Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Ultimate Electric Brew In A Bag Brewday

As soon as we finished moving into our current home I started to plan the layout of a new brew room in a section of the garage. Before moving from our previous home my brew room was located in the basement and that’s where I spent several years brewing all grain recipes. I've always brewed indoors on an inexpensive kitchen gas stove because it was convenient no matter what the weather was like outside I could always brew beer when time permitted. I never had to worry about rain, snow or wind interfering with my plans, brewing indoors had some real advantages. A fan at one end of the basement pulled fresh makeup air inside while another fan exhausted boil vapors and harmful fumes out a window at other end. This arrangement made for some hot brewing days in summer and for some cold brewing days in the dead of winter, but for the most part it worked and kept me dry. I was limited to brewing five gallons batches on the gas stove even with the kettle straddled across two burners eight gallons of wort was about all the setup could handle. I managed to brew more often but even with a stepped up brewing schedule it was always a challenge to keep up with the demand for beer.

Electric Brewery Controller - Single Vessel

While waiting to get settled into the new place I had plenty of time to research the different types of electric brewing systems that were currently available. I had two main requirements for the new brew room it had to be electric powered and the brewing system had to be big enough to brew ten gallon batches. Before moving I found out that there was no possible way to run a natural gas line to the garage because of the way the house had been designed. I also wanted to increase the amount of beer brewed during each brew day too because it would let me build up and maintain a well stocked pipeline while potentially reducing the number of brew days per year. My favorite craft beers cost about $8.00 to $12.00 a six pack and using a little simple math proved that a 10 gallon batch of beer would easily fill 100 twelve ounce bottles which meant that for less than the cost of a few six packs I could produce sixteen six packs of the freshest high quality home brew available. Naturally I never add in any costs for the time I spend brewing because I love to brew so much even though I may not look forward to packaging that much beer in twelve ounce bottles. 

Dedicated Garage eBIAB Brew Room

The space I had to work with in the brewing area was a good size but it wasn’t going to be big enough for a three tier system like I had been brewing on. Knowing that the brewing area was a bit limited I started looking into the brew in a bag (BIAB) process. Using the BIAB process I could still brew my all grain recipes but without needing the extra room for a separate hot liquor tank, mash tun and boil kettle. I was happy to learn that with BIAB a single kettle takes the place of a hot liquor tank and a mash tun. Ultimately I decided on buying the High Gravity eBIAB Electric Brewing System because the prebuilt system shipped with a 4500 watt 220 volt heating element and a 62 quart kettle which would be perfect for ten gallon batches. It's an experimental brewing system run by a programmable EBC-SV controller that monitors the wort temperature as the wort is sprayed onto the top of the grain bed and can be used with 5500 watt heating elements with much larger kettles.
Two months after starting the brew room layout and placing the equipment orders with vendors everything was delivered, set in place, connected and ready to brew the first batch of beer.
 
High Gravity 15 Gallon eBIAB System

As it turned out making the move from natural gas to all electric brewing was one of the best things that could have happened but it did involve buying new equipment and learning a whole new way to brew beer. To get going I started reading about what other electric BIAB brewers had done to improve their brewing process and about their experiences both good and bad. Some brewers said the wort would be cloudy and others, including the manufacturer of the system I bought, said to only expect to get 60% efficiency rates. While other brewers wrote about getting near 80% efficiency rates when double crushing their grains and doing a 90 minute mash. Cloudy wort and low efficiency aren't things I'd be happy living with especially after investing so much in a eBIAB system. Of course there were a few other questions too like would the system be able to brew ten gallon batches, how to exhaust the boil vapors and what's better to cool the wort a plate chiller or a counter-flow chiller. It seemed like there were pros and cons to just about everything used to brew beer depending on who you asked, finally I just had to make up my own mind and go with what I knew would work best for me.

