kidxmasFew things in this life make me happier than receiving boxes in the mail. When I walk into my office on a Friday morning and find that two new, though not all that shiny (what do you expect…they are cardboard), boxes are waiting for me in my inbox, I get a bit giddy.

I feel like a kid on Christmas morning. Which is weird, because I usually know what will be inside.The joy and excitement of opening those boxes up and discovering their contents is something that I still feel as powerfully as I did when I was just a wee little tot…especially when I know it’s something for the brewery.

partboxThis morning, two such boxes were waiting for me. As I turned the corner into my office, and caught a glimpse of them, my heart lept in my chest. It lept. Without a moment’s hesitation, I pulled out my trusty pocket knife and made quick work of the packaging.

So what, oh what, was waiting for me this fine morning?

I’ll tell you. Better than that…I’ll show you.

Here’s what came in today:

partpicbig

One new stainless steel ball valve. One 1/2″ stainless steel coupler. Two quick disconnect fittings. A roll of teflon tape. And a new brew pump impeller.

I know it might not look like much…but to me, this was a very exciting delivery.

CAUTION…NERD ALERT…THINGS ARE ABOUT TO GET BREW TECHY.

You see, this handfull of small parts and odds and ends are going to allow Regular Guy Brewing to try something all new with it’s brewing process….FLY SPARGING!

DON’T SAY I DIDNT WARN YOU.

Up to this point in our brewing, we have been using the batch sparging method. Put in layman’s terms for those who are interested in learning more, this is basically what we have been doing:

  • Mashing our grain by soaking it in hot water (153F or so) for about an hour
  • Raising the temperature of the mash up to about 168F
  • Transferring the liquid from the mash tun to our brew kettle leaving just the wet grain, which still has some usable sugars attached to it
  • Adding more hot water (168F) to the mash tun
  • Draining that liquid out to the kettle, leaving just the wet grain, which still has a little big of usable sugar attached to it, but not much
  • Adding more hot water (168F) to the mash tun
  • Draining that liquid out to the kettle, leaving just the wet grain, which should have almost no usable sugar attached to it.

I am probably leaving a few steps out, but those are probably more beer geeky than anyone would care to read about.

At any rate, this process works. It is certainly a relatively easy way to start doing things, as you can execute the process with just a single pump and without having to construct a mult-tiered brewing system.

But while it works, batch sparging is not the most efficient way of doing things. Mash efficiency, for those not in the know, is a comparison between the amount of sugar that you actually extracted from the grain to the total amount that theoretically could have been extracted.

SERIOUSLY? ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO READ THIS?

The number is something that is thrown around a lot within the home brewing community. Spend some time in a home brewing forum, or go to a home brewing meeting, and you will doubtlessly encounter more than a fair number of humble brags (and outright ones, too) about that brewer’s respective mash efficiency (also known as M.E.).

In the end, it really isn’t that important, except for three things.

1) Consistency. You don’t just want your beer to be good. You want it taste the same batch after batch. In theory, if you take good notes and follow your own instructions to the tee, you could go years between brewing the same batch and still make it taste exactly the same way. If you know your M.E. and it stays the same (or relatively close to the same) from brew to brew, you can eliminate this factor from the variables that can impact your final product.

2) Predictability. Once you know what your M.E. is, you can more accurately predict how to calculate your grain bill for your recipes. If it’s low, then you know you need more grain to reach your desired gravity numbers. If your M.E. is high, you know you need less grain. Which leads us to…

2) Economy. Less grain means less money. Simple enough.

Using our current batch sparging set up, we typically get an M.E. around 83%. Not terrible, but I think we can do better.

Enter fly sparging.

THIS IS MY FINAL WARNING!

So you remember before how we would drain the mash tun, and then refill it, then drain it again, then refill it again, then drain it again. Forget that. Scratch it off. We aren’t doing that anymore.

Instead, we are going to add in our water for rinsing the grain at the same time that we drain the liquid out of the mash tun and send it to the kettle. It will basically be a constant flow of hot liquid through the grain bed. The thickest, most sugar laiden, wort will make its way to the kettle first. As we continuously pump water in from our Hot Liquor Tank onto the top of the grain bed, the remaining sugars will be rinsed away, off to the kettle for the boil.

photo2To make this work though, we need to match the inflow with the outflow. Get that down, and we are on the fast track to easy town. Thankfully, our self constructed brewery control panel and grant system give us a head start on this front. The parts and fittings that came in today will also be of great use as they are the final pieces to connecting a second brew pump to our system.

Then, we just need to keep an eye on the gravity of the liquid coming out of the mash tun. By frequently checking the gravity using our handy dandy refractometer we will know when that liquid is nothing more than hot water. At that point, we will know that we have extracted all the sugar from that grain that we possibly could have.

Does that mean that our M.E. will be 100%…sadly no. There are many other factors (the crush of the grain…the quality of the grain itself) that are in play. But it should give us a boost. And a boost ain’t bad.

Looking forward to putting all this together tonight and brewing with it in the very near future! We’ll let you know how that goes!

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