What’s happening?

Just wanted to post what is going on in my life. I apologize I haven’t posted in awhile but life has been busy. I am about to make a big move back to Washington state very soon and the move has a lot of uncertainty so there has been a little stress. It’s time for me to leave North Dakota and in the end it will be for the best so I need to focus on that for a little while. Hopefully I’ll be brewing again soon and working on finishing a few projects that I am looking forward to sharing here.

I continue to watch what is happening in home brewing, new developments and some of the new products available. Small batch brewing and brewing in small spaces is still growing in popularity and I think it will continue to be a trend the industry can’t ignore. Why not pursue a hobby regardless of your time or space requirements? Thankfully everyone can with home brewing.

On a more serious note I want to talk about your local home brewing supply shops. Many cities are fortunate enough to have one or more. These small businesses are a source for not only brewing supplies but information, ideas, help and provide a feeling of community amongst home brewers. Sadly I am hearing about more and more of these small shops closing. There a lot of reasons a small business closes but nationally, small businesses have been hurt by online shopping and home brew shops are no different. Large online retailers have tremendous buying power that provides them the opportunity to offer lower prices and there is the convenience factor of never having to leave your home. Your local shop may only order a few sacks of 2-row where a large online retailer will order pallets of bags of 2-row. So with just that in mind your LHBS may have higher prices but like all small businesses they have overhead like business insurance, business loan payments, utilities, employee salaries, medical insurance premiums, a house payment, car payment, little junior’s braces and college fund etc. Not to mention often a building lease payment (most home brewing wholesale companies will not allow you to buy from them unless you have an actual store front so no doing business from your garage).

Things your LHBS offer that the big online retailers don’t…immediate access to brewing supplies, no shipping costs or waiting. Need a pack of yeast on brew day? They will have you covered. Need a single drilled stopper? They have it for you and you don’t have to pay $10 shipping for that $2 stopper. Have a question or just want to talk about brewing…your LHBS. Many LHBS offer deals for local brewing club members and some even offer their space to host those clubs for meetings. They often have brewing classes. Many will special order something you want but they don’t carry. Some will store that 50 pound sack of 2-row you bought from them, so you don’t have to find a place in your tiny apartment, and then mill it for you at your convenience. They also are the cornerstone for the community feeling us home brewers have. For me I don’t get that feeling of community when I click on the “checkout” button on a website. Local small businesses also put money back into the community and often provides jobs so it is a win win.

When I started home brewing in Seattle in 1989 I basically was a regular fixture at the local home brew shop in the Greenwood neighborhood and learned so much. I immediately felt accepted into the hobby. I later helped at another home brew shop and it was rewarding to help new and experienced home brewers. I was fortunate to have lived in a city with a couple great LHBS but then moved to a city with none. I had no choice but to order supplies online and wait. When I did order online I chose an online retailer that is also a small business and not owned by a major corporation. Many LHBS have an online side to their business and that is a bonus to us that live in a town without a local shop. Yes online shopping often saves you money, and brings you many choices that local shopping might not. Those two things have helped the hobby grow but remember many of us began home brewing with a visit to a local home brew shop. The interweb is great for shopping but don’t forget the local home brew supply store in your town, they are home brewers like you and I that took the leap to open a small business to help follow home brewers. Just like we home brewers support craft breweries because most were started by home brewers with a dream, try to support small home brew shops. If you haven’t visited your LHBS, stop in and say hi.

With that being said I do occasionally promote or give a plug to an online retailer or specialty business but I only do so because they are small businesses, we can all access, that promotes the hobby, promotes small batch brewing, support their local home brewers and offer great service.

I’ll step off my soapbox. As always I appreciate everyone visiting my blog and hope you all get at least a little inspiration from it.

Keep brewing, subscribe to the blog updates and stay tuned.

Cheers.

Automated and countertop brewing options

Automated?!? That adjective seems to draw comments like “takes all the fun out of brewing” or “that’s nothing more than a Keurig for brewing” or “I want to be hands on in the brewing process”. Well having come from completely non automated brewing and slowly progressing into somewhat automated brewing I have to say it does have it’s place in homebrewing and certainly in small batch/small space brewing for several reasons but probably the most appealing is control and consistency. With consistency comes repeatability.

