Upgrade path: mashing

The changes I want to make to my brewing process are numerous, and the items of this list have varying levels of implementation difficulty, impact, and cost. If you thought I was a gear head before, wait until you’ve read what I’ve been mulling over for brewery upgrades… The nitpicking I perform below is a combination of a wish list and a to do list… Initially this started as a single short post, but naturally it developed into a three part series on where I plan on taking my process and equipment in the near future. Here is part one:

Syringe for acid additions

I currently estimate acid additions to my mash using a scale. I convert a volume of 88% lactic acid (as estimated from the Guelph water report and Bru’n water spreadsheet), convert this volume to a mass using a known specific gravity for 88% lactic acid solution… and measure that out on a postal scale with gram-level accuracy. A cheap 20ml syringe would do me much better for measuring out these additions, and would cost next to nothing. I really need to get around to picking one up.

pH meter

As mentioned, I currently estimate water chemistry parameters using the most recent Guelph area water report. The values indicated in this report are highly variable, due to the use of multiple municipal wells, and probably a bunch of other stuff I should remember from the [quite difficult] “Environmental Water Chemistry” course I took as an undergrad. Anyways, I hope the acid additions I make are on target, but really I have no idea. A pH meter would remove a lot of the guess work from this process, and open the doors for further water chemistry considerations in my brewing (note: reverse-osmosis system is NOT on this list… YET). I haven’t noticed any particular astringency in my beers, but then again, I don’t have the most trained palate. Due to the cost, and the lack of a perceptible problem in my beer (to me anyways),  this is fairly low on the to-implement list.

False bottom

I don’t terribly need a false bottom, but I can’t help but scratch my head and wonder what it’d be like if I did have one. I am currently required to be quite careful about recirculation speed using a “bazooka screen” in my mash tun. A proper false bottom would have increased surface area and allow for higher flow rates than my current equipment. A false bottom could also slightly reduce mash tun dead space and expedite my cleaning process marginally. However, a better crush could have an equal or greater impact on recirculation speed sensitivity (higher recirculation speed  = increased heat exchange = increased precision and speed in temperature control)… And the reduction in dead space with a false bottom would be something like a quarter of a gallon… not a brewhouse efficiency hit that I let bother me (too much).

Grain mill upgrade

I’ve been experiencing some unacceptable mash efficiency swings due to inconsistent grist. The gap in my mill seems to drift, so setting the mill gap is necessary for each brew day (and with inconsistent results, still). Furthermore, the milling process is slow because of the small hopper and rollers. Grist consistency is the single largest factor impacting my brewhouse efficiency, and really has limited me in nailing down “my numbers”. As a “numbers guy”, this annoys me to no end. As mentioned, grist consistency is highly important due to the recirculating nature of my brewery (Counterflow Heat Exchanged Recirculating Mash System). A crush too fine, and recirculation struggles and requires a high level of attention. Too coarse and efficiency drops like a rock.

In summary…

In the immediate future, my most likely upgrades are a (cheap) syringe for acid additions and a (more expensive) grain mill upgrade. I will likely tinker a bit more with my current grain mill to see if I can’t get better results first.

Check back soon or subscribe to read part 2 of this series!

One recent change I've made to my mashing process is the use of a stainless float ball for my recirculation hose. In it's first use, it worked pretty well... and it cost less than $10.

One recent change I’ve made to my mashing process is the use of a stainless float ball for my recirculation hose. In it’s first use, it worked pretty well… and it cost less than $10.

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