The First Recipe Used 22 Pounds Of Grains
The brewers over at the Beer Borg were able to provide me with a lot of great information about their own BIAB brewing techniques and experiences, they're a friendly bunch of people with years of brewing experience that they're always willing to share. I knew if I asked five different brewers how to do anything I'd get back at least six different answers but having access to so much solid brewing knowledge makes choosing the best options so much easier. For safety reasons I decided to hire an electrician to install a 4 wire 220 volt 30 amp GFIC breaker and run the line to a receptacle near the location of the EBC-SV brewery controller. The EBC-SV is the heart of the eBIAB system it runs the Chugger pump and regulates the output of the heating element based on feedback from the  temperature probe connected at the kettle lid. The EBC-SV was all setup and ready to go right out of the box all it needed was to be plugged into a 220 volt outlet in order to use it. I have to admit brewing on this system proved to be the most enjoyable brew day I've ever had. The EBC-SV provided automated temperature control and combined with the Chugger pump they eliminated a lot of manual work and the clean in place feature made cleanup a snap. 

Large Basket And Mesh Bag Made The Pound Dough In Easy

Having nothing more than eBIAB theory to go on for my first brew I started out with a recipe based on an estimated 70% efficiency, about halfway between my previous infusion mash efficiency and the manufacturer's suggested efficiency. The California Common (aka: Anchor Steam) style recipe I chose was a favorite of mine that I had brewed before. It's a fairly simple recipe using a mix of 10% Crystal and 90% Pale Ale malt and a few ounces of Northern Brewer hops. I had stopped in The Brewers Apprentice located in Freehold, NJ earlier in the week to introduce myself and to pick up a few vials of White Labs WLP810 - San Francisco Lager Yeast™ for the starters I planed to pitch on brewday. I met Jo-Ellen Ford the co-owner of the LHBS and early adopter of their now booming 'Brew On Premise' concept of brewing. Jo-Ellen and the staff really know homebrewing and do their best to make every brewer's brewday a great experience. I stopped by and picked up 22 pounds of freshly crushed grain early brew day morning and then with all the ingredients on hand I was ready to brew.

Recirculating Mash Spray Nozzle
To get started I processed 15 gallons of reverse osmosis water and stored it in a 64 quart water cooler that I had bought for mixing my brewing water. The RO filter I have produces almost 4 gallons of pure water an hour, there are larger capacity RO filters that can easily double the gallon per hour output, but for my everyday use the filter is sized perfectly. After the water cooler was filled I mixed in the salts and minerals and adjusted the pH to match the brewing water profile for the style of beer I was brewing. If you decide to create your own brewing water it's a good idea to prepare the water and make your adjustments the night before your planned brew day this way you can dedicate enough time to get the water profile just right and not feel rushed while doing it. Once the water adjustments were made and the water had enough time to stabilize I calibrated the pH meter again and took a final reading before adding the brewing water to the kettle. To prepare for the mash I heated 12 gallons of brewing water up to 160F (71C) then switched off the heating element and pump before mixing in the grain. After all the grains were added and stirred in another temperature reading showed the mash temperature had settled in at 150F (65C). I switched the on the Chugger pump and heating element and began  recirculating the mash at my 155F (68C) target temperature for 75 minutes.

The Key Ingredients Needed To Modify Brewing Water Properties
After mashing for 75 minutes it was time to hook the grain hoist to the grain basket handle and lift it out of the kettle high enough for the hot wort to drain out of the grains and back into the kettle. With the grain basket securely suspended above the kettle and the wort drained out of the grains I poured a few gallons of 168F (75.5C) sparge water into the grain basket to rinse as much sugar out of the grains and into the kettle as possible. With the kettle filled to the preboil volume and the grain basket taken away I turned on the heating element to begin the boil only to see that the temperature of the wort was dropping. I made a quick call to Dave Knott the owner of High Gravity in Tulsa OK to find out what the issue could be and hoping it would be easily resolved. Dave answered my call and said that even though it wasn't needed during the boil the temperature probe still had to be connected to the EBC-SV controller. The controller had to be able to sense that the temperature probe reading was lower than the 155F (68C) set point in order to energize the heating element. Earlier as the grains were draining I had disconnected the temperature probe from the controller in order to clean the kettle lid. Without getting an accurate temperature reading the controller never powered up the heating element, a not so obvious but important piece of information to know. Once I reconnected the temperature probe the element started to heat up the wort and in hardly no time had brought the wort to a boil.

