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Master Brewers Association of the Americas > BREWING RESOURCES > Ask the Brewmaster > Posts > Process Loss in the Brew Kettle
July 22
Process Loss in the Brew Kettle

Q: We are experiencing loss of product throughout the brewing and cellaring processes, one area of loss that we would like to attack is at the kettle.  There is still wort left behind in the trub post boil, even more in our heavily hopped beers.  What are the best ways of increasing our kettle to fermenter volume?  I know of decanters and centrifuges, they are cost prohibitive at this point in our growth.

A: The first step in fighting process loss is to take accurate measurements. Several companies supply sanitary magnetic flow meters, which can be configured for portable use to maximize versatility. These can be used throughout the processes to help identify problems and measure results as you make process adjustments.

A portable mag meter can help you identify serious offenders (which may surprise you) and quantify your results when dealing with obvious, low hanging fruit. A $4,000 mag meter pays for itself pretty quickly if it leads to increased finished beer yields - even if the increases aren’t huge.

Since you’ve identified the brew kettle as a problem area, let’s look at some strategies for decreasing losses there. Typically, there are two major areas of opportunity, and you’ll definitely want to go after both to maximize results:

Create & maintain the perfect trub pile

If you’re able to form (and maintain) a tighter trub pile, you'll get a better yield. There are several variables that can often be controlled with little-to-no equipment modification. These include particle size, wort inlet speed, and wort draw-off speed.

Particle size can be attacked (increased) from several angles, including reducing shear forces and countless upstream process variables. There are also process aids available that can be used to increase trub pile compaction. For example, some kettle fining products incorporate PVPP into the standard blend of carrageenan to form larger flocs. Since the window of optimal whirlpool conditions is limited, it's important to speed up settling by increasing particle size. The bigger the floc, the harder it falls.

If wort is drawn off faster than it can drain from the trub pile, your perfectly formed trub pile will collapse into a soupy mess, resulting in avoidable losses. Additionally, each whirlpool vessel will have its own optimal wort inlet speed. Read this TQ article to understand the mechanics at play.

Reduce the volume of trub 

If the obvious possibility of decreasing your hop additions isn’t on the table, consider shifting some or all of your additions to other products and/or techniques. Hop extracts, hop oils, T-45 pellets, etc. can all increase yield vs. whole leaf or standard T-90 pellets. Hop brokers can sometimes offer a customized solution - they are used to dealing with this issue, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

Other Resources

Some other relevant resources authored by MBAA's network of volunteer members are listed below. By the way, other brewers would love to hear about your trials, so please consider summarizing your project to reduce kettle losses in your brewery (and any other interesting projects) in a Technical Quarterly article and/or at a District meeting. Volunteerism is what created the MBAA knowledge base.

  1. TQ: Maximizing Whirlpool Operation (Mallet)    
  2. Poster: The mechanical principles of the whirlpool (Funk)
  3. TQ: The story of the whirlpool (Hudston)
  4. TQ: A new method for trub separation (Versteegh)
  5. TQ: Wort recovery from trub with a decanter centrifuge (Ruggles and Hertrich)
  6. TQ: Control of brewing processing losses (Lieberman)
  7. TQ: Beer recovery - its justifications (hoggan, Ricketts, Spillane)
  8. TQ: Extract control and volume shrinkage in brewing (Schwaiger, Lingelbach, Swistowicz, Fischbach)
  9. TQ: Material and beer losses - their significance, cause, and control (Barnes)
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