Brewing indoors and brew day ventilation.

We’ve all been there, started our boil and everything is going smoothly and then drip…drip…drip. Yep the dreaded condensation from boiling liquid indoors. It’s on the walls, ceilings, kitchen cabinets…everywhere. It’s worse in the cold weather as the outside walls are cooler than the inside air. Since switching to electric brewing and moving brew day indoors it was the only downside to brew day. For some time I simply conceded that wiping down the kitchen cabinets, ceiling and walls was part of brew day clean up and tried to make myself feel better by telling myself “look how clean the kitchen is now!” Didn’t work, still hated that side of brew day.

Well we know that when we are doing our boil we are boiling off anywhere from 3/4 of a gallon to 2 gallons of liquid depending on your batch size and equipment. We also know that evaporated liquid has to go somewhere and cool surfaces is where it ends up. How do we deal with it? Well one could raise the temperature of the room 2-3 degrees above the temperature of the boiling wort to prevent condensation but wait, room temp of 212+ degrees then we die. Scratch that. The solution…ventilate ventilate ventilate!

Being a renter and the last two places I have lived did not have range hoods and one didn’t even have a window that opened so ventilation was a challenge. How much ventilation are we talking? Simply put a lot. Everyone’s ventilation requirements are going to vary so there is no steadfast rule other than err on the side more is better. Most range hoods are inadequate when you are talking the amount of liquid we are boiling off. Some range hoods don’t even vent to the outside of the building instead they suck up the smelly food fumes and blow them out the front of the hood…not sure of the purpose of these at all. Opening a window or door usually isn’t enough either and for it to work you have to have another window or door open to create a draft. Well here in North Dakota where we routinely have winter temps in the -10 to -45 degree range having a bunch of open windows and doors doesn’t make for a comfortable brew day either. I have tried using one of those window fans that has two small fans and it didn’t really do much. Next I tried a bigger box fan in the window with a little better results but still was wiping down the kitchen. I looked at the amount of air these fans are rated to move and compared them to typical range hoods which I knew didn’t work well either and they ranged in the 100-500 CFM capacity. I started looking at other types of fans with higher CFM ratings and they either where huge or very expensive. Plus there was the question of how to mount them and since I rent I want something that is going to be usable in different settings. Well after countless hours searching the web and eBay I found it.

Dayton axial fans. These industrial fans are readily available online and with deep discounts on eBay. They are available in 120V as well as 220V. The model to look for will be the 10″ version and typically are rated at 665 CFM.$_1-2

I found two of them with the grilles for $45 each shipped. To mount them you can simply get a piece of plywood from a home improvement store that is cut to fit your window that you will be brewing close too. Most Lowes and Home Depots will cut boards to size for you and often have smaller pieces. You will need to cut the circle for the fan to mount over yourself or trade a couple home brews with someone who has a jig saw. If you are lucky enough to have a dedicated brew room then a more permanent mounting can be created. For me, I had a hunk of used 1/2″ thick cutting board that was close enough to the size of my kitchen window so all needed to do was mark and cut the circular holes and screw the fans to the board. To wire the pair of fans you can simply use a power cord salvaged from something and wire them in series or get a switch. You can use a outdoor outlet box to house the switch and wiring and then screw it to the board. I had a small plastic project box left over from another project and I picked up a three step ceiling fan pull switch from Lowes for $5. It allows me to turn on each fan individually or both together.

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How does it work? Great, no more wiping down the kitchen. I run both fans at same time for 1330 CFM! Yet even with both fans running it is relatively quiet. I have it in the window above my sink which is close to where I brew. I open the window place the fan in the opening and close the window onto the board to hold it in place. There is a little condensation that forms on the fan grilles while they run, when outside temp are cold, but a quick swipe of a rag every once and awhile through the boil takes care of that. After the boil is done I give the fans a quick wipe down with a rag and done! In the winter the short hour during the boil while the fans are running hasn’t made much of a difference in room temp but has made a big difference in humidity. For around $100 it has been a great investment and a huge savings over anything else that moves that kind of air.

Remember this is for electric brewing. If you want to brew on a propane burner please brew outside for safety sake or consult with a professional regarding required ventilation based on the BTU rating of your gas burner as well as local fire codes. Brewing should be fun, never deadly.

