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ViperMan

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Dear HBT'ers,

I'm really asking for some professional advice here.

I brewed an AG beer a few weeks ago and BOMBED on my efficiency. I was very bummed. The next brew (a week later) I hit about 77 percent, which I was quite pleased by. I did things differently the second time.

I'd like to share with you my equipment and my method, and get some insight on how either might be failing me. HOWEVER, I'd like to mention that finances are TIGHT this year (new baby born Christmas Eve), so I cannot really upgrade my equipment at this time. So hopefully I can improve my process without having to buy more stuff...

I use a 10-gallon cylindrical drink cooler - the large orange ones available at Home Depot. I took out the spigot and installed a copper ball valve, which leads to a T-junction inside and a round length of stainless steel line, rubber hose removed. I measured the deadspace, and it's approximately 2 cups that can't pour out through the ball valve. I also drilled a hole at an angle to insert a long-stem thermometer.

I mostly brew 2.5 gallon batches - lets me make more variety while saving costs and not ending up with too much beer around since I mostly drink it and... ...I'm on a diet... (50 pounds lost since April 2012)

When I mash, I put hot tap water in the cooler - usually 3 gallons. I bring my strike water (Beersmith appears to calculate approximately 1.3-1.4 quarts per pound of grain...) to 164 degrees. Just as it's ready I dump the tap water, dump in the pre-measured grain, and add the strike water. I aim for 155 degrees so that it'll cool to 150 within the hour. I usually make sure I have at least a half-gallon of near-boiling water ready to toss in if my mash is too cool. That happened on the second brew - I had to add at least a half-gallon because I kept losing temp...

When I'm at temp, I start my timer - 60 minutes. I stir approximately every 15 minutes, keeping the lid tight in between. When 60 is up, I drain out a quart and then carefully pour back into the cooler. I do this until I don't get any more heavy particles. I then drain, and I drain pretty quick. I've never had a stuck sparge. I will usually let it sit just for a little bit to let as much drain out of the grain as I can - usually 5 minutes. Then I'll close the valve and add my sparge water. For brew 1, I added all the sparge, let sit, recirc'd, drained, and that was it. For brew 2, I added half the sparge, let sit briefly, recirc'd, drained, added the rest of the sparge (all at 170 degrees by the way) stirred VIGOROUSLY, let sit, recirc'd, then drained again. On the SECOND brew, I put the wort on the stove and started it heating for boil. MEANWHILE, I scooped off the top of the grain from the tub that was mostly "dry", until I got to moist grain. I scooped this into a nylon brewing bag, and then wrung the living sh!t out of it... I took this and dumped it into the boil kettle - a 5-gallon stainless steel pot (my 7.5 gal turkey fryer got used... ...to fry a turkey... So it's no good anymore.)

My BIGGEST concern is that wringing out the grain squeezed out stuff I DIDN'T want in my brew. However I think it gave me that least few percent. I honestly didn't taste this to see if it was still sweet. My fault. I DO think the batch sparge will be my method going forward instead of a single fly sparge. I'd love to continuous sparge, but I think that with using such small batches, this will be MUCH harder than it's worth, plus I'll need some fancy equipment which I really can't afford.

I'm sorry for making this so long, but I'm trying to get things right and get better consistency. My first batch was barely 60% efficiency - that's just such a waste!

Thanks for your time, and I look forward to the replies.
 

Jakeintoledo

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The first place everyone seems to look on this thread is how you crush your grains. that seems to have an impact on it.

I have a crusher of my own, and sometimes occasionally have the LHBS crush it. I fly sparge, using a box-style cooler, some tubing and a fly sparge arm made with copper tubing, and the brew I did today hit 90% efficiency. Amazingly.

I'd look at the crush. That's a variable to try. Are you getting a good crush on your grains?

Another place to look is your thermometer. have you calibrated it? boil water and take it's temp--it should be RIGHT at 212. then throw a bunch of ice in a glass, pour water into it, and throw it in the freezer for 1/2 hour. it should be at or a degree above 32. while this would prob have more to do with unexpected ABV, it's nevertheless a common variable that people screw up.
 

Dynachrome

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Did you stir your mash on the first batch?

I stir during the mash, not the sparges.

