Efficiency with Buffalo urn

Post #1 made 2 years ago
Hi all,

I'm after some advice. I'm a newbie to brewing and have a couple of micro brews under my belt using a 15 litre stockpot yielding between 8 and 9 litres into the fermentor. Pretty decent results in my opinion and managed around a 60% efficiency based on brewers friend efficiency calculator.

I've invested in a Buffalo urn (30) litre and brewed a repeat of my last brew (a simple wheat beer). I used Biabacus for the scaling and water requirements, all of which came out pretty spot on.

Problem was that I was short on my starting gravity. Was looking for about 1.045 and ended up with 1.040. Pegged the numbers through brewers friend again and it's telling me my efficiency is about 53%. Temps for the mash where spot on although my original brew was mashed at 60' but I upped this one to 62'.

Any advice on how to increase my efficiency Before my next batch would be greatly appreciated.

Grain was direct from supplier and probably not finely milled. Gave the grain a few stirs during the 75 minute mash.


Post #2 made 2 years ago
Hi Snaylor

First up the Buffalo Urn wont be contributing to "Efficiency" compared to your stockpot (other than a different evaporation rate) so I'd rule that out as being an issue for a low GIB (Gravity into Boil)

Theres lots of potential contributing factors, like Mash Temp, Crush of the grain etc. However as you mentioned you are doing a wheat beer, there's one other big issue and that's mash pH. Its something that has been a problem for me with all Wheats. (to date) and I have spent a lot of hours reading to figure out why.

Recipes high in Wheat with no dark malt will need either Acidulated Malt or Lactic acid to bring the Mash pH into the desired range. I've found out that Wheat has a pH of 6.05 in distilled water. Which is way too high to Mash. Darker roasted malt will help bring mash pH down but with wheat styles like a Hefeweizen, you often use with Pilsener or other light malts and the pH is always up around 6, no matter how soft your water is.

I have wasted 4 brews this way and am today adjusting my Mash pH with Lactic Acid with the aim to get down to around 5.4 mark for my mash pH.

It might not be your entire problem but well worth keeping in mind.


Post #3 made 2 years ago
Cheers Bundy,

I've not really delved into ph, small steps and all that, but I'll have a look at it so thanks for the numbers.

Didn't think it was the urn so much as maybe a secret technique known only to biab old hands haha. Anyhow, it's fermenting away so I'll see what the final figures are - I reckon it'll still be within the 4% bracket which for me is great.

Think I'll have a blast at a bitter today and see if I can get the efficiency up with a few more stirs during the mash and a crush of the grain with rolling pin, may be a bit messy but that's what Sunday's are for. At least I know I'll have beer for Xmas and New year!

Thanks for the tips.

Post #4 made 2 years ago
Another thing that seems to be popular for Wheat is to mill the grain a lot finer. If crushed at the same setting as Barley lots of people report poor mash efficiencies as the grain is so much harder than barley and also a bit smaller so it doesn't mill up as easily as barley. Poor crush = poor efficiency

To get around that many will run wheat through their mills twice and/or set the mill to a tighter gap for the wheat. (Being Wheat has no husk you dont have to worry about shredding the husk like can happen with barley malts )


Post #6 made 2 years ago
I'll take a look at that. Brewed a batch of bitter on Sunday with a bit of a bigger grain bill based on revised efficiency in biabacus, mashed longer and a few good stirs. Hit about 70% this time which has slightly overshot my starting gravity!

Think it's a case of tinkering over the next few brews to get a consistent efficiency.

Cheers for the feedback.

Post #7 made 2 years ago
You won't get a consistent efficiency Snaylor. That is a myth from other forums, software, books etc.

With your BIABacus file, change the OG you desire to something higher and you will see in Section P that all efficiencies drop. Higher gravity brews are less efficient than low gravity brews. This is a fact and The BIABacus is the only software that can deal with this fact as the calculations required are quite demanding.

The BIABacus auto-defaults are set up so as you will hopefully, on all brews, be in a position where you will need to dilute your brew prior to pitching. On home brew forums you hear a lot about brews being repeatable. This is another myth as even large commercial breweries have to adjust each batch and they are in the fortunate position where they can predict evaporation and grain potential!!!