Grain Basket Suspended Above Kettle While Wort Drains
With the grain basket removed and emptied and the exhaust hood moved back into position above the kettle the boil vapors were quickly vented outside as they rose from the kettle. The carbon filters in the exhaust hood helped to reduce any brewing aromas from the air before they were vented outside, the filtered exhaust air is more of a courtesy to any neighbors who may not enjoy the smells of brewing like I do, and the brew room was kept well ventilated and free from any buildup of moisture. An interesting thing to point out when brewing with an electric heating element is how the hop additions have to be made. I used nylon mesh bags that were long enough to soak in the boiling wort while being secured to the top rim of the kettle. The idea is to keep the hop sacks from moving around freely in the kettle during the boil, getting snagged in the heating element and causing any damage. The controller's manual adjustment knob allowed the heating element to be finely tuned to provide a nice rolling boil once the wort had reached a boil. When going from mash temperature to a boil cranking the adjustment knob up all the way brought the wort to a hard boil quickly. But to avoid a boil over and prevent too much volume boil off it was easy to dial back some of the heat using the manual adjustment knob. After a sixty minute boil the boil off rate was just about a gallon and a half leaving me with enough wort to fill two Ale Pails to their five gallon marks.

Clear Wort And Tight Compact Cold Break
The sixty two quart kettle easily handled the 22 pounds of grain needed for the ten gallon batch size of this recipe. I used a one and a half quart of brewing water per pound of grain mash thickness, which is inline with most of my previous single infusion mashes when using a mash tun. I calculated the mash thickness by multiplying 1.5 quarts of strike water per pound of grain as (1.5 * 22) = 33 quarts or 8.25 gallons. Then I calculated how much water the grain would absorb by multiplying the grain absorption rate as (0.13 * 22) = 2.86 gallons which gave a total water volume of (8.25 + 2.86) = 11.11 gallons of water. While mixing in the grains I saw there was still some room in the kettle so I added in another gallon of strike water for good measure increasing the mash thickness to just below 1.75 quarts per pound. I made a best 'guestimate' as to what the boil off rate and trub loss would be using the new kettle so to make sure there was enough wort to fill two five gallon fermenters I kept three gallons of sparge water handy for adjusting the preboil wort volume as needed.    

Induction Cook Top Heating Sparge Water

As the countdown timer for the boil ticked by signaling the next hop addition I kept myself busy by getting the wort chiller, lines, yeast flasks and fermentor buckets and hoses sanitized. By the time the boil was done the used grains had been drained of wort, even though they still must have weighed sixty pounds, so I dumped them into a bag and put the bag in the garbage can for disposal later in the week. The 760 cfm exhaust hood did a great job keeping the brew room air quality in good shape and the new brewing system worked out as good or better than I could have imagined it would. In a single day of brewing I became a huge fan of Chugger pumps too, using a pump to transfer wort was so much easier than doing it by hand. The only new process left for me to master at this point was using the convoluted counter-flow wort chiller. Moving up to ten gallon batches meant having to retire my trusted old immersion chiller, it simply didn't have the cooling capacity of the new counter-flow chiller design.    

Chilling The Wort As It Goes Into The Fermenters
Earlier in the week I made up two 2 liter yeast starters using a vial of WLP810 liquid yeast in each one. The recipe called for around five hundred billion cells of yeast for a ten gallon batch and I was going to split the batch up into two separate fermentors. I just happened to have a pair of two liter Erlenmeyer flasks and two stir plates handy so making up the starters was pretty straightforward. If a vial of WLP810 contained 100 billion cells when added to a two liter starter spun on a stirplate the end result cell count is estimated to be around 220 billion cells. So pitching a single starter into each of the two fermenters provides the recommended cell count for a good pitch of yeast. The WLP810 strain is a true Lager yeast although it's fermented at Ale like temperatures to develop the unique flavor profile that's synonymous with a modern day California Common style beer. Using Mr. Malty's yeast calculator and setting the yeast strain type to 'hybrid' calculated a cell count that was in between that of an Ale and a Lager so it seemed like a logical choice to make.