I notice you disturbed the grains in the second by doing the squeezing exercise.... does that make sense?
 

divrguy

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Dynachrome said:
Did you stir your mash on the first batch?

I stir during the mash, not the sparges.

I notice you disturbed the grains in the second by doing the squeezing exercise.... does that make sense?
+1. I actually don't understand that either. I thought it was me but why did you do that?
 
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ViperMan

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Hmm, I replied to this... At least I thought I did...

Yes I stir during my mashes - always, every 15 minutes.

Yes I wrung out the grains - only after sparge was complete and wort was on the stove. I did it to get the last bit of sweet liquid out of the grains. I didn't think it was a great idea, to be honest, but it was strained at least. What else did I wring out of the grain that I shouldn't have?
 

EROK

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First of all like previously mentioned a finer grain crush will help you the most. While mashing and sparging you should stir the mash a few minutes before draining. Not 30 minutes ahead a couple minutes ahead of draining. Think of your job being to force all the sugars up out of the grain bed and into the water right before draining. Some will say "your wort will be all cloudy if you don't let it settle." Trust me, a cloudy running wort has more sugars in it then a clear wort. Remember that the cloudiness will settle out in the kettle or worst case in the fermentor. I do whirlpool my wort and have it sit untouched for 25 minutes after it is cooled. All the cloudiness will fall out especially if you use a whirlfloc or Irish moss at 15 min left in the boil. Good luck and good brewing!
 

somedudefromguam

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You don't have to bag the grains and squeeze them, you can just continue to sparge..... Or just plain BIAB....
 
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ViperMan

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Actually I've had no problem with clear beers - I use whirlfloc ALWAYS and am always VERY diligent about not disturbing the trub when racking to bottling bucket. My AG beers have been SUPER clear, whereas my partial-mash beers were always a bit cloudy.

When I drain my initial mash (I know this has a name but I forgot it) it's always very cloudy - sometimes almost scarily so. In fact my second brew was so cloudy I was worried about it - thinking I used wheat when I hadn't meant to. By the time I was filling my satellite fermenter after the boil, it was as clear as apple juice. I was shocked.

It's just my efficiency. My efficiency sucks... I think I'm not sparging properly. Like I said - wringing the grains was out of desperation...
 
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ViperMan

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You don't have to bag the grains and squeeze them, you can just continue to sparge..... Or just plain BIAB....
But sparge with what? I mean I already had enough wort...

I know NOTHING about BIAB... I've heard of it, but really didn't research it because I felt like I was already trying to master too many things at once...
 

billl

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Generic AG trouble shooting routine:

Did you get your temps right? (thermometer verified?)
Did you get your volumes right?
Did you mash for an appropriate length of time?
Did you do your calculations/use your software correctly?

Once you check of the "duh" categories, you can start to break it down.

Take a gravity reading of the first runnings. What conversion efficiency did you get? If much less that 100%, then the first thing to look at is crush. If you tighten the crush and still have issues, then you'll need to start learning about water chemistry (or but some RO water.)

If your conversion efficiency is high, but your overall efficiency is low, then you've isolated the problem to the sparge process. There is a sticky thread detailing ideas to optimize your sparge process.
 

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Curious, why add water to your grain instead of adding grain to your water? Try putting your strike water in first then add your grain with a slow steady pour. I found it makes for a much homogeneous mix and less chance of any doughballs, which will kill your efficiency. Hope that helps :D
 

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I crush the crap out of my grain. If you make sure your water is treated so the Ph isn't too high to start, then you won't have to worry about tannin extraction.
I use a paint strainer bag in a 5 gallon cooler just like yours, with a ball valve and no manifold or screen. I pour in 168-170f water with no preheating, stir super well and wrap the cooler with a sleeping bag. I usually stir once around 30 mns, but didnt this last weekend and did have some patchy temp pockets, all within mash range though (145-150). I drain the first batch, then fill it again, stir good and let it set about 10 minutes ten drain again. I always take the bag out then, and do a final dunk sparge in the remaining clear (and hot) water in the boil kettle and usually get 1.015 to 1.020 out of that. My efficiency was 88% or better.
 

