Thanks for your comprehensive update PF - much appreciated! I need to google why the pre-boil OG was a bit low but i think i'm right in assuming that its not mashed quite enough. Like you say the post boil OG should be the key factor and i went and monkeyed ith it when there was no need to. You are quite right about the extra 3 bottles and thinking back there was no valid reason to top it up apart from the recipe saying so. Thats the beer-brain at work right there
Re the cooling i saw all this lovely clear wort and didn't want to disturb it, so i left it alone. and then promptly stirred it all up using the whirlpooling, so yeah kind of pointless
Sounds like an idea using the sieve though, as the other thing that occurred to me was that i didn't aerate the wort very much on putting it into the FV as i siphoned it in. I needn't have worried though, went downstairs at 7am, roughtly 12 hours after pitching the yeast and before i opened the brew fridge i heard the welcome sounds of a gurgling airlock. c. 24 hours later and its going like stink!
I normally fermented at 18 degrees but i have the temp set at 19.3 according to the recipe and its working away really well, so i'll let it be for a few days before dry hopping.
On the strike water the recipe only called for 13.6l of strike water and estimated my final batch vol should have been 10l, so something is off quite a bit somewhere. i followed the recipe i posted almost to the letter so if any beersmith whizzkids can see something obvious i'd be interested to see what went awry.
just got the brewing bug again, can't wait to see what its like!