2015 was a good year…

Now that we are firmly in 2016 and past the days of accidentally continuing to write 2015 on stuff I can reflect back on 2015. It was my second year in Grand Forks North Dakota which has been a challenge as a home brewer that enjoys tasting new beers and discussing beer and brewing. Grand Forks is still only beginning to embrace beers with flavors and the craft brewing scene but it is getting better. We have a new craft brewery in town, the first, and I truly wish them well. The home brewing scene is still very quiet, not much activity or social events. They’re here but not as active as other cities with very active clubs. This next year for me will be dedicated to preparing to move back to Washington state and I am excited about getting “home”. While the unknowns and challenges of the move are a little scary so was the move here in 2013 and it all worked out. Plus I’ll be back to a state with an incredible beer scene…bonus!

2015 was a fun year for home brewing for me. A new home brew shop opened here and I was able to teach some brewing classes. The cold times of the year, and there are many, gave me time to tinker with new brewing projects/ideas and develop some recipes. It was also a year of sharing my random brewing thoughts with you. Visits to this blog exceeded my wildest dreams when I first ventured into the blogging community with over 100,000 visits to this blog so far. This simple little blog about brewing, that I thought I’d “try”, has become something I enjoy and hope others enjoy. The exposure to my brewing life through the blog also transpired into being featured in BYO magazine this last December, which was a huge honor for me. This upcoming year will be a busy one but I will continue to post and share my brewing with you and hopefully continue to do what I planned from the beginning and that is make fellow brewers think about trying new things. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You’re still making beer! None of us are experts, we can always learn more from each other and there is nothing wrong with trying something different.

Like Lonnie Mac, creator of the Brutus brewing system as said and very much represents my theory on brewing… “So there we are! Don’t be afraid to try new things man! We are only 10,000 years into beer. There are thousands of years left to go! Things are bound to change!!”

New build creates new idea for a sight gauge shield

I started building a new single vessel system for brewing small batches and in the process I had an idea I thought I’d share since I couldn’t find anything online like it.

New system? Yep, from the completion of my first single vessel system I had ideas that I wanted to add but after some thought I figured it would be easier to start fresh. My first system, based on the modified Bayou Classic steamer, served me well and made many great beers. The ideas and features I wanted to incorporate in the new system will also allow me to take on the challenge to make a DIY brewing system that has a professional look and features and as inexpensively as possible. Why you might ask after I just posted about “brewing simply”? Well the ideas and features I want still keep small scale brewing simple. Plus my father and brother taught me if you are going to take the time to do something yourself why not do it right, the way you want. Do you need “fancy” add-ons to make good beer at home? Absolutely not, in fact a simple stock pot and plastic bucket fermenters can make great beers but some upgrades can make the brewing process easier and make consistent/repeatable results possible. Most importantly I hope the finished product will show others that you can achieve anything you can think of, from mild to wild, with careful thought, planning and patience. All this and at the same time showing that you don’t need a big work shop and huge collection of tools to do it since 90% of the system build takes place in my kitchen with hand tools so apartment dwellers and home owners alike can achieve this. Small scale home brewers do not have to settle for less, you can have the features 5 gallon and larger systems have. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, anything is possible.

Before starting the new system build I was able to sell my first system which helped fund the new build as well as sharing small batch electric brewing with someone just starting out.

While the completed system is still a little ways from being finished and me revealing it but I will be posting complete details soon. Now to the reason for the post. Many home brewers add sight gauges to their vessels to make determining liquid levels easier and I was no different. Marks on a brewing spoon or a wooden stick are a simple trick but I wanted something that was always in place. For me a sight gauge is an easy way to see liquid levels at glance to see strike water volume as well as pre and post boil levels. Most folks use 1/2″ polycarbonate tubing for their sight gauge and some sort of compression fitting at the bottom for connection to the vessel, my DIY version is the same design. Many of these types of sight gauges are available in a kit form and install easily but the problem I found was marking the tube with volume graduations. With smaller vessels that we use in small batch brewing the sight gauge is usually shorter thus making volume graduations harder to see. I wanted to have 1/4 gallon graduations yet my sight gauge is only 8″ long for a 20 quart stock pot. Most folks put lines on the tube with either a permanent marker or tape but with only 8″ of space and all those lines it didn’t seem like the best option for me. Well the sight gauge just sat plain for awhile until one day when I was at local home improvement store for something unrelated. I was walking down the isle where they have the pieces of steel and aluminum stock and saw some aluminum channel. I had that ah hah moment and stopped to look at it. They have several sizes that are made to put on the edge of plywood for a finished durable edge and one is made for 1/2″ plywood. Wasn’t expensive and it might just work so I got a piece.

After getting home I slipped a piece of the polycarbonate tubing in it and it fit! I cut a piece to length for my vessel sight gauge. To make it fit over the tubing snugly I gave the top and bottom a slight squeeze with pliers and it snapped into place yet it was easy to remove if needed. I thought it gave the sight gauge a more finished look and would provide a place to affix the graduated markings. With the new shield in place I put a piece of tape on the side and began filling the pot with one quart of water at a time. Once the water was visible in the tube I began marking the tape with small line every quart for the 1/4 gallon markings, a longer line for the 1/2 gallon mark, another small line for 3/4 gallon and then a full line for the gallon mark. After filling the pot one quart at a time and finishing the marks on the tape I transferred the tape marks to a piece of paper that was 1/2″ wide and 8″ long. To make it nicer looking I printed out a bunch of hyphens – for the quarter and three quarter gallon marks, double underscores __  for half gallon marks and the gallon number with a hyphen, the number and a hyphen -2-. I cut them out and using tweezers and a glue stick I glued them to the paper strip.

