The new kettle…

It’s been a long time ¬†coming but it’s here and finished. I had a Bayou Classic 24 quart that I used for some time but wanted a heavier kettle and wanted to add some features. Like the Bayou this one has a stainless mesh basket that I really enjoy over bags.

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This brewing kettle began as a $70 “open box” Amazon Warehouse Deal Winco SSDB-20 20 quart double boiler. 20 quart size works fine for my small 1 to 2-1/2 gallon batches but for an occasional 3 gallon batch I will need to mash thicker and rinse sparge to top off to my desired pre-boil volume which I’m ok with. To start the kettle build I had Chad at Arbor Fab modify the double boiler insert by cutting the bulk of it off and creating an extended stainless mesh basket. As you can tell from the pictures they do awesome work. One reason for going with the stainless mesh over a bag was increased flow-thru for recirculating and quick draining. Super easy cleanup too, flip it over and rinse it off. I guess you’d call it Brew In A Basket.

Click here to visit Arbor Fabricating

To allow for recirculating I silver brazed in a 1/2″ triclamp fitting on the top ring of the insert. I have never had much luck with silver soldering but I found flux-coated silver brazing rods to be very easy to get great results. As with silver soldering there is a little flux clean up but not bad.

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For monitoring the wort flow I put together a recirculation assembly with surplus mini-triclamp fittings including a sight glass and valve to adjust the flow. Why? Well if for no other reason than to watch the wonderful wort go by but it also allows me to monitor flow and clarity. Part of the reason the build took so long was finding the mini-triclamp pieces at a cheap price…thank you eBay lol. I went with triclamp fittings due to the fact that, after working in a small brewery many years ago, I saw how sanitary they are, thus easy to clean and they simply do not leak. To make everything easier I have made custom length silicone hoses for my system and brew cart with the mini-triclamp fittings.

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To disperse the returning wort on top of the grain I wanted to try different methods to see what their effectiveness is so I created a few different recirculation fittings. One is a simple piece of silicone tubing that will rest on top of the grain, another is a simple shower head design and another is a perforated tube that will go all the way down into the grain and return wort throughout the mash (very similar to how the Brew Boss COFI system works, a very interesting concept). I’ll report back as to how they all work.

For heat I used a 2000W element from my Bayou kettle. I got a couple of them a few years back on clearance from a home brew supplier in Idaho that unfortunately no longer carries them but I have had great success with them. No problem boiling 3-4 gallons and if you’re patient even 5 gallons without scorching. They originally had a severely under-sized cord on them with no ground provision (probably why they were on clearance) so I made an enclosure that allowed the important grounding as well as adding a larger 12 gauge cord. The element installs the same as most 1/2″ NPT weldless fittings in a 13/16″ hole but with a flat silicone washer instead of an o-ring. It can be quickly and easily removed for a more thorough cleaning if needed. With the flat silicone washers repeated disassembly is possible without leaks. O-rings tend to lose their shape and/or squish out from behind fittings.

For temperature control there is an Auber Instrument RTD weldless probe in the kettle wall and one in the recirculation path that connect to my controller (featured here https://smallspacebrewer.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/the-over-engineered-brewing-controller/). I also have a Brew Boss temperature probe that I modified to use in the recirculation path with a triclamp fitting.

To monitor water and wort volumes I made a sight glass and calibrated it to the kettle with markings every 1/4 gallon. It is made from 1/2″ diameter polycarbonate tubing and stainless compression fittings with a vent at the top that can be removed to scrub the tube if needed. The sight glass guard is a piece of aluminum channel intended to be used as edging on 1/2″ plywood but fits snuggly on the tube and is where I stuck the graduation markings for the liquid levels. The markings are easily seen through the tube and when liquid is in the sight glass they appear magnified…great for my “getting older vision”.

The drain is a Blichmann drain bulkhead and 1/2″ three piece ball valve with triclamp adapter. With the Blichmann drain bulkhead and their ball valve the valve threads right up against the wall of the kettle and seals great without pipe tape thanks to their captive o-ring in a washer allowing for a more compact drain valve assembly. If needed I can use their dip tube with the bulkhead fitting, just like on their Boilermaker line of kettles, but I was able to mount it low enough I don’t think it’ll be needed.

To aid in lifting the basket and to support it while it drains and if I rinse sparge I made a handle out of a nylon web handle from an old duffle bag and a couple stainless clips. I also made a few supports for the basket that simply hang over the side of the kettle and support the basket about an inch and a half into the kettle to avoid drips.

While the wort drains I wanted to have a way to squeeze all the sweet wort from the grains, like those of you that squeeze the grain bag, so I made a press plate out of a piece of cutting board that I cut to just fit inside the basket.

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Since I like to “clean in place” by recirculating hot PBW solution I installed a mini-triclamp fitting in the lid that a mini spray ball can be attached. Although it is a relatively small kettle it is still rather heavy so I let PBW and a pump take care of the post-brew day cleanup. Quick rinse with kitchen sink sprayer and then a gallon or so of hot PBW solution and let recirculate for 20 minutes or so. Very little scrubbing, if none at all, is needed and it also cleans all the fittings, tubing and pump in the process. It also provides a place for a dial thermometer to rest for double checking mash temps if desired.

This build was a challenge but very rewarding at the same time. Over-engineered? Yep, but if you know me that is how I do things lol. Realistically it is a very basic build but offers a lot of flexibility and with my experimental brewing style it works great for me.