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....Some will say "your wort will be all cloudy if you don't let it settle."
This. That is what I was old when I got into AG

Trust me, a cloudy running wort has more sugars in it then a clear wort. Remember that the cloudiness will settle out in the kettle or worst case in the fermentor. I do whirlpool my wort and have it sit untouched for 25 minutes after it is cooled. All the cloudiness will fall out especially if you use a whirlfloc or Irish moss at 15 min left in the boil. Good luck and good brewing!
...and agreed. almost all of my cloudy wort turns into clear beer.
 
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ViperMan

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...you'll need to start learning about water chemistry (or but some RO water.)
What's RO Water?

I use spring-water from our local grocery store - filtered and processed and all that stuff - 'cause I don't trust Pittsburgh tap-water... Who KNOWS how much coal dust and sh!t is in that stuff!

I'm reviving this thread because I FINALLY realized this past weekend that my trusty-dusty brewing thermometer WAS in fact HORRIBLY out of whack - was reading 20 degrees higher than actual... *facepalm*

So I broke out my $300 Cornwell Tools multimeter with temperature probe and used it all day. Kept my mash above 145 pretty much the whole time, stirred frequently, did a single-sparge (I meant to batch-sparge but literally forgot) and STILL only got about 67% efficiency...

WTF?!?! ONE TIME I got 77% or so - I believe I batch-sparged that one... I still wish I could affect my crush but I simply cannot afford a grain mill right now... I mean the grain that I get from my LHBS is pretty dusty and seems pretty pulverized IMO. I'm just tired of wasting all this grain!
 

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I had very low yields until I started adjusting my water pH. I went from 64% to 82%+ with this change alone. I batch sparge and have the LHBS crush my grains--I have them pass it through the crusher twice. Adjusting pH is the only thing I am doing that is special. The first time I added brewing salts to the mash, they threw off my pH and my yield dropped to 66%--which verifies that it was the pH that made the difference.

For a while I had so many "experts" tell me that it couldn't be pH making such a difference. I decided to run a batch with no consideration for pH and my yield dropped on that one to around mid 60's.
 
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ViperMan

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I had very low yields until I started adjusting my water pH. I went from 64% to 82%+ with this change alone. I batch sparge and have the LHBS crush my grains--I have them pass it through the crusher twice. Adjusting pH is the only thing I am doing that is special. The first time I added brewing salts to the mash, they threw off my pH and my yield dropped to 66%--which verifies that it was the pH that made the difference.

For a while I had so many "experts" tell me that it couldn't be pH making such a difference. I decided to run a batch with no consideration for pH and my yield dropped on that one to around mid 60's.
Ugh - I've been trying to research this stuff today and holy CRAP is it mind-boggling... So many different things to measure and so many different options to add... Is there no easy way to figure this stuff out?!
 
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ViperMan

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Well, I was hoping so too, but honestly it didn't - still got about 67%. I did manage to recalibrate my thermometer yesterday though - saves me buying a new one.

I actually think what I'm going to try next is following some John Palmer advice - I'm going to use tap water, but drop in a Camden tablet to take out the Chlorine/Chloramine first.

If THAT doesn't work, then I'm going to start messing with salts. Also, I'm attending a meeting by a local brewing club in about 2 weeks - I'm going to ask around there and see what other folks are doing in regards to their water.
 
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I'm confused about your sparge process. Are you stirring the grains when you add the sparge water? My understanding is that if you don't fly sparge, you are supposed to add the sparge water, stir the mash up to get the water mixed in well, and then let the grain settle for 10 minutes. Then you recirculate and drain. From your description, that is what you did with the second batch that got 77% efficiency but not what you did for the others. Am I understanding this right? If so, I bet that's the culprit. Most advanced homebrew books I have read suggest that people jump to water chemistry WAY too quickly.
 
