Practical Guide to Efficiency and the Brew-Magic

 

Beer Smith Equipment Profile

I continue to field a lot of questions about efficiency (especially on the Brew-Magic) and I thought I would try to clear up a few myths, and give some practical advice. While this is generally applicable to any brewing style, I am going to focus on the Brew-Magic V350MS to give new users some starting points. I am also a BeerSmith user so will try to provide tips for setting up the application. A copy of my Equipment Profile can be downloaded in the files section of the Brew-Magic Owners page on Facebook.

I first need to express my frustration with brewers chasing very high rates of efficiency. It has become, in some ways, a bragging right. The reality is that your efficiency will vary, and few brewers really understand how to calculate correctly. Efficiency is a measure of consistency, and not a measure of quality, the brewer or the final beer. Generally beginners will experience lower efficiency, which will rise and stabilize with more experience and careful processing. If you want a more in-depth understanding of efficiency, I would start with Palmer and Brewer’s Friend.

Dialing in Brewhouse efficiency on the Brew-Magic is not all that difficult, but takes some time. I struggled for a couple of years accepting efficiency that bounced between 65% and 75% until I took control and carefully measured everything. Remember that in hunting down an issue, you should change only one element before testing again… and I didn’t have the patience. Also – while the folks at Brew Magic intend to provide accurate calibration, it’s your responsibility to look at the system critically.

What are the differences between Brewhouse and Extract Efficiency? Extract is simply a measure actual extract (gravity) of wort against the potential extract of the grist. Brewhouse efficiency incorporates extract efficiency against the volume losses of your system. Technically – it also incorporates losses in fermentation from trub, yeast and gravity checks. The calculation is complex, and sometimes variable due to errors or accidents. For the sake of this article, we are going to talk about Extract Efficiency, and possible areas of lost volume with the Brew Magic.

So what affects Extract Efficiency?

This all starts with the malt. Old, stale malt will not convert properly and should be discarded. Always use fresh malt when possible and use milled malt as quickly as possible. Recipe is also important. You need enough diastatic power in your base malts to handle any specialty and adjuncts that you expect to contribute extract.

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The Crush

Probably the largest issue that affects efficiency is the malt crush. There is a compromise that must be made between the crush size and the ability to lauter the mash easily. This compromise is critical when using a RIMS system like the Brew-Magic where liquor must recirculate through the mash bed. This recirculation action offsets much of the need to crush fine. Your mash and sparge technique will also influence how fine you mill; BIAB brewers can crush fairly fine, where cooler tun users may use a more moderate crush. With the Brew Magic, we are using a moderate to large crush. A starting point for V350 users is between 0.040 and 0.050, but that should be adjusted to provide a proper crush for the malt you are using. I find that the fatter kernels of Crisp Maris Otter crush well at 0.045, but I need to reduce to 0.040 for Briess 2-Row. For more details, check out Beer and Wine Journal.

Your goal should be to remove the husks of the malt intact, while breaking the white endosperm into small parts and generate as little flour as possible. There is an article with pictures at homebrewtalk.com and great pictures at Brewer’s Friend. So crush a little, evaluate the crush and make adjustments as necessary. If your mill gap moves while crushing, stop periodically and check the gap. I never reduce my gap below 0.040 on my 2-roller mill, and will re-mill the grist if I see a lot of whole kernels rather than further reducing the gap.

Mash Temperature and mash pH also impact efficiency, optimizing enzyme activity within specific temperature steps between 5.2 and 5.6 mash pH (measured at room temperature). Generally lower mash temperatures encourage a more fermentable wort, where higher mash temperature results in a less fermentable wort. While the mash temperatures generally don’t affect gravity, I find that a Mash Out temperature step at 170F aids lautering.

Lautering technique can dramatically impact efficiency on a system like the Brew Magic. I have switched from batch sparge to a long and slow traditional sparge. Brew-Magic was designed for hybrid fly sparge, and I have gained nearly 10 points of extract efficiency with the technique. It takes some time and attention to match pump input and wort run off to the kettle, but is worth mastering.