First let’s look at what automated means in home brewing. There are varying degrees or levels of automation and if you look at them they are not really “push a button and you have beer” automated. I think if that level of automation should ever come to be, would be at the same level as going to the pub or tap room and asking for a beer and shazaam there is a beer in front of you.

Let’s start by looking at what they all have in common with more traditional backyard/kitchen home brewing methods?

  • Recipe selection – What do you want to brew? You either create a recipe, use one someone else has created or even buy an ingredient kit.
  • Ingredients – You buy the ingredients with everything measured out and grains milled or you measure out everything and mill grains yourself.
  • Add ingredients – you dump your measured ingredients (including water), either into a mash tun, kettle or a bin in a machine.
  • Clean up the mess – you have to dump grains, clean up hop and hot break trub, you have to clean your equipment.
  • Fermenting – you have add yeast and keep fermenter in a temperature controlled area.
  • Dispensing – you have to rack, bottle or keg your finished beer.

I think we can all agree, especially when it comes to clean up and bottling, these are very “hands on” aspects of home brewing.

Levels of automation –

  • None – You do everything by hand and control temperature by fiddling with burner valve or stove knob while watching a thermometer and control time by watching a clock.
  • Slight – You use a mill to crush your grains, you use a pump to transfer wort but you still have very basic temperature and time control.
  • Moderate – You add some sort of basic electronic process control for temperature control such as a PID or electromechanical  thermostat that controls your burner. Some of these also offer basic timer capability. (This is where a growing number of home brewers are at)
  • Moderately techie – You go with a computer based process control such as the Brew Boss, BrewTroller, Brewery Control System, BrewPi or similar control. These add a graphical user interface, pump automation and total temperature/time control.
  • Moderately techie all in one – This would be the PicoBrew Zymatic, PicoBrew Pico, Brewie. These are a brewing appliance that is self-contained with web-enabled computer based time/temperature control, pump automation and require little or no interaction by the user during the mash and brew process. They handle the introduction of hops during the boil period by redirecting wort through hop compartments.
  • Advanced – This would be extensions of the BrewTroller, BCS and BrewPi which add automated solenoid valves for water and wort flow and in some cases volume measurement so water/wort levels are controlled for you. They also can handle automated wort chilling at the end of the boil. These are also very DIY from the aspect of construction and the software side as they are open source platforms.

The brewing appliances such as the Brewie, PicoBrew Zymatic and Pico are automated to a degree but there is still plenty for the brewer to do.

The Brewie has not been released yet but appears to add water volume control as it requires a water connection.

The PicoBrew Pico is the most basic and is targeted at people that might be completely new to home brewing and want to start brewing their own beer . It offers 5L recipe kits, called Pico Paks, based on recipes submitted by craft breweries. This allows you to brew beers that sound appealing but you may never get to taste due to limited distribution by the breweries. PicoBrew is also working on creating Freestyle Pico Paks that allow you to brew your own recipes and they send you the ingredient pak with the ingredients you have chosen.

The PicoBrew Zymatic has been around since 2013 and is their more professional machine that allows the brewer to brew any 2.5 gallon recipe he or she creates with their own ingredients as well as access recipes from other Zymatic owners through the company’s website where the Zymatic owner creates and stores their recipes.

They are all small batch capable, have a small footprint for those with small space requirements and operate on standard 120V electrical service.

Countertop systems such as the Grainfather (technically sits on the floor) have moderate automation with a pump and have temperature control, operate on 120V and require little space. The Grainfather also can brew smaller batches as well as standard 5 gallon batches. The Grainfather has been successfully used for several years by home brewers in Australia and New Zealand before being released in the USA.

While these are certainly more expensive than your kettle on the stove method of brewing they also combine many elements of brewing equipment into one unit thus reducing space and equipment requirements.

When the Zymatic was the first brewing appliance to hit the market in 2013 I had the same initial feelings as most but after doing more research and reading reviews and owner’s experiences I realized it is a sound brewing process. Several AHA National competition winners brewed their beers on the Zymatic and many craft breweries are using them for recipe development.

