Many thanks to Dana via Great Fermentations for this special guest post! Read more about Dana at the end of this post.
Getting the Most Out of Your Blichmann Brew Easy
Tips on Efficiency
The single most important factor in getting good efficiency on this system is pH! I highly recommend purchasing a digital pH meter. The strips simply are not accurate enough. A digital meter allows you to check your mash pH on the fly, and adjust to optimum levels for conversion. You will also have to purchase a set of water modifiers such as chalk, baking soda, epsom salts, phosphoric acid, etc, but they are inexpensive and critical for success in brewing on the BrewEasy, more so than any other system I know of. Information on water chemistry is readily available online or in books, and though it may seem daunting at first, it truly can be made simple.
For my process, I use the EZ Water Calculator spreadsheet, available free of charge. Bru’n Water is also another great water resource. If you have well water, you’ll have to have a sample of your water sent off to a lab for a brewing water analysis. For me, I have city water, so I called my utilities department, spoke with the lab, and asked for a breakdown of our water chemistry here in the county. This gives me a baseline set of value to input into the spreadsheet, and from there it’s just a matter of playing with the water modifier values to achieve the desired pH for your mash. With this tool, you really don’t have to know much about the actual workings of water chemistry, as long as you have a few sets of numbers about your water. It is extremely important to have at least 100 ppm of Calcium in your mash water with the BrewEasy. Without going to in depth into water chemistry, the additional volume of water we use to mash with in this system gives your mash an increased buffering power. Extra Ca in your water will help counteract this.
Although it states this in your manual I feel like it’s worth noting again. Always rake the top 1/3 of your mash bed while mashing. I like to do this every 10 minutes or so. It will reduce channeling, clumping, and temp gradients in your mash, which in turn will boost your efficiency a few points.
A very important step that is not highlighted very well in your manual: Do not forget to add a mash-out step. I raise the temperature of my mash to 172 degrees for 10 minutes after the mash. This rest ensures conversion is complete, and will help greatly with your efficiency. You can gain one last little efficiency boost out of the BrewEasy by slowing your rate of drain into the brew kettle at the end of the mash. I do this by installing the smallest orifice that comes with the system after the mash-out step (0.5 GPM). This should be good for 2 or 3 efficiency points.
Tips on General Procedure
I heat all of my strike water to temperature in the bottom kettle before beginning any recirculation. You will inherently get heat loss in the tubing and pump when recirculating, so this just speeds your process up. If you have more total brewing water than the capacity of your brew kettle, which happens often on 15 gallon batches, add half the water volume to each kettle and recirculate up to strike temps without using an orifice. There is no need for an orifice during this step and it does nothing but slow the process down. I just mentioned 15 gallon batches. Yes, the 10 gallon BrewEasy can handle most 15 gallon batches. I have done several medium-gravity 15 gallon batches on my 10 gallon electric system with no issues at all.
Keep an eye on the sight-glass of your mash tun during the mash. It is the only way to tell you are experiencing or about to experience a stuck mash. If you see the level in the sight glass begin diving rapidly when recirculating, stop the pump, close the valves, and install a smaller orifice. This is a sign you are recirculating too fast and will soon have a painful stuck mash. Rice hulls can also be helpful in preventing a stuck mash, though I only use them in my pumpkin ale recipe, which calls for ingredients that are prone to sticking a mash.
Overshoot temps on controller! When performing a step mash, or even when raising temperatures for the mash-out step, the BrewEasy can be maddeningly slow to reach a uniform temperature throughout the system. You can set 172 on your tower of power, and within minutes the controller is reading 172 degrees. But remember, the controller is reading the temperature of the wort at the outlet of the pump, which is coming directly from your brew kettle. In reality, this is nothing more than 172 degree wort that is slowly being trickled into your mash tun that is probably at 152 degrees. So either one of two things will happen here. One, you will neglect to take an actual reading from your brewmometer and will trust your controller saying the system is at 172 degrees. This will likely cause you to never reach your target temp in the mash tun, and therefore sacrifice efficiency. Two, you recognize what is actually occurring, and wait for that 172 degree wort entering the tun to raise the mash to the proper temperature. This will add 30-60 minutes to your brew day (in the given example), and now we are starting to question why we bought a streamlined, time-saving brewery that saves us no time. The solution is simple: dial in a temperature into the controller which is 15-20 degrees higher than your target mash temperature when ramping up. If we change the example, and are now adding 192 degree wort to our 152 degree mash, to reach a target of 172, now we are in business. The actual temp of your mash will raise much quicker in this manner. When you see your mash tun brewmometer within 5 or so degrees of target, back your controller down to your target temp (172 in this case), and the temp of your mash tun should land squarely on 172, and you now will have a uniform temperature throughout the system.
The most important temperature reading device that came with your BrewEasy is the brewmometer in your top kettle. Because of the facts I just outlined, the digital controller temp cannot be relied on implicitly. Only the brewmometer that is stuck right in the middle of your mash tun can be trusted to give you proper mash temps. Once the top and bottom kettle, and the controller are all reading the same temperature, you may then trust your Tower of Power, and make small tweaks with it. Anytime you begin the mash, or are ramping a temperature, always trust your brewmometer first. This being said, it is important to make sure your brewmometers are calibrated!
You will almost always need to add in a temperature offset to your controller to hold a desired temp. I have figured that my system heat loss is about 2-2.5 degrees. As such, if I want to hold my mash at 152, I will enter 154.5 in the controller. Experiment with your setup to figure out your offset number, as it will vary with climate and atmospheric conditions.
On chilling: This may be obvious to some, but if you are using a plate chiller and are not quite getting down to pitching temps, you can use your pump throttling valve to slow the rate of wort running through the plate chiller. This increases contact time and will net you a cooler wort-out temperature. Here in Florida, my warm groundwater makes for a very slow pumping rate into my conical.
Tips on Setup & Cleaning
- The BrewEasy can be cleaned in place by recirculating 180 degree PBW, just as you would recirculate during a mash.
- Quick Disconnect fittings can be installed throughout the system to make your life even easier on brew day. They are especially helpful when cleaning a plate chiller, as they make for an easy back flush.
- A Hop spider is almost necessary when using a plate chiller. It also makes for less sediment in your final product and much much easier cleanup of your BrewEasy.
- To sanitize your plate chiller: Because storing starsan in your chiller/therminator is not recommended, I like to recirculate boiling wort out of the kettle, thru the chiller, and back into the kettle during the last 10 minutes of the boil. This allows you to ensure your plate chiller will not infect your new batch.
Thanks for reading/watching. This is simply some of my process on the BrewEasy, which I’ve brewed over 100 gallons on since receiving last September. I hope that some of this is helpful in improving your brew day. If you have any questions or comments, I can be reached at dana.messier at gmail dot com, danam404 on HomeBrewTalk, or @4dwm on Twitter.
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