| Souping Up Your Brewing Setup
In the last issue we showed you how simple it can be to assemble an all-grain brewery. Just in time to add to your Christmas wish list, this article discusses the reasons why you might want to upgrade your equipment and some of the options for doing so.
If you assembled a brewery using the previous article in this series as a guide, you may be wondering why you need any more equipment. The fact is you don't need any more stuff than the last article described to brew excellent beer at home. Some people, however, find that they need to take brewing further than they ever thought they would. You may consider adding to your basic brewhouse for four basic reasons:
How can these goals be reached? Some require nothing more than increasing the size of your brewing vessels. Others demand a little more ingenuity. You need not try to attain all of these goals at once. Some of them are related to others, so that achieving one goal will move you in the direction of another.
Increasing Brew Length
You will need more fermentation capacity for all that extra wort. The inexpensive option is to buy more carboys or buckets as you need them. The costly alternative is a small cylindroconical fermenter. A cylindroconical fermenter makes yeast harvesting easy and allows the beer to be fermented and aged in the same vessel. The choice is yours.
Burner upgrades: Heating liquids is a major time consumer in most home breweries. If a kettle is placed across two 9,000-Btu stove burners, it will take them more than 90 minutes just to bring 15 gallons of liquid to a boil. That same volume can be brought to a boil in less than 30 minutes by a 180,000-Btu propane burner. Considering the amount of liquid that must be heated to high temperature during a typical brewing session, you can save a lot of time by investing in a propane burner (or two).
Propane burners generate a lot of heat and toxic exhaust gases, such as carbon monoxide. They must be used in a very well-ventilated area. There are several good burners on the market for less than $100. I prefer the ring burners to the jet style. Although the heat output is usually lower, the jet burners are very loud, and it is nearly impossible to reduce their output without generating a lot of messy soot.
Mash mixer: A motorized mash mixer can save both time and sweat in the brewery. Gentle mixing of the mash makes for more even temperatures and will increase the rate at which enzymatic reactions occur, so complete saccharification can be realized quickly. Efficiency (meaning the degree of saccharification of malt starches) will generally be a little higher than in an unmixed mash, too. If you are interested in constructing your own mash mixer, see Further Reading.
Sparge arm: A sparge arm is another worthwhile brewery option. Although it does not actually save time, it does decrease the amount of effort you must spend pouring sparge water into the lauter tun. A sparge arm can be purchased ready-made, improvised from a shower head, or fabricated at home. One simple design is a perforated copper loop that lies on top of the grain in the lauter tun. It is connected to the hot liquor tank by food-grade tubing, and you control the flow of water from the hot liquor tank using a ball valve. Water is run through the copper loop onto the grain bed at a rate about equal to the rate of wort leaving the tun. You need only peek at the lauter tun occasionally to make sure that the flow of hot water is neither too fast nor too slow (see the box "Lautering Tips" on page 41 for more on why controlled flow is important).
Pumps: Pumps for moving liquids around the brewery save effort and improve quality and safety. Transferring hot wort from the lauter tun to the kettle using a measuring cup is not only tedious, but also invites burns and oxidation of the hot wort (referred to as hot-side aeration, or HSA). A pump can be used to transfer hot wort from lauter tun to kettle quickly and easily. The outlet hose can be positioned so that it fills the kettle from the bottom, thus eliminating worries of oxidation. (See the photo of my setup on page 45 for one idea.)
The ideal home brewery pump should be easy to keep clean and maintain, made from food-grade materials, and resistant to heat and acidic conditions. Several manufacturers make pumps that fit these requirements.
A magnetically coupled centrifugal pump is far more desirable than one with a drive shaft. Shaft-drive pumps require periodic maintenance of their seals. If the seals should start to fail, air can be sucked into the pump, aerating the hot wort or infecting the cool wort. Neither of these situations is desirable. Magnetically coupled pumps eliminate these worries.
Moving Brews (College Park, Maryland) is one supplier of pumps suitable for the home brewery. Surplus equipment suppliers often have magnetic-drive pumps, but find out what used to run through them before you use them for your precious beer.