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ViperMan

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1) Preheat Cooler for Grains (tap water, hot, at least 10 minutes)
2) Heat Mash water to 167-70 depending on strike target
3) When ready, dump pre-heat water, toss in grains, add strike (I'll swap this next time - water first, then grain)
4) Stir like crazy, insert thermometer, check temps - usually minimal adjustment required (thank you Beersmith)
5) Let sit for 60 minutes, stirring every 15 or so, occassionally add some more hot water as stirring drops the temp a bit
6) With 15 minutes left to go, start heating sparge water - usually to 170
7) At end of hour, drain some wort and recirc until no more sediment, then drain 100% of wort into a food-grade bucket.
8) Dump in sparge water. Stir vigorously. Let sit another 10-15 minutes.
9) Stir sparge again, vigorously. Let settle for a few minutes, then begin recirc'ing
10) Drain sparge water.
---If batch-sparging, repeat 8 through 10--

11) Let cooler sit for a few minutes for remaining water to drain from grains, and tilt cooler to dump this last bit of wort out. Usually isn't very sweet, but every bit counts... (I'll usually continue to "tip the cooler" for any residual wort and add to the kettle before the boil officially starts.)

12) Take measurement of collected wort, enter into Beersmith (this is why I use a bucket - I marked it at every quart.)
13) Take gravity reading of collected wort, adjust temp (thanks to "Designing Great Beers" book,) and enter into Beersmith
14) Usually learn that my efficiency still sucks...

15) Add all wort to kettle and heat for boil. If supplies exist, I'll add some extract to compensate for the poor efficiency.

16) SOMETIMES I'll start scooping out the grain from my cooler, collecting the wet grains at the bottom into a large bowl with a nylon bag, and wring the grains. I've never taken a gravity reading of this - perhaps I will. I still can't really see what harm this does except adding a bit of sediment - basically grain dust. It's possible that adding this to the boil could add some tannins, but I'd suspect it to be such a small amount that it's not really a huge concern. Wringing the grains usually only nets a half-quart or so of additional wort. This has seemed to improve my efficiency by another 2-3 percent.

What really pisses me off is that occassionally I HAVE gotten good efficiency, while most of the time I haven't. I believe I've gotten the best efficiency when making relatively light beers - my cream ale came out at 70%, while my brown ale and even an amber ale was more 65%. When I attempted a Dopplebock, it was barely 55%! Wouldn't this lend support to the possibility that my Ph levels either dropped too much or not enough with that much grain?
 
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Hmm, I'm stumped. I'm not sure that the low efficiency for Dopplebock says it is a ph level issue. My understanding is that you will tend to get lower efficiency with bigger beers. I'm not exactly sure of the reasoning but would guess that it is because we are using the same amount of water to try to get a much higher amount of sugar out of a larger mass of grain.

How much wort are you collecting from the mash and sparge? You could always sparge with some more water and increase your boil time to reduce the volume (and evaporate excess water).
 
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ViperMan

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Lol - yeah I'm stumped too. :) Thing is, I've done exactly what you just said.

Beersmith usually suggests about 1.2 quarts per pound of grain. I'm pretty consistently brewing 2.5-gallon batches lately. So my Dopplebock had 4.15 gallons of water going into the kettle which I then had to boil the **** out of to get down to 2.6 gallons or so. (the stuff was beer syrup when I was done, but still only got 54.7% efficiency.)

The chocolate stout I brewed this past weekend only had 3.6 gallons of water going into the kettle. I got 67.5% efficiency with an accurate thermometer.

Funny thing is, I've gotten good enough to see the water-level in the kettle and know when to officially start my hop timers. My last three brews have finished at precisely 2.6 gallons.

Sidebar topic of conversation - I cannot for the LIFE of me figure out my boil-off rates. I have Beersmith set all the way down to .2 gallons (boiled-off) per hour, and it still has me dump in a ton of water which then I have to boil for substantially longer than what I TELL Beersmith I'm going to boil for... So I just boil with the lid off until - as mentioned above - I recognize the right level of wort in the kettle, then pop the lid on if I need to reduce boil-off.

Anyone who can suggest how to "fix" Beersmith's boil-off calculations are welcomed to chime in.
 

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If you are batch sparging, try using paint strainer bags or BIAB type bag in your cooler. Crush the crap out of your grain, and mash for 90 mins. Don't open it up every 15, just stir good the first time and maybe 30 mins in. I'd be shocked if you didn't get better efficiency then.

