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.

 

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.

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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.

We’re going to need a bigger mash tun

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The brewhouse at McPhillips Brewing is optimized for five gallon batches, but it’s not unheard of to brew a ten gallon batch now and again. Case in point, this ten gallon batch of IPA that clocked in at an original gravity of 1.060. Between the twenty-five odd pounds of grain, plus the water required for mashing, my ten gallon cooler mash tun was full to the top. I actually mashed in a little thick and made up the difference on the sparge. Last time I had the mash tun this full was for a five gallon batch of Russian Imperial Stout.

I have a Sanke keg that I’m planning on building a new mash tun around, which should make high gravity five gallon batches and regular ten gallon batches a little more manageable. For now though, I’ve found this page of brew related calculators pretty helpful.

 

 

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?

 

A Little Plate Chiller Tweaking

 

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I recently posted about my Duda Diesel plate chiller assembly after adding some cam locks and some slick digital thermometer fittings from Brewhardware.com. Ben from Duda was kind enough to provide some very helpful advice in the comments of that post.

I had the chiller positioned with the hot wort entering at the top of the chiller and flowing out the bottom. My reasoning being that since we’ve got all this gravity lying around, I might as well make it work for me. I was thinking that I wanted the wort to take the path of least resistance. The problem with this approach is that the top to bottom flow does not allow the chambers within the chiller to be filled completely, resulting in a loss of chilling efficiency.

So I flipped the chiller around as Ben suggested and did a quick test run by heating up a few gallons of water in the boil kettle and running it through the reconfigured chiller. I was able to get the hot water out of the kettle right down the to the same temperature as the water out of the tap in my garage with just a little throttling of the ball valve on the kettle. I didn’t record any data from the last batch I chilled before flipping the chiller around, but the new configuration seems to be considerably more efficient. Now I just need to decide on my next recipe and give it a try.

Plate Chiller Upgrade

IMG_2248Having used an immersion chiller for my last 25 batches or so, I’d been perusing plate chillers and whirlpool immersion chillers for a while but had managed to put off purchasing either. Then I happened upon a slightly used Duda Diesel  plate chiller from someone on the Homebrew Talk forum. The price was right, so I jumped on it.

So far, I’ve only used the plate chiller for one five gallon batch and it is much quicker than my immersion chiller. I managed that first batch with some hose barbs and assorted other parts I had on hand, but I’d already seen some slick cam-locks and an inline thermometer over at Brewhardware.com so that was my next stop. Unsolicited endorsement: Everything I ordered was good quality, priced right, and arrived quickly. They get my seal of approval. Stamp. Stamp. Initial here. Sign there. Done.

My order included the digital thermometer, stainless steel tee and cam-locks for the plate chiller. I also got cam-locks for my hot liquor tank, mash tun, and boil kettle, and vinyl decals for the sight glass on my HLT. Finally, I got ten foot length of Brew Hardware’s nearly clear silicon tubing because you can never have too much silicone tubing around.

IMG_2252It took less than a half hour to set up the plate chiller and all of my brew vessels. I ran several gallons of water through the finished product just to be sure there were no leaks and it seems to be good to go. I’m looking forward to trying it out on my next batch.

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Equipment Preview-Champ Chef Burner

 

IMG_2238So I finally broke down and bought a new burner for the boil kettle. My relationship with my last burner had become untenable. For starters, It would never burn with the clean, blue flame that you want. Instead I got a tall, yellow flame that never failed to coat the outside of my keggle (and the burner itself) with a thick, black layer of soot. No amount of adjustment to the air damper made any difference and nor did swapping regulators with my other burner.  Then I managed to melt the plastic part that screws onto the propane tank.

I settled on this Camp Chef burner for Sportsman’s Warehouse, which met my two main criteria; It didn’t cost a ton of money ($65.00 at my local store) and its base fit my keggles. Many burners are designed for flat-bottomed pots, so a keggle’s domed bottom and skirt don’t always fit. It passed a quick visual inspection in the store, and once I got it home, I confirmed that the keggle fits on there just fine. As an added bonus, the legs are reversible, so you can take them off, flip them over, and reduce the overall height of the burner for storage.

Once I unpacked and assembled this guy, I hooked it to my propane tank and fired it up just to be sure that it was not a smoky mess like the last burner. I’m happy to report that it produces a tight, blue flame and looks to be a big improvement over the old burner. I let it run until the burnt paint smell subsided so I don’t have to smell that next brew day. I look forward to a full report once I brew my next batch.