Oxygenators: A wort oxygenator can accelerate fermentation and improve beer quality. Providing oxygen for the yeast at pitching time is critical to ensuring a strong and complete fermentation. Shaking a carboy full of wort not only is a good way to break a carboy (or yourself), but it also gets only a small amount of oxygen into the wort. An aquarium pump is another option to aerate the wort, but they pump air, not pure oxygen. You can get much more oxygen into the wort in just 60-90 seconds by using an oxygen tank and a porous, stainless steel aeration stone. Disposable oxygen tanks, available at home improvement stores, cost about $9. A regulator and stainless steel stone will cost about $30 at a homebrew shop. The box on page 40 shows how to attach an aeration stone in-line between the kettle and the fermentor.
Infusion Mash System (RIMS):
There are a few possible disadvantages to RIMS, however. The biggest drawback is the relatively high cost of building the system. The cost can be quite high if you are mechanically challenged and therefore require prebuilt components. The nearly constant wort circulation yields a very clear wort, although that means the system must be well designed to avoid aeration of the mash liquor. The shear forces produced when pumping wort are also a concern to the RIMS brewer. Proteins (like enzymes) may be denatured more rapidly when subjected to shear forces. When shear forces are excessive, beta-glucans can form a gel that can inhibit filtration of the finished beer.
Readers interested in learning more about RIMS should see Dion Hollenbeck's BT article in Further Reading.
Lengthening the Brewing Season
Chilling the wort: In summer, chilling the wort can be a problem for some people because their tap water is warmer than the desired wort temperature. A two-stage wort chiller can be used to cool the wort to pitching temperature. This can be easily set up by connecting the wort outlet of a counterflow chiller to about 20 ft of soft copper tubing, which is immersed in an ice bath. Efficiency can be increased by placing a small, submersible aquarium pump in the ice bath to circulate the cold water around the copper tubing.
If you prefer to use an immersion chiller, you can reach the desired wort temperature by first cooling the wort with tap water and then pumping ice water through the chiller.
Regardless of the type of wort chiller you use, it is not at all efficient to use ice water to cool the wort from boiling to pitching temperature. The nearly boiling wort will warm the ice water very quickly, necessitating replenishment of the ice at frequent intervals. It is much more efficient to cool the boiling wort with tap water and then use ice water to chill it the last few degrees to pitching temperature.
Keeping fermentors cool: Fermentors can be kept cool in the heat of summer by a variety of means. The easiest (and most expensive) is to buy another refrigerator and an external thermostat to maintain the appropriate temperature. A cheap alternative is to place the fermentor in a water bath with some plastic jugs of ice. Through trial and error the desired temperature can be maintained by replenishing the ice at appropriate intervals.
Keeping the beer cold: You will need a refrigerator to keep the finished beer its freshest. A used refrigerator can be obtained fairly cheaply and can be used to hold bottles of finished beer or even a carboy or two of lagering beer. A chest freezer offers more room than an upright for storing kegs and carboys.
Another refrigeration option is to build your own cold box. You can do this easily with an air conditioner, some plywood, and some foam insulation. Gently bend back the thermostat probe under the air conditioner so that the probe will always be in warmer air than the interior of the box so that the unit is always on. You can then use an external thermostat to keep the temperature anywhere between 32 ° F (0 ° C) and room temperature. I have been using such an arrangement for over a year with excellent results (see sketch above).
Choosing the right yeast: Certain strains of brewing yeast are well adapted to warm fermentations. Some of them actually will not work well at "normal" ale temperatures (60-68 ° F [15.5-20 ° C]). Many strains used by brewers of Belgian-style ales need to be fermented at about 78 ° F (25 ° C) to reach full attenuation. Yeasts cultured from bottles of La Chouffe and Ommegang's Hennepin are two such strains. Yeast cultured from Cooper's Sparkling Ale (from Australia) also works best at warmer temperatures.
Keeping fermentors warm: In winter, some brewers need to heat their wort to keep it at the desired fermentation temperature. An easy and cheap solution to this problem is to keep an electric heating pad (available at any pharmacy) under or around the fermentor. A separate rheostat (such as a light dimmer switch) can be used to fine-tune temperature control. Another option is to place the fermentor in a water bath heated by an aquarium heater.