I then put the paper strip in the channel and snapped the new graduated shield on the sight gauge tube. I think it turned out great and allows quick liquid level checks at a glance. Later I found some full clear label sheets from Avery and copied the strip onto the clear label stock, cut it out and stuck in the back of the channel. Not necessary but probably more durable.

The volume measurement sensor enclosure for the BrewTroller

Well after finishing, what I guess you call, the mini 120V hybrid PID BrewTroller controller I had to keep going since I was on a roll. When I decided to integrate the basic BrewTroller BX1 board into my system so I could begin to see how I can exploit all it’s features. Well one of those features is it’s ability to measure volumes in a vessel using pressure sensors. Volume measurement is not only convenient it helps improve brewhouse efficiency through the ability to accurately determine strike water volume, pre-boil and post-boil volumes. Volume measurement is achieved by using pressure sensors and a vertical small diameter tube mounted in the vessel with the end of the tube as close to the bottom as possible. When height of the liquid increases in a vessel the pressure also increases in the tube as the liquid rises in it. The tube is connected to the sensor with flexible tubing. The sensor sends a signal to the BrewTroller and it is interpreted by the BrewTroller software. After entering a few reference calibration points in the BrewTroller software it is very accurate. One problem is when temperatures in the vessel decrease a vacuum can be created in the tube but if a steady stream of low pressure air is fed into the tube the interference is eliminated. This is accomplished by using a small air pump like those used for aquariums. The diagram below, from Open Control Systems, shows how a “bubbler” system is setup.

Courtesy of ocsys.com

Courtesy of ocsys.com

The volume sensor tube in my kettle

The volume sensor tube in my kettle

Armed with this knowledge, and a couple free scale sensors, I was ready to build the sensor enclosure. I decided to do a remote enclosure for the volume measurement components for a couple reasons. First of all there is no way it would fit in my latest creation and secondly the motor on the pump could cause EMI interference with the BrewTroller itself when in the same enclosure and sharing the same power supply. An added benefit is if I’m not using the BrewTroller I can just disconnect the sensor setup and if I ever built another BrewTroller control panel I would already have the volume measurement part ready to go. Having two sensors gives me the flexibility of monitoring volumes in two vessels when brewing two vessel Brutus 20 style.

First obstacle was what to use for an enclosure? Well since everything else in my system is compact it was obvious I would need to keep this project the same. Luckily the local Radio Shack had a plastic project box for $6.00 that is 6″ x 4″ x 2″, perfect. Next was the air pump and even the smallest aquarium air pump would be too large for the small project box. Well we had a dead Keurig coffee maker and I knew they had an air pump of some sort. Score! After tearing it apart there was a small 12V air pump and a bunch of small silicone tubing in the thing. Easiest way to power the air pump and keep things compact was just to use an AC wall adapter I had laying around. The sensors would get their 5V power through the data cable from the BrewTroller. I had the panel jacks for the power and data cable connections as well as a power switch for the pump. The data cable was four conductor cable from a dead computer keyboard. The only other thing I needed was a couple small tees and valves for the air lines and a quick trip to the pet store solved that. The valves allow you to adjust the flow of air going to the stainless tubes in the vessels to a slow flow of only a few bubbles a second.

The assembly was very straightforward after a couple quick mockups. I did decide to use some quick disconnect fittings, I found on eBay, for the tubing that will go from the box to the vessels to keep things cleaner and easier to store when not being used. The only difficult part of the build was constructing the cable that goes between the sensor enclosure and the BrewTroller control panel. The 4-pin mini XLR connectors have tiny solder connections that are embedded in a not so heat resistant plastic and they are very close together. After some very careful soldering it was done and everything worked as it should, the BrewTroller detected the sensors and the air pump worked great.

As soon as I finish some work to the kettles it will be time to brew a batch and try everything out. Meanwhile a brew day on the previous system is definitely in order since the beer reserves are running low.

Thanks for stopping by and checking out my blog and as always I hope, somewhere within in my posts, there is something that makes you think, encourages you to try something different and makes you want to come back for more. Be sure and follow me if you would like to receive notifications of new post by me.

Cheers

The crazy things a home brewer will try….

Well it all started out as an idea of replacing the 120V brewing controller I have been using with my small batch electric BIAB kettle. Not that there was anything wrong with my old controller, I was just thinking of adding a new feature to the new controller. Not long ago Auber Instruments introduced a new digital solid state power regulator for boil control. This new boil controller offers home brewers something never available to them before and for a reasonable price with simple connection to a standard zero crossing SSR. The two big advertised benefits are…

  • More uniform power output. Finer power control.
  • The rotary nub is easier to adjust than the small keys on a PID.

