Small Batch BIAB Kettle

 

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First off, a disclaimer. Electric brewing is of the devil. We all know this. And don’t get me started on the electric brewers. What with their spotless, soot-free pots and their precise, automated temperature control. It’s propane and propane accessories for me and mine.

Still, I admit that I did have a little fun tonight with my buddy’s small batch BIAB kettle. You may recall this kettle from a few posts ago when we performed a little minor surgery on its dip tube.

The original concept for this rig was that it would be used with an induction plate for 1-2 gallon BIAB batches. It turns out that while the induction plate does a respectable job of heating the strike water and boiling the wort, it was somewhat lacking in the temperature control department. Rather than having a true temperature controller, the induction plate has multiple power levels without the degree of fine tuning one would want for mashing. Furthermore there’s not really a way (that we could find) to use the plate with an external temperature controller.

The next step was to consult chapter one of The “Homebrewer’s Guide for Better Living Through Cash Expenditure.” A close reading suggested a solution: Throw money at the problem.

More specifically, that solution involved a sous vide temperature controller from Auber Instruments and some flexible rope heaters from Omega.

We’re still in the early stages of fabrication, but here are the basics:

  • The flexible rope heaters are wrapped around the kettle and held in place by metallic tape. Eventually a layer of insulation will wrap around the outside of the kettle.
  • The sous vide temperature probe fits into a thermowell in the kettle lid. The thermowell will extend into the grain bed when mashing.
  • The induction plate will be used to heat strike water to approximate mash in temperature.
  • Once approximate mash temperature is achieved, the rope heaters, controlled by the sous vide controller will hold the mash at a pre-programmed temperature. The controller also includes a timer.
  • Once mashing is complete the induction plate will be used to boil the wort.

During preliminary testing, the rope heaters reached around 173 degrees, so I’m hopeful that they will be able to hold steady mash temperatures without the help of the induction plate.

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We still have some fine tuning and fitting to do, but a test batch shouldn’t be too far off.

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.

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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.

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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.