Author Topic: poor all grain efficiency, don't know why  (Read 17523 times)

Offline melferburque

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poor all grain efficiency, don't know why
« on: December 27, 2011, 08:27:58 PM »
I am at my wits end trying to figure out what I'm doing wrong.  I cannot seem to get anywhere close to 70% efficiency with my setup.

according to beersmith, I should have hit 1.082 for an attempted imperial IPA.  I had an 18 pound grain bill for a five gallon batch, milled at the LHBS, mashed at 150 degrees for an hour, and fly sparged with 170 degree water over 40 minutes.  the mash started out at 151 and had dropped to 148 by the end of the hour, using a ten gallon igloo cooler and a false bottom.  the mash itself had the consistency of a soupy oatmeal, but I'm not a hundred percent sure how much water I used.  guessing about five gallons.  HLT is another ten gallon igloo, sparge is done with a copper coil drilled with holes.  I drain the mash, refill with the sparge until it covers the grain bed, and then pull off wort at an even pace to water going in.

after my boil and transfer to primary, there was nothing but sludge left in the pot (remnants of 8 oz pellet hops).  it was filtered through a bazooka tube and a sieve.  OG showed 1.06, read on two different hydrometers.  temperature was close enough to sixty degrees to not warrant a 20% drop in efficiency.

I honestly have no idea what I'm doing wrong.  the beers taste fine when they're done, and I've made a few that kick like a mule.  I've never had a OG reading that was anywhere close to the target, however.  best I can tell, I'm pulling a 50%-55% efficiency with my setup, and that's not acceptable.

any advice?

Offline Gribble

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Re: poor all grain efficiency, don't know why
« Reply #1 on: December 27, 2011, 08:54:08 PM »
I drain the mash, refill with the sparge until it covers the grain bed, and then pull off wort at an even pace to water going in.


seems to me like you're over sparging, unless i'm reading that incorrectly
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Offline melferburque

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Re: poor all grain efficiency, don't know why
« Reply #2 on: December 27, 2011, 09:18:23 PM »
sparging just enough to get to my pre-boil requirement, tonight was about 8.5 gallons (90 minute boil).  even so, wouldn't over-sparging not be an issue if I boiled down to under six gallons for a a five gallon batch?

Offline bluesman

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Re: poor all grain efficiency, don't know why
« Reply #3 on: December 27, 2011, 09:31:04 PM »
Measuring efficiency requires attention to detail. Accurate weights, volumes, temperatures, and gravity measurements are a must. All of this, not to mention pH measurement and water chemistry also comes into play. Lets start with your detailed recipe formulation and any detailed notes that may contribute to this issue. Some important factors to consider are accurate measurements including temperature and specific gravity measurements. Thermometer and hydrometer calibration is an important detail when it comes efficiency.

Post your detailed recipe including weights, volumes, temperatures and times for starters and we'll try to resolve your issue.
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Offline melferburque

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Re: poor all grain efficiency, don't know why
« Reply #4 on: December 27, 2011, 09:48:32 PM »
Post your detailed recipe including weights, volumes, temperatures and times for starters and we'll try to resolve your issue.

12 lbs pale 2-row
2 lbs pale 6-row
2 lbs biscuit 25
1 lb victory 25
1 lb carapils

HBS was out of maris otter, hence the odd looking bill.  I did use their grinder.

mashed sixty minutes @ 149-150 degrees with approx five gallons of water.  sparged with another five gallons @ 170 degrees, collected a bit over 8 gallons after 40-45 minutes of sparging.  water source was seattle municipal.  these temps are fairly accurate, I took readings with a thermometer beginning and end of mash, and the HLT was sealed the entire time.  I pulled 165 degree water from the kettle, dropped to 151 with the grains.  the HLT started at 172 (kettle thermometer) and ended at 170 (probe thermometer).

boiled 90 minutes.  added 2 oz warrior and 1 oz chinook at 90, 1 oz of simcoe and 1 oz of cascade at 45, 1 oz of cascade and one whirlafloc at 15, 1 oz of cascade at flameout.  collected approx six gallons of wort, sieved out as much hop residue as I could.  there was maybe half a gallon of wort/hop sludge left at the bottom of the kettle.  I had the pot mostly covered the entire boil, outside temp was about 45 degrees.

hydrometer reading was 1.06 after I cooled the wort.  added two slap-packs of london 1028 (expected a higher OG) to the wort @ 85 degrees, left the fermenter in a 70 degree room.