The Rise And Fall Of WLP810 Yeast Starters

To prepare the yeast for brew day I mixed in a cup of extra light dried malt extract for every two liters of filtered water. Using a large pot I poured in four liters of filtered water and two cups of DME and mixed it all together until there were no lumps of DME in the mixture. After boiling the wort for about fifteen minutes I put the pot in the sink filled with ice water and a small fountain pump to keep the cold water circulating around the pot. Once the wort cooled to 75F (21C) I added a vial of yeast to each sanitized Erlenmeyer flask and poured the cooled wort in until the level hit the two liter marks. After spraying tin foil with StarSan and loosely covering the the openings of each flask I set them each on a stirplate and let them spin for three days. At the end of the three days, after the yeast had time to absorb enough nutrients to allow them go dormant, I replaced the tin foil with sanitized plastic wrap and placed the flasks in the refrigerator to cold crash. On brew day morning I took them out of the refrigerator and let them warm up slowly to pitching temperature. Just before pitching each starter I decanted off the starter wort leaving only enough wort behind to swirl the yeast cake into suspension.

Clear Wort Sample Original Gravity On Target
It wasn't until the yeast was pitched and both fermentors were put inside the fermentation chamber that I realized I never added WhirlFloc or other fining agents to the kettle but the wort was still amazingly clear. I remember how clear the wort remaining in the kettle was and how tightly packed the trub pile was too after only a little whirlpooling. I can only think the adjustments I made to the brewing water were largely responsible for the wort's clarity because I'd had the same results when brewing on my gas fired system too. The three very different styles of beer I brewed earlier this year using distilled water and modified water properties all had improved color, clarity and very clean flavors and aroma. 

White Labs WLP810 - San Francisco Lager Yeast™
Both fermentors have been bubbling away at 65F (21C) releasing volumes of sulfur aromas that combine with the smell of wood from inside the fermentation chamber to create a smell that any brewer would find intoxicating. It'll be at least a week until I get to take a few hydrometer samples and taste how the young beer inside is coming along. Last Saturday was almost exactly a year to the day that I was able to brew beer at home in my own brew room and all I can say is it was the most amazing brew day I've ever had. All the time that went into planning the layout of the brew room paid off. Everything I had learned about all grain brewing was easily translated into brewing on an eBIAB system. Mash thickness, grain absorption, trub loss, conversion efficiency, water properties all the same calculations still applied when brewing in a bag as they did when brewing on a three vessel system. Needless to say encouraged by the huge success of my first brew day I can't wait to get in there again and brew up some stouts, wheats and IPAs.

Be As Passionate About Brewing As You Are About Beer  

Since building out my garage brew room the folks at GarageCabinets.com have taken an interest in my web site and included me in their list of '24 Great Blogs Homebrewers Should Follow' article. I highly recommend their website as a must read for anyone interested in improving the look and usability of their garage area. The GarageTalk article by Troy Greenberg is specifically targeted to homebrewers and is a great resource to keep handy for future reference. I've also agreed to submit a series of articles covering a wide range of brewing topics to HomeBrewTalk.com thanks to Austin McLendon taking an interest in my brewing experiences. Their new online 'Front Page' section has proven to be very popular with homebrewers and Austin has done a great job in providing content that's both interesting and informative. It's been a crazy busy summer for me with tons of stuff going on but I'm looking forward to kicking back and enjoying the Fall brewing season and brewing plenty of beer in the new brew room.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

High Gravity eBIAB Brewroom Build

The Fall season is rapidly approaching here in the northeast and the daily outside air temperature continues to drop lower every night. It comes as no surprise that homebrewers around here are already planning their first brewday of the season and they know they will be brewing soon.

This is going to be another great year for homebrewing and home brewers thanks to the dedication of folks like those at HomeBrewTalk. They are the world’s largest website dedicated to providing the homebrew community with a wide range of homebrewing information along with the latest trends, facts, recipes and other important news. They have recently launched a new front page section to their HomeBrewTalk website. There you will find daily updates that provide a fresh perspective on all areas of homebrewing.

Be sure to read my latest article Indoor Brewing - Clearing The Air featured on the front section of the HomeBrewTalk website, be sure to check it out.

Monday, September 1, 2014

High Gravity eBIAB Brewroom Build

Almost a year ago I started researching all the electric brewing system options that were available at the time and a few that were soon to be released. The Braumeister Electric All-Grain Brewing System looked like a quality product but there were a few things that I didn't like right off the bat. A 20 liter unit cost two thousand dollars, a bit too pricy for my budget, and the unit while very compact was imported and probably would cost a lot of money and downtime to have repaired. The unit's proprietary digital temperature readout was in centigrade only and the controller required a European 220 volt connector, I would have to hire an electrician to make the necessary changes to adapt to the North American 220 volt line I already had run.