Cheers

It’s been too long but the brewing fun never stops

Well it has been way too long since my last post and I sincerely apologize. Life has been busy but I have been able to brew some, including a very tasty DIPA, and enjoy some great craft beers. For awhile I got caught up in a couple Facebook home brewing pages that seemed great but quickly became ugly with a small number of very opinionated and sometimes downright rude individuals that ruined what should have been a great online community of home brewers for a lot of us. Social media is becoming a great sharing and learning platform for home brewers and a way to further expand the hobby and I highly recommend brewers to checkout the different Facebook groups and home brewing forums. Granted whenever you get a group of people together there are going to differing opinions but I encourage home brewers to be open minded and respectful of others opinions and practices. None of us know everything and all of us can learn something and many things just don’t work for everyone and that is ok. The great thing about home brewing is that we don’t have to conform to style guidelines or the common practices of brewing, we can just have fun with it. In the end we’re still making beer and how great is that? Well it’s time to move on and focus on life and brewing.

My continued focus is small batch brewing because it just works for me. I’m the sole drinker in my household, not much of a local home brewing community to share with and it provides me the opportunity to brew more often while keeping a manageable amount of various home brewed beers on hand. Small batch brewing (less than 5 gallons) is also a great avenue for anyone with limited space. The one thing that is a big bonus with small batch brewing is that it opens the possibility of brewing with 120V heat sources and some amount of automation that fits with just about any home brewer’s style and or comfort level. Being an avid do-it-yourself kind of guy, with tendencies to over-engineer things, the mind has been working overtime coming up with ideas and projects that fit with my brewing style. For me half of the enjoyment of home brewing is the process and the DIY aspect of home brewing. I have been trying to design a relatively inexpensive (I’m an admitted bargain hunter) 120V based compact, space saving and versatile system that will allow me the flexibility to brew any beer anywhere I live and by any method that will make the process more efficient. Will I ever achieve that? Not really sure but I’m having fun in the process.

The latest project for me is perfecting my small batch electric single vessel system. While I really like my 24 quart Bayou Classic kettle with the custom stainless mesh basket I wanted to refine it some and add in some additional capabilities. It had respectable heating times but I figured I could do more, more to improve my brewing process.

I had the opportunity to pick up a used heavy-duty stainless 24 quart commercial stock pot with an encapsulated tri-ply bottom for cheap so I snagged it. Heck one can’t have too many brew kettles can they? Well maybe you can but I’m sure a support group is out there for me so it’s all good. A few months earlier I also grabbed a couple 120V 1500W Heet-O-Matic elements for a “couldn’t pass it up” price, figuring there had to be something I could use them for and now there is. I had a couple 1-1/2” triclamp ferrules welded into the new kettle and drilled and tapped a couple triclamp end caps for the 1” NPT elements and the 120V 3000W brew kettle was born. The nice thing about the Heet-O-Matic elements is that they are stainless, have wiring covers and built-in thermostatic controls. Plugging each element in an outlet on separate circuits it was an easy way to get more heating capability and still use 120V. That is something anyone considering going to an electric system should consider. Most homes and apartments have at least two separate circuits in the kitchen and they are most likely GFCI protected and 20 amps. Almost like they were designed for home brewers like myself and not just someone with too many trendy kitchen appliances. Fine temperature control I currently plug one element into my PID controller and then when it’s boil time I just plug them into separate outlets. A new controller is in the works to control both elements. More on that later.

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One other thing I wanted to redesign was my wort cooling method. I have been using an immersion chiller and it has done a pretty good job but with a heating element sticking across the bottom of the kettle it never was completely submerged. I also had to stir the wort to get quicker cooling times. Well after a lot of thought and looking at what other people are doing I decided to incorporate a chiller coil in the kettle lid and a whirlpool tube to recirculate the wort around the chiller coil all while being able to keep the kettle closed up during chilling. I was able to locate a very reasonably priced small stainless coil of 3/8” tubing off of eBay that fit between the kettle wall and the heating element so more of the chiller was actually in contact with the wort. Using compression fittings and some Blichmann Quick-Connect hose fittings I was set. Even though it is slightly smaller than my original immersion chiller it performs better when combined with whirlpool effect of the wort recirculation and when brew day is done it lives in the kettle. Saving space and when you live in a small home/apartment that is a great bonus. Another added bonus is that it can be used as HERMS coil to regulate mash temp in a separate mash tun.

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The long, cold winter is here in Grand Forks and I’ll have plenty of time on my hands to do more work on things and brew. Stay tuned as I will continue to share as the kettle build progresses (I’m not done yet) and work on the two new control panels which are in the works. Here are a couple teaser shots…

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Remember you don’t need a “fancy” system to brew great beer or spend a ton of money doing it but certain improvements in your equipment and processes can make brewing easier. Also to all you apartment dwellers thinking you can’t brew in your small space I’m telling you yes you can. You can do all-grain and you can have just as nice of a system as those with dedicated brewing rooms, it’s all dependent on how far you want to take it but small space brewers shouldn’t feel held back by their living arrangements.
Cheers.