Study Clear Brewing Terminology and Number Respect and Disrespect. The first will explain the difference between a lot of things including kettle and fermentor efficiency. The second will "loosen" you so as you get to realising that no brews are ever repeatable. Very few home brewers achieve that level of realisation even though it is something that all craft or commercial brewers know. In fact, their job is to deal with that certain uncertainty!

Congrats on your first brew btw :drink:,

P.S. pH is an advanced thing and I love bundy's post but would like more detail. For example, what percentage of wheat was in his brew etc,etc. Before we even go anywhere near pH though, especially after only two brews, we really need to nail the terminology down first (70% and 53% are meaningless at present). chesl, if you could supply actual measurements you made in BIABacus files, we could very quickly spot any brewer errors....

Also, here's a copy of an old post but I'm going to add it as a separate post below...
Last edited by PistolPatch on 08 Dec 2015, 22:36, edited 1 time in total.
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Post #8 made 2 years ago
As mentioned above...
Some Common Reasons for a Low Efficiency Reading Firstly, never rely on a single reading on a single brew. An occasional strange reading is common. We, home brewers are trying to take measurements at a micro level. There's several points in the brew you can take gravity and volume readings so try and find two points on each brew until you have say 4 or 5 brews notched up. (And, don't be worried if you forget to measure. It's very hard for anything to go very wrong.) After say four or five brews, you'll develop an understanding of how much brew figures can fluctuate. So this is number one on the list below.

If an odd reading persists, points 2 to 10 below should be checked or re-checked.

1. Reading has not been confirmed. (This table shows the resulting measurements of 30 brewers mailed identical ingredients and then asked to brew the same recipe.)
2. Grain bill incorrectly weighed.
3. Thermometer not calibrated at mash temperatures. (This post shows how unreliable a single thermometer is.)
4. Hydrometer not calibrated at original gravity (or the brewer is taking gravity samples that are too hot to temperature correct.)
5. Bag is too small and restricts liquor flow. Your BIAB bag needs to fully line the kettle.
6. Bag porosity is too small. 35 vertical and horizontal threads per cm works well.
7. pH of mash has not been adjusted.
8. Estimated mash efficiency did not reflect the gravity of the brew. (A high gravity beer will have a lower mash efficiency than a low gravity beer. NOTE CAREFULLY: This point can be ignored if you are using the BIABacus as the BIABacus adjusts for gravity.)
9. The brewer is measuring 'efficiency into fermenter' rather than 'efficiency into the kettle.' The first figure is often far lower than the second.
10. The grain used has lower extract potential or higher moisture content than the specifications being used for the calculations.
11. Mash time is too short. In full-volume BIAB, mashing and sparging occurs simultaneously. Pulling your bag at 60 minutes, cuts this process too short. Allow at least 90 minutes and preferably follow with a mash-out.
12. The grain is not being agitated during the mash. Time, temperature and agitation are how we 'wash' things. Agitating the grain and checking the temperature several times throughout the 90 minute mash has no downside and should be done so as you can determine the cost of not agitating.
13. Volume being measured incorrectly. (Commercial container markings can sometimes be inaccurate. Always measure depth/headspace in the centre of the kettle.)

Please let me know if I have missed something off this list.
Last edited by PistolPatch on 08 Dec 2015, 22:37, edited 1 time in total.
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Post #9 made 2 years ago
Hi PistolPatch,

Think the only thing you've missed is the sheet music to a Twelve Days of Christmas!

Got 4 brews in so far - the post was regarding the new urn really. I have found that the fluctuations in measurements does vary on the ones I've done and I guess the post was a little bit of frustration in not being consistent.

The biggest factors so far, for me anyway, seems to be points 5 (bought a bigger bag after first BIAB and got better results); point 11 (extended mash time to almost 2 hours and raised temp in final 10 mins on last brew); Point 12 (mixed every 15 mins for first hour, then twice more in final 40).

Definitely saw a result even with the compensated grain bill.

