Ditching the bag in BIAB

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

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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.

CheersIMG_2230

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35 thoughts on “Ditching the bag in BIAB

    • His charge was $100 and I feel it was worth it. I recommend you contact Chad with the dimensions of your basket. He can also build baskets from scratch to fit and give you an all mesh basket. Either way send your kettle with for proper fit, it’s the easiest

  1. Hi.

    That’s a fine system 🙂

    Can you tell me about the mesh please? How big is the mesh, how many holes per Inch? Is there a picture of the recirculating system?

    Atb. Aamcle

      • That’s really inspiring. I’m hoping to build a somewhat similar biab setup for myself.

        Just to double-check:
        I guess this has to be US #40 / 400 micron mesh, with 0.0165″ openings?

        It seems that #400 is around 40 microns, and #40 is around 400 microns – pretty confusing (at least to me) …

        Have you used the same basket as the hop basket? It would seem that one basket could be used for both mash and hops.

      • Hi,
        Meah sizing is confusing but 400 seems to be the beat choice for BIAB. I don’t use that basket for hops but one could. I use a smaller similar hop basket they make that hangs on the side of the kettle.

  2. I found your blog via the BIAB facebook page. Really inspiring stuff. I have a RIMS setup too and hope to be able to get a basket like yours – fairly hard when I’m in NZ and shipping is a killer!

    • Dene,
      Thanks for checking out the blog. I’m always thinking of ways to do things differently so their will always be something new here. I know what you mean about shipping, there have been a few things I’ve wanted to get from down there but cost of shipping killed the deal.

  3. I love the small fluid pumps in the picture. Well I love your whole set up. But where did you get the little pumps?? Thanks for posting.

    • Thanks for checking out my post. You can get the pumps from amazon. Just search for 12V Solar Pump. They have been used by home brewers in England for some time and work quite well. Inexpensive and quiet.

  4. Really nice setup! This is very similar to what I’m moving towards, but I’m considering induction. I was wondering about the re-circulation, though. What’s the reason for it? Do you see significant improvements in efficiency? I’ve done a few BIABs now and have just stirred a few times. Efficiency seems ok (~78% brewhouse), but it makes maintaining a temp more difficult.

    • Anthony,
      Thanks for checking out my blog. I have considered induction but haven’t played with one. I have read a few others’ experiences with them and a few have said they use them to maintain mash temp and they did a good job once they found the setting that maintained the correct mash temp. I recirculate for two main reasons, consistent temp throughout the grain bed and wort clarity. I use a steamer basket to keep grains away from heating element in the kettle and quickly found that there was temperature stratification. The liquid below the basket was warmer than the mash itself so I wasn’t really maintain my desired mash temp. I would have to stir all the time and it was frustrating. By recirculating it keeps the entire grain bed at the set temp since the liquid is constantly flowing thru it and around the element. I found out by chance that a byproduct of recirculating is clearer wort since it is like constantly doing a vorlauf. I’m sure I picked up some efficiency points but consistent temp control was my primary goal. Coolers work great for temp control but then it’s no longer single vessel BIAB which is appealing to us for many reasons so recirculating works for me. If you have 78% brew house efficiency then you are doing good on that part so it’s how you want to manage temp control that is the question. Don’t beat yourself up chasing higher efficiency numbers if you are in the 70s, remember almost all recipes are created with 70-75% efficiency in mind so you are there and will be able to get real close to the predicted specific gravities of the recipes if not nail them. If you go induction and have the bag taking up the entire space in your kettle then a few good stirs during the mash may be all you need.

  5. When your ready to fill the fermentor do you just pull the tubing off the pump or valve? And then how do you keep the liquid that’s in the tube from spilling? Pinch the tubing and hold it upright?

    • I disconnect the pump after the mash before boiling and just hold a small dish or cup under the hose when I disconnect it from the valve. After chilling the wort after the boil I use a longer piece of sanitized tubing to drain into my fermenter. I plan on using the pump in the near future for whirlpooling so I’ll probably just disconnect the hose from the lid after the mash.

  6. Do you think there is any advantage to having quick disconnects for the hoses and pumps? Are the barbed fittings easy enough to deal with?

  7. About how long is the tubing you use….can I get away with a 4 foot piece cut into two pieces….my setup is based on yours except the return tubing won’t have the hardware in it like yours…I’ll just be returning directly from the tubing with no barb fitting….the tubing will stick through the a hole in the lid.

  8. Pingback: Ditching the bag in BIAB - Hellbach blog

  9. I hope you are still looking at this thread.

    I really like your setup.

    I know that this post wasn’t about the pumps, but I had a question about them. In an earlier post you mentioned where to find them. I was just curious, have you run liquid higher hotter than 100c through it?

  10. +1 Great setup.

    I have a question regarding the new basket. Since the holes seem to be much larger from the original basket, I’m wondering how you prevent the grain from slipping through? If the grain does go through to the bottom would the grain not interfere with the pump?