Brewhouse Efficiency and System Losses

Hitting volumes was a major test for me. I trusted the sight glasses, forgot to account for the losses to the plumbing, varied the strength of boil and so on. This relates more specifically to the Brewhouse Efficiency, but the final volume and gravity into your fermenter represents the final variable in Extract Efficiency. To this end, here are a few suggestions for Brew Magic brewers:

Use a calibrated pitcher to fill the HLT. I used the opportunity to create a story stick with gallon increments. You should note any differences in levels on the sight glass, if any. Remember the tank has no false bottom, so the graduations will vary to the boil kettle (the older configuration) and MLT. I tend to set the stick right at the inlet to the dip tube.

Next, with the false bottom removed from the MLT, bottom fill the mash tun until the water level just touches the bottom of the dip tube. Stop the flow with the HLT valve. Using your handy graduated pitcher, empty the plumbing through the dump valve and measure that volume. That volume (about a quart in my case) needs to be accounted as Lauter Tun Deadspace in your Beer Smith equipment profile.

Now perform the same volume calibration for the boil kettle. Install the dip tube but leave out the false bottom if you have that configuration, or set the newer dip tube to your preferred level. I find it is useful to fill it to the 15 gallon mark. Check your levels against the sight tube. Note the volume you have in the kettle and drain it, using gravity or your Chill Wizard. You need to measure the volume drained, and the resulting difference is added as Loss to Trub and Chiller. Anytime that you change your hoses (a discussion for another day), you should retest for volume losses. If you want to graduate your story stick for the BK, make sure the kettle is setup for brewing (with the false bottom if you use it).

Fermenter Losses

You can use the same water for a conical or Sabco fermenter, determining the volume left under the racking arm, if you have one. With a carboy, I would fill till I reached my normal trub level, and measure that amount. These volumes go into the Fermenter Loss field. I normally add at least 12 additional ounces for hydrometer readings.

Finally, fill the boil kettle to 3-5 gallons using your graduated pitcher. Bring this to a boil, with the same vigor you boil wort. Start a timer at boil and go for exactly 60 minutes. Then cool the wort and measure the remains. Measure the remaining amount, adding back in the leavings in the boil kettle. The difference from the original volume and the remaining volume should give a boil off rate. This is consistent and not dependent on the total boil volume. That is your Boil Off Rate for your equipment profile. Make sure to check the box.

At this point, Beer-Smith should be setup to help you plan a recipe and brew day. As you brew, keep notes and statistics on your Brew House efficiency. You can adjust as you go, but I find it safer to only make a change after 3 consecutive brews.

Final Thoughts

There seem to be many approaches and personalities that brew – some that throw caution to the wind and those on the other extreme that are extremely careful and have an engineer’s approach. I tend to fall into the latter, but feel that my brewing has leapt forward dramatically as a result. As I do these measurements, my focus is tightens on replicating previous brews, techniques and quality. The Brew-Magic is fun to brew on, but taking a few hours to carefully understand what is happening, and translating this into your chosen tools and procedures should give you confidence moving forward!

 

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Full Nelson SMaSH Recipe and Initial Tasting

For those that don’t know, a SMaSH beer is a single malt, single hop beer and a perfect vehicle to really get to know a new hop variety. I have gotten very lucky so far with Nelson Sauvin, using it in a previous recipe called Saison Du Sauvin. In the saison, it took center stage with a very distinct white wine grape characteristic which paired very well with the yeast and malt bill. So that won me over, but I have been reading a bit about the great tropical fruit character and thought I could push the boundaries a bit. I chose Maris Otter since it brings some nice malty character to the table all on its own, and Nottingham yeast, which ferments fairly clean and drops clear. I added some piloncillo sugar to bring a little character and dry this out. I also built RO water to the Pale Ale profile in Bru’n Water.