As for the efficiency measurement - point taken, it is rather complicated when I've read up on it but I reckon that the brewersfriend measurement is a yardstick and as long as I'm using the same yardstick each time it'll give me something to go on. I'm going to restore the defaults on Biabacus for efficiency for my next brew and based on your advice aim for a slightly higher starting/original gravity (what's the difference?) - do you reckon about 10%? higher grain bill?

To be fair I'm not too caught up on figures etc. I Just wondering what I was doing wrong but the point you make about it happening to everyone is comforting. The fact is I'm enjoying it, and of course enjoying the results.



Post #10 made 2 years ago
Sorry for such a slow reply Snaylor.

I've been trying to work out a reply to your post above for several days but it is so hard, perhaps impossible for some or all new readers/members to even see what this site is trying to illustrate.

For example, you've been exposed to a tide of misinformation on just a single word, "efficiency," which Brewer's Friend, BeerSmith, Braukaiser and pretty much every other source of all-grain info you will come across, do not accurately define/defend let alone understand. That is an undisputable fact that nearly all brewers are unaware of.

Without even re-reading this thread again, I'm sure I would have referred you to CBT. You must read that and look at all the other widely abused terms such as batch size.

Snaylor, I'm feeling a bit useless now as so many hours and so much thought have been spent on trying to make things easier for you new brewers but I think it is still too hard (and understandably so) for new brewers to even remotely comprehend how every other site/software has got it wrong at this point in time when it comes to numbers, let alone terminology.

Leave it with me for another month or two and I'll write something back here, probably exactly the same as the above (but with real examples), that you can copy and paste on any brewing forum or software site and explore what answers you receive. (Some of you others who already know what I mean might even be able to give examples or publish your thoughts here. That would be excellent!)


P.S. Just saw the topic title and anything of value here is going to be quickly lost :sad:.
Last edited by PistolPatch on 13 Dec 2015, 20:23, edited 1 time in total.
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Post #11 made 2 years ago
PP, My thoughts are, Unless your "Poor" or your Running a "Pub" or "Tavern", the Beer is Important.

Are the Hops Balanced with the Malt?, is the Color what I want?, is the enough Aroma?, Is the Beer Clear?

Efficiency is Just a Number.

Very important for "Fantasy Brewers", but nothing to do with Beer.

The Real Numbers are VAW, VIF, VIP, and GIB ans GAW.

If you hit those Numbers and have a Good Beer, That is All that is Important.
Honest Officer, I swear to Drunk, I am Not God.
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Post #13 made 2 years ago
Cheers boys for the replies,

Please don't think I'm ungrateful for the replies but to be honest it feels like a huge can of worms has burst its lid!

To be clear, what I was talking about was the gravity reading taken after the boil (GAW, unless I'm mistaken). I then plugged this into brewersfriend efficiency calculator. Last brew I also used Biabacus to 'scale' the efficiency, making adjustments that got me to the OG I had in my reading taken (That's where I got the 70% measure from).

Anyway, I think I'm best off doing it the easy way - trial and error and learning by doing. I don't really want to get caught up with discussions concerning accuracy in the usage of the correct nomenclature or one number versus another, I'm a dove amongst hawks in that area and wouldn't presume to add my two pennies worth.

As I said above, so far I'm happy with the results; beer tastes good and getting decent alcohol levels.

Please feel free to restart a thread or suggest a change of name for the topic if you feel the information may be of use to others.

Last edited by SNAYLOR7 on 14 Dec 2015, 03:51, edited 1 time in total.

Efficiency with Buffalo urn

Post #14 made 2 years ago
Snaylor, don't worry about the semantic argument. If efficiency is the term that makes sense to you just make sure you understand what it means.

The confusion is that there is often poor distinction between mash efficiency which is looking at how you are converting starches to sugars. This is also measured by looking your gravity into boil GIB. If this is lower than you are expecting them the problem is with something to do with the mashing process.

The other main use of efficiency is brew house efficiency and this is a much less useful term as it is generally no clear whether this is related to the volume into fermenter VIF or volume into packaging VIP. It is impacted by process losses including boil off, trub and of talking about packaging whatever is left in the fermenter. This is a very system specific term so is practically useless in comparing recipes.

