BIAB Water Calculations

Just a quick post to share a handy BIAB water calculator I found and like using. There are several out there but I found this one easy to use and gave me spot on volume results. It also shows what the total volume of the mash will be including grain and water which makes it easy to figure out if it will fit in your kettle, great for us small batch brewers.

https://www.easycalculation.com/other/embedded_biab-calculator.php

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

 

 

Building your brewery…Weldless or welded?

When you start to assemble your home brewing setup, whether it is a simple single vessel small batch setup or a full blown three vessel 10+ gallon system, you are going to get to the point where you will want to put a fitting in a kettle or keggle. Why? Well a good example is the biggest aid in the whole brewing process is the simple kettle drain. That simple drain valve prevents lifting and pouring a heavy kettle full of ,possibly hot, liquid. Sometimes the easiest way to get your wort/beer from one point to another is with a hose and possibly a pump. There are many other fittings you can pepper your brewing vessels with, thermometer/thermowell, HERMS coil connections, heating element, whirlpool inlet etc. All of these fittings can be attached by three methods…welded, weldless fittings and soldered/brazed. Is one better than the other, well not really they all have advantages but with the advances in weldless fittings that method is becoming the easiest and least expensive way to add a fitting to your brewery. Weldless fittings used to be that fitting that was pieced together with brass or stainless standard pipe fittings from the plumbing section of your home improvement store that along with washers, o-rings, prayer and lots of swearing still usually leaked. Welded fittings are permanent and somewhat expense but when done right are leak free and look very nice. Brazing or soldering can be a DIY equivalent to welding for the ambitious home brewer. If you have an aluminum kettle weldless is the best solution and easy. Stainless kettles/vessels can use multiple methods. Lets look at each method…

Weldless –

Now days there several companies that have designed/manufactured weldless fittings that are purpose built for us home brewers, high quality and leak-free. They are available in many configurations, purposes and sizes. Standard fitting for attaching a drain valve are the most common but there are weldless whirlpool inlets, thermometer fittings, compression fittings for attaching HERMS tubing coils, dip tubes etc. The difference in these new era weldless fittings is that the are machined with a solid flange to meet up with kettle wall. That flange combined with an o-ring or washer creates a solid leak-free connection to the vessel. The examples below are new era weldless fittings available from http://www.brewhardware.com

A very nice fitting they have is a 1-1/2 tri clamp weldless ferrule that can be used for a drain or heating element. I recommend getting his 52mm socket to tighten it down. The results are impressive. For thinner stainless stockpots I used a Qmax 1-5/8″ punch. They are inexpensive compared to the Greenlee punches. For something thicker like a keggle or heavy duty pot I would use a Greenlee punch or carbide/bi-metal hole saw. Only problem with a hole saw is they can move during drilling, creating a hole that is less than perfect. Again, the successful fiting of weldless fittings depends on how good the hole is.


The key to these is proper hole size. Unless specified otherwise the 1/2″ NPT based fittings typically require a 13/16″ diameter hole. Creating this size of hole is relatively easy but will require some drilling. You can use a step drill or a metal punch. The metal punch, such as a Q Max or Greenlee, requires a pilot hole but delivers a perfectly sized hole that is basically burr free. Q.max punches are less expensive and fine for stockpots/thinner kettles. Greenlee punches are more expensive but heavier duty and can punch a hole in a keg but make sure you get the radio chassis 13/16″ punch. They also make a line of conduit punches but the sizes really don’t match the fittings we use. A step drill is the least expensive route and is easy if you take your time. Whenever drilling stainless make sure you use a center punch to mark where you’re going to drill so the drill bit doesn’t “walk” and scratch up your vessel. Use a drilling lubricant such as cutting oil, WD-40 or even dish soap will work in a pinch. Use a slow speed on the drill and plenty of pressure. Resist the desire to go fast, high drill speed will heat up both the drill and the stainless piece. Heat will dull the drill bit and essentially hardens the stainless more than it is already and ultimately brings out the swear words. Take it slow and lube it up. When using a step drill bit make sure to visually look where the appropriately sized step is and stop often, checking the hole size with the fitting you are trying to install. Once the hole is done de-burr it with a little sand paper and/or a round file. A nice smooth burr-free hole won’t tear the silicone washer or o-ring. Install the weldless fitting using the directions provided and you are done.

