After being a long time traditional all-grain brewer for many years I started reading about different all-grain brew techniques and decided to give BIAB (brew in a bag) a try. Since I was trying to streamline the brewing process while downsizing my brewery it seemed like a good direction to go. I designed a small batch recirculating electric BIAB setup and was pleasantly surprised with the results until one brew day a few weeks ago when I was brewing a two gallon Scottish Wee Heavy with a large grain bill even for a two gallon batch. Everything started fine but as soon as I started recirculating the pump went dry. Sudden panic set in and I quickly determined that the wort was not draining back through the bag and basket of my Bayou kettle quick enough for the pump. I tried an inline valve in the hose from the pump to the recirculation fitting in my kettle lid to throttle down the pump flow. Still no go and the pump drained the wort below the basket quicker than the wort would drain back through the mash. Previous brew days with different recipes went flawless and I was able to recirculate running the pump full open but this was a big beer. Basically I had a stuck sparge but in the BIAB world.
I limped through that brew day and the beer still turned out ok but I saw room for improvement because I like high gravity beers and didn’t want to go through this again. Started to break down the problem, it wasn’t the bag because everyone recirculating in the BIAB world was using bags made of Voile fabric. Could it be the space under the basket preventing the grains from being completely submerged, thus making a thicker mash? Maybe but I couldn’t really change that since the basket kept the bag off the heating element and it was as low as it could be. Then I started looking the diameter of the holes in the basket of the 24qt Bayou kettle, fairly small and overall not a lot of open area. Large Bayou kettles with baskets have larger holes and probably don’t present a flow problem but mine did. What to do? Enlarge the holes? That is a lot of drilling and enlarging a hole in thin sheet metal just makes a mess. I remember seeing a couple folks on home brewing forums playing with the idea of making a BIAB basket out of stainless steel mesh and I had acquired a hop basket made out of stainless mesh from Arbor Fabricating and it had good flow through it so why not? Well I like how the Bayou Classic basket sits on a lip at the top part of the kettle and while making a basket that would sit on legs above the heating element would be possible I liked the original design. Then, while staring at the Bayou basket and my hop basket, I thought why not use the top portion of the original basket, remove the bottom part and attach stainless mesh in it’s place? Well I emailed Chad at Arbor Fabricating and after a phone call to discuss it I shipped my basket off to him to work his magic. After he received the basket he called and I explained what I was hoping for while he was looking at my basket and he said he could do it. He had it completed in a few days and got it back to me quickly. The quality of his workmanship is great and it was exactly what I wanted. Looking back it would have better for me to send the whole kettle to him so getting the best fit would have been easier for him but it still turned out awesome. Now to give it a test drive, well that would have to wait till my next day off. That day finally arrived and I chose another recipe with a large grain bill. I had my inline valve in place just incase but when I started the pump to begin recirculating I noticed that I was back to recirculating at full flow and never had to touch the valve. Problem solved and a bonus was that now I didn’t need a fabric bag any longer. Clean up was easy, after the 90 minute mash I lifted the basket out and propped it up to drain. Since the there is now more overall open area it drained very quickly. Dumped the spent grains into a bag and gave the basket a rinse with the kitchen sink sprayer and that’s it. Moving to a stainless mesh basket for BIAB brewing has two definite advantages, no more bag and better flow through the grains and this is a definite plus regardless whether you recirculate or not. I whole heartedly recommend anyone considering it give Chad a call at Arbor Fabricating. He has built BIAB baskets for several different styles of kettles so this isn’t new to him and he will make it work for whatever you have. Check out his website at www.arborfab.com
It is exciting to see other industries willing to explore how their services can relate to brewing and this is a great example. I solved my problem and ditched the bag.