Digital Beer Tap Menu



For a while now I’ve been drooling over Raspberry Pints, a free open-source digital taplist that runs on the Raspberry Pi mini computer. In fact, it’s been on my project list for a while. I already had a small LCD TV above the keezer in my garage/brewhouse and a decent wi-fi signal. All that was standing between me and a sweet digital beer menu was a little cash, some free time, and that whole knowing how to code thing.

Before I pulled the trigger and ordered a Raspberry Pi, it occurred to me that I might already have all the hardware to pull off a simplified version using the Roku box I already had in the garage. I found a simple solution, but only after a generous application of Google searching. Here’s how I went about it:

I already had the LCD TV, the Roku box, and the wi-fi signal. All I needed was a digital image of my tap menu and a way to display it via the Roku box. I’m no graphic designer by a long shot. I’ve used Photoshop a bit but I don’t have a copy at present, so I used GIMP, an open source graphic manipulation program, to create my menu. I did download Raspberry Pints and stole a couple of their icons for my menu. I also included the check-in icon from Untappd along with QR codes for each brew. Smart phone users can scan the code, pull up the beer, and check in with a couple of clicks.

With my menu finished, my first thought was to put that file in my Google+ photos and use the existing Picasa channel for Roku to display it. No dice. I suspect that Google’s integration of Picasa with Google+ doesn’t work with the Picasa channel, which hasn’t been updated since the integration. I was able to Google a few premium channels that would get the job done, but after a good bit more searching, I finally found a free option in the Roku Media Player, which allows you to play your own audio, video, and images on the Roku. After the Media Player channel is loaded on the Roku, you will need to install the TVersity desktop server on a desktop computer. The desktop server is where you will upload your image file to be displayed. Once the server is installed, just upload the menu, fire up the Media Player on the Roku, and the menu is seamlessly displayed on the LCD.

While this digital tap menu may not be quite as full featured as Raspberry Pints, I’m pretty happy with it. I’m especially pleased that I was able to use the Roku box instead of buying another piece of hardware. Now I can check the digital menu off my to-do list and start working on a BrewPi fermentation controller.

Minor Surgery

My buddy from Hausler Bierworks dropped by today and we performed a little minor surgery on the pickup tube on this new kettle that he will be using for his small batch Brew in a Bag system. This is a sweet little setup. In a Brew in a Bag setup (henceforth referred to as BIAB) the kettle acts as both the mash tun and boil kettle.The grains are contained in a muslin bag, and are mashed in the kettle. Once mashing is complete, the bag is pulled out, allowing all the wort to drain back into the kettle, where it is boiled. My favorite part of my buddy’s setup is that the heat is provided by an induction plate. No open flames or heating coils are involved. The plate  creates a magnetic field which heats up the kettle itself. Here’s a shot of the kettle in its natural habitat.



The one minor problem with this setup was that the pickup tube left too much wort behind when the kettle was drained. Perhaps Mr. Hausler will comment here to tell us the total capacity of the kettle, his expected batch size, and how much liquid was left in the kettle after it was drained (he told me but I forgot.) At any rate, the amount of liquid left behind was considerable for small batch brewing.

Basically we rotated the pickup tube until it touched the bottom of the kettle and used a Sharpie marker to roughly approximate an area at its tip that would need to be removed in order to allow it to drain as much wort as possible. It ended up requiring that we cut the end of the tube off at a very acute angle. I was doubtful that a hacksaw would do it. The angle grinder was an option and would have made quick work of the cut. We opted to use a Dremel tool with a reinforced cutoff wheel, which took a little longer, but seemed to be a bit more precise. We ended up with a pretty close fit.



The newly trimmed pickup tube drains the kettle almost completely. We measured the liquid left in the kettle after draining to be right at seven ounces. A big improvement over the untrimmed tube. This should be a great system for developing recipes and I can’t wait to see it in action.


For Want of a Pump

I recently replaced my immersion wort chiller with a plate chiller and after using it for several brew days, it’s time for another upgrade. The Duda Diesel plate chiller works well enough by draining the boil kettle and running the wort through with good old-fashioned gravity, but it was quickly apparent that the addition of a pump would make the process even better.

There were two main issues that popped up when using the gravity feed. First off, sanitizing before using it and cleaning it afterward was kind of a pain. I used a funnel and some tubing to flush the chiller with sanitizer while my wort was boiling. After the wort was chilled, I used the leftover hot water in the hot liquor tank and some powdered brewery wash to back flush the chiller and then followed that up with clean water to rinse. It worked, but it wasn’t much fun.

The other issue was chill time. During the summer here in Tennessee, the water from the tap in the garage usually exceeds 80 degrees. Couple that with low water pressure from our 85-year-old plumbing and my chill time, while quicker than using the immersion chiller, took a little longer than I wanted. Because I was running the wort through the plate chiller in one pass, the wort left waiting in the kettle was sitting there at near boiling temperatures. At temperatures above around 160 degrees F the production of Dimethyl Sulfide, which can cause off flavors, can be a problem, so I wanted a way to chill the entire batch to below 160 degrees as quickly as possible. Enter the Chugger Pumps.


As luck would have it, my good friend at the Fry Institute for Better Brewing had this pair of unused Chugger pumps that he was willing to part with. My brew stand is a three-tier, gravity fed system, so I only need one pump for now. I hope to eventually build a single tier, three pot stand which will use both pumps.

By adding the pump to the equation, the chilling process goes something like this:

  • With 10-15 minutes remaining in the boil, pump hot wort through the plate chiller to sanitize it. Hot wort is returned to the kettle (more on that in my next post.)
  • When boil is complete chilling water is turned on as wort continues to circulate from the kettle, through the chiller, and back into the kettle until the temperature of the entire batch drops below 160 degrees. Last brew day, it took about 10 minutes to get a 5 gallon batch down to about 140 degrees.
  • Once wort is below 160, wort flow is moved over to the fermenter and the entire batch is chilled in one pass through the chiller. This drops the wort down to the same temperature as the chilling water. In the summer months, this is still above pitching temperature, so I move the fermenter to a temperature controlled refrigerator and wait to pitch the yeast until the wort cools to the appropriate pitching temperature.

Then on to the cleanup:

  • Clean kettle with hot water and powdered brewery wash. Drain.
  • Backflush plate chiller with hot water and powdered brewery wash (from kettle.)
  • Rinse plate chiller with remaining hot water from HLT

That whole process may sound a bit complicated, but with cam-locks or quick release fittings, it is actually much easier that the gravity method that I had been using. In my next post I’ll cover some of the fittings that were necessary with the addition of the pump and maybe see the contraption in action.