Well since I wanted to add something new to the new controller this sounded like what I was looking for. Simple device with great benefits that I wanted to try. In the beginning of the “idea” I figured I go from the original 6″ x 6″ x 4″ enclosure to a 8″ x 8″ x 4″ enclosure. Made sense since the original enclosure was a tight fit and I was going to add another device that was basically the same size as a PID. This is where all normal thinking and common sense just flew out the window. I started thinking “well I do like the smaller enclosure I’ve been using”. Hey I have a small brewing system, brew small batches and don’t have a lot of space…and the rationalization worked, I was staying with the same 6″ x 6″ x 4″ enclosure. A little careful planning and it would work, yeah keep telling yourself that Kevin. Heck the new boil controller only requires a 120V AC power connection and has a standard DC SSR output. My plan was to simply copy the layout of the old setup, cram the boil controller in there and then connect the SSR output from both the PID and the boil controller to an on/on DPDT switch with the switch output to the SSR so I can just flip the switch, when it comes time to begin the boil, to the new digital boil controller.

I picked up the new enclosure and started laying out where the components would need to go. In the process of the layout I was digging through my bins of parts and found my BrewTroller parts! Okay fair warning, this is where my sanity became questionable. I’ve had the basic BrewTroller BX1 board and always wanted to start playing with it to see what its capabilities are and see how I can integrate into my brewing but kept putting it off. The BrewTroller system is very powerful yet fairly easy setup but I still had reservations since I would have to throw together some sort of enclosure, another SSR, wiring, outlets etc, basically duplicating everything I already have. What if something happened on the inaugural brew? Then what? Well I warned you…why not integrate the BrewTroller into the new controller? BrewTroller has the same DC SSR trigger for the heating element  as the PID and boil controller and I already figured out how to simply select the SSR output with a switch…so why not? Add another on/on DPDT switch to select between PID and BrewTroller, something goes wrong just swap the temperature probe to the RTD one for the PID in the wort recirculation path, flip the switch and your back to brewing! So now you’re thinking “this is where he comes to his senses and decides to go with the bigger enclosure” nope. The original single PID design was a tight fit, then I decided to add another PID-sized device to same size box and now I’m adding additional connections, switches, the BrewTroller circuit board and the dial encoder control and LCD display for the BrewTroller. Ok now I’m beginning question my own sanity but the project now became a personal challenge, can I make it fit?

Well now I had to figure out how to make it fit and get a few components I didn’t have. After some online searching I found the components I needed without breaking the bank since I have a tight budget for this hobby. After a lot of measuring and doing many, many mockups and dry fit of components I had a good idea of how it had to be laid out. I began cutting the holes in the enclosure for everything. Now I got stalled, I wanted to make this look nice and well made but cutting an opening for the BrewTroller LCD display with the Dremel wasn’t good enough. I wanted to have that trimmed out nicely instead of my attempt to cut a perfect rectangular opening in the enclosure lid, problem is no one makes a bezel for the 20×4 lcd display. Tons for the 16×2 LCDs but I couldn’t find anything for the larger 20×4 display. Finally after several weeks of searching the web I found a small company that actually makes the bezel I was looking for and it was less than $5. Then it happened, I remembered that the BrewTroller requires 12V DC power. Initially I had moment of reason and was going to use an external AC wall adapter with a power jack on the enclosure for the 12V but noooo I couldn’t do it. Already packed box but there was a small corner I could fit a small power supply. Back to searching the web and finally found a 12V 2.1 amp power supply that was only 1″ wide and 2-3/4″ long, it will fit! Since I was now mounting a power supply in the enclosure that will generate some heat, as will everything else in there, and the BrewTroller is basically a computer so I needed to add a fan. I had a small 12V 40mm laptop fan that fit on the side and I added a vent hole on the bottom to exhaust the warm air.

Now I began to become intimidated by the pending assembly. I knew it would not be a one day project but even with that common sense twist on the project it just kind of sat in the kitchen for a few weeks. The holidays were approaching so it sat more but then my son went home to visit family over the holidays and it got a little boring sitting around the house. That combined with days of below zero weather coming it was time to start. I started with the goal of installing and connecting certain components each session but quickly realized I had to plan the placement of each wire and the exact order everything would have to be installed in. This was vital in making it work because once one thing was installed I might not be able to access other items, good example is the BrewTroller board. The BrewTroller was going to be mounted under the PID and you can see the green circuit board in some of the pictures of the early stages of assembly. One I installed the PID I would not have any access to the BrewTroller. Each component was installed and tested before moving on to the next item. The 12V DC wiring had to be tested before moving on to the 120V AC wiring, which really was difficult due to the lack of flexibility of the wires themselves. Tiny tools, hemostats, needle nose pliers and reading glasses became my friends. An example of the painstaking planning and tight quarters is one night it literally took 40 minutes to install four wires for the element and pump outlets. Well after that night I had to take a break from working on it for a couple days. I was working 2-3 hours a session for several days and it was nerve-wracking. Finally the last session was on my weekend off and I knocked it out and everything worked!! I couldn’t believe it because to be honest there were several times I didn’t think I could pull it off.

After a few programming issues with the BrewTroller, that wasn’t too difficult to figure out, it was working just as it should. Looking forward to brewing with it soon.

