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

dmtaylo2 hasn’t said it outright, but he is dancing around a fact that should be considered: higher efficiency doesn’t mean better beer. It mean less expensive beer because you use less grain to get the same amount of sugar, but you also get less flavor contributions from the rest of the grain with high efficiency because there is less grain there.

Much more important than high efficiency is consistant efficiency. Because consistancy allows you to hit your targets for your recipes without having to make a bunch of adjustments at the start of the boil.

+1. If you can hit 73% efficiency, or 83% efficiency, or whatever, on the average, every time you make a batch of average strength (pick something, maybe OG=1.055 or something like that), then there’s truly not much need to tweak your process after that. If you’re down in the 60s, you can do certain things to help efficiency, but is it really necessary? Well, it depends what you want, but I say, maybe not. My theory is that low efficiency beer actually tastes better. So as soon as you can get your brewday to be predictable, the happier you should be. No one wants to brew the same recipe twice and one time have it at 1.073 and the next time at 1.044 – there’s just something wrong with that. Anything consistent is just fine. A couple extra efficiency points here and there might be a good learning experience, but it might NOT necessarily make better tasting beer. I guess I’m not 100% sure either way right now. More experiments are needed.

One other thing worthy of note – with batch sparging, your efficiency will always decrease as the desired original gravity increases, and vice-versa. If I make 16 batches of beer around 1.055 with efficiency of 75%, and then suddenly decide to make a higher gravity batch expecting 1.090 while also expecting the same efficiency of 75%, without changing the process in some other way to compensate, I am going to be disappointed when I end up with something only like 1.078 at 53% efficiency. With experience, you’ll figure out just how much a hit you’ll take when shooting for a higher gravity brew. Efficiency seems to bottom out at 53% with the biggest beers, but that’s only if you don’t change anything. If you double sparge or plan for a 120-minute boil, you can still get efficiency in the 70s, IF you want to do that.

I use johnplctech’s Mashwater program for calculating my volumes. It’s a lot easier to adjust your mash ratio than Beersmith.

http://gnipsel.com/beer/software/beer-software.html

[quote=“Denny”]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.
[/quote]

I definitely agree with this. I’m starting to believe that a thinner mash gives me better efficiency, despite the fact that this doesn’t seem to be mentioned in the standard homebrew books. A 1.5 qt/lb or higher water/grain ratio seems to get better conversion in 60 minutes.

Ok, I think I’m starting to understand this concept better, though I admit I still don’t understand the mechanism behind why two equal volumes is so efficient.

I should add that it’s likely the cause of my lost efficiency. I’ve been heating the whole batch of sparge water, and have not been paying attention to collecting equal volumes of runnings. In my most recent batch (in the OP), I think I collected all of a gallon before filling the mash tun with the rest of the sparge water, out of concerns of keeping the grain bed afloat and avoiding a stuck sparge.

double post.

I’m pretty sure I understand what the problem is. You are mixing batch and fly sparging, not doing one or the other.

When you fly sparge, after recirculating you slowly add water at the same time you slowly drain water. It is important to keep the total water level just over the top of the grain bed or you risk getting a compacted and stuck sparge. You keep draining wort until you have collected the volume of wort you need or until the wort draining coming out drops to a SG of 1.008 - 1.010; whichever comes first.

When batch sparging, you recirculate and then drain all the wort out of the mash without adding any water. You don’t have to worry about how fast you are draining or floating the grain bed - that doesn’t matter. You try to make sure everything that can drain does. Then, you close your valve, add the total volume of your sparge water and stir it around. Recirculate and again drain everything you can. At this point, if you calculated your volumes correctly, you have exactly the starting volume of wort you need. The equal volumes can bump efficiency some, but you can tune that in later. Simply doing a complete drain before adding the sparge water is going to do amazing things for your efficiency.

[quote="Narvin"I definitely agree with this. I’m starting to believe that a thinner mash gives me better efficiency, despite the fact that this doesn’t seem to be mentioned in the standard homebrew books. A 1.5 qt/lb or higher water/grain ratio seems to get better conversion in 60 minutes.[/quote]

Without a doubt I’ve gotten better efficiency since I went from 1.25 qt./lb. to 1.6-1.75 qt./lb.

[quote=“Silentknyght”]Ok, I think I’m starting to understand this concept better, though I admit I still don’t understand the mechanism behind why two equal volumes is so efficient.

I should add that it’s likely the cause of my lost efficiency. I’ve been heating the whole batch of sparge water, and have not been paying attention to collecting equal volumes of runnings. In my most recent batch (in the OP), I think I collected all of a gallon before filling the mash tun with the rest of the sparge water, out of concerns of keeping the grain bed afloat and avoiding a stuck sparge.[/quote]

Please, do yourself a favor and read www.dennybnrew.com.

And if you really want to understand why equal runnings is best, read this…warning: math is involved!..

http://home.roadrunner.com/~brewbeer/fi ... parge.html

[quote=“Denny”]
Please, do yourself a favor and read http://www.dennybnrew.com.