Welding –

Welding stainless is tricky and best left for the professional. Welding stainless for our purposes requires TIG welding with shielding gas. The shielding gas (Argon) is used to ensure a contaminate free weld. The TIG welder, shielding gas setup, filler rods, electrodes, different sized and types of torch cups can cost you hundreds if not thousands of dollars so finding a professional is the way to go if you wish to have fittings welded. I have done some TIG welding and it is difficult, especially when joining two metals of different thicknesses so I highly recommend finding a professional. Given the training, skill, cost of equipment and consumables as well as just running a business don’t expect to find a good stainless welder that will weld a fitting for $20-$40. If you do keep him to yourself, buy him Christmas and birthday presents…I think you get what I’m getting at. Expect to pay $75-$100 per fitting when done by a professional. Look for welders that specialize in food and beverage industry as they have the experience. Ask to see examples of their stainless work. A good welder will be happy to show you pictures of what they have done or what they are working on. If you are having a fitting welded to a kettle ask them if they will back gas the weld. If they look at you weird then say thank you and leave. Back gassing prevents sugaring of the weld.

Below is an example of a poor weld that was not back gassed. While the front weld bead looked pretty good you can see what happened on the backside of the weld. Remember you are not just paying for the welding job you are putting your nice kettle at risk.badweld

Here is an example of nice back-gassed weld after a little clean up. goodweld

One thing that will ensure a good welding job is the fitment of the pieces being welded. The two pieces need to fit together tightly with no gaps. Picture a pipe stuck in a hole that stays in place and requires some force to remove it. That would be proper fitment. I recommend you let the welder drill the hole for the fitting as they know how it needs to fit for them to have a chance at providing you with a great weld job.

A more expensive route is sanitary welding that is ground and polished. This route is suitable for fermenters were things have to be uber clean and sanitary with no voids for nasties to hide and ruin your beer. This is left to the most skilled welders and is costly. Below is a triclamp fitting I had installed in a vessel by a welder that specializes in brewery/winery tanks and cost $200 to have done but looks like it came with the vessel. IMG_1259

Soldering and brazing –

There is good option for the home brewer DIYer that is comparable to welding in finish and strength and requires only a propane or MAPP gas torch. Silver soldering and silver brazing isn’t incredibly hard and can be done at home. I suggest checking out how-to videos and practice on some scrap. Tight fitment is still important. I have practiced silver soldering and just haven’t been pleased with the results but have seen a lot of great silver solder jobs out there. One key step to silver soldering is using the right products and surface prep. The most commonly used silver solder by home brewers is Harris Stay-Brite solder and Stay-Clean flux. The two pieces being soldered must be clean, dirt and oil free and scuffed up a little. I have silver brazed a few pieces and like the results so that is my choice, not much different than soldering just a little higher temperature but still can be accomplished with an inexpensive propane or MAPP gas torch. The thing that makes brazing a little more forgiving is the flux that is coated on the rod, it helps the molten rod flow and bind to the base metal better than the liquid flux used in silver soldering. Only drawback is the cost, the cost of the Harris Safety-Silv 56 flux coated rods is fairly expensive, $50ish or more for three 18″ long 1/16″ diameter rods but they do go a long way, an inch of the rod can do a typical fitting. Same goes for Muggy Weld silver brazing rods at $90+ There are how-to videos online for using flux coated silver brazing rods. Here are a couple examples of pieces I silver brazed at home in a few minutes and with minimal cleanup and polishing. Left one is a 1/2″ triclamp ferrule attached to a stockpot lid and the right is a 1/2″ triclamp ferrule attached to a 1″ triclamp tee. Both were brazed with Harris Safety-Silv 56 rod, tight fit and cleaned with acetone.

