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Mar 12, 2021
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It was time to do a All-grain Sierra Nevada Pale Ale Clone on a new equipment
5-Gal HLT | 10-Gal MLT Thermos | 15-Gal Boil Kettle | pomp | plate chiller | for 5Gal of beer

After the initial dry run to measure losses and how temp was holding during hot water circulation, I adjusted BS3, and this is what happened:

1. I adjusted the water profile based on WARD H2O test with Beer Smith 3, adding salts and Lactic Acid to reduce my 7.9 pH ( I added 5ml instead 6.1ml as BS calculated, ending up with strike water 3.81 pH)
2. Mixed 11lb of grain with strike water based on temp calculation - not sure why yet because I preheated the thermos with 140F hot water - after 15 min of wort recirculation, I ended up with mash temp 140 F | the measured pH at that moment was 5.08
3. Due to that, I was not prepared for this mash temp hold for about 40 minutes, with temp around 140 F slowly rising.
4. To raise temp, I installed my HERMS coil and started warming the wort.
5. When I hit temp 149 F, my wort gravity was 1063.
6. When temp got to 156 F tried to adjust temp to 152 F, and I added (64 oz + 64 oz ->) a total of 1 Gal of cold water to reach temp 152 F
7. Around 90 min of the mashing process, the measured gravity indicated a drop to 1053
8. Prepared SPARGE water and started the process. After few minutes of sparging, the measured pH was 5.2 | so 1.1ml of Lactic Acid less + 1Gal of untreated water gave perfect pH :)
9. Sparge out was probably too quick because after around 30 min I ended up with wort at 1026 gravity points | 5.37 pH
10. Gladly, I had 3lb of DME and was able to bump gravity to 1050, not perfect, but this was the first run on this equipment.
11. Yeast were dancing on the Magnetic Stirrer for 24 hours, so there was a lot of puking for the next 36 hours from the carboy ;)

If you would like to share your experience and tips on how to work with the new equipment, and how to adjust the fly mash / sparge process, your comments are welcome.
You have a much more complex system that I do.

Back when I used to use a 3-vessel setup, I did not measure a lot on brew day and I was not adjusting my water. Sometimes I would use generic "add 1 tablespoon of gypsum" or "add a teaspoon of citric acid to the sparge water" advice. I got by pretty good just plugging in a 75% efficiency into BeerSmith and usually getting close on my gravities and volumes (much more so when I got my own mill).

These days I am more anal about understanding my process and measuring along the day, but I am also just doing full volume mashing with a BIAB process. I have a few different equipment profiles that I have been able to tune after a few batches on each.

My suggestion for you would be to measure as much as you can for several batches, then see where they hit or miss the calculated values in BeerSmith. Tweak your profile values each time based on your measurements. It should get you closer. It sounds like you also just need to get some experience on your equipment and evolve a process to fit you.

Did you say your final runnings were 1.026 or you ended up with a batch at 1.026? Assuming a 5-ish gallon batch, 11 lbs of grain to hit 1.026 would be a sign of something not going quite right.
Your narrative is a bit hard to follow. You didn’t mention what your strike and sparge volumes were, but indicate that you added a total of 1.5 additional gallons during your process. That would explain your low preboil SG.

I brew on a 3 vessel, gravity system and batch sparge. For an 11lb grain bill I would use just over 4 gal of strike water. After mashing and vorlaufing I collect between 2.75 and 3 gal of first runnings. I drain that to the BK, collecting a gravity sample in the process. I measure the collected volume, subtract that from my desired preboil volume, and divide the result by 2 to determine my sparge volume. I sparge in 2 infusions, measuring the collected wort as I go. I short the second infusion by half a gallon so I can add a bit more if necessary, assuring that I hit my preboil volume without leaving any wort in the MLT. With 11lbs of grain my SGs will be 1070ish for 1st runnings, 1040ish for preboil, and 1050ish for OG. I can just about write the numbers down in advance.

I’ve been using this system, with no real changes, for about 8 years and something north of 130 batches, so it’s pretty well dialed in. It sounds like you‘re trying to put a lot of moving parts together at once. Take good notes, take careful measurements, and you will be making sense of your process after a few more batches.
I'm confused....you were trying to do a step mash?

On new equipment, I'd start with a single infusion. Your strike water temp will be higher than your mash temp since the grains will cool it down....even if you preheat the mash tun. You're temps were all over the place.

I don't measure, nor do I care that the strike water pH is. I brew with RO water and use Bru'n Water to calculate my additions (salts and items to adjust mash pH). I don't make adjustments during the mash. Measure, take notes, use that for next time.

There's really little reason to fly sparge. Batch sparging is nearly as efficient and you don't have to worry about the pH during the sparge. It's also faster and easier. See @grampamark 's comments above. Even easier and only a little less efficient is no sparge. That's what I've been doing primarily. I only sparge with really high gravity stuff that has huge grain bills.

If you've measured losses, etc. it's pretty easy to know your volumes ahead of time. Remember, too much wort will result in lower OG due to dilution.
Your narrative is a bit hard to follow. You didn’t mention what your strike and sparge volumes were, but indicate that you added a total of 1.5 additional gallons during your process. That would explain your low preboil SG.
My sparge water was 3.5 Gal, and 4.5 for sparging. Adding a gallon of cold water I stopped sparging when I hit the volume of 7 gallons. I ended up with 4.67 Gal of beer after fermentation. I think the water was calculated all right by Beer Smith but I sparge too quickly.

I still have one question I forgot to ask:

I understand why sparge should be stopped when the pH of sparge H2O gets to 6.0 pH but why all sources say that sparging should be stopped when gravity hits 1.010? Stopping sparge at 1.010 will result in low pre-boil gravity right? Or there is an explanation for that?
Stop measuring the pH of water, it doesn't do any good. You measure the liquid mash, at 15 minutes, cooled to room temperature. Stopping your runoff at 1.010 gravity is just a rule of thumb to indicate that you've lost the buffering capacity of the malt and you're about to oversparge. You'd either stop when you reach your desired preboil volume or when the runoff drops to 1.010, whichever comes first. The rule of thumb is for people who don't use a pH meter.

You'll hit your temps, and have longer stability if you heat your strike water to about 175F, add it to the cooler for a 5 minute preheat. Stir until it cools down to the beersmith target with "adjust for equipment" turned off.
To answer your thread question just brew beer, several batches to figure out your system. It might take a dozen or so brews but that will help you figure out what works. Taking good notes will also help so any changes you make you can keep track of, I would also suggest when making a changes that you only make 1 change per brew.
My buddy bought a Blichmann electric Herms 1 BBL system and all we could do was read the instructions which may have been translated from Chinese. The water test produced a bunch of leaks so those were dealt with first. Between a few emails, some missing parts and a little experience I went at it with 30 gallons of water and 40 lbs of grain. The brew went pretty well. From start to 3 carboys with pitched yeast including cleaning finish was 14 hours and i drank beers along the way. There were some issues but overall it went well. 1.043 OG

I had some sort of creepy protein type of build up thing happen in the mash/boil
but it mostly broke up and what didn't mostly settled in the carboys. I need better use of my water too but like I said, for a first time it went fairly well.

Bottom line: learn from videos, read, ask questions and don't be afraid to make a small batch or 2 for some experience. I'm self taught. 1st brew Nov 25, 2018 - 5 gallons on the stove.