The main tips to look at for mash efficient have been covered here and if you work your way through the list you will definitely see some improvement.

Keep asking questions, it's the best way to learn from people who have made all the mistakes already!

Joshua and mad_scientist I think it is disingenuous to say that you don't focus on efficiency because you use different terms that essentially measure the same thing!

Post #15 made 2 years ago

The confusion is that there is often poor distinction between mash efficiency which is looking at how you are converting starches to sugars. This is also measured by looking your gravity into boil GIB. If this is lower than you are expecting them the problem is with something to do with the mashing process.

This is, where I think I suffered in the Wheat recipe I put together, the mash efficiency. The most recent brew I did I mashed longer and stirred more, as per yours and PP's advice. The result seemed to be more sugars, as measured after the boil (GAW) which I know should now be measured into the boil (GIB rather than GAW) - I'll do this on the next brew.

For me, those 2 simple pieces of advice showed an improvement to my measure of 'efficiency' and a resulting increase, closer to expectations, in the OG I specified in the BIabacus target (by the way, is this target GIB or GAW in Biabacus? - there you go, another question asked! :thumbs: ).

Thanks for the tips,

Last edited by SNAYLOR7 on 14 Dec 2015, 14:20, edited 1 time in total.

Efficiency with Buffalo urn

Post #16 made 2 years ago
The OG will be the gravity of ambient wort but it is worth remembering that after you have pulled the bag and finished draining it the amount of sugar present is constant so any increase after that is from concentrating the wort through evaporation (unless you add another form of sugar to the boil).

Like I've said before I have found a big improvement in mash efficiency through adding some acidulated malt and doing a mash out so they'd be the next things I'd try if I was you. Glad you are already seeing some improvement!

Post #17 made 2 years ago
Lots of yum full-strength beers last night which lead to a bit of ranting in my last post here :). Lots of truth in that rant though. It is very important to use Clear Brewing Terminology. For example, "Brewhouse Efficiency" can mean either kettle efficiency or fermentor efficiency depending on how the brewer has set it up. "Batch Size" in BeerSmith, also depending on the set-up can mean either Volume into Fermentor or Volume of Ambient Wort. Officially, Beersmith's definition relates to fermentor measurements but due to errors in the program, many users set the program up a different way to correct the errors. (A very long story.)
Any sort of efficiency is about volume and gravity I'm going to copy, edit and paste two PM's I wrote last week to a new member trying to explain measurements and efficiency. Here you go...

Here's what you want to do on your brew day....

1. Take one gravity and volume measurement at the start of the boil. When the wort starts boiling, turn the flame off, measure the volume as best as you can and grab a coffee cup full of wort from the kettle. Cover that with plastic wrap and put it in a water bath for it to cool. Once it has cooled, pour it into a hydrometer jar and take a gravity reading. Pour the wort back into the boil.

The above is a preliminary check on your "kettle efficiency" which is nothing you need to worry about [EDIT: More later.]

2. Do the same as the above at the end of the boil. This is your second check of your kettle efficiency. Theoretically it should be the same as the above but it hardly ever is due to the difficulty in taking measurements at near boiling temps. It is important to do these checks though as they can act as confirmations of a problem.

3.Once you have cooled your wort and transferred it to the fermentor, aerate it well and, using a sterilised mug, grab another sample of well-mixed wort. Take its gravity in a sanitised hydrometer jar and then that sample can also go back in the fermentor if you are pitching straight away.

The gravity readings taken in steps 2 and 3 should be the same or very close. If not, get another sample and re-check your reading.


Most brewers will only take one gravity reading at the end of the brew but one reading is very unreliable. Worse still is taking early readings and adjusting the brew at the boil's beginning.

Doing the above, you can be confident in your readings and the following will be the most likely result...

You'll most likely find that you have less wort than you were expecting but at higher gravity. You can then play with Section N of The BIABacus in the 'Extra Water Added to Fermentor' field until your Expected Original Gravity in Section P equals what you want.

