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Nuances of the Batch Sparge? [update 4/22]

Update: New post at end

I had a rather successful brew day this past weekend. I set my mill to the finest gap setting to date; had conditioned the grain, successfully achieving larger, in-tact husks; and hit an in-mash (temperature-wise) pH of 5.35 with only a couple grams of cacl/gypsum added (it was a moderately dark beer, apparently suited to my high-bicarbonate water). Mash temp was 154 at beginning, and 152 at end.

Still, calculating my efficiency using BeerSmith2, I was in the mid-60s. Most of my beers seem to be in the mid-60s for efficiency. Most of my beers are also batch sparged. So, I’m hoping that those of you who batch sparge can provide me with some tips to highlight the nuances I must be missing…

Should I be opening my mashtun and stirring periodically? I typically leave it closed to keep the heat in. If so, how often? Will it have any efficiency improvement?

Should I drain my first runnings prior to adding any sparge water, or should I first add the initial (of two) batch sparge addition? Is there an efficiency difference between the two?

When I add my sparge water, I just lift the whole kettle-o-water and dump it in, unceremoniously. Should I ladle it in slowly or let it pour out through the spigot? Is there an efficiency difference between the two?

When I add my sparge water to my mash, I stir it for perhaps 30 seconds, but I don’t let it sit much longer. Should I stir and let it sit for say… 10 minutes before draining? Is there an efficiency difference between the two?

My mash time is about 60 minutes, beginning once I’ve finished my temperature & pH readings (and any additions). Would an extra 30 minutes get me the extra 10 points to about 75% efficiency?

Or is the BeerSmith2 calculation off? I could be relying on bad Beersmith math, but my Google searching hasn’t found anything to suggest the efficiency calculation is in error.

I use the Milwaukee pH56 meter and a refractometer (with ATC?). Both have been calibrated; it’s been a few months since the refractometer was last calibrated, though I don’t expect it to be that far off, yet.

Thanks!
:cheers:

[quote=“Silentknyght”]

a refractometer ([b]with ATC?[/b]).

Thanks!
:cheers: [/quote]

I would start with answering this question.

The old saying “gigo” (garbage in garbage out) come to mind.

~65% efficiency is on the low side - it sounds like you have the milling down, and your pH is in line, so the next place to look is your volumes. For batch-sparging, you want to set it up so that when you finish mashing and drain the MT, you get half the boil volume in the kettle, then add the second half for a sparge, stir to mix well, then drain immediately (after vorlauf to set the grain bed) to the kettle, no benefit in waiting. Stirring during the mash isn’t necessary as long as you stir enough at the beginning to get an even temp distribution throughout.

I have found that a raising the mash temp into the 160s and letting it rest for 10-20 minutes before draining is good for a couple points of efficiency. Also, a thinner mash can give you a couple points more.

In batch sparging. Lets say you are going to collect 7 gallons of wort to boil down to a 5 or so gallon batch. Your runnings should be 3.5 for the first running then 3.5 for the second running. What I do is after my mash is done I will heat all my sparge water but only add a gallon and a half or so the first time to collect the first runnings then when that is done I will continue to heat the remaining 3.5 gallons to the specified temp. Both times I heat the mash to 168. When I collect my 7 gallons I calculate for 7 gallons not 5 because thats what you have collected. If you take your hydrometer with 7 gallons of wort based on 5 it will read low. I get between 75 and 80 with this method thanx to Denny. Hope this helps

I am not certain opening your tun and stirring is all that important.

Before you close it up though stir it a lot. Look for those little balls of clumped up grain and make certain you have none. Then, stir again.

I found I gained a couple points by sparging hotter. I use 180 water which brings my grain bed to 165ish, but always under 170.

None of the ideas the OP mentioned make much if any difference in efficiency. What does matter is:

  1. The crush. You can always try crushing finer, and it will invariably increase efficiency, although eventually at the expense of your ability to run it off (stuck sparge). But if you’re not already seeing stuck sparges, then crank her even tighter. You won’t be sorry.

  2. Volume measurements. If you aren’t hitting all your volume measurements absolutely perfectly, your efficiency is definitely going to suffer. Volumes matter. If batch sparging one time, your initial runoff and sparge runoff volumes need to be perfectly identical for the best efficiency. If doing a double sparge, you actually need to set the initial runoff and subsequent sparges at 1/3 volume each. This usually requires a low water to grain mash ratio, maybe 0.9 quarts/lb. A thinner mash will screw it up.

  3. Good to the last drop. If you aren’t tilting your mash tun in order to get every last drop out of it with every runoff, your efficiency will suffer. Get it all out. This is not as big of an effect as the first two things I mentioned, but it’s helped me gain probably a couple of extra points, to where I can hit 90% efficiency fairly easily.

Not much else matters. Fix at least those first two things, and you’ll be in the 80s for efficiency.

+1, good post!