Are these brewing appliances for everyone? No. Are they, or some sort of automation something to at least consider? Definitely, based on your budget. I just aquired a used PicoBrew Zymatic and while I haven’t brewed on it yet I am excited to start. I did have to perform some maintenance on the machine because it wasn’t taken care of so I can attest to the value. The construction, engineering and development that went into it, and most likely the other systems, makes them worth every penny. Will I abandon my current system? Nope because it produces good beer and I designed it for my situation and brewing style and ultimately I enjoy brewing on it.

I guess the biggest appealing factor to me about some level of automation is the ability to relax while I brew and focus on the beer itself, the ingredients and what they contribute to the final product and have that consistency and control that automation provides.

Cheers

 

 

What’s up…what’s next?

If you have been following my blog you have seen some posts on my builds, experiments, tips etc. In some of those posts I have hinted that there is more coming. Well there is…and it’s getting close but not quite yet. Sorry. I am continuing to work a few major projects for my brewing but I like to take my time and think out every angle, every possibility while still enjoying life. There will be posts that detail the projects coming soon. I’ve working on it diligently. I also have been enjoying some great craft beers from breweries here in the midwest (if you are in the Minneapolis area make it a point to stop by the Surly Beer Hall, great beers and awesome food and don’t forget Dangerous Man Brewing). I also did a first for me and started a small batch of hard cider that is almost ready to bottle or keg and I’ve been refining a handful of my favorite beer recipes. I believe and hope the upcoming posts will inspire and create discussion.

So what is going to be? What is he building? As you know I am small batch brewer but I am also someone that is trying to downsize my life for a future smaller living space, two things that in some ways might sound like they can restrict brewing and life…that is the “what’s next?” Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too.

I like to brew small batches of varying styles of beer using different methods, some simple and some more complex, so I need adaptability and flexibility in my system and what’s coming will offer that. I want to consolidate and organize my brewing supplies for a smaller space. Having the things I use for brewing handy and in one convenient place is a goal for me and what’s coming will offer that. I have gotten rid of some extra un-needed pieces and can fit my fermenters, kegs and miscellaneous items on a wire shelving unit so I’m getting there.

A few things that won’t change…I like to experiment and work on solutions to problems we face as small batch brewers so my mind is always going and I’ll always be tinkering.

To give you a little tease of what’s coming here are a couple pictures to get you thinking.

Stay tuned. Cheers!

2015 was a good year…

Now that we are firmly in 2016 and past the days of accidentally continuing to write 2015 on stuff I can reflect back on 2015. It was my second year in Grand Forks North Dakota which has been a challenge as a home brewer that enjoys tasting new beers and discussing beer and brewing. Grand Forks is still only beginning to embrace beers with flavors and the craft brewing scene but it is getting better. We have a new craft brewery in town, the first, and I truly wish them well. The home brewing scene is still very quiet, not much activity or social events. They’re here but not as active as other cities with very active clubs. This next year for me will be dedicated to preparing to move back to Washington state and I am excited about getting “home”. While the unknowns and challenges of the move are a little scary so was the move here in 2013 and it all worked out. Plus I’ll be back to a state with an incredible beer scene…bonus!

2015 was a fun year for home brewing for me. A new home brew shop opened here and I was able to teach some brewing classes. The cold times of the year, and there are many, gave me time to tinker with new brewing projects/ideas and develop some recipes. It was also a year of sharing my random brewing thoughts with you. Visits to this blog exceeded my wildest dreams when I first ventured into the blogging community with over 100,000 visits to this blog so far. This simple little blog about brewing, that I thought I’d “try”, has become something I enjoy and hope others enjoy. The exposure to my brewing life through the blog also transpired into being featured in BYO magazine this last December, which was a huge honor for me. This upcoming year will be a busy one but I will continue to post and share my brewing with you and hopefully continue to do what I planned from the beginning and that is make fellow brewers think about trying new things. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You’re still making beer! None of us are experts, we can always learn more from each other and there is nothing wrong with trying something different.

Like Lonnie Mac, creator of the Brutus brewing system as said and very much represents my theory on brewing… “So there we are! Don’t be afraid to try new things man! We are only 10,000 years into beer. There are thousands of years left to go! Things are bound to change!!”

Home brewing…simply

At first glance of all my brewing stuff the first thought that comes to mind certainly is not “simple” or “minimalist”. While I admittedly tend to over-engineer things I’m building my ultimate goal is simplifying my brewing process and along with that minimizing the brewing equipment I have.

