
 

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See my previous reply about the measuring "dip" stick. My dipstick is just a strip of wood trim. 3/4 inch wide, 3/16" thick and about 3 feet long.

Ask for a Corona style mill for Christmas. They can be found for about $25. You don't have to have a drill for one but you will eventually want one.

Here is one for $15.99 It looks the same as the one I have and have been using for 5 years.
https://www.amazon.com/Premium-Quality-Manual-Grinder-Grains/dp/B016IYOBT2/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1478489265&sr=8-8&keywords=corn+mill

I got a 1/2" Hammer drill (pretty heavy duty) at Harbor freight for about $30

Dunk sparge. Pour your heated sparge water into a bucket, pull the grain bag out of the wort and drain. Dunk it in the sparge water a few times, drain (squeeze) then pour this wort into the boil kettle with the rest of the wort.
 
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I don't necessarily need to do a sparge, I'm just desperate to get up to a respectable efficiency (or at the very least, a consistent one).

@petrolSpice, already double crush at LHBS. Might try switching to the other one near me, see if they can get me a closer crush... here's a picture of my grain from my NE IPA brew day:

http://imgur.com/Of8HcPx
 

kh54s10

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I don't necessarily need to do a sparge, I'm just desperate to get up to a respectable efficiency (or at the very least, a consistent one).

@petrolSpice, already double crush at LHBS. Might try switching to the other one near me, see if they can get me a closer crush... here's a picture of my grain from my NE IPA brew day:

http://imgur.com/Of8HcPx
I think we found your problem. I use a traditional mash tun and my crush is a lot finer than that.

You need a much finer crush than that.
 
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vance

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I think we found your problem. I use a traditional mash tun and my crush is a lot finer than that.

You need a much finer crush than that.
Well ****. Guess I'm trying out the other homebrew store, then.
 

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"Still not sure what you mean by dunk sparge."

Exactly like it sounds. Take the whole grain bag and dunk it into hot water like a teabag.
 

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@vance that crush is terrible! Give the other shop a try - double crush, and see if that improves your situation. Also, get really accurate with your volumes - you can't really know your efficiency until you're precise with your volumes. Brew on [emoji482]
 

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Yeah, as we already suspected, that crush is the pits. At least 10-15% of the kernels are still whole, which mean the rest is not great either.

LHBS' mills tend to give dreadful crush results, especially when you BIAB, where finer is better.

Use the Corona, Luke!
 
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vance

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How long does it take to crush grain for a 5 gallon batch with one of those?
 

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I just bought a grain mill and used it for one brew so far. My efficiency went from mid 60's to 80%. Crush matters.
 

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How long does it take to crush grain for a 5 gallon batch with one of those?

About 1/1000 of the time it will take you to drink 5 gallons of low gravity beer. Kidding aside, 10 lbs of grain about 10 minutes using the hand crank, and about 3 minutes using a $40 dollar drill.
 

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How long does it take to crush grain for a 5 gallon batch with one of those?

About 1/1000 of the time it will take you to drink 5 gallons of low gravity beer. Kidding aside, 10 lbs of grain about 10 minutes using the hand crank, and about 3 minutes using a $40 dollar drill.
 

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"Still not sure what you mean by dunk sparge."



Exactly like it sounds. Take the whole grain bag and dunk it into hot water like a teabag.

I would add a good stir to the grain while dunking in the sparge water may help to rinse sugar from the grain.
 

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Still not sure what you mean by dunk sparge. I see the channel problem with pouring water though. How do people typically get around that?
QUOTE]

A dunk sparge is simply removing the grain bag from the kettle and dunking it in your sparge water.
How I do it is to heat my sparge water in a second pot during the mash. After a 45-60 minute mash, I put the sparge water in a clean brew bucket, pull the bag from the kettle, place it in the bucket, and stir every so often for 10 minutes. After that 10 minutes I pull and drain the bag and put the liquid from the bucket into the kettle which has already been on the heat for that 10 minutes and is on its way to a boil.
 

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While I'm sure the problem is probably the crush, I did not notice anyone mention temperature. It doesn't hurt to double check your thermometer against another known good thermometer. That has been the issue of poor efficiency for me from Time to time.
 
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