To the OP, to try and get to the bottom of this take a mash gravity reading to see what your conversion efficiency is. The raise the mash temp to 160 and check it again 10 minutes later. This will let you know your crush limit, and show you the extra conversion you would be getting from a mashout. Kai has a chart on his website for determining the predicted wort gravity from a specific amount of grain/water, or it can be calculated directly.

After your conversion losses, all that’s left is wort left behind in the mash tun, either held back in the grain or sitting on the bottom due to dead space/poor lautering. If you are leaving behind more than 0.5 qt/lb in the first runnings, you have some dead space that needs to be addressed with the lautering system.

[quote=“Silentknyght”]Should I be opening my mashtun and stirring periodically? I typically leave it closed to keep the heat in. If so, how often? Will it have any efficiency improvement?:[/quote] No

[quote=“Silentknyght”]Should I drain my first runnings prior to adding any sparge water, or should I first add the initial (of two) batch sparge addition? Is there an efficiency difference between the two?:[/quote] Drain first runnings before adding any sparge water. Try to equalize the volume of wort you get out of each running. The more sparges you do, the better efficiency you will get, but it is a case of diminishing returns. I never go beyond three runnings.

[quote=“Silentknyght”]When I add my sparge water, I just lift the whole kettle-o-water and dump it in, unceremoniously. Should I ladle it in slowly or let it pour out through the spigot? Is there an efficiency difference between the two?:[/quote] Doesn’t matter.

[quote=“Silentknyght”]When I add my sparge water to my mash, I stir it for perhaps 30 seconds, but I don’t let it sit much longer. Should I stir and let it sit for say… 10 minutes before draining? Is there an efficiency difference between the two?:[/quote] Stir, recirculate to set the grain bed and drain. Waiting doesn’t help.

[quote=“Silentknyght”]My mash time is about 60 minutes, beginning once I’ve finished my temperature & pH readings (and any additions). Would an extra 30 minutes get me the extra 10 points to about 75% efficiency?:[/quote] Maybe, it depends on your water chemistry and mash thickness, but this would not add a significant efficiency bump. If you wanted to lower your FG, then a longer mash at lower temp is good.

[quote=“Silentknyght”]Or is the BeerSmith2 calculation off? I could be relying on bad Beersmith math, but my Google searching hasn’t found anything to suggest the efficiency calculation is in error.:[/quote] I haven’t used Beersmith, but doubt it is off.

[quote=“Silentknyght”]I use the Milwaukee pH56 meter and a refractometer (with ATC?). Both have been calibrated; it’s been a few months since the refractometer was last calibrated, though I don’t expect it to be that far off, yet.:[/quote] Calibrated equipment is critical. Not just refractometer, but how you measure wort volume. Also, hot wort steams off water quickly when exposed to air, which concentrates the sample. Let the wort in the eyedropper cool some and don’t use the first few drops out of it before placing the sample on the refractometer glass.

Lots of good info.

Personally, I’d like to think if haven’t been draining prior to sparging, you should see the jump to 80% when you start. Looks like your doing everything else right to me.

Maybe you could in fact tighten your crush more. I see a good deal of torn and shredded husks in my mash and I don’t have problems with it. Mine remains at .030 if I recall. Never hit 90% but mid 80’s consistently.

Try calculating it by hand and see if it matches

I’ve never experienced any increase in efficiency by stirring during the mash.

You absolutely need to drain before adding sparge water.

No difference…pour it in

[quote=“Silentknyght”]
When I add my sparge water to my mash, I stir it for perhaps 30 seconds, but I don’t let it sit much longer. Should I stir and let it sit for say… 10 minutes before draining? Is there an efficiency difference between the two?[/quote]

Stir longer…maybe a couple min. Nothing to be gained by letting it sit, though.

I doubt it would get you 10 points, but it’s worth a try. It would at least ensure that you get full conversion

It may be…like I said, calculate it manually

[quote=“Silentknyght”]
I use the Milwaukee pH56 meter and a refractometer (with ATC?). Both have been calibrated; it’s been a few months since the refractometer was last calibrated, though I don’t expect it to be that far off, yet.

Thanks!
:cheers: [/quote]

My refractometer is so far off that I gave up using it. Don’t assume yours is correct…check it.

How about dead space in your mash tun? Do you leave wort behind?

I second Denny’s suggestion of stirring longer after adding your sparge water. You need to get all that compacted grain and residual sugar completely suspended and distributed into the sparge water. Otherwise it’s the batch sparge equivilant of channeling - the sugar in the clumps just doesn’t get into the sparge water. Beyond a thorough stir, waiting won’t make much difference.

Maximizing your drainage of the 1st runoff will be more important than that of the second runoff - the 1st is more concentrated.

This is a really good point, and one I’ve probably even overlooked in my own runnings. Maybe I can still eek another point or two of efficiency out if I get all that first runnings out better! On the other hand, efficiency is NOT all that matters to me, in fact, somewhat the opposite as I recently OPENED the gap on my mill to shoot for more like 82% from now on, but that’s a whole 'nother topic…

can’t see the quote feature anymore. so i’ll do this the lo-tech way…

Mash time: BYO has an article in the last issue about mash times. they did some “experiments” and concluded that basically an hour was plenty for conversion. however, longer can’t hurt. i usually do an overnight mash due to my schedule/kids/life/etc.