I hope that helps you with making the decision of how to attach that fitting to your kettle, mash tun or hot liquor tank. With everything else in home brewing, do a little research and ask some questions and you’ll get the result you are looking for.

 

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!!”

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.

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.

IMG_2375 IMG_2374

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.

New fermenter just for small batch brewers!

One thing I have struggled with, as a small batch brewer has been fermentation vessels. Try this one this batch and then try this one the next batch, back and forth. For 2 to 2-1/2 gallon batches standard 5 gallon buckets and carboys are really too large. Part of the benefit of small batch brewing is not needing as much space to brew in so a small batch size-matched fermenter would be ideal. Size matched also reduces the amount of headspace, reducing the possibility of oxidation if the vessel is used to secondary ferment in. Other things I want in a fermenter is trub/yeast avoidance when transferring, easy to fit in a small refrigerator for temperature control, being able to see the fermentation activity and not having to siphon. Oh and not having to siphon and if I forgot to mention…I’d rather not siphon. I think you get my priority here.

Current choices for small batch brewers are carboys, glass or PET plastic and the old go to…buckets. I’m not a fan of glass carboys due to weight and chance of breaking one, it happened to me once and that wasn’t pretty so we can scratch glass carboys off the list. Next is PET carboys…not bad, light weight, spigots are available to avoid siphoning, and for the most part they unbreakable. Downside to the PET carboy is cleaning. Cleaning is a bit of work since they are plastic and can scratch so a brush is not recommended. Spigots are available in two company’s PET carboys and do work ok but installing or removing the spigots is less than easy. Now there are buckets, cheap and easy to get inside and clean and you can install a spigot if you’d like…downside is anything around 3 gallon in a food grade bucket is hard to come by and you can’t see what is going on inside and that also limits the ability to determine where the trub/yeast is when transferring. What is one to do? Start looking online and do a lot of web searches that’s what.

Well I a stumbled on a website belonging to a new small company focusing on small batch brewing called Brew Demon and they offer a 2 gallon conical fermenter with a spigot!

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I was impressed to find another company focusing on small batch brewing and had to try one of the fermenters but had some questions. I shot them an email with a question and mentioned I blog about home brewing with a focus on small batch brewing and equipment and was interested in trying one. Nick from Brew Demon quickly replied with the answer to my question on a specification detail and actually kindly offered to send me one to try and review here. So here we are and let’s see what the fermenter is like.

It arrived well packed and it requires minimal assembly, simply attach legs to stand and put the spigot in. A note of caution, be sure the rubber washer is installed on the outside of fermenter with taper in towards the hole in the fermenter. Snug up the nut on the inside but don’t over tighten. Nice feature is you can easily get your hand inside to tighten the spigot nut without any special tool and the easy access will surely make cleaning easy. Once the spigot was installed I put in some water to cover the spigot and checked for leaks. There was a little drip but I just moved the spigot a little and tightened it a little more. Again, not much force is needed to tighten it enough so it doesn’t leak. I let it sit with water for a while and no leaks.