My hopes faded for buying the new Blichmann electric K-RIMS brewing system too, it was really nice but again a little to expensive for my budget. There were also several rounds of delays as the availability dates for the electric K-RIMS system kept getting pushed out, although it may be available now it's been over a month since I checked. Finally I decided on the High Gravity BIAB Electric Brewing System from High Gravity Homebrewing And Winemaking in Tulsa, OK. I liked the price of this unit because it didn't wipe out my entire budget, I'd still have enough money left over to pay for the remaining items the brew room would need.

The entire system shipped in a single Bayou Classic box and was delivered about two weeks after I ordered it. It's a very compact one kettle brewing system that came with a Chugger pump, the High Gravity custom built EBC-SV digital temperature controller and a stainless steel probe. Some assembly was required like screwing the heating element into the pre-drilled hole in the kettle, assembling the quick connects and stainless steel couplings and reorienting the stainless steel pump head to a vertical position.

High Gravity 62 Quart BIAB Electric Brewing System

I bought the 62 quart version that uses a 220 volt 30 amp GFIC line to power a single 4500 watt ultra low watt density stainless steel heating element. The only upgraded option was substituting the half inch reinforced PVC with high temperature silicon tubing for a few extra dollars. Other than that everything needed to get the system up an running was included in the base price. Referring to the directions that came with the unit I screwed the fittings together and placed the kettle, pump and controller in a configuration that worked best and then cut the tubing to length as needed to connect them together. It's a good idea to fill the kettle half way with water and let it sit overnight to check for leaks when connecting the heating element. Use Teflon tape on all of the connections making sure to tighten them enough and then run a test batch of water through the pump and kettle to check every connection for leaks before brewday.

Movable Ventilation Hood And Grain Hoist
It wasn't too long after the electric BIAB system arrived that I started reading on home brewing forums like HomeBrewTalk and the BeerBorg just how awkward and challenging it was to lift the hot wort soaked grain bag out of the kettle to drain after the mash. The twenty pounds of dry grain in a recipe translated to sixty pounds when wet, which is way too much for a person to handle unassisted. An indoor brew room also requires enough ventilation to remove about two gallons of boil vapors on a typical brewday to prevent the growth of mold and mildew. The best placement for the ventilation hood to remove the vapors, and an overhead pulley to help lift and hold the wet grain bag, is directly over the kettle. Clearly something had to give so I used an articulating, swivel and tilt TV wall mount to hang the ventilation hood and a flexible exhaust duct to connect the air discharge to the wall vent.

Grain Basket Attached To Overhead Pulley
Up until now I've seen and read a lot of different ways home brewers have come up with for lifting these hot, wet, heavy grain bags and to me mostly all of them are scarey. I've watched videos of folks hanging their grain bags to drain into their kettles from kitchen cabinet doors, two by fours held in both hands as they struggled to keep a tight grip and ladders rigged with rope and pulleys. To me the scariest method of all was lifting a basket full of wet grains by hand and then trying to tip the basket on an angle so it would sit on the top rim of the kettle without falling into the hot wort and making a splash. Clearly having a fixed pulley directly over the center of the kettle was the best way to go. A rope threaded through the pulley overhead, with a latched hook for the basket handle on one end, could then be used to safely lift the heavy grains out of the wort and the other end of the rope tied off to a wall cleat to hold the basket of grains up until they drained.

Adjustable Hood Mount Grain Hoist And Wall Vent
Obviously the exhaust hood had to be mounted so that it could be moved out of the way in order to drop the grain hoist down and use it to lift the wet grains. After a little research for an affordable swivel mount I found one that met all the requirements for my installation, an articulated swivel and tilt TV wall mount capable of supporting up to sixty pounds was just what I needed. After a quick look in a couple of local big box appliance stores I was able to buy one and use it to mount the exhaust hood to the wall exactly how I had envisioned it. Since every good design begins with a scale drawing as the parts for the brew room were delivered I started taking measurements of the components and writing them down in a notebook. Once all the component dimensions were recorded on a rough sketch I created a detailed scale drawing showing plan, elevation and end views of the brewing area, table, kettle, basket, hoist and ventilation hood. The time that went into planning everything on paper this way before actually doing the installation was well worth the effort and actually saved time in the long run.

