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.

Is There a Cure for Brew Rig Envy?


IMG_2539So, I got to spend some quality time with this sexy beast yesterday. There’s no surer route to a serious case of Brew Rig Envy than getting your hands on a rig like this. Alas, no cure is known for BRE, save serious monetary outlay.

This is the Blichmann Top Tier brew stand and burners, fitted with 20 gallon kettles from Stout Tanks and Kettles, a single March pump, and Blichmann’s Therminator plate chiller. The Stout kettles feature Tri Clover fittings throughout, and the boil kettle has a tangential inlet for whirlpooling. It is a beautiful setup. I’ve been planning a single tier stand for my next rig, and seeing this setup in person has me on the verge of changing my mind.IMG_2532

My brew buddy whose garage it resides in has had the Top Tier for a while and just received the kettles and was kind enough to let me help begin setting up his brewery. If you are unfamiliar with the Top Tier, it is a modular system that allows Blichmann burners, shelves and other components to mount on a vertical mast. This modular nature means that you can configure the system to fit your needs. In this case, we configured it with a gravity fed hot liquor tank, and a single pump. The pump will circulate the wort in the direct fired mash tun as well as provide the whirlpool for the brew kettle, and circulate the wort through the plate chiller.

After considerable tinkering and test fitting, we established the height of the three burners and fitted all the ball valves and Tri Clover fittings on the kettles, pump, and chiller. A single gas rail will fuel the three propane burners, so a trip to Home Depot was in order to have the black gas pipe for the rail cut and threaded. I called it quits for the evening once the gas rail was assembled.

I got a report from brew buddy this morning that he had to take one of the burners back off in order to get the mounting brackets for the gas rail in place. That seems to be the nature of the Top Tier. It is a blank canvas, so the potential exists for a lot of mounting, removing, and re-mounting until an ultimate configuration is realized.

The next step will be installation of a sight glass for the hot liquor tank, measuring and cutting the silicon tubing, and a test run and leak check with water. Then we’re ready to brew, right? Not so fast there. Next step after the leak test will be calibrating the sight glass, measuring the dead space in the mash tun and boil kettle, and estimating the wort loss due to the liquid left in the tubing, pump, and chiller. Then we’ll take all those numbers and create an equipment profile for Beersmith. Then we’ll be ready to brew.

In the meantime, I’m having fever dreams about tri clover fittings and large stainless kettles. The condition is incurable. Where’s my checkbook?