5 Ways to Improve your All Grain Beer Efficiency

by Brad Smith on July 4, 2008 · 28 comments

All grain brewers can be obsessive about the efficiency of their brewing system. This week we will look at 5 methods you can use to improve your overall brewhouse efficiency.

All grains in a beer recipe have a potential ideal yield, usually expressed as the find grain dry yield or potential. The fine grain dry yield is typically measured in laboratory conditions by powdering the grain and measuring the maximum possible extract. In the real world, only a fraction of the ideal yield is achieved due to mash inefficiencies, sparging limitations, deadspace and trub losses.

The overall percentage of the potential grain sugars absorbed into the finished wort is called the brewhouse efficiency. Achieving higher efficiency on a consistent basis lets you use less grains to achieve a target original gravity.

All grain brewers, particularly those who are inexperienced, often have low efficiency numbers. Lets look at five ways to increase your efficiency number:

1. Improve the Milling of your Grains

The crush of your grains makes a significant difference in the efficiency of your mash and sparge. Grains should be finely crushed, but the milling should leave the hulls largely intact to act as a filter bed. A dual roller mill such as the Barley Crusher is ideal for achieving this. Note that if you crush your grains too finely you will plug up your filter bed resulting in a “stuck mash”. If you get a stuck mash, your filter bed will clog up and the wort will stop flowing.

2. Mash Out or Sparge with Hot Water

Hot water during the mash out and sparge helps the sticky wort flow more freely. Ideally you would like to raise the mash temperature to about 168F and then use 168F water to sparge. A mash out infusion addition can be used to help raise the temperature of your mash as you sparge.

3. Sparge Slowly

Most beginners attempt to sparge their mash much too fast. Sparging too quickly leaves insufficient time for the hot water to extract the sugars in the grain bed. Limit the flow out of your mash tun to just above a trickle. It should take 30-50 minutes to fully sparge a 5 gallon all grain batch (about 6 gallons of wort).

4. Minimize Losses in your System

Losses anywhere in your brewing system, including deadspace in the mash tun, transfer lines, pumps, and trub at the end of the mash result in lost wort. The lost wort takes sugars with it, reducing your overall brewhouse efficiency. Use a properly sized mash tun, and work to eliminate deadspace in the system.

5. Pick a Properly Designed Mash Tun

The design of your mash tun and false bottom or screen can have a huge effect on the efficiency of the mash process. A round, cylindrical mash tun is generally considered best, as it leaves the depth of the grain bed about equal to its width. This is one reason cylindrical water coolers are popular.

The false bottom ideally will cover the entire bottom of the mash tun but have minimal deadspace underneath it. This will provide an even flow across the entire grain bed giving better efficiency.

If you have your own suggestions on how to improve brewhouse effiency, feel free to leave a comment below. Thanks again for visiting the BeerSmith Home Brewing Beer Blog. Don’t hesitate to subscribe for regular delivery. Have a great holiday and happy brewing.

Related Beer Brewing Articles from BeerSmith:

Enjoy this Article? You'll Love Our BeerSmith Software!
  Don't make another bad batch of beer! Give BeerSmith a try - you'll brew your best beer ever.
Download a free 21 day trial of BeerSmith now

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Sean July 11, 2008 at 12:39 am

I have a cylindrical mash tun and have a developed technique to increase efficiency. All of your 5 points are very valid though I would suggest one more: establish a consistent grain bed. This is essential to ensure that sparge water flows evenly through the grain bed. Too fast of a flow can create water channels. Too slow can compact the grain bed and also create water channels to form. The goal is to rinse the grain column evenly. For me, this takes attention over 40-60 minutes but dramatically increases my efficiency. If I’m not in the mood for this, I just add more grain initially to compensate for the lack of efficiency!
I keep my hot liquor tank at 180’F and start my sparge with adding 1/2 gallon of sparge water to the mash tun.
I then collect about a 1/2 to 3/4 gallons from the mash tun and bring it up to a boil.
After, I pour the boil back into the mash tun and stir to distribute the heat. For my 5 gallon batches, I do this once more to bring the grain bed up to about 170’F. VERY IMPORTANT, each time I pour the hot mash liquid back to the tun, I stir the grain bed to circulate the heat and to establish a consistent grain bed.
When you pour out of the mash tun, the grain becomes compressed. Ideally, you want the grain bed consistently in solution so the sparge water flows through it rather than re-routing through compressed areas.
After stirring each time, I allow about 10 minutes for heat transfer and grain bed settling.
Patience and attention to the grain bed is a huge factor for efficiency!
Keep posting, I enjoy reading your blog!