Calculating efficiency for comparison to beersmith: Palmer’s book has a great section on determining your true efficiency. just walk thru his steps and assume the grain efficiency numbers he’s posted in the table unless you have the malster’s info. if you don’t have Palmer’s book and you’ve been thinking of joining AHA they are giving away a free copy with membership right now till supplies run out (code is how2bru, i think).

I received it as a gift. It was purchased from Midwest, here in Minneapolis, about a year ago. It doesn’t have the OG values on the same scale, so I assume it’s their other model, which includes ATC. I’ve only ever calibrated it using DI water at room temp, though.

Can you explain this further, with an example? I’d like to understand the “why” behind this advice to ensure I properly follow the advice.

How can I drain first runnings without adding sparge water and simultaneously have identical volumes? Or do I have, for example, (1) a volume of first runnings, perhaps a gallon (2) a volume of sparge water, perhaps 3 gallons, and a second volume of sparge water, also 3 gallons?

Some background for my confusion: when I’m entering items into Beersmith, it’s calculating the water volumes for me, and they’re NOT identical volumes. This lead me to believe that I should add the first, lesser volume to the tun BEFORE draining anything. I figured this made sense, since the hotter temps in the sparge water make the mash more fluid and easier to drain.

(I usually have the water for my sparge heated to 180-190 F before using)

Shouldn’t I be worrying about the gravity of my runnings, and stopping when it gets “too low”? Not that I do that anyhow… :lol: but I had always thought I should, and hence, that some leftover wort is acceptable or even beneficial. I probably have mashtun deadspace (if I don’t tip/tilt the tun), though I haven’t quantified it since I put in place my new manifold.

In all, thanks for the comments, everyone. I feel I’m closer to understanding some of these nuances.

Forget what Beersmith is telling you about volumes…mash with 1.5-1.6 qt. lb. At the end of the mash, drain the tun. Measure how much you get. Subtract that from your boil volume. The number you get will how much sparge water to use.

It is nearly impossible to oversparge with batch sparging. You can completely not worry about the gravity of the final runnings. It will definitely hurt your efficiency to leave wort behind in the mash tun.

It appears you’re really overthinking things. Have you looked at www.dennybrew.com ?

[quote=“Silentknyght”]How can I drain first runnings without adding sparge water and simultaneously have identical volumes? [/quote]You either mash with enough water so that the first runnings are equal to the sparge (which usually means you’ll mash thinner than 1.5 qt/lb which is just fine), or mash “normally” and then add enough boiling water to the MT to make your first runnings equal to the second (this temp boost can be beneficial to efficiency as you noted).

[quote=“Silentknyght”]Shouldn’t I be worrying about the gravity of my runnings, and stopping when it gets “too low”? [/quote]Nope, that’s for fly-sparging only - in batch-sparging the wort in the MT is all the same gravity (if you mix well before draining as you should).

While Denny is correct, (As usual), Beersmith does a great job for me in calculating volumes. You want to Sparge with 1/2 of your “Preboil volume”. Assume Your boil volume is 7 gallons, you want to sparge with 3.50, adjust your strike water within the mash details so that your sparge volume gets as close as possible to 3.50 gallons. The strike water will be greater this is to allow for grain absorption, dead space, etc.

best advice i got was from shadetree:
With batch-sparging the ideal is to have equal runoffs (for best efficiency). For a first guess at efficiency, 75% is good, so you would need 12 lbs of grain to put 5.5 gallons of 1.060 wort in the fermenter. Grain absorbs 0.125 gal/lb. Assuming 7.0 gallons into the kettle, you’d sparge with 3.5 gallons (half of the 7) and the total water in the mash would be 3.5 gallons + 12/8 = 5.0 gallons = 20 quarts and 20/12 = 1.66 qts/lb, which is a good ratio.

just do the math and adjust your water/grain ratio to get equal runnings of both. before i was assuming i needed 1.25 qts/lb and trying to work backwards from there. and that was @ssbackwards. once you get the right water/grain ratio put that in your software to determine strike water amts/temps/etc.

@Silentknyght: I say volumes are important for many reasons. Collecting wort down to the last drop is along the same lines. Of course, wort contains sugar. If you don’t collect the amount of wort that you expect, then you are throwing sugar away, which throws off all your calculations. And if, for example, your first runoff is bad but then you sparge a huge amount to make up for it, it’s not as efficient as if the volumes are equal. Probably the best description I’ve seen of the importance of equal runoffs is on Kai Troester’s site, http://braukaiser.com/wiki/index.php?ti … g_Analysis. The Dennybrew page at http://hbd.org/cascade/dennybrew/ is also very helpful. Denny explains that yeah, you might need to add a small infusion of hot water before you runoff, so that you will get equal volumes out from the first runnings and subsequent sparges. I do this, and it has no doubt added to my overall efficiency (again, assuming any homebrewer really needs to care all that much about efficiency).

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