Also, I have constructed a foam disc out of that blue construction foam, then totally wrapped it in foil tape. The disc is exactly the size of the inside of my cooler. I put the grains in first, then the strike water mix it thoroughly and place the disc on top of the mash. Then screw on the lid, and cover with a sleeping bag. The temp losses tend to BE IN THE HEADSPACE of the cooler. When i went to this method, I rarely lose more than a degree or two over an hour.

I do two batch sparges, then take the bag out, and dunk it in the remaining kettle water while poking at it and loosening up the grain mass (holding on to the top of the bag so it won't open up. This "super rinses" the rest of it. My dunk sparge water is usually 1.022 or so after the dunk.

My efficiency is usually 85%+. Last Sunday I got 90%.
 

winvarin

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My 2 cents ... Sounds like the ability to change your result is already in your power.

You had 1 low efficiency batch followed by a batch with much higher efficiency. Unless I read your original post improperly it sounds like the main difference between batch 1 and 2 is that you added all of your sparge water in the first on and then drained. But for the second one, you sparged in multiple batches, stirring the batch sparge water into the grist each time.

Batch sparged by their nature are less efficient than fly sparges. But sounds like you did the equivalent of a no sparge on your first batch.

I tried to cut corners on a lower gravity batch sparge by adding all my sparge water at once one time. I missed my OG by 8 points. I am never usually off by more than a point or 2.

It sounds like you are on the right track by splitting your sparge water into multiple batches and taking multiple runnings. pH control and crush are good ways to fine tune your efficiency. Temperature is critical as well and you should calibrate your thermometers and hydrometers regularly (which is free).

I've always been an advocate of only changing one variable at a time so that I know which change brought about my desired result. I'd recommend dialing in your sparge process before tackling any of the other variables.
 

TrickyDick

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I had a similar problem, and as soon as I read long stem thermometer, I knew there would be trouble. I don't know if mine was just a fluke, but it was waaayy off.
I think that you can extract sugars fine even if the thermo is off, but they may not be digestible by the yeast. I had a brew that finished at 1.023. Bad thermo.

Low efficiency, are you measuring the collected wort volume accurately? You can calibrate your kettle with a long spoon or stick by pouring in water at 170 degrees, about what your wort will be at run off, and pour in 1 gal at a time, then dip the spoon in, trying to keep it vertical and perpendicular to bottom of pot, and mark that as one gallon. Then add another gallon and repeat, until your spoon or stick has volume marks, you could measure the distance between and mark off half gallon and quarter gallon marks. This would help you to more accurately measure your efficiency. Thermo calibration is going to help. All measurements incl grain weight should all be accurate as possible to be sure your eff measurements are accurate and repeatable.

Batch sparges, I have done before and recall that you were supposed to collect first run off, measure that volume, and then add that same amount of sparge water for maximal efficiency. I'd do at least two sparges. I think it's gonna be hard to over extract by batch sparing, and sounds like a third batch might be too much volume to boil off.

Wringing grains out is said to promote tannins being extracted into the wort, and is said to be avoided in the books.

Be sure to stir the mash well before you begin the recirculate portion. I don't know that the cloudiness of a wort is any indication on how much dissolved sugars it contains, I tend to disbelieve. could it be that your hose braid is being pinched or partially occluded ? I think with batch sparking however, mash tun and sparge dynamics are minimized or eliminated in most instances.

Are all your grains being crushed on the same mill? Maybe you should double crush them if so.

As far as pH considerations, the company that makes star san, also make this product called 5.2 mash stabilizer which is supposed to stabilize the mash at the ideal pH. Can't hurt to try that and/or get some ph strips. The colorphast brand is good, but pricey...

Congrats on the 50 pound diet by brewing half batches! Genius!!

TD
 
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ViperMan

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Interesting discussion on the sparge, as yeah that seems to be where things aren't working out for me...

First of all, can anyone lend any advice as to how to set Beersmith to properly recommend sparge volumes? I keep getting funky batch-step volumes: "Batch sparge with 2 steps (.58 gal, 2.01 gal) of 168.0 F water."

How can you batch-sparge with half a gallon?! I have Beersmith set to "Batch sparge using batches that fill 90%" - that percentage completely eludes me... I also have the "use equal batch sizes" checked, and do NOT have the "drain mash tun before sparging" checked, even though I do. When I select that, things get REALLY funky... Anyways, I usually sum the sparge batch numbers provided by Beersmith, then divide by 2.