A few years ago I realized I had a lot of stuff, stuff I didn’t use any longer and thus didn’t need. That began the process of simplifying and downsizing my life. But wait, I have a hobby that could probably be classified as an obsession and it involves a fair amount of different equipment and “stuff”. Like a lot of home brewers I’ve accumulated a collection of fermenters, mash paddles, long brewing spoons, kettles, corny kegs etc. Not sure how it happens to us since, let’s face it, everything you need to brew a batch of beer comes in one of those home brewing starter kits. When I decided to downsize and simplify my life it was about the same time I made the switch to small batch brewing. Small batch brewing fit my drinking style and desire to brew less each time but to brew more often. Small batch brewing itself goes well with the simple lifestyle and the minimalist idea. The problem for me is that overwhelming need to over-engineer everything like I mentioned before. Always a couple brewing equipment projects in the works, parts for those projects laying around. But I have found that trait is now beneficial, over-engineering is getting me to my ultimate goal of simplifying my brewing process. I have focused on creating a small compact, space saving brewing system that fits my own needs. Something that is versatile and efficient. Stay tuned for progress on that build!

While I’m brewing I usually take notes, well okay I always take notes. Often it is a recipe idea for the next batch but just as often it is a collection of ideas to improve my brewing process whether it’s temperature control or how to simplify the cleanup process. Regardless what my thought or idea is I now blend in the requirement of reusing things I already have and making it compact and space saving. A few brew sessions ago I was hanging out in my small brewing space/kitchen during the mash and looking at my accumulation of brewing equipment and started thinking…I use the same few pieces of equipment every brew day so I started boxing up stuff I thought I had to have but never really used. Going to sell it and that will fund ingredients for several future recipes.

Some of my simplifying and downsizing has given me new tools to help improve my beers like using a small dorm refrigerator as a fermentation chamber that I store my 3 gallon Better Bottle fermenters in between brewing batches. Some of the ideas have had multiple benefits like cleaning my brewing system in place with the pump I use to recirculate wort during the mash. Using my immersion wort chiller as HERMS coil. Adding valves to my Better Bottle PET carboys thus eliminating having to have siphoning equipment. Making my electric brewing controller small enough to store inside the brew kettle. Consolidating equipment onto one shelving rack and a small tool cart I can also use as a brewing stand. I use a clear, tight sealing tote for storing some less frequently used items such as extra silicone tubing, spare hydrometer, bottle capper etc so I can easily see what is in the tote without having to dig through it to find stuff.

Whether you are a 1 gallon small batch brewer in a tiny studio apartment or have a large dedicated brewing space and brew 10+ gallon batches you can simplify and still improve your brewing. Simplifying home brewing makes home brewing even more enjoyable.

Cheers

Small batch brewing…yes it makes sense.

Well looking back over the years of brewing I made the natural progression that most brewers have. I started home brewing in Seattle in the late 80’s doing 5 gallon extract batches. Why? Well that is basically how home brewing has always been set up, recipes were and still are written for 5 gallons, fermenters were sized for 5 gallons etc. After switching to all-grain I saw the logic in stepping up to 10 gallons, if you are gonna spend 4 plus hours brewing why not brew twice as much? Made sense and there was always someone to help drink my beer. A few years back I downsized life and moved into a smaller place but still wanted to brew but decided to stop and re-evaluate my brewing. I was in a smaller place, didn’t have a warm sheltered place to brew in the winter, I wasn’t consuming beer with such fervor and not as many people around to help consume all the beer. On top of that I was really interested in brewing more often but with my life’s restrictions how was I going to make this all work?

Brewing smaller batches was the answer! I had the answer but now what? I did some research online to see if this was a somewhat popular practice and at the time it was gaining some momentum. Today it has become a very popular alternative to the standard 5 gallon batch and many famous home brew suppliers have developed recipes and equipment kits. Ok this can work I thought but the more research I did there would always be the nay sayers with the “why waste your time brewing so little when it takes the same time to brew more?”. Well the part about taking the same time is pretty true but they’re missing the point. Yes it roughly takes the same amount of time to make several gallons of spaghetti but if it’s only me eating it then it doesn’t quite make as much sense. Same goes for brewing beer. And we don’t brew ourselves to save time or money, we brew our own beer for much of the same reasons that we cook food from scratch.

