Calibration Brew Day: What's Your Brewhouse Efficiency?
After listening to a Brulosophy podcast episode on efficiency, I felt compelled to do something I actually haven't ever done. I decided it was time to calibrate my brew system. Every system I've owned has had a profile in my brewing software, but I'm a data nerd and I thought it would be fun to get some cold, hard data on my actual brewhouse efficiency and my mash efficiency.
Using the 'default' equipment profile in your software
I brew on the BrewTools B40 Pro electric brewing system and use the Brewfather brewing software. Brewfather has a pretty decent BrewTools B40 equipment profile and that is what I had been using since I purchased this brewing system. But there are a few variables that can affect your efficiency numbers. Some of these variables are, but not limited to:
Tubing length and diameter
You don't really know what the tubing situation was when the equipment profile creator created that profile. You can assume it wasn't anything extreme and that the numbers will get you 'in the ballpark', but if you really want to dial in your system you need to run through a calibration brew day. Long tubing / hose runs can cost you multiple liters of precious wort.
Type of chiller
This kind of tries into the tubing / hose size thing too. I use a counterflow chiller with my brewing system and a few lengths of tubing to connect the chiller to the kettle. Different counterflow chillers retain a certain amount of wort that isn't necessarily going to all end up in your fermenter. Plate chiller users will have fewer losses than counterflow chiller users. If you're an immersion chiller user then you're more than likely not going to have any chiller losses.
Boil off rate
This is a variable that A LOT of brewers don't pay attention to and it's super easy to calculate. You don't even need to brew a batch! And you really don't even need to boil for a full hour. If you're bored one day just fill up your boil kettle with what would be your usual volume of wort and boil the water for 15 minutes. Measure the loss from boil off and multiply that by 4. Voila! You're got your hourly boil off rate.
Some factors that can affect this number are your environment (altitude, humidity, etc...), whether or not you boil with the lid on or off, and the amount of power you have heating your kettle. Running your 3500 watt element at 100 percent will give you a different boil off rate than running that same 3500 watts at 70 percent.
Start with a simple recipe
I chose to perform my calibration with a simple SMaSH (Single Malt and Single Hop) recipe. You can of course use any recipe you want, but I thought a pale yellow beer would be simplest. For this recipe I went with a recipe that would give me 4.5 gallons into the fermenter. This way I'd know for sure that I would get 3 gallons into a keg. The weights and volumes in the recipe below may seem a little weird and that's because I brew using metric units. One day I'll come up with a plugin that will spit out metric and freedom units. More on that decision in a different post.
I went into the brew day with pretty much no expectations as far as gravities were concerned. I just wanted to put some water in the kettle with some grain, mash for 60 minutes, boil for 60 minutes with a few hop additions and see what came out the other end.
Pick an arbitrary amount of mash water
With all valves closed (don't want to fill the chiller just yet) I added an arbitrary 28 liters of water to the kettle. Then I opened the valves to recirculate which fills all of my tubing and my chiller with wort. I noticed that that left me with 27 liters of water in the kettle. This tells me that I have about 1 liter of losses from my chiller.
Measure your pre-boil volume and gravity
Next I added all of my grain and mashed for 60 minutes at 149 degrees fahrenheit. After the mash I pulled out the grain basket and let it drain into the kettle. I measured my pre-boil volume and pre-boil gravity and wrote those down.
Measure your post-boil volume and gravity
After the 60 minutes boil I recorded my post-boil volume and post-boil gravity. Since you have you pre boil and your post boil volumes you should now have your boil off rate. Write it all down!
Measure the remaining wort in your kettle
Run off into your fermenter and write down how much is left in the bottom of the kettle. With the way my dip tube is positioned in my kettle, my pump isn't able to get the remaining 2 liters of wort. Try not to guestimate with this measurement. Pour the remaining wort into a measuring cup if you have to. It may be a pain but remember you only have to do this once. (Maybe 2-3 times if you want to average everything out.)
Measure the fermenter losses
After fermentation and after racking into you keg (or bottling), measure how much is left behind in your fermenter. With all of the yeast and trub, you won't be able to get every last drop out of your fermenter.
Plug it all into your software
Once you have all of this data, you can now go into your equipment profile in your brewing software and input all of the losses you recorded. My tip is to actually do this process a few more times and input the average of your results into your software.
Now that you know exactly what all of your losses are you can have much more predictable and efficient brew day. Your finished beer will be closer to what you expect it to be instead of constantly scratching your head and wondering why you're 5-10 gravity points from your target. You could even take the data from this process and improve your efficiency by attempting to cut out losses. Maybe you don't need 10 feet of hose / tubing that costs you 3 liters of wort. Maybe you don't need to boil at 100 percent power with your 3500 watt element.
Give it a shot!
If you have any questions or comments feel free to ask below or shoot me an email.
The beer was not great by the way...I've never been a fan of SMaSH beers. But hey - my equipment profile is bang-on now.