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Troubleshooting

As I look forward to my fall/winter brewing season, I am still not entirely happy with my brewing results. In general, my beer tends to be thinner or more watery than what I would expect. It tends to be more bitter than I would expect. It tends to be less malty and sweet than I would expect. I admit that I have never fully understood the concept of attenuation. However, I would say my beer seems more highly attenuated than I would like, and does not have the mouthfeel I would like. Whereas beers like Surly Furious, Sierra Nevada Torpedo, Arrogant Bastard, and others have a rich, almost oily mouthfeel; my beer feels thin and sharp on the tongue.

Two years ago I upgraded my brewing gear to increase my brewing efficiency (which runs around 73%). I also switched to batch sparging. Last year I decided to get more “scientific” about my brewing. I reviewed the monthly water analysis reports of my St. Paul city tap water, and made adjustments using the ezwater spreadsheet. Nonetheless, I am still not getting the results I would like.

At this point, I hope to use a process of elimination to zero in on where I can make further improvements. I would appreciate your input on the following:

I wonder if I am underpitching my yeast, especially when I make higher gravity beers. How would I know, i.e., how will underpitching affect the end product. What characteristics will underpitched beer have compared to beer that is properly pitched.

St. Paul water tends to be relatively soft, and has a relatively high ph. I adjust my water, but am not sure if I am getting it right. How will water hardness/softness affect the end product? How will high/low ph affect end product?

I also wonder if I am fermenting my beer at too high a temperature. How will a higher/lower fermentation temperature affect end product?

Ultimately, I hope to determine if any of these factors could be the cause of my problems. Your insights are appreciated.

The first thing I’d look at is your thermometer calibration. Make sure it’s accurate around 150 (mash temp), not at boiling or freezing.

Underpitching would generally result in less attenuation, not higher attenuation like you’re experiencing.

What sort of attenuations are you getting?

Thank you for the replies. Denny, you are correct that I have only calibrated the thermometer on my mash/lauter tun at freezing and boiling. Is checking it at 150 simply a matter of heating some water, and check the kettle thermometer against another thermometer I trust? Would the results I am experiencing (watery, thin, bitter, not malty enough) tend to be a sign of too high a mash temp, or too loo?

a10t2, I typically come pretty close to the recommended OG and FG numbers for the style. However, I have never specifically done the attenuation calculation. The comments in my original post were strictly anectodal. I have also not paid much attention to attenuation when selecting yeast. I have more recently been using dry yeast, for the convenience and cost savings. Of course, there is not as much variety in the dry yeast. I guess I need to start thinking about whether the yeast has an attenuation range appropriate for what I am looking for in results.

Yep, that’s the basic procedure. I have a certified, calibrated lab thermometer that I check my brewing thermometer against. If your brewing thermometer reads high, you’ll be mashing at too low a temp, leading to a loss of body. Of course, there’s no guarantee that this is the problem, but it’s the first thing I’d look at. In regard to yeast, the fermentability of the mash makes much more difference than the attenuation rating of the yeast. Although different yeasts can finish at the same FG but leave different mouthfeels. For instance, i like WY1450 because of the full, silky mouthfeel you get with it. And even though WY1056 and US-05 can finish at nearly the same FG and have very similar flavors, I find that 095 will leave the body of the beer a bit thinner than 1056.

Thanks again for the info. You guys always leave me with something good to think about.

When I said attenuation in my original post, I guess I was really referring to body and mouthfeel. After reading the replies, I found some articles on the internet about body, mouthfeel, and attenuation. In addition to paying more attention to my yeast, I might also adjust my malt bill, to add a bit more dextrin, cara, and other malts that contribute body and mouthfeel. I will also consider bumping my mash temp a degree or two (maybe closer to 154 than 150).

What about the bitterness issue? I think I read somewhere that certain water chemistries tend to bump the IBUs, i.e., the same amount of hops yields a higher IBU. Does this ring a bell with anyone? Could my water, which tends to be soft with a higher ph, be bumping my IBUs?

It could, but you;d have to get a water analysis to know for sure. A high level of sulfate will accentuate bitterness. You can get a great water test at www.wardlab.com for $16.50. Get test W-6. Then you’ll know what you’ve got and can form a plan to deal with it.

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