I'm not expecting a ridiculous efficiency, but I was hoping for 65%, maybe 70% if I was lucky.  based on my grain bill and OG, I figure I'm sitting at 53% right now (via beersmith).  I don't have the pH or anything like that.  like I said, I was expecting to be in the ballpark of 1.08, would have been okay with anything over 1.07.  1.06 is just depressing and seems like a waste of grain.

Offline morticaixavier

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Re: poor all grain efficiency, don't know why
« Reply #5 on: December 27, 2011, 09:59:08 PM »
when I have had big efficiency problems in the past the number one culprit was dough balls. I would mash in with 15-20 lbs of grain and as much water as I could fit in my tun and mix it as well as I could with my big charismatic wooden spoon and end up with 45-55% efficiency. I would then dump the grain and find big dry as a bone dough balls in the middle of my mash that never saw a drop of water. I wonder if with your hybrid batch/fly sparge method you are hiding the evidence of dough balls.

My thinking goes something like this. you mash in and stir it up, but end up leaving dry patches in your grist which you naturally don't notice. you then run off your initial wort and add water back in to cover the grain and start fly sparging. This finally wets the remaining dry grain so you don't notice it later when you are dumping your grains but it does not convert anything from those grains.

This is all pure speculation but it's worth checking out. I would also look at the crush as I think a lot of HBS places don't want to hear complaints about stuck sparges so they err on the coarse end of the grind.
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Offline melferburque

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Re: poor all grain efficiency, don't know why
« Reply #6 on: December 27, 2011, 10:05:48 PM »
I stir pretty thoroughly with the original mash, so I can't have a huge dough ball problem.  I might end up with a bit under the false bottom tube leading out of the cooler, but otherwise it's mixed pretty well.  I've been careful to avoid doughing, and did drop the temp of my mash several degrees while stirring to hit that 151 target (it started closer to 155).

I do suspect my LBHS mill.  I recently made an amber with a fourteen pound grain bill that just SMELLS strong (it was meant to be close to 8%), and it came from a different HBS with a much newer mill.  unfortunately, I was brewing with a buddy and had put back several, and forgot to take an OG from that one.  next beer I make I'll go back to the second HBS and see what my results are from them.  ideally I wouldn't need to use the same recipe, I should be able to ascertain my efficiency just using beersmith, correct?

Offline morticaixavier

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Re: poor all grain efficiency, don't know why
« Reply #7 on: December 27, 2011, 11:49:26 PM »
I stir pretty thoroughly with the original mash, so I can't have a huge dough ball problem.  I might end up with a bit under the false bottom tube leading out of the cooler, but otherwise it's mixed pretty well.  I've been careful to avoid doughing, and did drop the temp of my mash several degrees while stirring to hit that 151 target (it started closer to 155).

I do suspect my LBHS mill.  I recently made an amber with a fourteen pound grain bill that just SMELLS strong (it was meant to be close to 8%), and it came from a different HBS with a much newer mill.  unfortunately, I was brewing with a buddy and had put back several, and forgot to take an OG from that one.  next beer I make I'll go back to the second HBS and see what my results are from them.  ideally I wouldn't need to use the same recipe, I should be able to ascertain my efficiency just using beersmith, correct?

yeah but then you would be changing more than 1 variable. not to say you can't do it but if the real problem is mash pH for example you get the wrong answer at least is the grist is difference enough. but as long as we are talking two beers that are similar I don't think you would have to do the same recipe exactly. Also keep in mind that, at least on my system I do see lower efficiencies with larger grain bills.
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Offline tschmidlin

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Re: poor all grain efficiency, don't know why
« Reply #8 on: December 28, 2011, 12:28:08 AM »
If it's the mill then the problem is solved, but I would be mashing with more water.  I'd use more like 7 gallons for 18 lbs of malt.
Tom Schmidlin