Recipe Details

Batch Size Boil Time IBU SRM Est. OG Est. FG ABV
10.5 gal 60 min 67.0 IBUs 7.6 SRM 1.064 SG 1.014 SG 6.6 %

Style Details

Name Cat. OG Range FG Range IBU SRM Carb ABV
American IPA 14 B 1.056 - 1.075 1.01 - 1.018 40 - 70 6 - 15 2.2 - 2.7 5.5 - 7.5 %

Fermentables

Name Amount %
Pale Malt, Maris Otter 20 lbs 95.24
Piloncillo 1 lbs 4.76

Hops

Name Amount Time Use Form Alpha %
Nelson Sauvin 1.06 oz 60 min Boil Pellet 12
Nelson Sauvin 1.06 oz 30 min Boil Pellet 12
Nelson Sauvin 1.06 oz 15 min Boil Pellet 12
Nelson Sauvin 2.12 oz 30 min Aroma Pellet 12
Nelson Sauvin 3.17 oz 3 days Dry Hop Pellet 12

Miscs

Name Amount Time Use Type
Irish Moss 1.00 tsp 10 min Boil Fining

Yeast

Name Lab Attenuation Temperature
Nottingham (-) Danstar 75% 57°F - 70°F

This beer has been racked and carbonating for a week. I split the batch with a neighbor – whose version is missing 2 additional ounces of dry hops in the keg. So that skews my batch heavily in terms of aroma. So some quick tasting notes…

Changed the name because this is freaking out my tongue and nose :) from Otter SMaSH Nelson to Full Nelson. My face is really trying to understand what is going in in the glass… tough

Looks: This is not dropping clear at all – it is a pale milky orange, still slightly under carbed. I will try to clarify with some gelatin later. Golden. Clears slightly at it warms. No head.

Aroma: Cat pee, dank, and this is very surprising. The dry hop in the keg is pungent and sharp. At first whiff, there is green grass and something slightly sulfur under that, and then with a full nose in and deep breath comes the ammonia. So while this sounds terrible, it is not. There is a lot of fruit going on, slightly citrus but very tropical. Think mango with a lot of lemon lime. No malt or yeasty esters at all. HOP BOMB

Flavor: Very smooth bitterness, doesn’t have the IPA sharp hit I expected. Tastes like a FWH beer, but it was not. Additions were layered in – but sharp bitterness isn’t coming through. Very dry – no residual sweetness. A bit of sweet tangerine or blood orange on the tongue, but BIG HOP FLAVOR. Some sharp acidity, but a very long finish to the taste. Sticks around. Definitely needs crystal malt to fortify and back this up. I would not put this at 60+ IBU, more in the pale ale range.

Overall: I am on the fence on this beer. It has the potential to be a great beer, but as a SMaSH, pulling back and balancing the hops is necessary. The layered additions approach is different than I usually hop (small bittering with big late hops), but I think it highlights how a hop works and its potential. The bittering is not obvious but the flavor and aroma are spectacularly fragrant and intense.  I really want to see how this matures. A few weeks on gas and lagering may turn it around into a flavorful easy drinking beer. Right now – this is a palette wrecker. Juicy and pithy.

A week later: The beer is starting to drop clear, although some haze remains. The intensity of the pungent aroma and flavor is mellowing somewhat, but still strong. Curiously, the bittering seems to have intensified somewhat, perhaps as the hop flavor smooths a bit.

 

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A Shot at Beer from a Place

I have been following Stan Heironymous religiously since “Brew Like a Monk” was released, including his blog, Appelation Beer. A very common theme is understanding Beer From a Place, and how we consistently misunderstand the point when inundated with marketing, beer styles and myths (see marketing). So, in honor of Stan, here’s my take.

Beer From a Place, to me, is that perfect beer moment, integral and symbiotic to the sensory memory and impression. Maybe the beer is the vehicle that defines the moment, but mostly it is a supporting actor, but an Oscar winner to the moment. That is – I remember the beer, the taste and the moment lucidly. Hopefully, that memory is positive, but not always. I believe that Stan H expects that sense of place to be more substantial, less ethereal. I am less sure. A beer made in my garage with a yeast from Belgium, malt from Texas and hops from New Zealand fits into an international melting pot, not my garage. Still, as the brewer, I have put thought and consideration and lots of sweat (Texas summers can be rough).

