Sunday, February 6, 2011

Piece by piece

I've been thinking about the new brewery plans a lot this week. I may step back from the HERMS idea to something a little simpler - a 2 vessel system like the Brutus 20 originally proposed by HBT user Lonnie Mac and implemented in multiple ways (see HBT user jkarp's build for an example). The reason I'm reconsidering the HERMS idea is that it seems like it's a little too much to bite off at one time for me, and I would rather ease into a new process more gradually.

That may sound like a cop-out, but I do have some logic behind the decision. It basically comes down to two reasons:

  • Cost: I simply don't have the money to lay out for all the components required to do a HERMS system correctly. I need to do something that can make use of things I already have on hand, like my mishmash of pots and MLTs. And, as I mentioned in the last post, a significant amount of the money I have to spend on this has to be applied to getting the power wired correctly. The wire for the 50A feeder is going to cost almost $200 by itself. I don't need another $200 worth of copper tubing, bulkhead fittings, etc. to drive the cost up further. Besides, I want to get a grain mill so I can start buying my grain uncrushed so it keeps longer.
  • Purpose: the main idea is to get tighter control over the mash temperature while converting to all-electric brewing. HERMS will certainly provide that control, but so will the two-vessel Brutus 20, and with one less pot and heating element to deal with. That means one less PID, two fewer SSRs, one less heatsink, etc. to wire up (and buy, see the previous point).

I guess it really comes down to a "walk before you run" approach to moving forward. I'm in love with the HERMS concept, and I'd like nothing more than to have a totally automated 3 vessel system with solenoid valves and the whole nine yards, but that's a hell of a step up from what I'm doing now.

So how am I going to go forward? I think HBT user jfkriege has the right idea for a process concept that matches my limitations as a brewer and a DIY'er. His two-vessel system uses continuous recirculation through the brew kettle to maintain mash temperature, with a gravity return from the BK to the MLT to simplify the plumbing and cut down on the connections that have to be made. He's using an immersion chiller to cool his wort after boiling, which I can do to start, although I would really like to use the counterflow chiller that I built on spring break last year but never documented (or hooked up for anything other than a leak test) because it saves water.

I figure that I can get started with this concept pretty quickly, because I have most of the big parts on hand. I plan to use my existing 20 gallon pot as the brew kettle and my existing large cooler MLT. All I really need to do, in general, is:

  • Get the 50A circuit run out to the garage, and accumulate all the plugs, receptacles, switches and cords needed to set up the control panel. I bought the 50A spa disconnect panel with GFCI last week so that process is underway.
  • Build a two-level stand that allows for gravity return from the BK to the MLT and pump feed from the MLT to the BK.
  • Convert the 20 gallon pot to a 5500W 240V electric kettle
  • Build the control panel with a PID, two SSRs (one for each leg of the power so that when it's off, it's off), a pump on-off switch and other minor items.
  • Get some hoses and disconnects
  • Build the bulkhead connections for the BK mash feed and return and the BK drain (I'd like to have a sight glass here for ease of measuring water and wort levels)
  • Hook up the counterflow chiller

These are all things I can do in a stepwise fashion while still retaining the ability to brew. For example, there are no modifications to the MLT, and the BK mods can be done in phases (heating element first, then bulkhead ports, then sensor for the PID, etc.) while still being usable for brewing. I can switch to electric boiling as soon as I get the 50A circuit run to the garage and the heating element added to the BK, and as I mentioned I can use my existing immersion chiller until I get ready to add the CFC.

The reference system build includes a smaller "pilot" setup that can do really small (2.5 gallon) batches, and while that would be nice, I think I can do that after the initial setup of the 5-to-10 gallon system. I'm more likely, once this build is finished, to switch over and work on a more stable fermentation temperature control solution that works in the winter. Speaking of which...

110101K Wizard's Wheat
I neglected to assign a batch number to last week's brew, partly because I didn't know if it was appropriate for something made from a kit. I decided I needed a number (if for no other reason than to mark the keg) so I designated the batch according to the usual standard with an added 'K' suffix to show it's from a kit, not a Fork and Hay recipe. I didn't create a record for it in my BeerSmith database though. For the record, the OG was 1.048, which was within the expected range specified in the instructions.

It's been fermenting away for a week now, and things are starting to slow down. I have been able to keep the temperature at around 65F in the room where I placed the carboy, thanks to a small space heater with a thermostat and a fan. It's just enough to counteract the normal heat loss in that room during the night. I'm going to give it until next weekend, then keg it while adding some raspberry extract that the Brewmistress included in my Christmas present.