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Mash efficiency survey

I’ve been wondering, for those of us who batch sparge, what is the average mash efficiency most people are getting? I know the answer that most seasoned brewers will give is “the number doesn’t matter as long as you’re consistent with your equipment”, but i’m still curious.
I use a circular 10 gallon cooler for my mash tun with a false bottom. I mill my own grains with the barley crusher mill with the setting it came with (mill on day of brewing). I use strike and sparge water amounts so as to get approx 50/50 1st and 2nd runnings. I heat my sparge water to 190 and it is about 165-167 after transferring it to the grain. I stir for about 5 min and let a rip. (Pretty much Denny’s technique I think).
I just did my 10th all grain brew yesterday and for the last several have been getting right around 72% mash efficiency. Funny that my first 5+ AG brews, I was getting 75-78%, but now that I have my system streamlined and hitting strike temps better etc, it has dropped?
Anyway, what are your numbers and setup?

I was hitting 90% for a while, when I was crushing really hard. Then I wondered if such a high efficiency was causing my beers to taste thin and watered down, so I actually opened the gap on my BarleyCrusher. Now my average is around 82-85% (I don’t have the exact numbers here at work). I still need to run some more experiments to know for sure whether high efficiency has any real adverse impacts on flavor. I think it does, but I’m not 100% certain yet.

My setup? Well… for starters, I am a small batch brewer, and I boil only on my electric stovetop. I do not own a turkey fryer or burner setup at all, never have and possibly never will. The efficiency numbers above apply primarily to my 2.5-gallon batches. At that time, my batches were split about 50/50 between BIAB and a blue rectangular cooler. Recently I’ve gone down to 1.7-gallon batches and so now I’m solely BIAB. I do indeed sparge most of my beers, unless making a small beer, then I skip it or else my efficiency will be >90% again and I’m concerned about that. To do a sparge, I either set the bag in a colander and pour hot water over it, or else I take the shortcut method and just dunk the whole bag in hot water. Either way gets me the efficiency boost to mid-80s that I like. Beyond that, everything is a pretty standard 50/50 first runnings to sparge ratio, heat my sparge water to 190 F like you do, etc. My mashes are just 40-45 minutes. This has always been good enough for me to get the high efficiency and attenuation that I like. If I mash longer, my efficiency and attenuation each increase by a point or two – big friggin deal. I figure I might as well save 20 minutes of my life on every batch.

If you want to increase your efficiency numbers, the best advice I have is:

  1. Crush harder than you think you should;
  2. Split your runnings and sparge volumes 50/50;
  3. Ensure you collect every last drop from both your first runnings before the sparge, and from the sparge runnings. If using a cooler, you must tilt the cooler upwards for a good 5-10 minutes and collect everything that comes out. Your so-called “dead space” needs to be very small, less than a quart. If for example you’re leaving a gallon of dead space in there for both the first runnings and sparge, your efficiency is never going to get into the 80s. IF that matters to you. Which, it shouldn’t…

My theory is that low efficiency actually makes a BETTER tasting beer than high efficiency. If I wasn’t so dang cheap, I’d probably make a lot more no-sparge beers and just suck it up, set my standard efficiency at like 55% and be very happy with the flavor. So, don’t be disappointed if your efficiency is low. You might in fact be making a better tasting beer than all the rest of your friends who get efficiency in the upper 80s.

More experiments are needed. Which I shall happily consume.

:cheers:

I also batch sparge and have a simulare system. I am getting 70 to 75% and am very happy with the results. I use these numbers to verify that my system is working well not to get to worried about numbers.

[quote=“dmtaylo2”]I was hitting 90% for a while, when I was crushing really hard. Then I wondered if such a high efficiency was causing my beers to taste thin and watered down, so I actually opened the gap on my BarleyCrusher. Now my average is around 82-85% (I don’t have the exact numbers here at work). I still need to run some more experiments to know for sure whether high efficiency has any real adverse impacts on flavor. I think it does, but I’m not 100% certain yet.

