Diminishing Returns. In Economics this is fairly straightforward terminology used to describe that point of investment, wherein you will not receive any more profit from any further investment. No doubt you are familiar with it being used in any number of circumstances to describe pretty much the same thing. Unfortunately, in pursuit of pushing off up-grading my system to a full-on ice chest mash tun, it seems that duct tape and bubble gum will really only take you so far before you really have to either crap or get off the wok.
My beginner system was a simple 5 gallon, partial-boil extract set-up I bought from MoreBeer as a graduation gift for finally getting around to finishing college. This was a great system for extract brewing, but after listening to the entire Brewing Network Archives over the course of a year plus before I even bought my system, and joining a local homebrew club chock full of all grain brewers, I was itching to upgrade.
At first, I figured I would do a simple partial mash/mini-mash set-up for a while, until I had the extra money and storage space for me to go out and buy a cooler. Like an idiot, I figured I would content working partial-mash for some unknown length of time. It was enough enough, I really only needed to buy a muslin bag large enough to line my kettle from my LHBS, and I would be ready to begin to shave pennies off of the cost of my brewing per batch by swapping out a few pounds of extract for a few pounds of base grain. I think I got maybe 2 batches of partial-mash beer done before I was scheming, trying to figure out how I could do all grain batches only on my stove top. I screwed myself 2 ways: 1) the first partial mash beer I made had such ridiculously fluffy and strong foam compared to its extract counterpart, I couldn’t believe it. 2)My stupid brains. I figured, If I could understand mashing well enough by rigging it cheaply in my kettle, then by the time I build a tun and buy a larger kettle for a full-boil I surely would be able to mash like a champ!
I’m an idiot.
I managed to do a Scottish 60/- recipe from Brewing Classic Styles, and a really poor attempt at a lower abv. Cal Common recipe creation using this method except I topped it off to make 5 gallons and it turned out fine, but its not without its limitations. In order to mash an all-grain recipe in a 5 gallon kettle and do a full boil, it meant that I would never be able to brew a proper 5 gallon batch, at most I could brew 2 1/2 -3 gallons when it was all said and done. The kettle was simply not large enough to accommodate a full-boil, this was true even for extract. Secondly, it was not a large enough vessel to accommodate enough grain to mash a beer much larger than around 1.040 +/-, a session beer. Thats not so bad on its own, but if you wanted to make a nice strong IPA, or Scotch Ale in my case, it simply is not going to happen without the aid of some Malt Extract which kind of defeats the purpose of trying to brew an all-grain recipe. This sort of set-up is just not designed for efficiency, as I recall in the Cal Common, I achieved somewhere around 40% extract efficiency, while the 60/- was much higher efficiency, it was mashed with much less grain as well.
That method didn’t seem to be working out so well, so I took to the internet to see what improvements could be made with minimal investment. I could have easily solved all of this heartache with a picnic cooler mash tun, but Ill be damned if I was gonna spend any money on it…
After some searching, I ran across this forum thread via Reddit Homebrewing and figured Id give it a shot, I had another pasta pot hanging around the house to use so it couldn’t hurt. This made it a bit easier, and it made more sense on the surface, but I didn’t see any improvement in efficiency in extraction on my next batch (which was a SMaSH beer, US 2 Row and Cascade, tasty in spite of the crappy mash).
Frankly, while I should be patient and tolerant and creative enough to work around my system to learn how to achieve what I want from it, I think that what I have found my point of diminishing returns on my system, and if I want to pursue all-grain brewing any further (which I do) then there must be some fundamental changes made to what I do and how I do it.
To Be Continued…….