No sparge, no problem

When I was designing my new brewery, I wanted to come up with something that would allow me to produce beers quickly and consistently. One time/space/money saving measure I took was to do without sparging.

By foregoing a step of the traditional brewing process I would not require a hot liquor tank or any of the associated plumbing. Seeing as I definitely wanted to use sanitary triclamp fittings throughout, and they’re kind of pricey, a reduction in complexity of the brewery’s plumbing carried a fair amount of weight in my decision making process. While I was concerned about efficiency, both my budget and my desire to have shorter brew days were more important to me.

The efficiency concern

On my previous system I was getting brewhouse efficiency that was in the mid 80s with a single batch sparge. With my new system, I was prepared for values 10-15% lower.

You can think of grain as sponge, it absorbs something like 0.12 gallons of liquid per pound. After the mash, the sparge partially recovers some of the sugary liquid retained by the grain by rinsing it with water. Without the sparge, these sugars travel with the grain to the compost bin.

Whether you sparge or not, the same amount of water is required to reach the pre boil volume. So, while BIABers do not sparge, for instance, they use a very thin mash to achieve proper pre boil volumes. This in effect extracts a fair portion of the available sugars. In my case, the liquid in the mash is divided into two vessels such that I have traditional mash consistency in the mash lauter tun (allowing a nice grain bed to form), and all of the “extra” in the boil kettle (in direct contact with a heating element). As I recirculate during the mash, I am able to maintain or ramp mash temperatures with setup.

Efficiency calculations

Brewhouse efficiency is measured as the percentage of the total sugars contained in the grain that make it into the fermenter. I’ve always been skeptical when I heard of BIABers getting efficiency numbers in the 80s. I’ve ran the numbers, and it’s not entirely impossible. To obtain 80%+ efficiency with a no sparge system you must achieve excellent conversion with very low grain absorption. This can be done by having a very fine crush, good temperature control, and compressing liquid out of the grain bed.

It turns out efficiency decreases roughly linearly with grain bill size. I created a shiny app to calculate brew house efficiency for no sparge breweries across a range of typical grain bill sizes. The app also provides a linear equation that allows you to estimate brewhouse efficiency very closely on future recipes.

It turns out for my new system my brewhouse efficiency will be around 70-76%, assuming 95% conversion efficiency. So, I was close in my estimation of losing 10-15% off my previous system. I’m happy with this, and I think I should be able hit my numbers very consistently using the linear equation I’ve generated with this app.

If you’re interested in the code, it is hosted on github.

  12 comments for “No sparge, no problem

  1. Rick Hutfloetz
    September 20, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    Thank you Justin,

    This is encouraging. I have a three vessel system and was worried about a significant reduction in efficiency. Looks like I’ll be going to a two vessel system in my next brewery.

    Rick

  2. Bosh
    September 21, 2016 at 10:09 pm

    Pretty easy to do a BIAB sparge. Just take the bag out, drain it and dunk it in a bucket of water. Annoying as all hell draining the bag twice though…

    • September 23, 2016 at 2:55 pm

      Of course I refer to the most basic form of BIAB above… but if you incorporate a “bucket dunk” sparge, and combine that with a “bag squeeze”, you will beat the efficiency of a 3 vessel system brewer doing a single batch sparge everytime!

  3. September 22, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    BIAB efficiency is something that I cannot get my head around. I notice a difference between batch sparge and no sparge and it definitely doesn’t hit 80%, however, it isn’t something I concern myself with particularly, not at my small scale at least.

    • September 23, 2016 at 2:53 pm

      You’re saying that your “no sparge” brews never have 80%+ efficiency right?

      10% reduction in efficiency for me means MAYBE an extra 3lbs of malt. Less than $2/batch for sure… really puts it into perspective!

  4. Jonathan Lizenby
    September 23, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    Do you have a video documenting a brew day yet? I’m switching to electric soon, so I’m weighing the options as to which panel version I build.

    • Justin
      September 23, 2016 at 3:45 pm

      Sorry not at this time… maybe in the future I will do a video log of my brew days with my new brewery. Ask any questions you like though!

  5. clincharoo
    November 15, 2016 at 10:39 am

    Hey Justin, at the end of your mash out, you’re pumping your wort back up into your boil kettle. Have you had any problems where your pumps have run dry because they’re moving more liquid than is coming out of your mash? How do you keep an eye on this to ensure you’re transferring your entire expected volume?

    • November 15, 2016 at 11:20 am

      I have had something like that happen if I don’t throttle recirculation…. It’s not so much that the pump runs dry, but a vacuum is essentially formed below the false bottom, compacting the grain bed… making high flow rates even more difficult. Very high flow rates are possible with 1″ plumbing, so I need to throttle to about 50%. Actually, not only for fear of compacting the grain bed, but also because the impeller magnet decouples from the pump motor if the flow is too high…

      I plan on getting diaphragm valves to allow me to dial in the recirculation rates a bit better, but it works OK with just my butterfly valves.

      I really should use some sort of float valve in this system… but I don’t yet.

      My initial plans only utilized a single pump, which I may try experimenting with still. With that design, during the mashing process the boil kettle is filled by gravity from the mash tun, while the heated contents of the boil kettle are actively being pumped back on top of the mash. That would ensure no grain bed compaction occurred, and I can get pretty significant flows with gravity alone because of the 1″ plumbing throughout… need to run more tests to see if this is a preferred configuration.

      What are you using for a false bottom?

      • clincharoo
        November 15, 2016 at 11:32 am

        I actually like your idea of having your mash tun feed your kettle by gravity, as this would certainly solve the problems that I’m envisioning. I currently am still just doing eBIAB, so no false bottom needed, though I’m considering using a secondary keggle with one of these: https://shortfingerbrewing.com/collections/new-1/products/keggle-ss-false-bottom-with-draw-tube Time is my biggest pain point still, but using a bag is still not very convenient, so I want to consider other options.

        • November 15, 2016 at 11:39 am

          I have my brew days pretty short with the new system, 4.5hrs or so which I’m happy with. Still have lots to learn and calibrate with the system. I’m sure I can get it down to 4hrs.

          The gravity fed boil kettle idea is similar to the blichmann breweasy… check out that design!

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