BadKarma September 3, 2008 at 4:22 am

Another suggestion to aid in preventing a stuck sparge, I always toss in a handful rice hulls. Never had a stuck sparge and always get great results.

Great site and articles Brad, keep it up.

7 September 10, 2008 at 11:01 am

Aren’t you going to start extracting tannins above 170?

Brad Smith September 10, 2008 at 6:27 pm

You are correct – I should have said 168 and not 178F. I will edit the post and make it 168F.


Wheat Grinders August 20, 2010 at 8:21 am

Above all the steps you have been mentioned are really good to improve all grain beer efficiency and with those simple five steps it can be done easily.

Wheat Grinders

Stone October 19, 2011 at 12:59 pm

You said “Grains should be finely crushed, but the milling should leave the hulls largely intact to act as a filter bed”

Assuming BIAB with a fine mesh bag, and because the grain bed is not used for filtering, can grains be pulverized to near flour? If so, what are the issues with using a home food processor to open the grain?

David Fricks December 1, 2011 at 4:42 am

Hi Stone,
I never tried BIAB, but I’m sure it’s still possible to get something similar to a stuck sparge. If you grind your grains into powder, you will likely end up with a solid mass, or dough ball that won’t allow the wort to flow through the grain. You may also have issues with cloudy beer because the bag might not be fine enough mesh to properly clear the wart durring vorlaufing.

I had a hell of a time with my last tripple getting stuck. I’m not sure if it was the flaked oats causing the issue, or that I switched from HERMS to Direct Fire RMS. I’m using a 10gal Blickman with a Blichmann BoilerMaker with Button Louver False Bottom. This is only my second mash in the Blichmann, so it could also be the false bottom. Anyone have any tips or theories on this?

Dmitri December 4, 2011 at 11:24 pm

You should try to keep the grain husk intact even for BIAB brews. Breaking it down too much will also cause tannin extraction

John December 23, 2011 at 3:27 pm

It’s best to have a filter of grain hulls in BIAB as well, because when you lift the bag from the brew pot you’ll also remove wort that’s been soaked up and trapped by the grains.

The bag will typically contain around 4kg of malt plus at least the same amount of water at approximately 70C, so you will want it to drain as quickly as possible to avoid scalding your hands. You’ll also reduce wort wastage that way.

Corey March 9, 2012 at 1:23 pm

I have found that the best way to increase efficiency, in addition to above, is to use the trickle effect. We let the grains sparge for about 45 minutes then slowly pump the wort back into the kettle through the false bottom. This circulates the wort to make a more even flow through the grain. We haven’t hav a problem with a stuck sparge and do a medium grind. Also, you can find calculations for the amount of grain being used and air temperature to give an accurate temperature needed for the water to be used. Using these calculations, the water temp drops as it is added to the grain to release the maximum amount of usable sugars withoug overheating the sparge.

Corey March 9, 2012 at 1:24 pm

sorry, we trickle for about 15 minutes…

Dean Sellers April 6, 2012 at 12:41 pm

I’m currently getting great results, however this wasn’t always the case – and it was a bit of a frustrating journey to get there. The list of 5 items above matches the things that I was trying, and I was sometimes getting worse results from an 18lb grain bill than with 12lbs. I think that the stuff above is very important, but not the full picture. Here’s are some additional things I tried that finally helped:

Dough-in: Proper stirring to get rid of dry spots is especially necessary for larger grain bills.

Proper pH: My efficiency improved dramatically after I found out that the pH of my water was around 8, and then adjusted it to be 7 or a little lower. I use 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of lactic acid, and it works like a charm. Gypsum was not cutting it at all…

Amount of water for mash: I used formulas for my initial guesses, and kept adjusting until I was able to get 3.5 gallons of wort out of the first running, and a little over 3 gallons out of the second – while achieving a mash temperature of 156 after dough-in. This was the final piece of the puzzle.

Richard April 25, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Nice article. I follow maybe 3 out of 5 of these suggestions and I get reasonable efficiency.

By the way, this is a funny thing… you and I had the same idea for a photo with grains. I do a little photography too: http://justbrewbeer.com/?attachment_id=272

I actually had to double-take and make sure that wasn’t my hand.

Cody July 10, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Has anyone considered using a simple medium flow, food safe, high temperature (mouthful) pump to circulate the water in the mash tun? I am considering it, but I wanted to get some more experienced individual’s opinions. The idea is that I would only do one wash and use the liquid from the normal second wash (about 1.5 gallons) to increase volume of the water the mash out and sparge runs, which would hopefully be enough to keep the grain in a more suspended state. Any thoughts?