I have been traveling a lot these last few weeks, both internationally and domestic. It has seemed that while my expectations are often dashed, great surprises are found in the remote, unexpected places.

Goodmanham Ale Taps

Goodmanham Arms Ale House – I had the fortune during a recent Sunday morning in Yorkshire to be treated to lunch here. Across the street is a 12th century Norman church and graveyard, crumbling. An unassuming stone building, surrounded by cottages and English gardens set the scene. Outside, a few smokers huddled in the late morning mist, while we started with ciders and a Theakston’s Best Bitter (no Old Peculiar on tap). Inside was hot, cramped with crickety tables and benches. Above the entrance, certifications from CAMRA and even Blacksheep Brewery, promised REAL real ale. We had to wait to get a seat, but was promised a proper Yorkshire Sunday meal. And the beer was perfect.

From next door, with a brewery the same size as my garage system, Goodmanham All Hallows brewery had a dedicated handle. Perfectly conditioned and cellared ruby ale shot through the sparkler producing a thick cream head. Ragged Robyn poured a distinct ruby red, full of fruity esters and caramel malts.

The fellowship made the day, visiting and laughing with new friends. We sat next to the fire and tucked into roast vegetables, beef and lamb piled against puddings and dark onion gravy. Outside a couple rode up on an antique Norton motorbike and parked next to a fully restored WW2 period Triumph. A quiet country England – filled with flowers, foggy mist and great beer.

Westmalle Tripel

Restaurant across from The Druid’s Cellar, Brugge – another defining experience, getting to know our hosts after two days of walking through Brugge and about 1000 snaps of my camera. We intended to have a few at ‘t Bruges Bierje, and got there 10 minutes after it opened to find it swamped with a several hour wait. So we moved on. I was very disappointed – Bierje is a highly regarded pub. We walked around a bit, and let the ladies stop and shop, and sat down outside of a cafe just across from The Druid’s Cellar. That I don’t remember the restaurant name, nor can find it on Google Maps, is irrelevant. A mist was forming, but was refreshing as clouds meandered and the Bell Tower tolled in the dusk. Trevor had a Kasteel Donker and I nursed a Westmalle Tripel and at a table next to us, a little tyke plowed through a chocolate covered pancake, squinting a sticky grin. We decided to stay and have dinner – as the aromas around us peaked our appetites. The mist turned into a sprinkle and we moved inside – ate amazing mussels, more tripel, a geueze and more lovely company and conversation that went fairly late. Frittes to die for – seriously heavenly – transcendent. We were perfectly fortified for the 40 minute walk in the light rain back to the hotel.

Pints Pub

Pint’s Pub, Denver: A little place downtown, that claims to be one of the first real ale houses in the US. I was there for a meeting, and got in just as they opened. The proprietor was cleaning the bar when I sat down, and I asked about the beer engines. There was a bitter and a dark ale on cask, and I asked for a Dark Star, a rich Yorkshire brown ale modeled after Riggwelter from Black Sheep Brewery. Surrounding the bar is the most amazing collection of malt whiskeys I have ever seen. The proprieter/brewer and I started talking about brewing, and he gave me the nickel tour – a little 5 barrel system, scrapped together into cramped quarters. As we talked, it was clear he cared about brewing true cask ales, and was incredibly proud of his cellarmanship. It showed in the beers and in the food. The lunch business was productive, but the beer stood out, as did the brewer!

Bierworks Sampler

Bierworks Brewery, Woodland Park, Colorado: I remember seeing the tanks being loaded into this facility a few years back. Previously a repurposed gas station, Bierworks is tiny and cramped, all spare space stuffed with brewing bits of hardware. Outside is a little beer garden and a food truck (BBQ). A tap room opens up to the outside. We had intentionally postponed lunch so that I could eat after a ride up toward Victor and Cripple Creek – and the beer was such a surprise. Another tribute to quality brewing skills, Bierworks beers are solid and well executed – no triple IPA or cucumber ales here.

So little places, some experiences expected and mostly unexpected. The experience comes together to create an event – centered around a nice malty pint and great company. Prosit!

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