What’s in a name?

Hello everyone. Just wanted to explain the new blog name. It’s the same blog but with my focus having been on brewing small batches and brewing in small spaces I thought the name of the blog should reflect that better. If you followed the old blog click on the “Follow” button on the right side of this page to follow the new blog and miss any updates. If you are a new visitor follow me and keep brewing! More exciting changes to come.

Cheers!

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BIAB Water Calculations

Just a quick post to share a handy BIAB water calculator I found and like using. There are several out there but I found this one easy to use and gave me spot on volume results. It also shows what the total volume of the mash will be including grain and water which makes it easy to figure out if it will fit in your kettle, great for us small batch brewers.

https://www.easycalculation.com/other/embedded_biab-calculator.php

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

Thank you for checking out my blog and subscribe to receive notifications of new posts! Also a “stainlessbrewer” Facebook page is coming soon.

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!

Small batch brewing primer…

If you have checked out my blog you probably have noticed that I am a small batch home brewer. I love it and it works perfectly for me and my situation. Small batch home brewing has really taken off and offers so much for the new home brewer and experienced brewer alike. It also fits the needs of those with limited space that want to brew their own beer or even make their own hard cider. Recipe and starter equipment kits are available from the majority of the online home brewing retailers such as Williams, Austin Home Brew, Northern Brewer, Homebrewstuff and Midwest Supplies as well as the company that really pushed small batch home brewing into the market, The Brooklyn Brewshop. Your local home brew shop should be able to help you get started as well and provide you with advice on brewing in general. I am a big advocate of supporting local home brew shops as they are small businesses that support the hobby. Many were there long before online ordering was around.

The process of brewing beer is the same for one gallon as it is for 5+ gallons. The equipment is a little different but only in regards to size. Any of the equipment used for brewing 5 gallon batches can be used to brew smaller batches but there are distinct advantages to using equipment sized for small batch brewing. For example the mini auto-siphon is so much easier to use in a one gallon jug than a standard auto-siphon, small fermenters allow for less headspace thus eliminating excessive exposure to oxygen but the best reason for smaller equipment is that it takes up less space.

All beer needs to be boiled as part of the beer making process, it kills bacteria and helps to utilize the bittering components of hops. Fortunately pretty much any kitchen stove will easily boil two to four gallons for small batches. This is a big advantage over five gallon batches which start with at least a 6 gallon pre-boil volume and that usually sends home brewers outside with a large propane burner.

What do you need to start? Well you can purchase a starter equipment kit but I compiled a list of what I have used on pretty much every batch I have ever made. This would be the minimum I would recommend and most of it is included in the better starter kits. Not a lot of money has to be spent for the basic necessities.

  • Mini Auto-Siphon for 1 gallon jug/2 gallon bucket or Regular Auto-Siphon for 3 gallon carboy
  • Hydrometer
  • Hydrometer test jar
  • Dial, floating or digital thermometer for mash temperature monitoring
  • Bottle Brush
  • Bottle filler wand
  • Air Lock and drilled stopper to fit your fermenter
  • Siphon Hose with Shut-off Clamp
  • Sanitizer such as StarSan
  • Cleaner such as PBW
  • Hand capper
  • Bottle caps
  • 5 gallon bucket for soaking/sanitizing bottles/equipment and using as a bottling bucket and a place to store most of your equipment.
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Brewer’s Best Small batch starter kit

 

For boiling and mashing…

Generally speaking for Brew In A Bag (BIAB) style brewing you would want a kettle that is 2 to 2 ½ times as large as your recipe size to fit all the grains and the full volume of water. That rule of thumb is good for extract brewing also as it provides room for a full volume boil. So for 1 gallon batches you would want a kettle that is 12 quart, for 2 to 2 1/2 gallon batches a 20-24 quart and 32 quart for 3-4 gallon batches. Aluminum, stainless steel or graniteware are all acceptable. For folks wanting to try one gallon batches there is a pretty good chance you have a large enough pot/kettle in your cupboard already that you’ve been using for pasta or soups.

For fermenting…

Based on your batch size these would be the recommendations for fermenters.

  • 1 Gallon Glass Jug
  • 2 Gallon Fermenting Bucket with Lid (great primary fermenter for one gallon batches also)
  • 3 gallon carboy fermenter for larger 2 to 2 ½ gallon batches
  • 5 gallon carboy or bucket fermenter for 2 ½ to 4 gallon batches

For bottling…

Any regular beer bottles that do not have the twist cap, 12/16/22 oz all work fine. You can get new or save your empties after enjoying a good craft beer variety. Swing top bottles are convenient and available in many sizes. I do not recommend bottling in glass growlers as they are not designed to handle the higher pressures that can occur during bottle conditioning, as opposed to just storing poured beer, and can become a bottle bomb. Some have successfully done it but it is not worth the risk. I also would stay away from plastic  bottles such as 2 liter soda bottles as they can absorb oxygen over time which will adversely affect the beer if you wish to age it.

Kegging small batches? Yes you can!

If you are looking to keg instead of, or in addition to, bottling your beer you are in luck as there are several good options now for small batches. There is a greater initial cost to get started kegging but the equipment is reusable and will last for years.

There are two options that I will mention as they do serve the purpose but are getting harder to find and that is the Tap A Draft System and the Party Pig System. Both use a PET plastic bottle as the storage/dispensing vessel. 5 liter Mini Kegs are another option, but again, they are harder to come by and the kegs have a limited life as the lining of the kegs begins to breakdown with time and use. The best solution, as it follows the standards of current kegging systems, is the corny style kegs and CO2 tank and regulator. Several companies are now offering corny kegs in 1.75, 2.5 and 3 gallon sizes. They all use standard ball lock fittings so they have a lot of options for expanding and dispensing. Force carbonating is also possible with these systems.