Mike September 10, 2012 at 10:47 pm

I use a 10 gal insulated water jug and use 4 foot of stainless mess tubing I pulled out of hot water line for washing machine. I always got clean wort and use all my water at the same time. take it from the spigot reheat to 168 and sparge back in for 30 minutes. works every time. even on a 22lb grain bill for my Porter.

Mark December 24, 2012 at 6:03 pm

I agree with Dean above regarding pH. I measure all my mash variables (mash temp, mash duration, mash thickness, pH, sparge temp, and sparge duration) and periodically analyze them using multi-variate regression. Turns out that pH is the most significant variable for my system… by a large amount. My tap water has a pH of about 8 so I started treating it with food grade phosphoric acid down to about 6, which usually gives me a mash pH of about 5.3. I’ve gone too far a few times, and when mash pH gets down to 5.0 to 5.1 my efficiency falls off dramatically.

I also add a little gypsum since my water has almost no calcium, but this has not had a measurable affect on my efficiency (based on the analysis above). I continue to do so because I think it helps with my typical fermentation, but I’ve yet to analyze and prove that.

In summary, rules of thumb are great starting places, but get a good thermometer and pH meter, record your data meticulously, and make decisions for your system based on facts and analysis. There really is no need to guess on this stuff.

Marshall March 11, 2013 at 11:39 pm

Thanks everyone!

John Bedford January 2, 2014 at 9:24 pm

Good info, I have been having some efficiency issues. I think my crush is off.

Jon Elliott March 24, 2014 at 7:58 pm

So I have a 100qt stock pot that I use for my mashtun, and it only came with a 12in false bottom… Im assuming I need a bigger false better to improve my efficiency. My efficiency runs from 60 to about 68. I mash in more slowly and I also sparge really slow… I do an iodine test and it shows that I’ve hit conversion. Where am I missing?

donwyatt June 13, 2014 at 10:26 am

Good info. I’ve struggled a bit with efficiency too. Will be putting this to the test with my next brew.

Wolfger August 2, 2014 at 5:32 pm

Talking about sparge flow, sounds specific to fly sparge. If I’m batch sparging, does that translate to simply letting the sparge water sit 15 minutes before draining? (I do a two step batch sparge). Also, with regards to milling. I just did my first batch with a Monster Mill 3 (3-roller) at the factory setting of 45 thousandths (double-checked this with feeler gages). My efficiency was still poor (about 62%). Would milling finer help, or is that asking for trouble and 45 thou should be good?

Patrick Callahan December 2, 2014 at 7:11 am

A very simple but effective way to increase efficiency is to stir your mash several times during the mash. I have a 3-pot system so I can turn a flame on for a bit while I stir, to keep the temperature steady. Keeping a steady temp in a cooler while stirring may be more difficult, but I am truly a believer in stirring the mash during that time.

Andy Brought January 15, 2015 at 1:34 pm

I sparge for at least 90 minutes, and sometimes up to 120 minutes. This has brought my efficiency from 65% to 80%. Before we were sparging for around an hour. Definitley pay attention to sparge time. Also, we sparge with 170 degree water, no mash out needed. I’m happy with 80%.

Andy Brought January 15, 2015 at 1:36 pm

i forgot to mention, thats with fly sparging…

Gary February 4, 2015 at 6:00 am


I relatively new to the home brewing scene and am a bit confused by the required liquor/ mash volume.
For example I’ve read that as a rule of thumb your should use 4x your grain bill I.e 5kg would require 20 L, however in the book Home Brew Beer(Greg Hughes) for example American Pale Ale recipe states 15 L for 6kg of pale malt.
Yet another recipe for American IPA (14B)yours I think?) states volume of 40.3L for a grain bill of 7.1kg.
Can you also advise the most efficient way to spare when brewing in a bag perhaps?

hövrenhäus April 24, 2015 at 10:29 pm

I know this thread is a little old but I just recently achieved my best brew house efficiency of 79% so I thought I would throw it I anyways.
It was by accident. I usually follow all the above recommendations, but this particular brew I had a bad stuck sparge. To fix it, I spooned out all the grains from my mash tun, cleared the clogs, put the grains back it the tun, waited another 30 minutes, and ran wort back over the grain bed until clear. I don’t know if I achieved the higher efficiency because my sparge took 30 minutes longer than my normal 45 minutes, or if all the spooning of the grains released more sugars. No one wants to deal with a stuck sparge, but I’m almost tempted to recreate to see if I can achieve that efficiency again.

Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: