Your low extraction might not be the fault of the crush - it could be the grain mix. You didn't mention what proportion of pale malt you'd had in with your home made crystal. I've found my home kilning for crystal doesn't always convert all the starches to sugar in-situ so a good proportion of enzymes are required from the pale malt. Also - upping the steep time and good 'flushing' of the grist will help.Naaahhh... it was the crush, followed by too-fast sparging. I ran the second brew last Saturday with the help of the latest addition to the arsenal: The Crushinator Mk 2!
The Crushinator works like a charm, though I will adjust the gap between the rollers down by perhaps 0.1mm next time. A little too much paranoia about stuck sparges, I guess. ;-) Sparging took almost a full hour this time around, and I ended up with 19l of 1.042 gravity wort now sitting in primary ferment. Actually first fermentation is almost done. Already! I washed and re-used the yeast from the first batch, and it seems to have worked out fine.
The aim of the first brew was really to shake down the entire system and iron out some of the (inevitable) bugs. The goal for the 2nd brew was to establish what I'm calling the Baseline Ale: a very plain, simple, straightforward Pale Ale that will serve as a "standard" against which I can compare other experiments and recipes. For example, I'm planning a series of brews where I vary only the water and its constituents. Then another series where I can play around with various hopping techniques. (No! Not "jumping up and down on one leg"!) Then maybe some brews where I play with different yeasts. But changing only a single factor at a time, so that I can compare the result against Baseline Ale and know exactly what is going on.
As a result of the brew being about Baseline Ale I used bought Crystal Malt for both brews, and not my own homemade; that will await a future experiment: I need to be able to taste the differences between my own Crystal and "professionally made". Conversion was almost certainly not part of the problem: my recipe was 95% Pale Malt and only 5% Crystal (guessing that it's 60L) in a single-step infusion mash at 68ºC for a tad over an hour. I will probably extend the mash time a little the next time around.
Are you taking pics of your rig, if so.. are they online anywhere? I'd love to see your setup.
Most of the pics of the rig (and its construction) are now up at http://picasaweb.google.com/mikro2nd/BraamekraalBrauhaus02?feat=directlink
It's a long shot (and some way from you) but when I was down there I did visit a small brewery near Hermanus (Birkenhead Brewery) and I think they malted their own grains from memory - they might flog a few sacks to you if you're passing.
Birkenhead Brewery is still going strong after changing hands and brewmasters (a couple of times?) The current brewmaster is very helpful to homebrewers - one friend regularly buys Crystal Malt from them. They don't currently malt their own grain, though. Pale Malt is all sourced from SAB Maltings in Caledon, and (as far as I know) they import specialty grains directly themselves. We go down to that part of the world fairly frequently, as we have a bunch of family who live in that region, and I am definitely planning to drop by and visit with Andy when next we go down there.
Here in Knysna we have the famous Mitchells Brewery. I went to visit Dave who runs the show there last week, and he, too, is very willing to help out; he offered transport from Caledon for my Pale Malt supplies, and I plan to take him up on that offer!