I'm confused by the "2 sparge batches plus a dunk in more hot water" - that seems like it would require a LOT of water, or sparging with very small volumes of water.

The chocolate stout I just brewed was 8.82 qts of water to mash, then another 2.6 gallons of sparge. I brain-farted and didn't split my sparge water - just did a single sparge ("fly" sparge?)

Lol - thanks on the weight-loss support. Unfortunately it's waned lately as I've gotten back into beer brewing... ...and drinking... I've been earning some mad badges on my "Untappd" app. :)
 

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I had a similar issue that I hashed out in this thread the last week or two.

Sadly the theory, as you've discovered, is complex to get your head around, but let me summarize:

The total sugars in your wort come from:
  1. your first runnings (measured by mash conversion efficiency, affected by temp control, pH and crush)
  2. remaining sugars washed from the grains by sparging (temp control, stir, stir, stir!)
  3. any additions like candi sugar, malt extract

Your gravity depends on:
  1. the sugars you've collected
  2. the volume of water they're dissolved in (accurate measurement is all, here, and remember that volumes change with temperature!)

Sounds pretty basic, and it's easy to get mostly right-ish, but the devil is of course in the details. Whatever steps you can take to measure at each step of the process allow you to take real control and do less flailing in the dark.

What helped me was taking the following steps:
  • taking the SG of my first runnings to be *sure* of my mash efficiency (a refractometer helps here)
  • calibrating a stick to be *sure* that I knew my volumes instead of guessing
  • using the gravity tables and Kai's spreadsheet from the "troubleshooting brewhouse efficiency" article to check my progress at each point in the process.

-Rich

PS. Another thought: have all the batches been the same gravity? Larger grain bills will lead to lower sparge efficiency, apparently because a larger grain bed just is harder to wash sugars out of. I typically get ~70% efficiency on batches below 1.060, but I just finished a Russian Imperial Stout with a target OG of 1.093, and I only got there (got 1.090 on brew day) by planning ahead and assuming 60% efficiency.
 
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ViperMan

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Just to clarify one thing:

The efficiency ratings I've been quoting have NOT been based on the wort volume prior to boil. I take a OG reading after cooling the wort and pouring into a brew-bucket that was calibrated with tap-water. That number and the volume is what I use for Beersmith to give me my final efficiency. I do take volume and gravity readings prior to the boil, but only to determine if I'm off enough to justify adding some extract.

However as I'm out of extract, I haven't done this lately.
 
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The chocolate stout I just brewed was 8.82 qts of water to mash, then another 2.6 gallons of sparge. I brain-farted and didn't split my sparge water - just did a single sparge ("fly" sparge?)
No, "fly" sparging refers to continuous sparging where you continuously add water as the wort slowly drains out of the mash tun.

What you are doing is batch sparging, whether you add all of the water at once or in multiple batches. http://www.howtobrew.com/section3/chapter17.html
 

TrickyDick

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Oh, one thing that does come to mind. How have your mash temps been throughout the mash and what is your mash tun?
Metal tun and small batches might suffer from losing heat during the mash, and smaller amount of grain, such as in a half batch 2.5 gal, would make it worse.
I know your thermo was recently calibrated, but not sure if you had a brew day with the fixed or calibrated thermo. I use three thermos . One is the thermocouple in my rig, the other the bimetallic thermo on the mash tun, and the other is a handheld digital thermapen.... Pricey but accurate and FAST.

If you mash in and add heat with direct heat on a metal mash run without stirring, you could overheat a part of the mash and denature the enzymes accidentally, but that wouldn't necessarily hurt your gravity readings, just the fermentabiity. Are you making the temp corrections on your hydrometer when measuring HOT wort? I think most are cal for 60 degrees. Beer smith can correct this too. Boiling water could potentially overshoot temp in a small mash if your measurements for volume and infusion temp are off. Sounds like your using beer smith which I Think can make these calculations painless.

TD
 
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ViperMan

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Ah, okay - that makes sense. Why does this silly hobby have so many names for the same thing?? :)
 
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UPDATE:

So first off I want to thank EVERYONE who's posted here with input and suggestions, questions, etc.