Another option that I have recently discovered and like using (especially for one gallon batches) are the new mini keg style stainless growlers. They are available in 1/2 gallon and one gallon sizes. They can handle pressures of 25 psi, easy to clean/sanitize, don’t break and are very portable so you can take your home brew to a friend’s house and they fit in your kitchen refrigerator! You can bottle condition in them or force carbonate with the right CO2 attachment. There are even faucet taps available for these. Plus you can always get them filled with your favorite craft beer and keep it carbonated for more than a couple days. Many brewery taprooms sell them and they are also available on eBay along with matching tap/CO2 options.

CO2 tank and regulator options for these small systems range from disposable CO2 cartridges in different sizes to refillable paintball tanks that are inexpensive to purchase and easy/inexpensive to get refilled at most sporting goods stores that sell paint ball supplies. These smaller CO2 systems also easily fit in your fridge with the mini keg growlers or small corny kegs. Standard CO2 tanks and regulators are also an option with these. I like the paint ball tanks since I can get them refilled 7 days a week and late hours at local large chain sporting goods store for $3

Hopefully this has given current and prospective small batch brewers some information and food for thought.

Cheers!

Small batch brewing…yes it makes sense.

Well looking back over the years of brewing I made the natural progression that most brewers have. I started home brewing in Seattle in the late 80’s doing 5 gallon extract batches. Why? Well that is basically how home brewing has always been set up, recipes were and still are written for 5 gallons, fermenters were sized for 5 gallons etc. After switching to all-grain I saw the logic in stepping up to 10 gallons, if you are gonna spend 4 plus hours brewing why not brew twice as much? Made sense and there was always someone to help drink my beer. A few years back I downsized life and moved into a smaller place but still wanted to brew but decided to stop and re-evaluate my brewing. I was in a smaller place, didn’t have a warm sheltered place to brew in the winter, I wasn’t consuming beer with such fervor and not as many people around to help consume all the beer. On top of that I was really interested in brewing more often but with my life’s restrictions how was I going to make this all work?

Brewing smaller batches was the answer! I had the answer but now what? I did some research online to see if this was a somewhat popular practice and at the time it was gaining some momentum. Today it has become a very popular alternative to the standard 5 gallon batch and many famous home brew suppliers have developed recipes and equipment kits. Ok this can work I thought but the more research I did there would always be the nay sayers with the “why waste your time brewing so little when it takes the same time to brew more?”. Well the part about taking the same time is pretty true but they’re missing the point. Yes it roughly takes the same amount of time to make several gallons of spaghetti but if it’s only me eating it then it doesn’t quite make as much sense. Same goes for brewing beer. And we don’t brew ourselves to save time or money, we brew our own beer for much of the same reasons that we cook food from scratch.

There are many advantages to small batch brewing…

Less expensive, some of the equipment you may already have in your kitchen and we are seeing an increase of brewing equipment specifically made for small batch brewing. Easy to do inside and in small spaces such as a studio apartment, almost everyone’s stove will handle boiling 2-3 gallons…a big plus when it is -10 outside with a 20 mph wind and you want to brew. The equipment needed can literally be kept in a small storage tote and stashed in a closet or under a bed. You can brew more often, experiment with different styles and recipes and still be able to keep up with consuming what you’ve made. Bottling is easier, a dozen or so bottles is no big deal compared to the 50+ bottles requires for a 5 gallon batch. Imagine bottling a 10 gallon batch in 12 ounce bottles! Less space is required to store those bottles while they condition. Kegging is still an option with kegs as small as 1.75 gallons now available and 2.5 – 3 gallon kegs that have been available for some time. Less of a monetary loss if that dry hopped Sriracha Raspberry Porter doesn’t taste as good as you thought it might. Scaling down existing recipes or creating new ones in any volume is easy with all the brewing software available for your computer, tablet or smart phone.

The only real challenges are that sometimes the hop amounts are smaller than what we normally deal with so they require a scale that can measure smaller amounts such as down to .1 ounce and maintaining mash temperatures is a little more tricky since there is less thermal mass with less grain. Both of these challenges are easily handled, small resolution scales are available online and from many home brew supply retailers. As far as maintaining mash temps it is a lot easier if your mash tun is well insulated and sized for the batch, i.e. a smaller cooler instead of trying to do a 2 gallon all-grain recipe in a 40+ quart cooler. Going the BIAB method allows for the addition of small amounts of heat from the stove while stirring to easily keep the mash in the required temperature range. I use both the BIAB and regular all-grain methods without any real problems with batch sizes ranging from 1 gallon to 3 gallons.

Think about it…Have you thought about home brewing but you don’t want to brew 5 or more gallons at a time? Are you, like myself, at a point where you want to continue brewing but have to re-evaluate you’ll continue your hobby? Are you living in a small space, want to brew your own beer, but think you don’t have the space? Consider small batch brewing. It’s a great way to get your feet wet in brewing, a great way to keep brewing when things in life change and many home brewers have come to small batch brewing and are staying here.

The American Homebrewers Association and Brew Your Own magazine have more information on the growing trend in home brewing that isn’t going away. Visit The Brooklyn Brew Shop, Midwest Supplies and Northern Brewer websites, to name a few, to see some of what’s available for small batch brewing.

Wow, all I can say is thank you readers!

To all you that have visited my little blog again or for the first time I would like to thank you. I was amazed at the number of visits to my blog today. This blogging is all new to me but I see it as a great way to share what I’ve learned through my home brewing and my experimenting with different techniques and equipment. I hope that each of you can take away something to help you with your home brewing.

Keep checking back as there will be more posts coming and I am continuing to work on the new small batch system. I’m also working on a post about the growing small batch brewing following.

Again thank you.

Cheers

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!

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