There are many advantages to small batch brewing…

Less expensive, some of the equipment you may already have in your kitchen and we are seeing an increase of brewing equipment specifically made for small batch brewing. Easy to do inside and in small spaces such as a studio apartment, almost everyone’s stove will handle boiling 2-3 gallons…a big plus when it is -10 outside with a 20 mph wind and you want to brew. The equipment needed can literally be kept in a small storage tote and stashed in a closet or under a bed. You can brew more often, experiment with different styles and recipes and still be able to keep up with consuming what you’ve made. Bottling is easier, a dozen or so bottles is no big deal compared to the 50+ bottles requires for a 5 gallon batch. Imagine bottling a 10 gallon batch in 12 ounce bottles! Less space is required to store those bottles while they condition. Kegging is still an option with kegs as small as 1.75 gallons now available and 2.5 – 3 gallon kegs that have been available for some time. Less of a monetary loss if that dry hopped Sriracha Raspberry Porter doesn’t taste as good as you thought it might. Scaling down existing recipes or creating new ones in any volume is easy with all the brewing software available for your computer, tablet or smart phone.

The only real challenges are that sometimes the hop amounts are smaller than what we normally deal with so they require a scale that can measure smaller amounts such as down to .1 ounce and maintaining mash temperatures is a little more tricky since there is less thermal mass with less grain. Both of these challenges are easily handled, small resolution scales are available online and from many home brew supply retailers. As far as maintaining mash temps it is a lot easier if your mash tun is well insulated and sized for the batch, i.e. a smaller cooler instead of trying to do a 2 gallon all-grain recipe in a 40+ quart cooler. Going the BIAB method allows for the addition of small amounts of heat from the stove while stirring to easily keep the mash in the required temperature range. I use both the BIAB and regular all-grain methods without any real problems with batch sizes ranging from 1 gallon to 3 gallons.

Think about it…Have you thought about home brewing but you don’t want to brew 5 or more gallons at a time? Are you, like myself, at a point where you want to continue brewing but have to re-evaluate you’ll continue your hobby? Are you living in a small space, want to brew your own beer, but think you don’t have the space? Consider small batch brewing. It’s a great way to get your feet wet in brewing, a great way to keep brewing when things in life change and many home brewers have come to small batch brewing and are staying here.

The American Homebrewers Association and Brew Your Own magazine have more information on the growing trend in home brewing that isn’t going away. Visit The Brooklyn Brew Shop, Midwest Supplies and Northern Brewer websites, to name a few, to see some of what’s available for small batch brewing.

Wow, all I can say is thank you readers!

To all you that have visited my little blog again or for the first time I would like to thank you. I was amazed at the number of visits to my blog today. This blogging is all new to me but I see it as a great way to share what I’ve learned through my home brewing and my experimenting with different techniques and equipment. I hope that each of you can take away something to help you with your home brewing.

Keep checking back as there will be more posts coming and I am continuing to work on the new small batch system. I’m also working on a post about the growing small batch brewing following.

Again thank you.

Cheers

It’s been too long but the brewing fun never stops

Well it has been way too long since my last post and I sincerely apologize. Life has been busy but I have been able to brew some, including a very tasty DIPA, and enjoy some great craft beers. For awhile I got caught up in a couple Facebook home brewing pages that seemed great but quickly became ugly with a small number of very opinionated and sometimes downright rude individuals that ruined what should have been a great online community of home brewers for a lot of us. Social media is becoming a great sharing and learning platform for home brewers and a way to further expand the hobby and I highly recommend brewers to checkout the different Facebook groups and home brewing forums. Granted whenever you get a group of people together there are going to differing opinions but I encourage home brewers to be open minded and respectful of others opinions and practices. None of us know everything and all of us can learn something and many things just don’t work for everyone and that is ok. The great thing about home brewing is that we don’t have to conform to style guidelines or the common practices of brewing, we can just have fun with it. In the end we’re still making beer and how great is that? Well it’s time to move on and focus on life and brewing.