This past weekend I had a big beer-drinking party. It kinda floundered in the attendance category, but two of the people who DID show up were pretty experienced brewers - one who's been working in the 25-gallon batch capacity for some time now. He had several suggestions and was able to look at my equipment, supplies, etc, and made some really good suggestions.

The next day I brewed a medium-body ale - it was a relatively light base-malt, but approaching amber territory, about 5.6 ABV if I recall.

I made several changes from my usual procedure.

1) I used city water, treated with campden tablets the night before to remove chlorine
2) I used some 5.2 stabilizer treatment - .3 tbls to be precise
3) I step-mashed, first at 140 degrees. My second step to 154 didn't quite work (stupid thermometer is screwed up again) so I had to sorta decoct my way to 154.

The results were noticeable by the first batch-sparge. The runnings were barely sweet, and MUCH lighter in color than the first runnings. By the second batch, the runnings barely had any flavor whatsoever.

Total observed efficiency was 83%. I felt like a proud father at a graduation ceremony... :) Of course, I broke the cardinal rule of science by attempting three variables at once, so I have no idea which change had the most impact. I might try my next beer without the 5.2 as I think my beers are getting costly enough as it is. I do like the cost savings with tap water though.

The true test will come with my next stout, to be brewed probably next week. I need to see if I can overcome the effect of the darker grains on my mash ph and still get good efficiency. If I can pass that test, I'll push myself further with another heavy grain bill, like a dopplebock or double stout.

Thanks again for everyone's input.
 
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Good to hear that things got better. A couple of thoughts.

First, I recently had my efficiency drop significantly for a single batch (from the mid-80s to about 70 percent). I am pretty sure that the reason was that the SS coil (I have a set up like yours) was displaced and got pulled up significantly when I was stirring the mash. This was the first time this happened (and I'm thinking it was because I added the water in small batches rather than adding the majority of it before stirring). I tried my best to push the coil down, but there was no way to do that with the mash at 150 degrees. I'm not sure if part of your problem might be that you are pulling up the coil while you stir.

Second, if you are worried about the darker grains messing with the pH, add them late. I recently read Gordon Strong's book, and he suggests adding roasted grains at vorlauf. I did that with my last stout. The beer had plenty of time to pick up the flavors and color from the roasted malt (and my wife has insisted that I brew my stouts with that exact recipe from now on). Considering that you are batch sparging, maybe add the roasted grains with 10 minutes left in the mash. By that point, most of the conversion should be complete.
 
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ViperMan

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Good to hear that things got better. A couple of thoughts.

First, I recently had my efficiency drop significantly for a single batch (from the mid-80s to about 70 percent). I am pretty sure that the reason was that the SS coil (I have a set up like yours) was displaced and got pulled up significantly when I was stirring the mash. This was the first time this happened (and I'm thinking it was because I added the water in small batches rather than adding the majority of it before stirring). I tried my best to push the coil down, but there was no way to do that with the mash at 150 degrees. I'm not sure if part of your problem might be that you are pulling up the coil while you stir.

Second, if you are worried about the darker grains messing with the pH, add them late. I recently read Gordon Strong's book, and he suggests adding roasted grains at vorlauf. I did that with my last stout. The beer had plenty of time to pick up the flavors and color from the roasted malt (and my wife has insisted that I brew my stouts with that exact recipe from now on). Considering that you are batch sparging, maybe add the roasted grains with 10 minutes left in the mash. By that point, most of the conversion should be complete.
Thanks for the comments. I make sure to stir either above the false bottom or inside the ring itself. Also I make sure to get the mash REALLY moving and then press the ring down while the grains are suspended. My poor efficiency has been quite consistent (as in, consistently poor) for several batches though, so I don't think the false bottom has much to do with it.

As for the dark grains, I like your idea. The other thing Strong suggested (I have his book and also saw the Beersmith discussion on the same topic) was steeping the dark grains separately and adding that wort to the boil kettle or even the secondary. I intentionally had my LHBS separate out the dark grains for this batch for either of these suggestions. (I like your suggestion better as it cuts out excess calculations, steps, and pots!)

I think I'm going to brew my stout this Friday after work (I have the house to myself for the weekend!) so we'll see how I fare.
 
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