To summarize what is in the tiny box…PID, Auber Instrument digital boil controller, 25A Crydom SSR, external SSR heatsink, 20A 120V duplex outlet for pump and kettle element, RTD temp probe connector for PID, pump and PID power switch, PID/Boil controller selector switch, PID/BrewTroller selector switch, master power switch, BrewTroller power switch, fuse holder for PID protection, BrewTroller BX1 board, BrewTroller dial encoder, 20×4 BrewTroller LCD display, BrewTroller 12V alarm buzzer, BrewTroller 1-wire temp probe connector, BrewTroller volume measurement sensor connector (more about this coming soon), 12V DC 2.1 amp power supply board, 12V fan and exhaust vent, two-position terminal block for 12V power connections, Mini USB connection for BrewTroller program uploading.

I have been building brewing controllers for a while now and tinkering with electronics since I was a kid and when people ask for advice I always say “whatever size enclosure you are think of, go bigger” well I guess I should listen to myself sometimes. Will I do it again? No way! No really…as he walks away smiling.

Cheers!

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.

IMG_2422 IMG_24238033292

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

New fermenter just for small batch brewers!

One thing I have struggled with, as a small batch brewer has been fermentation vessels. Try this one this batch and then try this one the next batch, back and forth. For 2 to 2-1/2 gallon batches standard 5 gallon buckets and carboys are really too large. Part of the benefit of small batch brewing is not needing as much space to brew in so a small batch size-matched fermenter would be ideal. Size matched also reduces the amount of headspace, reducing the possibility of oxidation if the vessel is used to secondary ferment in. Other things I want in a fermenter is trub/yeast avoidance when transferring, easy to fit in a small refrigerator for temperature control, being able to see the fermentation activity and not having to siphon. Oh and not having to siphon and if I forgot to mention…I’d rather not siphon. I think you get my priority here.

Current choices for small batch brewers are carboys, glass or PET plastic and the old go to…buckets. I’m not a fan of glass carboys due to weight and chance of breaking one, it happened to me once and that wasn’t pretty so we can scratch glass carboys off the list. Next is PET carboys…not bad, light weight, spigots are available to avoid siphoning, and for the most part they unbreakable. Downside to the PET carboy is cleaning. Cleaning is a bit of work since they are plastic and can scratch so a brush is not recommended. Spigots are available in two company’s PET carboys and do work ok but installing or removing the spigots is less than easy. Now there are buckets, cheap and easy to get inside and clean and you can install a spigot if you’d like…downside is anything around 3 gallon in a food grade bucket is hard to come by and you can’t see what is going on inside and that also limits the ability to determine where the trub/yeast is when transferring. What is one to do? Start looking online and do a lot of web searches that’s what.

Well I a stumbled on a website belonging to a new small company focusing on small batch brewing called Brew Demon and they offer a 2 gallon conical fermenter with a spigot!

IMG_2289

I was impressed to find another company focusing on small batch brewing and had to try one of the fermenters but had some questions. I shot them an email with a question and mentioned I blog about home brewing with a focus on small batch brewing and equipment and was interested in trying one. Nick from Brew Demon quickly replied with the answer to my question on a specification detail and actually kindly offered to send me one to try and review here. So here we are and let’s see what the fermenter is like.

It arrived well packed and it requires minimal assembly, simply attach legs to stand and put the spigot in. A note of caution, be sure the rubber washer is installed on the outside of fermenter with taper in towards the hole in the fermenter. Snug up the nut on the inside but don’t over tighten. Nice feature is you can easily get your hand inside to tighten the spigot nut without any special tool and the easy access will surely make cleaning easy. Once the spigot was installed I put in some water to cover the spigot and checked for leaks. There was a little drip but I just moved the spigot a little and tightened it a little more. Again, not much force is needed to tighten it enough so it doesn’t leak. I let it sit with water for a while and no leaks.

IMG_2288

Now a few details about the fermenter. It is marketed as a 2 gallon conical fermentation system but has an actual capacity of just a little over 3 gallons so it is perfect for 2 to 2-1/2 gallon batches.  There are molded volume graduations on the side of the brown colored plastic fermenter body, which is a nice touch and will come in handy. The brown tint reduces the effect of sunlight on the fermenting beer yet still allows you to see the activity during primary fermentation. It has a small footprint and will easily fit in a small apartment-sized refrigerator for temperature control if you’d like. The spigot is barbed for tubing. If you use a standard 3-piece airlock (which is available from Brew Demon also) it would be about 20” tall and will fit in an 11” square space. The large screw on lid makes for easy access for cleaning, adding yeast and dry hopping if you like. There is a vent cap that allows CO2 to escape and still keep the nasties out. A drilled stopper can replace the cap so you can use a standard airlock. Their “Bubbler Upgrade” comes with the drilled stopper, airlock and a gasket for the screw-on cap to make it airtight so all the CO2 escapes through the airlock. The body of the fermenter can be removed from the stand for cleaning. The conical part has space for approximately 16oz of liquid/trub/yeast below the spigot. While it is not a true conical, with a bottom dump valve, small batches would loose too much volume in that process so it isn’t missed. The conical benefit in this case is that it limits the surface area of yeast/trub that the fermenting beer is exposed to which is a big benefit especially for longer fermentation times.

My beer choice to try out this fermenter is a pale ale, simple yet tasty. Before starting I gave the fermenter a quick wash and a good rinse. The brew day went well, while the beer was chilling I sloshed around some Star San in the fermenter for a few minutes and let some drain through the spigot to get it sanitized also. The pale ale was chilled and I drained it straight into the Brew Demon fermenter. Got about 2-1/4 gallons which is fine. Now I pitched the Safale dry yeast and here is another benefit of the larger opening, easy to sprinkle on top of the wort instead pouring straight down the middle of a carboy opening. More yeast actually in the wort instead of clinging to the sides of the carboy neck! I moved it to my fermentation chamber, which is a mini fridge, and it fit perfectly. Taped the temp controller probe to the side and let the yeast do it’s thing

IMG_2287 IMG_2286 IMG_2284 IMG_2283

Even without using an airlock I was able to see the active fermentation when I checked it 12 hours later. Now to let the yeast do its work in their new conical home. Well after 7 days I decided to take a sample to get a specific gravity reading and having the spigot was awesome, quick and easy. The pale ale was ready to keg and the yeast/trub deposits were well below the spigot and easy to see through the fermenter side. The pale ale finished and I had my keg sanitized and was actually about to grab my auto-siphon when I had to stop myself…we don’t need no stinking siphon! Not having to siphon and still leaving behind all the sediment was awesome and alone worth switching to this fermenter. I simply started the flow to keg slowly to make sure I wasn’t disturbing any of the sediment and the transfer was great. This will be a very clear beer.

 

 

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Overall I was very impressed with this simple little plastic fermenter and I am looking forward to fermenting my next batch in it. Truthfully the only con I can see to the Brew Demon 2 gallon Fermentation System is no airlock, but that is minor and definitely not a deal killer.  After all, my trial batch finished fine without using one and no indication of infection at all. After fermentation begins the beer is blanketed in CO2, which prevents infection, and the vent plug prevents bad things from getting in the fermenter while allowing excess CO2 to escape. After transferring the beer to my small keg clean up of the Brew Demon fermenter was very easy, I removed the spigot to soak and using a little PBW, water and a dish rag and it was like new.

So I would have to give the Brew Demon two thumbs up and recommend new brewers and small batch brewers check out their website. I don’t review many things but I appreciate honest user reviews so it’s easier for us to spend our money wisely. That said I hope this review helps other home brewers. I enjoyed doing this review and honestly like the fermenter. Thanks again to Nick at Brew Demon for sending me the fermenter to try and the great customer support.

Cheers

Ditching the bag in BIAB

After being a long time traditional all-grain brewer for many years I started reading about different all-grain brew techniques and decided to give BIAB (brew in a bag) a try. Since I was trying to streamline the brewing process while downsizing my brewery it seemed like a good direction to go. I designed a small batch recirculating electric BIAB setup and was pleasantly surprised with the results until one brew day a few weeks ago when I was brewing a two gallon Scottish Wee Heavy with a large grain bill even for a two gallon batch. Everything started fine but as soon as I started recirculating the pump went dry. Sudden panic set in and I quickly determined that the wort was not draining back through the bag and basket of my Bayou kettle quick enough for the pump. I tried an inline valve in the hose from the pump to the recirculation fitting in my kettle lid to throttle down the pump flow. Still no go and the pump drained the wort below the basket quicker than the wort would drain back through the mash. Previous brew days with different recipes went flawless and I was able to recirculate running the pump full open but this was a big beer. Basically I had a stuck sparge but in the BIAB world.

I limped through that brew day and the beer still turned out ok but I saw room for improvement because I like high gravity beers and didn’t want to go through this again. Started to break down the problem, it wasn’t the bag because everyone recirculating in the BIAB world was using bags made of Voile fabric. Could it be the space under the basket preventing the grains from being completely submerged, thus making a thicker mash? Maybe but I couldn’t really change that since the basket kept the bag off the heating element and it was as low as it could be. Then I started looking the diameter of the holes in the basket of the 24qt Bayou kettle, fairly small and overall not a lot of open area. Large Bayou kettles with baskets have larger holes and probably don’t present a flow problem but mine did. What to do? Enlarge the holes? That is a lot of drilling and enlarging a hole in thin sheet metal just makes a mess. I remember seeing a couple folks on home brewing forums playing with the idea of making a BIAB basket out of stainless steel mesh and I had acquired a hop basket made out of stainless mesh from Arbor Fabricating and it had good flow through it so why not? Well I like how the Bayou Classic basket sits on a lip at the top part of the kettle and while making a basket that would sit on legs above the heating element would be possible I liked the original design. Then, while staring at the Bayou basket and my hop basket, I thought why not use the top portion of the original basket, remove the bottom part and attach stainless mesh in it’s place? Well I emailed Chad at Arbor Fabricating and after a phone call to discuss it I shipped my basket off to him to work his magic. After he received the basket he called and I explained what I was hoping for while he was looking at my basket and he said he could do it. He had it completed in a few days and got it back to me quickly. The quality of his workmanship is great and it was exactly what I wanted. Looking back it would have better for me to send the whole kettle to him so getting the best fit would have been easier for him but it still turned out awesome. Now to give it a test drive, well that would have to wait till my next day off. That day finally arrived and I chose another recipe with a large grain bill. I had my inline valve in place just incase but when I started the pump to begin recirculating I noticed that I was back to recirculating at full flow and never had to touch the valve. Problem solved and a bonus was that now I didn’t need a fabric bag any longer. Clean up was easy, after the 90 minute mash I lifted the basket out and propped it up to drain. Since the there is now more overall open area it drained very quickly. Dumped the spent grains into a bag and gave the basket a rinse with the kitchen sink sprayer and that’s it. Moving to a stainless mesh basket for BIAB brewing has two definite advantages, no more bag and better flow through the grains and this is a definite plus regardless whether you recirculate or not. I whole heartedly recommend anyone considering it give Chad a call at Arbor Fabricating or click on the link below. He has built BIAB baskets for several different styles of kettles so this isn’t new to him and he will make it work for whatever you have.

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Click here to visit Arbor Fabricating

It is exciting to see other industries willing to explore how their services can relate to brewing and this is a great example. I solved my problem and ditched the bag.

CheersIMG_2230

The home brewer’s mind never stops

Well I am still terrible at posting updates but it’s my weekend off and here in Grand Forks ND it is chilly and dreary with a chance of snow so staying inside.

Still the biggest challenge to moving here is getting home brewing supplies. Second would be finding a competent stainless welder, seems that welders here don’t really want to talk to you unless you are needing some sort of farm implement welded. Even with those obstacles home brewing moves forward. It’s almost been three months since arriving here and I will finally be brewing this weekend! I am going to attempt a Toasted Coconut Brown Ale, something similar to Kona Brewing Company’s Koko Brown. If you enjoy really good beer and a variety of that really good beer here in Grand Forks you have to be a home brewer. While the pub scene is improving with one college bar changing their look and feel to more of a pub and expanding their number of taps and another popular pub/burger joint has a decent rotating selection there is basically nothing unique for bottled craft or import beers here. Really sad and hard to adjust to since my home state of Washington is a thriving craft brewery Mecca and there was a very good selection of bottled national and regional craft beers as well as imports from around the world. Oh what I would give right now for a bottle or thirty of Scotch Silly or Traquair House Ale.

I have been working on several equipment projects, as time allows, so that keeps me busy. This winter when temps here drop into the negative numbers I will be completing the BrewTroller control panel that will be designed to work with the two-vessel Blichmann Brutus style system or even my small electric BIAB kettle. I have decided to go completely 120V since I have seen enough proof that you can get small batches to a vigorous boil with one or two 120V heating elements. It is also nice not having to mess with 240V when you rent and have limited access to a convenient 240V outlet. Besides who wants to pull stove away from the wall every brew day just to plug in?

One project I have been meaning to complete has come together after digging through my box of bits and pieces. For the longest time I wanted to be able to oxygenate my wort as it came out of the kettle or directly from the output of my plate chiller and I finally pieced together the part. It has an 1/2″ NPT threaded aeration stone inline with the wort flow, a sight glass to monitor flow and aeration (I got to see the tiny bubbles) and finally an inline thermometer to monitor wort temperature as it leaves the chiller. With a few design changes  I was able to make it fairly compact at just over 7″ long. With limited space I am trying to keep everything in my brewing fairly compact.

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After abandoning the Yeti cooler mash tun idea due to warping I decided to give the Aervoid thermal food carrier, that I rescued from being scrapped a try. It is similar to a big vacuum Thermos so after installing a drain bulkhead I had lost the vacuum insulating properties. Well that is nothing 5 cans of spray foam couldn’t solve (it is absolutely stuffed with foam all around) and I was pleasantly surprised that upon testing it holds the mash for 90 minutes with zero temperature loss! Plus it will never warp. It is smaller at 4.75 gallons but if I do a smaller regular all-grain brew session and I am doing smaller batches (2-3 gallons) it will work just fine. While I have primarily moved to recirculating BIAB style brewing it is nice to have a small insulated mash tun when you want to brew it up “old school”, plus it’s stainless.

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Next project that kept bugging me was redesigning the keg/carboy washer I built to better hold corny kegs. A little web searching gave me little to go forward with to change the design.  After a few trips to the home improvement stores with a tape measure in hand I found it… a $3 PVC drain pipe adapter! Now a corny keg sits perfectly and stable on the washer and my carboy dryer still sits nicely over the top and you are ready to clean the worst fermentation crud from a carboy. I changed the bucket lid to a screw-on Gamma lid which proved to be much more sturdy. This is a multi-purpose piece of equipment that every home brewer that kegs should build. Easy and inexpensive but time saving when it comes to cleaning carboys, corny kegs and even the Sanke kegs I will be using to ferment in.

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DIY carboy washer

DIY carboy washer

The last project I have been able to work on and is getting closer to being completed is adapter caps to use Sanke beer kegs as fermenters, no more risk of broke glass carboys or scratched plastic fermenters and way cheaper than a stainless conical fermenter although if you give me one of those I won’t turn it down ha ha. While one of my favorite online source for stainless brewing hardware has a Sanke fermenter adapter, it just wasn’t quite what I was looking for. I wanted something that would allow simpler transfer of beer after fermentation, with CO2, so I started playing around with a couple designs of my own. They still feature a stainless thermowell for temperature probe to control temp in my little fermentation chamber. Biggest obstacle in getting these from prototype to something I can begin to use is finding a good TIG welder that can finish them for me. Maybe the time is approaching where I get the equipment and start doing my own welding…

 

Well that is all I have to share right now but I’m working on a couple more twists to the systems so check back. Now it’s time to brew that toasted coconut brown.

Cheers

Small space home brewing

Many of us are faced with home brewing in small spaces whether it be a small apartment, loft, condo or just a small house. I am in the same boat as many others out there and while dreams of a dedicated brewing room are great one must face the reality of what we have to work with.

Does one need a bunch of space to brew? Absolutely not! If you search the brewing forums and blogs you will find folks brewing in kitchens or spaces not much bigger than a walk-in closet. How much space do you need? Well extract brewers require the least, basically their stove top and a place to keep their fermenter that is relatively consistent temperature wise. All-grain brewers really don’t need much more than that. If you brew all-grain in the classic three-vessel style you can place a cooler/HLT atop your refrigerator and mash tun on countertop below it and your boil kettle on a chair below the counter top and you have a three-vessel gravity flow setup. If you favor BIAB then you really can simply use your stove top.

What seems to be the biggest dilemma is storage of all the brewing bits and pieces. Your brew kettle and mash tun can store hoses, pumps, grains etc. Plastic totes can be used to store all the odds and ends and everything can be stacked in a closet and takes up very little space. To make life easier when using totes you can organize your stuff by pre-boil items and post-boil items. Long gift wrap totes can store a lot of stuff and are easily slipped under most beds. If you bottle you can store your bottled brews in a kitchen cupboard, pantry, closet shelf etc. One thing to keep in mind when storing plastic bucket fermenters and bottling buckets is they can scratch easily so don’t place anything inside them or nest them inside each other.

I like to brew often and bounce back and forth between my single vessel electric BIAB and my Brutus style electric two-vessel setup so I wanted to have a storage and brewing stand solution that is small, versatile and still basically aesthetically pleasing if it stays out in plain sight. After throwing around a lot ideas, looking at rolling kitchen carts, stainless tool carts and various custom built stands I decided that I will not find the perfect pre-made stand for brewing on and storing all my stuff so I figured I’ll split it up. For storing larger stuff like buckets of grain, kettles, grain mill, cooler mash tun etc I’m going to get a five shelf wire shelving rack that is 3 feet wide by 18″ deep and 6ft tall. It takes up relatively little floor space and by sewing a cart cover out of nice upholstery fabric it can even live in a corner of a room without looking that bad.

 

Now the harder part, finding a brew stand to actually brew on. Well like many other things in brewing it came down to repurposing something else and I decided on repurposing a small wooden hobby/craft cart. I kept noticing the wooden craft cart at a craft/fabric store for months and while it was priced for quick sale, attractive and sturdy I never put two and two together that this is something I could use. One day I was at the store for supplies to sew up another BIAB bag and the cart was still there and it hit me…with some fairly simple and inexpensive modifications it was my new brew stand for my electric brewing setup. I spoke with the manager, who also realized it had been marked down for months and no one had shown any interest in it, and made a great deal on the stand. It measures approximately 2 feet square and 34″ tall and is constructed entirely of cabinet-grade plywood with casters, five drawers on full extension drawer slides and little cubbies on the side for odds and ends.

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After getting it home I was staring at it and thinking “now what?” I kept looking at the lower cubby on the left side and I thought “that would be a great spot for my pump!” The pump attached easily and securely to the bottom of the cubby. Out of the way, lower than everything else for easy priming and it even looked like it was supposed to be there.

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Now the next step, my plan was to have my mash tun sitting on the top and the boil kettle sitting lower off the side so I could just drain into it at the end of the mash. I needed a folding or drop down shelf of some sort to accommodate my boil kettle. After doing a little online research I found a few different folding shelf brackets that would support 300 lbs or more, more than enough for my 10 gallon Blichmann with 5-7 gallons of wort. So I did a little shopping around and scored two stainless steel folding brackets for $40. Now a little planning was in order, where to mount the folding shelf? Well after some measuring I decided on a position on the right side of the cart that placed the boil kettle lower than the top shelf where the mash tun would be and high enough that I could just run straight into any of my fermenters after chilling the wort in the kettle. Thankfully it placed the boil kettle shelf lower than half the overall height of the cart thus preventing tipping and if needed I’ll attach a folding leg under the shelf for added stability if needed while brewing. The brackets were bolted through the side of the cart and they are very secure. Now I’ll need to fashion and attach an actual shelf to the brackets, something that looks nice and withstands a little heat and moisture.

When done brewing the mash tun and kettle can be stored away on the wire shelving, side shelf folded down and the cart can remain in the kitchen looking right at home.

I’ll update my progress and it comes along.

Cheers

Beginning the kegerator build and its completion!