My theory is that low efficiency actually makes a BETTER tasting beer than high efficiency.
[/quote]
Funny you say that. In one of the Brew Strong episodes, Jamil and John Palmer basically say the same thing. If my memory isn’t failing me, I believe they said mash efficiency in the 70’s is ideal. I nearly ran off the road when I heard that. I think they (an you) are right.

Is it possible to add a poll to this thread? Would be interesting.

I’m generally around 78%. Sometimes a bit more. Sometimes a bit less.

[quote=“dmtaylo2”]

My theory is that low efficiency actually makes a BETTER tasting beer than high efficiency.
:cheers: [/quote]
Yet another reason why we homebrew. Doesn’t matter so much about our eff. compared to the for profit commercial brewers to which it does. So, can we make better beer than them? I think yes.

So why not use less grain and more water instead of more grain and less efficiency.

I get upper sixties every time. My old Corona mill took forever, but dang near vaporized grain into dust. The new Cereal Killer doesn’t crush as fine, but gives me a quicker runoff. I’m convinced my low efficiency is all about dead space in my cooler, but I’m not bothered, as long as everything is consistent.

I BIAB 5 gal batches. I have a cheap n easy cooler but have only used it once. I settled on BIAB because I found it easy to make decent beer.

I use a barley crusher set to .032 gap.

MY BIAB process was settled upon because my 9 gal kettle is too small to accommodate a full volume BIAB mash on most beers and I just figured I’d get better efficiency with a sparge.

I mash with a goal of getting about 50% of my preboil volume from the ‘first runnings’ in the kettle, then sparge similarly to Dave. After I pull the bag I place it on an oven rack on top of the kettle, give it a good squeeze and pour my sparge water over it until I get my preboil volume.

My efficiency numbers are typically in the high 80s often well into the 90s. I adjusted my efficiency target in BS2 to 80 and I’ve been dialing down my recipes, using smaller grain bills to try and compensate. It’s getting cheaper and cheaper for me to brew beer!

I suppose I don’t understand the process well enough to understand WHY high efficiency would be an issue. Isn’t efficiency basically a measure of how much sugar you extract from the grains? Why would higher extraction be bad? How would it cause ‘thin’ beers?

For homebrewers, consistency is much more important than high extract. Consistency allows you to work from a plan. And a little extra grain in the mash won’t cost you very much when you are talking about a five gallon batch. For commercial brewers, high efficiency saves money, which can be the difference between staying in business or not.

But to answer the OP’s question, I batch sparge and get 78-80%, except when I brew a very high OG beer (mid 70s), a very low OG beer (mid 80s) or do a decoction (mid 80s).

And Dave is exactly right about how to increase efficiency if that is what you want: crush finer, and drain as much of the first runnings as you possibly can before adding the sparge water.

I BIAB w/batch sparge (close to equal runnings, usually within a gallon of each other) and am pretty consistent around 80-85% efficiency. I used to be in the 70-75% range, but since bought a larger pot (10gal), larger grain sack (24"x24"), and most important a grain mill. This has all come together within the last 6-8 months and I’m really starting to be able to accurately predict efficiency depending on the grain bill.

Smaller beers using 8-10lbs I’m around 85% eff.
Average beers using 11-14lbs I’m around 80-85% eff.
Bigger beers using 15-18lbs I’m around 70-75% eff.

The higher efficiency is nice, but like you stated early on, the consistency of knowing my efficiency is really great.

As a side note for any BIAB’ers, I’ve tried several different mashing variations and find a slightly thinner mash (1.5 - 2.0qt/lb) along with a batch sparge with close to equal runnings has been the most efficient. I tried thicker mashes with a bigger sparge. I tried full volume mash with no sparge. I tried very thin mashes with a smaller sparge. All yielded lower efficiency. I really wanted full volume mashing to work better since it would simplify my brew day even more, but my efficiencies dropped down to around 65%… but this was before I bought a grain mill and a larger grain sack. I think I may have to revisit this option. I’m all about simplifying.

Cheers to all that information, dobe.

:cheers:

My experience has been very similar, trying different water to grain ratios and efficiency changes with gravity.