My continued focus is small batch brewing because it just works for me. I’m the sole drinker in my household, not much of a local home brewing community to share with and it provides me the opportunity to brew more often while keeping a manageable amount of various home brewed beers on hand. Small batch brewing (less than 5 gallons) is also a great avenue for anyone with limited space. The one thing that is a big bonus with small batch brewing is that it opens the possibility of brewing with 120V heat sources and some amount of automation that fits with just about any home brewer’s style and or comfort level. Being an avid do-it-yourself kind of guy, with tendencies to over-engineer things, the mind has been working overtime coming up with ideas and projects that fit with my brewing style. For me half of the enjoyment of home brewing is the process and the DIY aspect of home brewing. I have been trying to design a relatively inexpensive (I’m an admitted bargain hunter) 120V based compact, space saving and versatile system that will allow me the flexibility to brew any beer anywhere I live and by any method that will make the process more efficient. Will I ever achieve that? Not really sure but I’m having fun in the process.

The latest project for me is perfecting my small batch electric single vessel system. While I really like my 24 quart Bayou Classic kettle with the custom stainless mesh basket I wanted to refine it some and add in some additional capabilities. It had respectable heating times but I figured I could do more, more to improve my brewing process.

I had the opportunity to pick up a used heavy-duty stainless 24 quart commercial stock pot with an encapsulated tri-ply bottom for cheap so I snagged it. Heck one can’t have too many brew kettles can they? Well maybe you can but I’m sure a support group is out there for me so it’s all good. A few months earlier I also grabbed a couple 120V 1500W Heet-O-Matic elements for a “couldn’t pass it up” price, figuring there had to be something I could use them for and now there is. I had a couple 1-1/2” triclamp ferrules welded into the new kettle and drilled and tapped a couple triclamp end caps for the 1” NPT elements and the 120V 3000W brew kettle was born. The nice thing about the Heet-O-Matic elements is that they are stainless, have wiring covers and built-in thermostatic controls. Plugging each element in an outlet on separate circuits it was an easy way to get more heating capability and still use 120V. That is something anyone considering going to an electric system should consider. Most homes and apartments have at least two separate circuits in the kitchen and they are most likely GFCI protected and 20 amps. Almost like they were designed for home brewers like myself and not just someone with too many trendy kitchen appliances. Fine temperature control I currently plug one element into my PID controller and then when it’s boil time I just plug them into separate outlets. A new controller is in the works to control both elements. More on that later.

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One other thing I wanted to redesign was my wort cooling method. I have been using an immersion chiller and it has done a pretty good job but with a heating element sticking across the bottom of the kettle it never was completely submerged. I also had to stir the wort to get quicker cooling times. Well after a lot of thought and looking at what other people are doing I decided to incorporate a chiller coil in the kettle lid and a whirlpool tube to recirculate the wort around the chiller coil all while being able to keep the kettle closed up during chilling. I was able to locate a very reasonably priced small stainless coil of 3/8” tubing off of eBay that fit between the kettle wall and the heating element so more of the chiller was actually in contact with the wort. Using compression fittings and some Blichmann Quick-Connect hose fittings I was set. Even though it is slightly smaller than my original immersion chiller it performs better when combined with whirlpool effect of the wort recirculation and when brew day is done it lives in the kettle. Saving space and when you live in a small home/apartment that is a great bonus. Another added bonus is that it can be used as HERMS coil to regulate mash temp in a separate mash tun.

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The long, cold winter is here in Grand Forks and I’ll have plenty of time on my hands to do more work on things and brew. Stay tuned as I will continue to share as the kettle build progresses (I’m not done yet) and work on the two new control panels which are in the works. Here are a couple teaser shots…

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Remember you don’t need a “fancy” system to brew great beer or spend a ton of money doing it but certain improvements in your equipment and processes can make brewing easier. Also to all you apartment dwellers thinking you can’t brew in your small space I’m telling you yes you can. You can do all-grain and you can have just as nice of a system as those with dedicated brewing rooms, it’s all dependent on how far you want to take it but small space brewers shouldn’t feel held back by their living arrangements.
Cheers.

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 or click on the link below. 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.

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Click here to visit Arbor Fabricating

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

Small space home brewing

Many of us are faced with home brewing in small spaces whether it be a small apartment, loft, condo or just a small house. I am in the same boat as many others out there and while dreams of a dedicated brewing room are great one must face the reality of what we have to work with.

