Welcome to How I Brew
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Yet another approach to homebrewing
Bill Freeman aka Elder Rat
|Being a "gear head", I have found that the equipment to brew beer can become as complex as you will allow it to become. What follows on this page is the Mark IV version of a heat exchange system I call "the perfesser". "the perfesser" is built out of three 15 gallon Volrath stockpots. I think they are easier to care for as well as being shorter and larger in diameter for the volume they hold than are converted kegs. This system started out as a RIMS similar to Keith Royster's, but after a couple of instances where wort was burned by the heating element in the wort stream, I decided to take a page from Zymie's book and shift to the heat exchange system. Much of "the perfesser" is built around published information that has been modified to suit what I want. I have dumped hot water on myself before (I can be a klutz) so no part of the system is more that 66 inches in height. The frame is welded 1" X 1" square steel tubing and is mounted on casters for mobility.
My brew day starts with filling the pot that serves as a hot liquor tank with 14 gallons of filtered water. Filtering is done with a standard inline activated charcoal water filter that uses a garden watering wand to get the water up to the top of the tank. A sight glass from a commercial coffee urn shows the quantity of water in the tank.
|I can do all this preparation the night before and set a timer incorporated in the control panel to start the heating process before I get to the garage on brew day. In essence it's like a Mr. Coffee wherein a simple plug-in timer activates a PID obtained from Omega Engineering with its preset temperature and the HLT is hot and ready to go by the time I need it.|
|This PID reads water temp via a thermocouple in the bottom of the HLT.|
|The HLT has 2-4000 watt 220 volt water heater elements mounted in it which are controlled by 2-25 amp solid state relays. This heating system can take tap water from 55 degrees F out of the faucet to 160 degrees F in about 25 or so minutes. Strike water temp is calculated to give me my first mash temp and that depends on what brew I am making.|
|I use a Schmidling, adjustable, gear drive, malt mill to crush grain. The picture shows a funnel adapter that allows me to pour in all the grain at once, start the drill motor, and walk away while the mill does it's thing.|
|"Mashing in" is a simple matter of opening the outlet valve from the HLT into the mash tun and adding grain as the water level comes up. At first, the mash is fairly dry as I let it sit for the first 30 minutes of mashing without recirculating the wort. The final mixing before mashing is done with a "savonious rotor" type mixer on another drill motor. This mixer is chrome plated is the same as those used by the sheet rock folks to mix their spackling. It gives both a uniform moisture mix and a uniform temperature spread in the tun without mixing in air.|
|The mash tun has a stainless steel false bottom mounted on stilts to clear the outlet tube.|
|This outlet tube is nothing more than a copper tube slotted along its bottom side. After the first 30 minutes of mashing, I add additional water to the mash tun to give a fairly wet mash and turn on all the other controls.|
|There are two March 809 HS pumps on this system. Both are bronze magnetic drives I obtained from McMaster-Carr rated at 1/25th horsepower and 250 degrees F. One is fitted to the mash tun and used to circulate water from the HLT through one side of a counterflow wort chiller from Precision Brewing Supplies that serves as my heat exchanger. I decided that additional plumbing in the mash tun along with the heating elements was simply asking for trouble. By controlling the temp of the water, I can control the temp of the wort being returned to the mash tun within about a degree F.|
|The other pump is used to recirculate wort back into the mash tun.|
|The outlet from the mash tun feeds through a solenoid valve into a lauter grant, which is a Zymie configuration as well.|
|I use the same low limit float switch to keep the recirc pump from running dry. I expanded on his grant by adding a high limit float switch to control a solenoid valve, which keeps the grant from overflowing. I felt a grant was necessary due to the fact that although the small pumps I use are not very powerful, they can take a suction on the grain bed and lead to it's compaction.
A second PID controls the temp of the mash. It does this by controlling the wort circulation. When the temp in the grain bed reaches what I have set it for, the pump simply turns off. By the same token, I can do step mashes by resetting the mash temp PID. Nominal rates of rise around 2.5-3 degrees F per minute is easily attainable using 160-degree water in the HLT. The thermocouple for this PID is mounted in the line just downstream of the grant.
|A manifold in the mash tun (again from Zymie) keeps the returning wort from splashing. A valve in the wort return line controls the wort flow back into the tun. This same valve can be closed when I start pumping finished wort up to the boiler at the end of a mash. The wort recirc pump serves that duty as well.|
|One major difference between the "the perfesser" and other systems I have seen is that I have made the boil tower a separate unit from the tun and HLT. It has its own casters and can be rolled away from the main unit to facilitate the cleaning of the latter. I can roll it around to the fill wand to add water to the boiler. I usually boil 5-6 gallons of water during the mash time and run it through my counter flow chiller to help clean and sanitize it. This chiller is always stored wet and full of Iodophor. So far, I have not had a bacteria problem here.|
|The boiling tower has a 35,000 BTU low-pressure propane burner. My wife calls this a "civilized" burner because it is quiet. I have added a piezo starter. I simply got tired of looking for a match or lighter. Turn on the gas - push the button. By starting this burner when there is about 3 inches of wort in the boiler, the whole 14 gallons of the boil is nearly at boil temp by the time sparge is finished. I also add about 25% of my bittering hops at first wort flow. I have found that the amount of water needed in the mash tun for proper circulation almost negates the need for much additional sparge water. Reprogramming the HLT PID sets sparge water temp.
I use a stainless racking cane on the line from the mash tun to the boiler in an effort to pump hot wort up to the boiler and then into the bottom of that vessel so as not to splash. The first time or two I just used an extra foot of hose to do this. It always wanted to float.
|The boiler is equipped with a long version of the "EasyMasher" on its outlet. I have become a fan of whole hops for a number of reasons, one of the most important of which is that they don't clog up an "EasyMasher". In addition they make a good filter bed for the finished wort.|
|From the boil on, things go pretty much the same as everybody else's system. Wort goes through the counterflow chiller and into a carboy. I use a stainless steel air stone to aerate the wort with an oxygen bottle.
I have found that carpet samples make great pads to put carboys on. These carpet pads are a whole lot softer than my concrete floor and have saved a glass carboy on more than one occasion. (I said I was a klutz.) Milk crates facilitate the lifting of carboys full of wort.
|Since starting all grain, I have become a fan of liquid yeast as well. I make starters up to one gallon in size for a 10-gallon batch. I usually pour off most of the liquid and pitch yeast slurry. I am just now entertaining using slants and cultures, but this seems a way to eliminate the frustration of my local homebrew shop having a fresh pack of the yeast I wish to use.|
|I have incorporated a total flush fitting to the system that flushes all the piping. This makes cleanup of the various pieces of plumbing a snap. Every two or three batches, I run 10 gallons of PBW treated water though the whole thing and have had no bad batches due to unclean equipment.
When it's all said and done, a brew day for me starts around 8:00 a.m. and ends somewhere after 2:00 p.m. I have the luxury of not having to be "on premises" all that time with this system and I can amuse myself with other pursuits. Most often, I am moving beers to secondary or to Corney cans or bottling. There is always a piece of stuff to clean up or fix or modify, and time to dream up another gadget.
|One of the ideas that came to fruition during a brewing session is a combination carboy/corney cleaning system. I used one of the first pumps I bought for "the perfesser" which turned out to be totally inadequate. I mounted it on a large plastic "muck bucket" and built a spray nozzle on the inside of the bucket. It is a simple matter to fill the bucket with water and PBW cleaner. By turning a carboy or corney upside down over the spray head, the inside of it can be thoroughly cleaned by circulating the liquid.|