Planning On Paper First Saves Time

Once everything started to look good on paper I was ready to take out the electric drill, bits, saw and start the installation. I used a three speed exhaust hood with a fan rated at 780 cfm that was capable of changing all the air in the brewroom once every eight minutes. For maximum performance the manufacturer recommended hanging the hood centered over the kettle with the bottom of the hood between 30 and 48 inches above the top of the kettle. The bottom of my exhaust hood ended up being closer to 30 inches from the top of the kettle, the smaller distance from the kettle will make exhausting the heat and boil vapors outside easier to do. There is also a formula for calculating the cfm size of the exhaust fan based on the number of watts the heating element is rated at. Where a 4500 watt heating element divided by 17.6 equals a 255 cfm fan size. But again the distance from the exhaust hood to the kettle and the location of the hood, whether it's wall mounted or free standing, will all weigh into the final calculations.

Chugger Pump With Stainless Steel Head

The Chugger pump isn't self priming so the orientation of the pump head had to be changed to point the inlet down below the table top. You do this by removing the four screws that hold the stainless steel pump head onto the magnetic drive that is in turn mounted to the motor. Remove the four screws and turn the pump head a quarter turn until the inlet is pointing down, then securely tighten the four screws again. Doing this will allow liquid to drain from the kettle filling up the tubing leading to the pump inlet so the pump doesn't become air bound. It's a good idea to put a quarter inch silicone trivet or potholder underneath the kettle to prevent heat from kettle bottom from dissipating into the table top. A small piece of similar material bolted between the pump base and table will prevent noise transfer during operation although these pumps are very quite when the run.

Get To Know Your Water

Now that all of the brewing hardware is in place it's time to start thinking about using the new BIAB brewing process. I've been a single infusion mash fly sparger ever since first moving to all grain brewing, now I'll have to adapt to the changes involved with brewing on an automated system. The Electric Brewery Controller - Single Vessel (EBC-SV) will take the work out of maintaining temperatures and in time with a little practice will be ideal for doing stepped mash recipes opening the door to a whole new world of brewing possibilities. The BIAB brewing process itself requires almost all of the brewing water to be added at the start of the mash, which makes for a pretty thin mash thickness. The thinner mash thickness during the mash, makes maintaining the correct pH range of the brewing water at the start, even more important. After all the prospect of brewing with the BIAB method instead of infusion mashing was what led me to research brewing water properties in the first place.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

More About Brewing Water

As the summer months here in the northeast slowly begin to fade into memory a lot of homebrewers thoughts will return to brewing beer again. This is shaping up to be yet another great year for homebrewing thanks to the dedication of folks like those at HomeBrewTalk, the world’s largest website dedicated to all things home brewing. They have recently launched a new front page section to their website that's loaded with information valuable to every homebrewer.

Today my article Understanding Your Brewing Water - And Why has been featured on the front page of the HomeBrewTalk website, be sure to check it out.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pure Brewing Water Using Reverse Osmosis

I got really tired of running to the local food store hoping they had enough distilled water in stock for me to create my brewing water profile on brew day. So after a lot of research and comparison shopping I bought the SpectraPure CSP RO 90-AF reverse osmosis water filtration system and hooked it up. Initially after unpacking the unit I was a little intimidated by the colored water lines, voltage transformer, float valve, pressure gauge, shut off valve and installation instructions that came with the filter. But after about fifteen minutes of looking over the installation manual and parts I was confident it was going to be pretty easy to install in the location I had in mind.

SpectraPure CSP RO w/ Automatic Flush

Before I get into the details of the installation, use and maintenance of the reverse osmosis filter unit I'll include a little background information on the filtering process itself and provide you with some key features to look for when selecting a reverse osmosis filtration system. Reverse osmosis filters are more commonly referred to as RO filters, the process was first developed by the United States Navy to provide drinking water aboard ships. Reverse osmosis filtration is used in over 13,000 locations worldwide to desalinate water by removing salt and minerals from ocean, river and waste water sources and create pure drinking water to use for cooking, bathing and drinking.

