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Mash Optimization and 2020 Irish Red Ale #6

I've had a number of frustrations in my homebrewing activities since around 2018.  One of these has been that since switching back to the brewing setup I used then, my brewhouse efficiency is considerably lower than it was before then.  After attending HomeBrewCon 2020 (virtually, of course), I learned quite a bit about mashing that I didn't know before.  I'm hoping that learning will pay off with some efficiency improvements in upcoming batches.

For this recipe, I'm testing two variables - grain crush and sparge-to-mash water ratio.  I've switched out my three-roller mill (which is hard to gap) for a two-roller mill and gapped it to match the recommended "thin as a credit card" gap. For this batch, I'm attempting to reach as close to a 1:1 mash-to-sparge water ratio (and going back to heating the sparge water as well).  If the brewhouse efficiency gets closer to my goal for this batch, I'll know I'm on the right track.  If not, back to my notes...

The Irish Red Ale style has been something of a curse for me.  I've made five previous attempts. The first brewed and fermented fine, but wasn't good.  It was a recipe I found on the Internet, and I won't link to it because I don't want to cast any stones.  The next four suffered various problems.  One got infected and had to be dumped. Another had fermentation stall at too high a gravity. When I treated it with the tiniest amount of glucoamylase, it dried out and thinned out, and was decidedly "meh".  I forget what happened with the other two, but they were later dumped as well.  So... sixth time is the charm, maybe?

For this recipe, I'm going with a fairly standard grist for an Irish Red. The one subtle change I am making is that I took the Roasted Barley and cold-steeped it for three days in the fridge before using the liquid (and discarding the grain).  I'm hoping this will get me the nice balancing roasty flavors of the grain without some of the harsher and more astringent elements.  By adding this liquid at then whirlpool stage, I'm hoping to keep any harsh flavors from developing.


5.5 pounds Maris Otter Malt (from the UK)

3 ounces Caramel 30L

3 ounces Special B (in place of Caramel 90L)

2 ounces Roasted Barley (cold-steeped for 3 days in fridge)

0.50 ounces of Whitbread Goldings hops @ 7.1% AA (60 min., 22 IBUs)

1/2 package of Mangrove Jack's M15 Empire Ale yeast

1/2 tsp. Yeast Nutrient

1/2 tsp. Irish Moss

4.25 gallons of Reverse Osmosis (RO) water

0.2g baking soda

0.5g calcium chloride

0.2g kosher salt

0.1g epsom salt

1.7g gypsum

1.8g magnesium chloride

1ml 88% lactic acid (probably unnecessary, see mash schedule below)

Per Brewfather, the beer should have the following characteristics:

  • BJCP Style: 15A Irish Red Ale
  • Batch Size: 3.0 gallons (2.75 actual)
  • Pre-boil Volume: 4.0 gallons est., 3.7 gallons actual (before cold steep added)
  • Original Gravity: 1.050 SG est. (1.048 SG actual)
  • Pre-boil Gravity: 1.039 SG est., 1.048 SG actual
  • Final Gravity: 1.013 SG est.
  • IBUs: 22
  • ABV: 5%
  • Color: 14.5 SRM

Mash Schedule

  • Treat RO mash water with minerals
  • Put 2.5 gallons in The Grainfather and heat to 120F
  • Add grain, stirring periodically to moisten
  • Add the mash bed over, attach recirculation hose, and adjust flow
  • Mash 20 minutes at 120F
  • Mash 60 minutes at 152F
    • A pH reading during this stage was approximately pH 4.65. This probably means that the lactic acid addition was unnecessary.
  • Start heating sparge water to 168F
  • Mash out at 168F
  • Sparge with 168F water (roughly 2 gallons) while heating to boiling in kettle
  • Discard grain

Boil schedule:

  • 90 minutes:  No addition
  • 60 minutes:  Add Whitbread Goldings hops
  • 15 minutes:  Add yeast nutrient, Irish Moss, demerara sugar
  • 0 minutes:  Add cold-steeped Roasted Barley
    • Note that adding this liquid dropped the gravity of the beer somewhat. Unfortunately, this added volume still did not get me past the 2.75 gallon mark in the fermenter, though there was about 48 ounces left in the kettle (a lot of trub in it).
Fermentation Plan:
  • Chill wort to 68F, aerating as it's pumped into the fermenter
  • Pitch dry yeast directly on wort
  • Maintain 68F temperature for the first 3 days of fermentation, then allow the fermentation to finish out at ambient temps (which this time of year are around 65-68F in my basement)
  • Bottle directly from fermenter, using 3 small Brewer's Best Carbonation tablets per bottle

Post-Brew Notes and Observations

10/04/2020:  I had originally planned to use 2.25 gallons of mash water and 2.00 gallons of sparge water, but decided on 2.1 gallons. This wasn't enough to fully cover the grain bed, so I transferred a quart from the sparge container to the mash tun.  I then replaced this in the sparge container in case I needed it later.  It's worth noting that there was maybe 20 ounces of water in the Roasted Barley steeping, so I would need to account for that.  I decided I would adjust the boil time after sparging, to make sure I (hopefully) hit the 3-gallon fermenter target.

I also planned to use East Kent Goldings for the recipe, but I found the Whitbread Goldings Variety first, so I decided to go with them since they were a UK breed and the hops were only being used for bittering anyway.

The beer was fairly pale near the end of the boil, but with the addition of the cold-steeped barley liquid, the color darkened significantly. I'm hoping this wasn't too much and that the beer comes out a nice deep shade of red.  We'll see.

The yeast was pitched shortly before midnight.

Mash efficiency on this batch was 78%.  Brewhouse efficiency on the batch was about 56.8%.  If I count the trub, then brewhouse efficiency was 71.9%.  Regardless, it's lower than I would like to see.

10/05/2020:  It's about 22 hours since the yeast was pitched. There is some indication that the yeast is starting to come alive in the beer, in form of a couple of small blobs of foam on top of the wort that look like the beginnings of a krausen. Gravity is reading 1.049 now, and temperature 67F.

10/07/2020:  Yesterday there didn't seem to be much yeast activity, so I pitched a fresh package of the same yeast.  Today there is a nice thick krausen and lots of yeast activity.  Gravity is down to around 1.039 SG today.  That represents maybe 26% attenuation.  I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes from here. I'm hoping it won't be too dark for an Irish Red, but that's a distinct possibility.

10/08/2020:  I had to strap an ice pack to the fermenter yesterday to keep the fermentation temperature from going too high, but otherwise left the yeast alone to do its thing.  Today the gravity is down to 1.013 SG which is the expected final gravity for the batch.  I'm going to give it several more days to see if the gravity drops any lower before bottling.

10/09/2020:  Gravity has dropped to 1.010 SG today, and the temp is down to 67F.

10/10/2020:  Gravity is down to 1.006 SG today.

10/15/2020:  Gravity dropped to 1.002 SG today.  Looking in the fermenter, I was dismayed to see that mold was growing on top of the yeast.  I dumped the batch.  This is five Irish Red Ale batches in a row that I've had to dump for different reasons, out of 6 I've brewed. (And the first one wasn't good.)


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