When deciding on what mill to purchase, keep the following in mind:
You can also consider making your own roller mill. The BT article by Rob Brown (see Further Reading) will get you started.
Lautering challenges: Many of the all-grain brewer's potential headaches are born during the lautering process. The most dreaded of problems for the all-grain brewer is a slow or stuck lauter, when wort flows very slowly (or not at all) from the lauter tun. It can turn an 8-hour brew day into a 14-hour torture session. Fortunately, well-designed equipment and attention to the brewing process minimize the risk of a stuck lauter.
Sight tube. Large breweries have sight tubes installed on their lauter tuns. Sight tubes allow you to visualize the pressure difference that exists in the areas above and below the false bottom and control the flow of the wort in an informed manner. If the wort is run off from the tun more quickly than it can percolate through the grain bed, the pressure beneath the false bottom will become too low, causing the grain bed to compact tightly and the flow of liquid through it to be greatly restricted.
Lauter grant. When using a pump to move wort from the lauter tun to the kettle, it is easy to pull liquid from the tun faster than the grain bed wants it to flow, compacting the bed and causing a stuck runoff. Aside from being a large pain, a stuck runoff can also damage the pump (magnetically coupled pumps can be damaged if run dry).
One solution to this problem is to purchase a speed controller for your pump, but these are expensive. Another option is to install a ball valve on the outlet side of a centrifugal pump to restrict flow, but ball valves can be difficult to use for fine-tuning liquid flow. A lauter grant represents another possibility.
A lauter grant is simply a vessel that collects the wort from the lauter tun. The pump is plumbed directly to the lauter grant instead of the lauter tun. Gravity gently pulls the wort from the lauter tun, thus minimizing compression of the grain bed. A float switch can be used to turn the pump on when the grant is full, thus freeing the brewer to tend to other things.
My lauter grant is an old plastic bottling bucket (see photo on page 45). A hose runs from the lauter tun to the bottom of the grant (to avoid aeration of the wort) and a pump is attached to tubing that leaves the grant through the spigot. This simple arrangement eliminates the need for an expensive pump speed controller.
See the box, "Lautering Tips," on page 41 for more ideas on how to lauter successfully.
Manifolds vs. false bottoms: Some home brewers favor perforated manifolds over false bottoms in the lauter tun. I think manifolds increase the risk of channeling through the grain bed. Channeling would decrease efficiency, although the runoff would be fast. Commercial breweries generally use false bottoms, unless they are using a mash filter.
In the boil: One of the reasons we boil wort is to coagulate proteins that have bound with tannins. This gummy-looking material is called hot break. The substances that comprise hot break are responsible for the formation of chill haze, so it is important to remove them. Hot break formation is dependent upon wort pH, boiling time, and the vigor of the boil. The pH of the wort can be measured and adjusted to optimize break formation. (A pH of about 5.2 is ideal, but much below that may result in a poor break.) A boil time of two hours will promote maximum break formation, although many brewers boil for less time in the interest of brewhouse economy.
If you are having trouble with your boil, consider upgrading your heat source (see "Burner Upgrades," page 39). Using a heat source of adequate size will ensure a vigorous boil, which will promote a good hot break because the protein and tannin molecules have more chance to collide and bind.
Plain or Fancy
Brown, Rob, "Roller Mill Roundup: A Review of Homemade Grain Milling Systems," BrewingTechniques 4 (2), pp. 26-32 (March/April 1996).
Busch, Jim, "Mashing Basics for the First-Time All-Grain Brewer," BrewingTechniques 3 (2), pp. 18-25 (March/April 1995).
Hollenbeck, Dion, "RIMS: The New Wave of Brewing Technology,"BrewingTechniques 6 (1), pp. 56-63 (January/February 1998).
Put, Don, "Motorized Mash Mixing,"BrewingTechniques 2 (6), pp. 18-21 (November/December 1994). Also online at http://brewingtechniques.com/library/backissues/issue2.6/put.html
Schmidling, Jack, "Mixmasher," http://user.mc.net/arf/mix.htm
|Issue 6.6 Table Of Contents|