Brewing beer is about getting sugar from grains… when we mash grains we convert the starch into sugar and we extract that sugar… that’s why brewers who use DME or LME are extract brewers… they don’t mash, they just work with the extracted sugar…

The question how much sugar do you get from your grains is what brewers talk about when they say the word ‘efficiency’…

You’ll see this in recipes, and it’s important to know because the amount of grains you use may be different if your efficiency is lower (or higher)…

So today I am going to go over efficiency and what I’ve found to have had the biggest impact on this…

[s2If is_user_logged_in() AND current_user_can(access_s2member_level1)]One of the nice things about brewing with extract is that you know exactly how much sugar you are adding… if you add 6 pounds of DME, you have exactly 6 pounds of sugar in your water and your wort will have the same original gravity (O.G.) every time…

With grains, not so much…

You could start out with 10 pounds of grains… say 2-row for example…

Here’s how much sugar you would get depending on your efficiency:

100% Efficiency = 370 points of sugar

or O.G. of 1.074

75% Efficiency = 277.5 points of sugar

or O.G. of 1.055

50% Efficiency = 185 points of sugar

or O.G. of 1.037

The formula I used to figure this out was

46 x 80.5% (Extract F.G.) x 10 (lbs of grain) x Efficiency

For O.G.

Points of sugar divided by 5 (batch size)[/content_box_yellow]As you can see, the starting gravity of your wort can vary greatly depending on your efficiency…

100% efficiency is not really something to strive for… and while higher efficiency is better as far as saving money and getting more from your grains, 75% efficiency is pretty good… some push for 80% efficiency, but the point of knowing efficiency and getting good at it is for consistency…

Again, the main thing you should focus on when it comes to efficiency is consistency… that way when you put together a recipe, you get the same beer every time you brew it…

It’s also important because if you take recipes from places like BYO magazine, know that they write their recipes assuming a 65% efficiency… if you have a higher efficiency (75%) then you’ll get a higher ABV beer and it may not turn out the way it was intended…

When you change one thing in a recipe, like increase the ABV%, you may have to change other things to compensate for that and balance the beer…

To avoid that, work on getting consistent and extracting the same amount of sugar from your grains every time…

So, how do you increase your efficiency?

Assuming you’ve had good starch to sugar conversion, what I’ve noticed increases efficiency more than anything else is constant stirring during the mash…

So let me describe my old process so you can learn from my mistakes, and how I improved it…

I use a round cooler as a mash tun…

I would mash in, meaning add grains to the mash tun and water… the average beer I brew uses about 9 to 10 pounds of grain…. I’ll use 10 for this example…

I mash in at about 1.5 quarts per pound of grain… so for 10 pounds I would use about 15 quarts which is just under 4 gallons of water…

That means that by the time the mash is done and grain absorbs water, that would give me about 2.75-3 gallons of wort… and I need about 6.25 to boil down to 5.25…

My old process was, I would start collecting wort after I mashed and as I started collecting wort, I would begin to add water on top of the mash so that I could collect all 6.25 gallons of wort… (known as continuous sparging)

The first time I tried this, I found that my efficiency was very low… somewhere around the 50 to 60%…

The reason was that I was doing this too fast…

So the beers where essentially coming out as session beers… low ABV…

Not what I wanted…

What I started to do to improve was to slow down the rate at which I would collect the wort… this way, the new water I was adding to the mash would spend more time going through the grains and would therefore give the sugar more time to dissolve in the water…

Using this slower pace increased my efficiency to 70 to 75%…

It worked great with one exception… it was very time consuming… It was taking me almost an hour and a half just to collect the wort…

What I decided to do at that point was to simply collect the wort I had created with the initial 4 gallons of water… so again, after accounting for water lost to grain absorption, I would get about 2.75 gallons of wort…

So I would add another 4+ gallons of water to the mash AFTER collecting the first runnings (that way I could collect a total of 6.25 gallons of wort) and here’s what made the difference…

I stirred the grains constantly to make sure the sugars would dissolve into the water… let the grains sit a bit and stirred some more… a combination of stirring and giving the sugars enough time to dissolve in the sparge water was what I did to bring my efficiency up…

This brings about a couple issues…

I use a round cooler as a mash tun and I like to cover the mash tun to keep temperature constant during the mash… if I wanted to stir constantly, then I would have to uncover the mash tun and lose temperature…

For the first runnings I don’t stir constantly because losing temperature will affect the sugar profile… instead I stir thoroughly when I first mash in, and then maybe once in between and once more about 10 minutes before I begin to collect the wort…

For the second runnings I do like to stir more… temperature loss is not as important for conversion at that point, but I like to keep the temperature up to reduce the chances of a stuck sparge…

To compensate for that temperature loss I make sure the water I add brings my mash temperature up to 170 °F so when I’m done stirring and letting it sit for about 5 minutes, the mash is still above 160 to 165 °F

So the point here is that, if you want to increase your efficiency, make sure that the water coming into contact with the wort spends enough time in there… and that you stir the mash well…

It’s like making lemonade… you can squeeze in some lemon juice into water and add sugar, but if you don’t stir it well, you won’t get the sugar to dissolve into the water and it won’t taste as sweet… gotta stir to get the sugar to dissolve…

Same concept applies to extracting or getting sugar from grains and it’s what will determine how much sugar you get from your grains…

Cheers!


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