Does one need a bunch of space to brew? Absolutely not! If you search the brewing forums and blogs you will find folks brewing in kitchens or spaces not much bigger than a walk-in closet. How much space do you need? Well extract brewers require the least, basically their stove top and a place to keep their fermenter that is relatively consistent temperature wise. All-grain brewers really don’t need much more than that. If you brew all-grain in the classic three-vessel style you can place a cooler/HLT atop your refrigerator and mash tun on countertop below it and your boil kettle on a chair below the counter top and you have a three-vessel gravity flow setup. If you favor BIAB then you really can simply use your stove top.

What seems to be the biggest dilemma is storage of all the brewing bits and pieces. Your brew kettle and mash tun can store hoses, pumps, grains etc. Plastic totes can be used to store all the odds and ends and everything can be stacked in a closet and takes up very little space. To make life easier when using totes you can organize your stuff by pre-boil items and post-boil items. Long gift wrap totes can store a lot of stuff and are easily slipped under most beds. If you bottle you can store your bottled brews in a kitchen cupboard, pantry, closet shelf etc. One thing to keep in mind when storing plastic bucket fermenters and bottling buckets is they can scratch easily so don’t place anything inside them or nest them inside each other.

I like to brew often and bounce back and forth between my single vessel electric BIAB and my Brutus style electric two-vessel setup so I wanted to have a storage and brewing stand solution that is small, versatile and still basically aesthetically pleasing if it stays out in plain sight. After throwing around a lot ideas, looking at rolling kitchen carts, stainless tool carts and various custom built stands I decided that I will not find the perfect pre-made stand for brewing on and storing all my stuff so I figured I’ll split it up. For storing larger stuff like buckets of grain, kettles, grain mill, cooler mash tun etc I’m going to get a five shelf wire shelving rack that is 3 feet wide by 18″ deep and 6ft tall. It takes up relatively little floor space and by sewing a cart cover out of nice upholstery fabric it can even live in a corner of a room without looking that bad.

 

Now the harder part, finding a brew stand to actually brew on. Well like many other things in brewing it came down to repurposing something else and I decided on repurposing a small wooden hobby/craft cart. I kept noticing the wooden craft cart at a craft/fabric store for months and while it was priced for quick sale, attractive and sturdy I never put two and two together that this is something I could use. One day I was at the store for supplies to sew up another BIAB bag and the cart was still there and it hit me…with some fairly simple and inexpensive modifications it was my new brew stand for my electric brewing setup. I spoke with the manager, who also realized it had been marked down for months and no one had shown any interest in it, and made a great deal on the stand. It measures approximately 2 feet square and 34″ tall and is constructed entirely of cabinet-grade plywood with casters, five drawers on full extension drawer slides and little cubbies on the side for odds and ends.

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After getting it home I was staring at it and thinking “now what?” I kept looking at the lower cubby on the left side and I thought “that would be a great spot for my pump!” The pump attached easily and securely to the bottom of the cubby. Out of the way, lower than everything else for easy priming and it even looked like it was supposed to be there.

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Now the next step, my plan was to have my mash tun sitting on the top and the boil kettle sitting lower off the side so I could just drain into it at the end of the mash. I needed a folding or drop down shelf of some sort to accommodate my boil kettle. After doing a little online research I found a few different folding shelf brackets that would support 300 lbs or more, more than enough for my 10 gallon Blichmann with 5-7 gallons of wort. So I did a little shopping around and scored two stainless steel folding brackets for $40. Now a little planning was in order, where to mount the folding shelf? Well after some measuring I decided on a position on the right side of the cart that placed the boil kettle lower than the top shelf where the mash tun would be and high enough that I could just run straight into any of my fermenters after chilling the wort in the kettle. Thankfully it placed the boil kettle shelf lower than half the overall height of the cart thus preventing tipping and if needed I’ll attach a folding leg under the shelf for added stability if needed while brewing. The brackets were bolted through the side of the cart and they are very secure. Now I’ll need to fashion and attach an actual shelf to the brackets, something that looks nice and withstands a little heat and moisture.

When done brewing the mash tun and kettle can be stored away on the wire shelving, side shelf folded down and the cart can remain in the kitchen looking right at home.

I’ll update my progress and it comes along.

Cheers