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Now a few details about the fermenter. It is marketed as a 2 gallon conical fermentation system but has an actual capacity of just a little over 3 gallons so it is perfect for 2 to 2-1/2 gallon batches.  There are molded volume graduations on the side of the brown colored plastic fermenter body, which is a nice touch and will come in handy. The brown tint reduces the effect of sunlight on the fermenting beer yet still allows you to see the activity during primary fermentation. It has a small footprint and will easily fit in a small apartment-sized refrigerator for temperature control if you’d like. The spigot is barbed for tubing. If you use a standard 3-piece airlock (which is available from Brew Demon also) it would be about 20” tall and will fit in an 11” square space. The large screw on lid makes for easy access for cleaning, adding yeast and dry hopping if you like. There is a vent cap that allows CO2 to escape and still keep the nasties out. A drilled stopper can replace the cap so you can use a standard airlock. Their “Bubbler Upgrade” comes with the drilled stopper, airlock and a gasket for the screw-on cap to make it airtight so all the CO2 escapes through the airlock. The body of the fermenter can be removed from the stand for cleaning. The conical part has space for approximately 16oz of liquid/trub/yeast below the spigot. While it is not a true conical, with a bottom dump valve, small batches would loose too much volume in that process so it isn’t missed. The conical benefit in this case is that it limits the surface area of yeast/trub that the fermenting beer is exposed to which is a big benefit especially for longer fermentation times.

My beer choice to try out this fermenter is a pale ale, simple yet tasty. Before starting I gave the fermenter a quick wash and a good rinse. The brew day went well, while the beer was chilling I sloshed around some Star San in the fermenter for a few minutes and let some drain through the spigot to get it sanitized also. The pale ale was chilled and I drained it straight into the Brew Demon fermenter. Got about 2-1/4 gallons which is fine. Now I pitched the Safale dry yeast and here is another benefit of the larger opening, easy to sprinkle on top of the wort instead pouring straight down the middle of a carboy opening. More yeast actually in the wort instead of clinging to the sides of the carboy neck! I moved it to my fermentation chamber, which is a mini fridge, and it fit perfectly. Taped the temp controller probe to the side and let the yeast do it’s thing

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Even without using an airlock I was able to see the active fermentation when I checked it 12 hours later. Now to let the yeast do its work in their new conical home. Well after 7 days I decided to take a sample to get a specific gravity reading and having the spigot was awesome, quick and easy. The pale ale was ready to keg and the yeast/trub deposits were well below the spigot and easy to see through the fermenter side. The pale ale finished and I had my keg sanitized and was actually about to grab my auto-siphon when I had to stop myself…we don’t need no stinking siphon! Not having to siphon and still leaving behind all the sediment was awesome and alone worth switching to this fermenter. I simply started the flow to keg slowly to make sure I wasn’t disturbing any of the sediment and the transfer was great. This will be a very clear beer.

 

 

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Overall I was very impressed with this simple little plastic fermenter and I am looking forward to fermenting my next batch in it. Truthfully the only con I can see to the Brew Demon 2 gallon Fermentation System is no airlock, but that is minor and definitely not a deal killer.  After all, my trial batch finished fine without using one and no indication of infection at all. After fermentation begins the beer is blanketed in CO2, which prevents infection, and the vent plug prevents bad things from getting in the fermenter while allowing excess CO2 to escape. After transferring the beer to my small keg clean up of the Brew Demon fermenter was very easy, I removed the spigot to soak and using a little PBW, water and a dish rag and it was like new.

So I would have to give the Brew Demon two thumbs up and recommend new brewers and small batch brewers check out their website. I don’t review many things but I appreciate honest user reviews so it’s easier for us to spend our money wisely. That said I hope this review helps other home brewers. I enjoyed doing this review and honestly like the fermenter. Thanks again to Nick at Brew Demon for sending me the fermenter to try and the great customer support.

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

The home brewer’s mind never stops

Well I am still terrible at posting updates but it’s my weekend off and here in Grand Forks ND it is chilly and dreary with a chance of snow so staying inside.

Still the biggest challenge to moving here is getting home brewing supplies. Second would be finding a competent stainless welder, seems that welders here don’t really want to talk to you unless you are needing some sort of farm implement welded. Even with those obstacles home brewing moves forward. It’s almost been three months since arriving here and I will finally be brewing this weekend! I am going to attempt a Toasted Coconut Brown Ale, something similar to Kona Brewing Company’s Koko Brown. If you enjoy really good beer and a variety of that really good beer here in Grand Forks you have to be a home brewer. While the pub scene is improving with one college bar changing their look and feel to more of a pub and expanding their number of taps and another popular pub/burger joint has a decent rotating selection there is basically nothing unique for bottled craft or import beers here. Really sad and hard to adjust to since my home state of Washington is a thriving craft brewery Mecca and there was a very good selection of bottled national and regional craft beers as well as imports from around the world. Oh what I would give right now for a bottle or thirty of Scotch Silly or Traquair House Ale.

