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.

Digital Beer Tap Menu

 

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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.