Well, I did it. Not exactly a SMaSH -- decided to throw some crystal in there for color/flavor/acid. I'll probably start monkeying with water chemistry in a few brews.
What have I learned?
(1) Hitting temperatures when it's 33F where you're working is kinda tricky. (Glad I didn't do it last weekend when it was more like 12F. But chilling worked great!)
(2) I used too much water. My efficiency might actually have been OK if I measured it, but everything came out a bit dilute.
(3) My cooler keeps grains untouchably hot after the sparge is drained for several hours. But it takes a LOT to get it warmed up.
Can anyone link me to a quick tutorial on how to tune the temperatures needed to heat a mash tun? Even with preheating, my strike water temp wasn't even close at first. The thing weighs about 17lbs, for what it's worth.
Hitting strike temperatures is a toughie. I'm on batch 8 of all grain and I still haven't pegged it. I haven't had to deal with very cold or very hot weather yet either, mostly it's been between 55-65 degrees. Beersmith II would be helpful, but you still have to dial things in. I am getting closer tho, I'm usually within 2-3 degrees.
Water usage is another issue that you can't necessarily solve on your first or second batch. Again, beersmith II has helped me, but in the end I've basically decided on using eight gallons per batch for reasonable OG batches. Obviously if I make something high gravity, it may require more water. For now, eight gallons has mostly been close to the right amount, with enough left over for starters, priming sugar etc. Even then, on my last batch I had nearly a gallon left over.
Using too much sparge water will leave you a little thin on your OG. I've moved from using the precise amounts shown on beersmith to using "close" to the first amount, and adjusting the second sparge amount according to how much wort I have. I have also been trying to almost completely drain before sparging. The one time I followed the beersmith amounts directly, I came out seven points low, and when I had reached boil volume, there was still sparge water flowing. Because of this, I assume that I wasn't draining completely enough before the next sparge step, and was using too much water.
My cooler keeps the grains quite hot too. I only lose perhaps two degrees over 75 minutes of mashing, even with several stirs. The spent grains remain very hot for a long time too.
Pre-heating your mash tun might be a good idea if you're dealing with greatly varying temperatures. Near-freezing temps will obviously suck some energy out of your strike water, and you'll probably dial in your system easier if you don't have to deal with such big temperature fluctuations. I have not been pre-heating, but I live in TX where it's pretty much always warm, if not damn hot, so this isn't as much of an issue for me.
You CAN do a smash beer, but you don't have to, and honestly I'd probably have preferred the recipe you chose over a pure smash. As I said earlier, my first beer was a smash and didn't come out like I expected. It had plenty of head and body though, I used maris otter. :
It was good, just not what I expected! Way maltier and not very hoppy (bitterness was fine, but lacked hop flavor). FWIW it was a willamette/MO smash.
You're on the right path man, keep it up!
I also recommend some brewing software. I use beersmith II and I think it was worth the money. If anything, it's over-complicated, but it will certainly cover the issues and parameters you need, and then some.