If your tap water tastes fine and you are pitching straight away, just use that otherwise boil it and cool it first.

The reason we want to end up with less wort at higher gravity is because it is much better to dilute a strong wort than to add DME to a weak wort.

You can never predict evaporation etc on a brew day so you always really want to be aiming at this stronger wort scenario to keep you on the safe side.

[End of first PM]

Just think of Efficiency as a Sugar Score

On the efficiency side, just think of it as a "sugar score". For example...

At the beginning of the boil you might have 30 litres of wort at 1.035 gravity (Note that 30 x 35* = 1050 "sugar score").
At the end of the boil, you might have 21.5 litres at 1.049 gravity (Note that 21.5 x 49* = 1053.5 "sugar score")
[*The 35 and 49 above come by just getting rid of the 1.0 part of our gravity readings. i.e. 1.035 becomes 35.]

Notice how 1050 and 1053.5 are almost identical? (On a real brew you wouldn't get it that close for reasons mentioned previously.) But what this shows you, is that your "sugar score" does not change during the boil.

Another way of looking at it is like this. If you poured a bag of sugar into a saucepan the more you boiled it, the sweeter the liquid would taste. No sugar evaporates off.

This is why the estimated "kettle efficiencies" (EIB and EAW) in the pic below are identical. Also note how the actual kettle efficiencies are not identical but are fairly close to each other? This tells the brewer that he is well within the ball-park and is going well.
Why is Efficiency into Fermentor (EIF) lower than the "Kettle Efficiencies?

The reason for that is our "sugar score" is actually lower after we transer from kettle to fermentor because we leave real sugar behind in the kettle trub etc,. For example...

We had a sugar score of 1053.5 (21.5 x 49)

When we transfer to the fermentor, we might leave 3 litres behind in the kettle but our specific gravity doesn't change at all in that transfer so we end up with...

18.5 L at 1.049 which is 18.5 x 49 which is a sugar score of 906.5 which is a lot less than our kettle sugar score.

How does Sugar Score Relate to Efficiency?

An efficiency measurement basically turns your sugar score into a percentage which, on top of a lack of clear definitions on other sites and in other software, can really confuse new brewers. (Hardly any brewers, even experienced ones, understand efficiency correctly and from all angles. Only the smallest percentage are aware of just how many problems this causes.) The only things that you need to understand though are...

1. Your kettle efficiencies (EIB and EAW) should hopefully end up being within say 5% of each other and always be higher than or equal to the BIABacus estimates.
2. Kettle efficiencies will always be higher than fermentor efficiency because we do lose sugar in our transfer from the kettle.

Let me know if that helps at all...

[End of second PM]

To finsh off...

Snaylor, MS mentioned above, supplying your BIABAcus files. If you still have them or any, then post them as when we do have the files, it only takes a few seconds to identify a consistent brewing error. If you don't have any, make sure you do the measurements described in the beginning of this post and record them in The BIABacus. This identifying of any major brewing errors is another thing that The BIABacus does extremely well but that other programs "muddy".

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Last edited by PistolPatch on 14 Dec 2015, 19:16, edited 1 time in total.
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Post #18 made 2 years ago

PP, Makes sense and does help.

I'll take the readings as suggested on the next brew, and your post answers a question about dilution for a higher OG I was about to ask!

Next brew I'll post the Biabacus file for perusal.

The point Contrarian makes regarding the acidulated malt also may be a factor in my Wheat beer - checked out my local water supply which I've been using and ph is between 7 and 8 (website stated so obviously it's not hugely accurate but a ballpark figure). On reading about using wheat an ideal ph to aid conversion would be mid 5's which the acidulated malt would enable. At the moment I'm not having the same problems with my beers which employ darker malts which, so I've read, reduce the ph anyway (put in really simplisticly for speed).

So far I've done 2 ales (employing darker malts and close enough to or exceeding predicted OG) and 2 wheats which I've found don't hit their predicted OG - pattern there seems to be linked to the point above.

Obviously I've got a lot more brewing to be done before I can confirm but it gives me something to look at measured against what I now know (thanks PP) Biabacus is telling me.

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