I too would like to further simplify my process. What I really should do more often is to brew smaller beers (OG=1.045 or thereabouts) and skip the sparge entirely, just do a steep. I believe my efficiency is still decent around 80% with the small batch small beers even with no sparge. That’s really the way to go. Knock out a 1.7-gallon batch in just ~3 hours that way. Awesome. I need to do more of that.

I usually get about 75 to 80 till this last time. The only difference was I had my grains crushed at NB. I got 65 this time.

This seems very common. I’ve only purchased two all grain precrushed kits from NB (3-4 years ago) and just checked my recipe log. I was under 70% efficiency on both. These two were also 2 of my lowest efficiencies in over 80 all grain batches.

Crush, crush, crush… it’s all about the crush… and then about the process.

I hear about people bragging all the time about how they got 85 or 90 percent efficiency. Wow! Good for you! Now are you getting that consistently? Can you expect to get that next time? Give it a rest…

I am consistently in the 75-80% range, depending on whether I do a decoction or step infusion. I crush at .032" with a Barley Crusher and use a braided hose in a 5 gallon round cooler. I try to get even water amounts for mash and sparge and mash at around 1.5qt/lb ratio, typically. I also use Bru’n water for water adjustments.

Barley Crusher and even run-offs and I get 70-75% on average. My beer is good, but I’m hoping it will get a little better when I stop using tap water. Time will tell.

Great post. I have been using a 54qt rectangular cooler (Red, sorry) with a copper manifold in a H configuration. I normally attempt to use 1.5 qt/lb. Most beers between 1.045 - 1.060 I will hit 88%-91% efficiency. I crush my own grain, and as recommended here on the forum, I set the gap till I was scared. On larger beers, where I need to reduce the qt/lb ratio due to mash tun size limit, my efficiency drops. I do 10gallon batches and often the sparge takes me over an hour. Have been considering going to batch sparge to reduce time on brew day. It does take a lot of time to bring the strike water up to temperature, heat 10 gallons for sparging, and then getting up to a boil. I will normally start applying heat as soon as I have 2 gallons collected in the boil kettle.

[quote=“dannyboy58”]I BIAB 5 gal batches. I have a cheap n easy cooler but have only used it once. I settled on BIAB because I found it easy to make decent beer.

I use a barley crusher set to .032 gap.

MY BIAB process was settled upon because my 9 gal kettle is too small to accommodate a full volume BIAB mash on most beers and I just figured I’d get better efficiency with a sparge.

I mash with a goal of getting about 50% of my preboil volume from the ‘first runnings’ in the kettle, then sparge similarly to Dave. After I pull the bag I place it on an oven rack on top of the kettle, give it a good squeeze and pour my sparge water over it until I get my preboil volume.

My efficiency numbers are typically in the high 80s often well into the 90s. I adjusted my efficiency target in BS2 to 80 and I’ve been dialing down my recipes, using smaller grain bills to try and compensate. It’s getting cheaper and cheaper for me to brew beer!

I suppose I don’t understand the process well enough to understand WHY high efficiency would be an issue. Isn’t efficiency basically a measure of how much sugar you extract from the grains? Why would higher extraction be bad? How would it cause ‘thin’ beers?[/quote]

I’m GUESSING the reason some brewers report that higher efficiency produces poorer beer is that there’s a lot more to beer than sugar and alcohol. The proteins, unconverted starches (?), unconvertable/unconverted sugars, and mysterious esters/phenols add mouth feel, flavor, magic. We have some answers to the question of what’s going on in a mash, but we don’t even know all the questions.

It’s interesting to speculate about where this conversation could go. I can imagine a post a couple of years from now: “Well, not trying to brag, but I was averaging about 40% until last weekend when I managed to get it down to 30%! Still can’t compete with Bubba’s 22%, but I’m learning!”

I see a lot of you guys are bag brewers. Is that the way to go? I thought it was popular for three gallon batches or less, but it seems some off you are doing bigger batches than that. Ill have to try it.

For my first several batches I thought I was getting that and boy was I proud. When I bought precision hydrometers my mash efficiency suddenly dropped. After some testing, I found my that ALL THREE of my triple scale hydrometers were off (as verified in distilled water). It was quite a blow to my ego initially to find that I was closer to ~78%. Turns out that’s really not too shabby.

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