    • The original bottom half of the basket was the piece on the left in the picture and I lined that original basket with a BIAB bag made from voile fabric. The new basket is 400 micron stainless mesh and no grain particles get through it. The wort flows through it better than the voile mesh fabric of a BIAB bag which definitely helps with recirculating, quicker and easy draining and in my opinion, helps with efficiency.

  11. This is a great setup. Apart from being natural gas fired, I’m working a pretty much identical setup using the same 24qt Bayou Classic Stainless Kettle for 2.5-3gal batches.

    I’m wondering though, did you have the overall height of the mesh basket increased?

    My pot hasn’t arrived from Amazon.com yet so I can’t measure. But from descriptions on the web, it seems like the basket is almost 3″ off the bottom of the pot with a total basket height of about 7″. I konw that I’ll use some of the space under the basket for fittings, but that still seems like a lot of area could be used to hold grain. Let me know. Thanks!

    • Thanks. I did extend the basket somewhat but since my setup is electric with an element in the kettle I couldn’t go too low with the basket. If you are using a heat source outside the kettle, like gas, I’d go as low as possible for increased grain capacity. I’d save the box the kettle comes in and after punching hole for drain I would send the whole setup to them some they can get the basket as large as possible

    • Awesome! Thanks for the info. My plan was to ship the whole thing to him with basically those instructions. I do have a few more questions.

      1. What fittings do you have installed inside the kettle? Do you have a small pick up tube or a bazooka screen or something else?

      2. Where did you get the inline ball valve I see in the picture?

      3. I plan on using the Blichmann Quick Disconnects with that same pump. But they are threaded BSP instead of NPT. Do they thread on without the need to use teflon tape? Or do you need to use teflon?

      • You are welcome. No fittings in the kettle, just a drain. I tip the kettle slightly if I want to get a little more wort out. Bazooka screens do little to screen out pellet hope and in small batches the amount of hop residue is no big deal. The inline valve is a PEX 1/2″ inline ball valve available at most home improvement stores. 3/8″ silicone tubing fits snugly without clamps. The Blichmann quick connects thread all the way down and seal with their internal o-rings so no need for pipe tape

  12. Nice Setup. I attempted to make my own version of this by sewing some sheets of SS mesh using SS thread. The grains got stuck in the corners and were a pain to clean out. Is this a problem with the basket you had made?

  13. I’m still working on getting the plans for my setup. I know there are varied thoughts on BIAB and “cloudy wort” it produces. I’m really not all that concerned about the break material going into the fermenter. But I’d like to get clear(ish) wort in the boil kettle…leaving behind as much flour and “non-wort” as possible. You said above in one of your comments, “I found out by chance that a byproduct of recirculating is clearer wort since it is like constantly doing a vorlauf.” With this basket, I would imagine the clarity comes partly because you can set your grain bed better than you can with a bag. Just wondering if you could elaborate on what your wort looks like once you pull the basket out of the kettle in preparation for the boil. Crystal clear? Pretty clear? Cloudy?

    • The wort after recirculating is pretty clear. Even using a bag I had pretty clear wort to the kettle and nothing I would consider to be non wort which I’m guessing would be grain bits. I personally think a super fine crush is over rated as far as efficiency gains are concerned and I am not that concerned with efficiency as I am with consistency and repeatability. I double crush my grains and feel that is adequate. Clear wort to the boil kettle does not equal clear finished product. There are many more variables that contribute to clear finished beer. My sole reason for switching to the mesh basket was better flow through for recirculating, especially in big beers, and my primary reason for recirculating is temperature control. Small batches can be difficult to maintain a constant temperature in due to the lack of thermal mass compared to a normal five gallon recipes grain bill. Slightly clearer wort is just a bonus to recirculating as is a slight increase to efficiency. Also wort clarity is subjective.

  14. Hi,

    I’m looking to do all grain brew in a basket and am wondering if the 10 gallon brew in s basket setup from arborfab is large enough for 5 gallon batches? I read that for BIAB you should havery a 14-15 gallon kettle.

    • Hey Joe,
      Thanks for checking out my blog. You are correct, two and a half times your batch size is the recommended kettle size. Arborfab’s pre-made setup is 10.5 gallons so it would work as long as you never plan to make higher gravity beers. The nice thing is Arborfab will make anything you want so if you can find a 15 gallon kettle you like give them a call and they can make a basket for it. Depending on how much you pay for a kettle the cost may be comparable. They do great work so you won’t be disappointed. Since my post about moving to a basket I have them modify another basket which I will be featuring in another post soon.

  15. Thanks for this post. I am developing an induction based single vessel brewing system and had been experiencing the same stuck mash issue that you described when brewing high abv beers. My mash basket has solid sides and a 400 micron bottom. I think the fines wash to the bottom as the wort recycles through the grain eventually blinding the screen. I’m glad to know your new design solved this problem.

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