I hope everyone can use something from this build or it sparked some thought for your own kettle build.

Here is a link to my YouTube video of the kettle in action on a recent brew day…¬†https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F96P8MYNDrg

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Cheers

The over-engineered brewing controller

Well I have hinted at my new controller build for the new brewing cart was coming and here it is. I had several different ideas of what I wanted in an ultimate brewing controller and those ideas were all over the map. I like to experiment in my brewing, both in beer styles and brewing methods. Most of the time I brew small batches using the BIAB method but sometimes I do traditional all-grain with multiple vessels, sometimes I want to brew a 5 gallon batch and pull out the 7.5 gallon Blichmann with the Boilcoil out of the closet and other times I hear about something new and want to try it so flexibility was important. I love the temperature control that electric brewing offers but I also wanted the flexibility to control multiple elements in multiple kettles, maybe some newer automation technology, compact yet industrial quality and above all 120 volt operation.

It started with a piece of stainless lab equipment surplus, the enclosure began its life as some sort of  lab equipment platform. I picked it up several years ago at a thrift store for few bucks. Never knew what I was going to do with it but hung on to it. When I decided to make a custom brew cart for my small batch brewing style I needed to make a controller to fit it. With only a narrow spot on the cart for something a lightbulb went off…that stainless enclosure! It already had openings on each side that had outlets but the back panel had all kinds of different unusable cutouts. I was able to cut the spot welds for the back panel and had a new piece of stainless cut and bent to fit. I laid out what needed to go on the back panel and cut the holes and then had the finished panel tack welded in place. The front panel and inside was a blank slate so I needed to think about what I wanted it do and then started to plan it. I went with a sub-panel inside to mount all the components on for easy of assembly. Having the entire bottom open made putting everything together so much easier than my previous builds. Cutting the openings on the front panel for the PIDs was less than fun. Plastic enclosures are so much easier to work on but I had this so patience and occasional swearing got it done.

The enclosure has a small footprint at 16″ wide by 14-1/2″ deep by 3-1/2″ tall. I epoxied a piece of high temp resistant Richlite board to make look more finished. I cut a piece of sheet stainless to cover the bottom. I used a surplus DIN rail with terminal blocks for electrical connections. An internal heat sink for the solid state relays with a temp sensor that controls the rear panel fan when things heat up. Incoming power cord connections are Neutrik PowerCon 32A connectors. Two 120V cords allow the simultaneous use of two elements up to 2250 watts including the Blichmann Boilcoil with twistlock plug. Each element outlet has it’s own master switch on the side and dedicated circuit breaker on the back panel. There are multiple temp probe inputs that are switchable so I don’t have to switch cables when I’m done heating the mash water and then switching to monitoring temperature in the wort recirculation path. It features a brewing event timer from Auber instruments as well as two of their PIDs with built-in timers for the mash/kettle and HLT/RIMS elements. The SWA-2451 PIDs can start a timer when a specific temperature is reached. I also have the Auber EZboil power regulator that I can switch to when it’s time to boil and it controls both element outlets simultaneously with a simple knob to vary the boil power as well as control mash and offer pre-boil alarm. There are two switched pump power outlets and an shared alarm lighted buzzer for the brewing event timer and the two PIDs with timers.

During the build I began looking at the Brew Boss brewing control and I liked the fact it was tablet controlled with a lot of time spent developing and supporting the hardware and software. It is a simple controller with a lot of advanced capabilities. One of its features is the ability to import mash temps and hop additions from a Beersmith recipe file and populate that data into the brew session program. It will also control their Hops Boss hops dispenser. I call it smart simple automation for the hands on home brewer. I like the hands on aspect of turning valves, filling the kettle, mashing in etc but also like the simplicity of automated time and temperature control. I found out that the Brew Boss was available as a DIY board kit. After some research and thinking, I knew I could integrate it in my controller build. After a getting a gift certificate for the Brew Boss website for Christmas (yes your children listen to your brewing rambling and mumbling) I went ahead ordered it. I had to add a couple multiple position switches for the element solid state relays and the main pump but it was relatively easy at this point. After a couple days of work it was working! I already had a Android tablet so I was ready to go. Now I can switch from traditional PID control to Brew Boss control whenever I’d like. On a side note I have to give props to Darin at Brew Boss…a great guy, fellow home brewer and provides great product support.

And the finished controller on the brew cart…

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Is this all necessary? No, but it fits any need I could have in my brewing. It was also a challenge from people that said “no way”, I want to say “yes it can be done”. Over-engineered? At about a year in the making and a about 100 hours of build time, absolutely it was over-engineered but if I was going to do it, I was going to do it right. If nothing else it is an example that a home brewer can do anything they want and can accomplish it if they set their mind to it. Are those incredible dream systems restricted to big batch brewers with a lot of money and space? Nope, like I have said before, we small batch brewers can have anything from mild to wild. Limited budget? This project took a year and part of that time was finding the best prices for components, finding parts I could repurpose and moving forward as budget allowed. Need a workshop? Not at all, the controller was built and assembled in my kitchen. Do you have to be an electrical engineer? Nope, 90% of what I know about process control and electrical application is self-taught. Designing this controller was done mostly in my head and through doodling on paper and yes, even the cliche napkin or two. Heck there are functions of my smartphone that I still don’t understand after several years.

After all is said and done I am still about simplicity and this allows me the control over brewing while remaining hands on and I can focus on the beer itself.

Thanks for checking out the blog.

Cheers!