And if you really want to understand why equal runnings is best, read this…warning: math is involved!..

http://home.roadrunner.com/~brewbeer/fi ... parge.html[/quote]

Thanks, Denny. I’ve read your site a long time ago, but it’s good to return to it again, knowing & understanding more it makes more sense. I’ve also read the other site you mentioned–and done some general searching–but still don’t understand what’s going on inside the mash tun during 2 equal sparges that isn’t going on during (for example) one small & one large sparge.

Wait, so are you mashing at 1.25qts/lb and then doing the water math dance to make sure you get equal runoffs by adding the gallon (or whatever) right before you do the 1st runoff, or are you mashing thin by adding all the water to get your first runoff vol at the beginning of the mash and having a 1.5 or 1.6qt/lb ratio?

I’m reading 2 different things here.

It doesn’t matter how you do it, either mash thicker and add water pre-drain, or mash thin and don’t add water before first runnings. Some people, myself included, prefer the thinner mash for various reasons - I like it because it’s much easier to get a good mix and even temp distribution and the greater thermal mass holds the temp better. Either way you’ll get the most sugar out of the grain with equal runnings (typically not a huge bump in efficiency, though).

Does anybody take the advice about HSA and not drain their 1st runnings below the top of the grain? I’ve been doing this lately, but it’s hard to tell if there’s any benefit. I think my efficiency has suffered, though. But an extra pound of grain means nothing compared to potentially better beer.

[quote=“brwrboy69”]Does anybody take the advice about HSA and not drain their 1st runnings below the top of the grain?[/quote]You first have to pretend that HSA is real and you need to care about it. Then ask yourself if that advice is applicable to batch-sparging and see that the answer is “no” and just ignore it. Then stop pretending that HSA is real and RDWHA(nother)HB. :wink:

I believe that rebuiltcellars is correct, the OP is confusing and combining batch with fly sparging.

Denny described the process succinctly: simply add 1.5 qt/lb of water, mash, drain completely (tip the cooler to get every last drop), measure the amount in your kettle, subtract that amount from your desired boil volume, add that difference to your mash tun, give it a stir, wait a minute if you like, vorlauf and drain. Easy peazy.

I use 11 lb of grain +/- for every batch of beer I make. I get an OG of 1.056 every single time without fail. I’ve three hydrometers so I am pretty confident I am getting the same efficiency batch to batch. To be honest, I don’t even remember what that number is efficiency-wise and it does not matter. For me, consistency and convenience outweigh everything else when it comes to the process of beer making (along with great tasting beer, of course). That’s what batch sparging is for me: convenient and consistent.

The reason for THAT is the helpful advice of people on this board. :cheers:

I’ve done 407 batches draining the cooler fully, not worrying about exposing the grain. I’m also a BJCP Nat’l. judge so I can probably pick out oxidation if it’s there. I have never had an oxidized batch that was attributable to draining the cooler.

An easy way I’ve found to think of why equal runnings optimizes efficiency, short of doing the math, is to realize that the greater the volume of the sparge the greater the efficiency of that particular sparge. This is true for both the mash water and the sparge water, so maximizing both maximizes the total efficiency. They are both maximized when you have equal runnings. More mash water means less sugar left to get out with a sparge (therefore, less sugar ultimately left in the grain bed), while more sparge water means less sugar left in the dry grain bed. Doing the math shows this.

However, the other thing you learn from doing the math is that there is little effect of varying from equal runnings by as much as 20%. This means you should shoot for equal runnings ±20%, which works out to about 1 gallon on a 5 gallon batch. So don’t get bent out of shape if you end up with 4 gallons of first runnings and 3 gallons of second runnings, instead of 3.5 in both. The cost will be about 1-2% efficiency.
rebuiltcellers said:[quote]higher efficiency doesn’t mean better beer. It mean less expensive beer because you use less grain to get the same amount of sugar, but you also get less flavor contributions from the rest of the grain with high efficiency because there is less grain there.[/quote]
Just consider, this theory depends on a number of factors that effect efficiency. If a brewer’s efficiency is low because they are leaving a lot of wort in the grainbed, like the OP, they are leaving flavor, as well.

just curious what your ideal mash ratio is for higher gravity beers. i’m doing Denny’s RIPA this weekend and for equal runnings it’s about 1.3 qt/lb on my system in this weather. i was thinking about doing 1.5ish qt/lb and having slightly unequal runnings.

I prefer ~1.6 qt/lb for the mash, but I have a 30-gallon MT and no-sparge pretty much everything, so what works for me might not fit in your MT and/or could reduce your efficiency quite a bit when you have a very small sparge.

I pretty much mash at 1.5/qt and then adjust up if needed with some water at 60 minutes to try and hit equal volumes (n et of the grain absorbtion in the initial drain).
The one thing I don;t do is open the kettle valve all the way to drain it. I find if I drain too fast, I tend to get pooling on the top of the bed and a big mound of grain in the midle…just my system I guess. I also note way more on the way of grain debris in the kettle if I run the tun wide open. I usually set it about half open and go get the water for the second runnings, Once it’s drained, I’ll add the water and stir for 5 or 6 minutes off and on, then drain that at the same rate as I fire up the kettle and begin to bring it to a boil as it contunues to drain. I usually hit 73-75% efficiency with this system closer to around 70 with beers over 1.075.

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