Offline jeffy

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Re: poor all grain efficiency, don't know why
« Reply #9 on: December 28, 2011, 04:28:36 AM »
I think that the most likely culprit is the crush.  Try grinding some malt on each of the two shops' mills and compare them.
If they look just the same, then my second thought would be pH.  As I understand, the water in your area is very soft and you have a very pale colored malt bill.  Without a pH meter to check you may want to just toss in a handful of acidulated malt and see if that ups the gravity.
Like Tom I use about 1.5 quarts per pound, which for 18 pounds is closer to 7 gallons than 5.
You may also try stirring the mash again after your initial draining and addition of sparge water.  Most batch spargers do this, then vorlauf a bit before draining or sparging.
By the way, when you take a gravity reading you should get the next digit from the hydrometer.  It's not 1.06 it's 1.062 or 1.066 or whatever.
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Re: poor all grain efficiency, don't know why
« Reply #10 on: December 28, 2011, 08:03:44 AM »
If you ended up with 6.5 gal of 1.060 wort, that's about 60% efficiency by my math. What would your typical efficiency be for a smaller beer? Lauter efficiency for that mash (it sounds like you were batch sparging) would be ~80%, so your conversion efficiency is in the 75% range.

Have you calibrated your thermometer(s) and hydrometer(s)? Did you check mash pH? Generally, for conversion efficiency to suffer, either the temperature or the pH has to be out of range.

No matter what, I'm thinking you may have some volume measurement error, since 10 gal - 18 lb * 0.12 gal/lb = 7.84 gal. Unless you're mechanically squeezing the mash dry, you shouldn't have been able to get 8+ gal out of it.
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Offline Kit B

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Re: poor all grain efficiency, don't know why
« Reply #11 on: December 28, 2011, 08:07:41 AM »
If it's the mill then the problem is solved, but I would be mashing with more water.  I'd use more like 7 gallons for 18 lbs of malt.

+1
I fear this isn't your only obstacle, but that thick mash is bound to hurt efficiency.
As others have mentioned, your volumes seem to conflict.

If you're upwards of 60% efficiency with that setup, you're not in terrible shape.
I found that my first few batches with my setup were roughly in line with what you're seeing.
The more you brew, the more you'll get used to it & the higher % you'll get.
It takes time & dedication, to dial it all in.
« Last Edit: December 28, 2011, 08:12:40 AM by Kit B »
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Offline hopfenundmalz

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Re: poor all grain efficiency, don't know why
« Reply #12 on: December 28, 2011, 08:13:49 AM »
The big points have been covered.  If you can, run the grains through the LHBS mill twice.  If your efficiency goes up, then you know you need a better crush than one pass at their standard setting.

If you want to go into some depth, read these articles on Kai's site.

http://braukaiser.com/wiki/index.php?title=Understanding_Efficiency

http://braukaiser.com/wiki/index.php?title=Troubleshooting_Brewhouse_Efficiency

http://braukaiser.com/download/Troester_NHC_2010_Efficiency.pdf
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Offline ukolowiczd

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Re: poor all grain efficiency, don't know why
« Reply #13 on: December 28, 2011, 08:20:51 AM »
I'd go grain mill all the way. My partner and I had brewed our first 10 all grain batches with 78% efficiency. We noticed last April 21st (to be exact) that our 10 batches after that date had dropped to 71% efficiency. We tried temp, checking pH, different amounts of water, sparge time, etc. for those 10 batches to no avail. Finally we looked at our grain and noticed that it wasn't crushed that much! We bought a grain mill and have never looked back. We can make the crush finer for huskless wheat and rye and crush all our grain to perfection. Our efficiency is back up into the high 70's and low 80's!

Offline malzig

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Re: poor all grain efficiency, don't know why
« Reply #14 on: December 28, 2011, 08:47:28 AM »
A finer crush and thinner mash (I like 1.75-2 qt/#) are the two easiest steps to take to improve conversion, which seems like your probable problem.   A short alpha amylase step mash into the 158-162°F range can raise conversion, especially if the crush is poor. It's also not clear if you are stirring prior to running off your wort, which may help.

The best way to assess conversion is to take a gravity reading of a sample of the first runnings and compare it against this chart on Kai Troester's site.

As was mentioned, however, you need to take accurate volume and gravity measurements to get accurate efficiency determinations.
I had the pot mostly covered the entire boil
That is generally not recommended.