I have been working on several equipment projects, as time allows, so that keeps me busy. This winter when temps here drop into the negative numbers I will be completing the BrewTroller control panel that will be designed to work with the two-vessel Blichmann Brutus style system or even my small electric BIAB kettle. I have decided to go completely 120V since I have seen enough proof that you can get small batches to a vigorous boil with one or two 120V heating elements. It is also nice not having to mess with 240V when you rent and have limited access to a convenient 240V outlet. Besides who wants to pull stove away from the wall every brew day just to plug in?

One project I have been meaning to complete has come together after digging through my box of bits and pieces. For the longest time I wanted to be able to oxygenate my wort as it came out of the kettle or directly from the output of my plate chiller and I finally pieced together the part. It has an 1/2″ NPT threaded aeration stone inline with the wort flow, a sight glass to monitor flow and aeration (I got to see the tiny bubbles) and finally an inline thermometer to monitor wort temperature as it leaves the chiller. With a few design changes  I was able to make it fairly compact at just over 7″ long. With limited space I am trying to keep everything in my brewing fairly compact.

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After abandoning the Yeti cooler mash tun idea due to warping I decided to give the Aervoid thermal food carrier, that I rescued from being scrapped a try. It is similar to a big vacuum Thermos so after installing a drain bulkhead I had lost the vacuum insulating properties. Well that is nothing 5 cans of spray foam couldn’t solve (it is absolutely stuffed with foam all around) and I was pleasantly surprised that upon testing it holds the mash for 90 minutes with zero temperature loss! Plus it will never warp. It is smaller at 4.75 gallons but if I do a smaller regular all-grain brew session and I am doing smaller batches (2-3 gallons) it will work just fine. While I have primarily moved to recirculating BIAB style brewing it is nice to have a small insulated mash tun when you want to brew it up “old school”, plus it’s stainless.

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Next project that kept bugging me was redesigning the keg/carboy washer I built to better hold corny kegs. A little web searching gave me little to go forward with to change the design.  After a few trips to the home improvement stores with a tape measure in hand I found it… a $3 PVC drain pipe adapter! Now a corny keg sits perfectly and stable on the washer and my carboy dryer still sits nicely over the top and you are ready to clean the worst fermentation crud from a carboy. I changed the bucket lid to a screw-on Gamma lid which proved to be much more sturdy. This is a multi-purpose piece of equipment that every home brewer that kegs should build. Easy and inexpensive but time saving when it comes to cleaning carboys, corny kegs and even the Sanke kegs I will be using to ferment in.

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DIY carboy washer

DIY carboy washer

The last project I have been able to work on and is getting closer to being completed is adapter caps to use Sanke beer kegs as fermenters, no more risk of broke glass carboys or scratched plastic fermenters and way cheaper than a stainless conical fermenter although if you give me one of those I won’t turn it down ha ha. While one of my favorite online source for stainless brewing hardware has a Sanke fermenter adapter, it just wasn’t quite what I was looking for. I wanted something that would allow simpler transfer of beer after fermentation, with CO2, so I started playing around with a couple designs of my own. They still feature a stainless thermowell for temperature probe to control temp in my little fermentation chamber. Biggest obstacle in getting these from prototype to something I can begin to use is finding a good TIG welder that can finish them for me. Maybe the time is approaching where I get the equipment and start doing my own welding…

 

Well that is all I have to share right now but I’m working on a couple more twists to the systems so check back. Now it’s time to brew that toasted coconut brown.

Cheers

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