After looking over many forums on building a kegerator from a mini refrigerator I finally found a candidate for the kegerator. Oddly the mini refrigerator I decided on is the same one that I got to use as a fermentation chamber, the Sanyo 4910. I like it because it is very quiet, has an accurate thermostat, is dressed up with a black plastic overlay on the top and easily fits two 5 gallon cornys with no real modifications. Big problem is the Sanyo 4910/4912 is no longer made but fortunately I found another on Craigslist for $100. The one I found for my kegerator conversion was sold by Sears under the Kenmore label but is identical to the Sanyo and a nice benefit is that Sears still has basically all the parts available if needed.Image

After wiping it down I began going back over all the forums on converting this model and the consensus is that is perfectly safe to drill the hole for the beer lines directly through the center of the top. Being cautious and not wanting to turn my great Craigslist find into a big $100 box by hitting the one refrigerant line running across the top I did the alcohol and corn starch trick to locate that refrigerant line. It was exactly where everyone prior to me said it would be but the moment when you start drilling is still nerve racking. The drilling of the hole was successful and after cleaning up the metal shaving and styrofoam mess I lined the hole with foil tape to protect the foam core from moisture damage. One thing I have used before is those plastic cable grommets that you find on computer desks to finish the outside and interior hole edges. ImageImage

The next step was to provide an entry point for the CO2 line. While this fridge is roomy and one could squeeze a CO2 tank inside I opted to leave my CO2 tank outside and run the line through the wall of the fridge. For me this was a decision based on convenience so I can swap CO2 tanks without removing cornys or to be able to easily use the tank for other things like purging a fermenter or pressure transferring from fermenter to keg. From my experience with this same fridge for my fermentation chamber build I knew you could safely drill through the upper left corner of the back wall so that is where the CO2 line will come through. I decided not to just stick the CO2 hose through a hole but instead opted to install a 1/4″ male flare bulk head up in the corner to make it easier to connect and disconnect CO2 lines and to have a cleaner looking kegerator build…plus I had purchased the bulkhead sometime ago and wasn’t sure what else I’d use it for.ImageImage

Now I am waiting on the draft tower so the kegerator build will be continued…

Well I got the tower from homebrewstuff.com and as always great service and prices. I decided on a stainless 3″ tower with stainless faucet shanks and no faucets as I already have two great Perlick 525SS faucets. Now I am waiting for the stainless steel cabinet pulls I have decided to use as rails for the kegerator top. While waiting for the railing I decided to make the necessary modifications to the plastic overlay top of the refrigerator. Many folks have modified the same refrigerator and what they did has worked over and over so I decided to follow their lead. In order to provide ample support for the tower I cut out the ribs in the center of the bottom side of the plastic top. The center section is exactly 8″ X 8″ so I then cut a scrap piece of 1/2″ plywood to the same 8″ X 8″ square. Then using the indentation that is molded into the center of the top I drilled a 2″ hole through the top and the plywood piece. Once I am ready to secure the tower I will mark and drill the holes and attach the tower to the top by bolting it through the top, wood and into t-nuts I will push into the plywood. By using t-nuts in the plywood it eliminates having to drill more holes into the top and avoiding the possibility of hitting that nearby refrigerant line. The plywood backing piece spreads out the load of the tower and adds additional support.

 

Well the rails arrived today so I couldn’t wait and started the assembly process. First thing was to mark the position of the rails and the tower itself and drill the holes. After drilling the holes I installed the railing and I think it adds a nice touch. Kinda takes away from the dorm fridge look. Next was the tower. With the holes drilled, I hammered the t-nuts into the plywood piece but immediately noticed that they don’t sit flush to the board. Hmmm, what to do? Not a problem. I popped them out and using a spade bit, cut a slight relief for the shoulder of the t-nut and did the same around the large hole so the piece of plywood will sit flush against the top of the refrigerator and the plastic grommet I used to finish the hole through the metal fridge top. That was it, everything fit and lined up nicely.

 

So far I am very pleased with my kegerator build. What started as a $100 Craigslist refrigerator is quickly becoming a very nice home brew kegerator. Next step is figuring out where and how to mount the secondary regulators and finish up CO2 and beer lines.

Another day passed and I was looking at different ways that I could mount the secondary regulator without drilling through the fridge any more than I have to. Not many options then it hit me, the Sanyo/Danby and Kenmore models have adjustable shelf bracket rails on each side of the back wall. These bracket rails are almost identical to adjustable shelving for the home. I picked up a shelf bracket from the hardware store and drilled a couple holes in the bracket that correspond with the threaded holes on the back of the regulator. I removed the factory brackets off the regulators and using some nylon spacers and slightly longer bolts I bolted the regulator assembly to the bracket.

With a simple snap the bracket pops into any position along the rail, holding the regulator assembly securely. I did decide to replace the Tap-Rite 0-100 psi low pressure gauges with o-30 psi gauges that show pressure settings at a higher resolution, down to 1/2 psi, which makes accurate pressure adjustments easier for dispensing or force carbonating. While installing the new gauges I went ahead and tightened them in a position so they would be turned a little and easier to view when mounted inside the refrigerator.

 

Now just some beverage and CO2 lines to finish and it’s time for a draft beer…well I need a drip tray but still looking for a great deal on one.

Drip tray arrived!

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