In a brewery the local water supply line is connected to the sediment filter where particles as small as 0.5 micron are first filtered out. The water then passes through a 0.5 micron carbon block filter to remove bad taste and odor causing contaminants, including chlorine and chloramine, that can adversely impact the flavor of your beer. In the final stage the water is passed through a thin film composite RO membrane where minerals, salts, fluoride and nitrates are removed creating 95-98% pure water. The pure water produced by reverse osmosis provides a perfectly clean slate for building a brewing water profile to fit any style of beer you wish to brew.

Reverse Osmosis Common Terminology 

Sediment Filter reduces sand, silt, sediment and rust that affect the taste and appearance of the water.

Carbon Block filters reduce chlorine, taste and odor problems, particulate matter, and a wide range of contaminants of health concern -- cysts (cryptosporidium and giardia), VOCs (pesticides, herbicides, and chemicals), certain endocrine disrupters, Trihalomethanes (cancer-causing disinfection by-products), heavy metals (lead, mercury), turbidity, MTBE, Chloramines and asbestos

Thin Film Composite (TFC) membrane is made of a a synthetic material, and requires chlorine to be removed before the water enters the membrane. Chlorine will cause irreversible damage to a thin film membrane element and for this reason, carbon filters are used as pre-treatment in all residential reverse osmosis systems using TFC membranes. A Thin film membrane has a higher rejection rate (95-98%) and longer life than the CTA membrane.

Automatic Flush Control system (AFC) is used to periodically rinse the accumulated impurities and concentrated waste water from the surface of the RO membrane to help increase the life of the membrane. The AFC will flush the membrane for a short period at start-up, every hour during operation, and at shut-down.

Auto Shut Off valve stops the flow of water from the local water supply line when the output of RO water is stopped, this saves a lot of water.

Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) meter reads and displays the concentration of dissolved solids in a solution. Since dissolved ionized solids such as salts and minerals increase the conductivity of a solution, a TDS meter measures the conductivity of the solution and estimates the TDS from that. The digital TDS meter readout provides a way of telling how well the RO membrane is working, too high a reading indicates there are higher levels of dissolved solids in the RO water being produced.

Tri-color Pressure Gauge lets you know when the sediment and carbon block filters need to be changed. By reading the pressure differential between the local source supply line and the output of the filter media this gauge indicates when the filter cartridges need replacing.

Float Valve monitors the water level in an RO reservoir to automatically shut off the RO water feed to prevent overfilling. It works in the same way your auto sparge arm works in a mash lauter tun. Once the RO water feed has been shutoff the automatic flush control will run for about 30 seconds before shutting off the local water supply.

Fully Assembled And Working RO Filter
The assembly and installation of the RO filter unit was pretty easy once I read and understood the instructions that came with it. The unit is capable of producing 90 gallons of pure filtered water a day, that's nearly a gallon every 15 minutes, so it doesn't take very long to fill up a glass or bottle of water. One of the more important features of this unit is that it uses just two gallons of water to produce one gallon of pure RO water, when compared to other RO filters on the market that is substantially less waste water per gallon of purified water. The RO filter runs on typical residential water pressure, if your water pressure is below 40 psi you will need to buy a booster pump to increase the water pressure. The nominal specifications for the model I bought are 60 psi water pressure at 77F and 500 ppm TDS.

All the connections on the unit use 1/4 inch tubing and push connectors, so assembly is literally a snap. The unit was nearly fully assembled when it came out of the box, I did have to screw in a small 90 degree elbow on the left side to connect to the local water feed line, plug in the TDS meter's connection to the unit and the small 24 volt transformer that powers the unit. The two slotted mounting holes located on the back of the unit make hanging it to any flat surface a breeze. 

TDS Meter Mounted And Connected To The Filter
I set the TDS meter to monitor the output of the RO water, the readout numbers fell soon after the water was initially turned on, once the readout fell to it's lowest number the unit was ready to produce pure water. At first the readout was 026 and after an hour or two of running the reading fell to 010, it may fall even lower since I had just completed the installation yesterday I haven't had much time to use the unit.

Having The Right Connections

The 1/4 inch tubing that comes with the unit were color coded according to their intended usage. The local feed water line is colored black, the brine dump water line is yellow and the produced RO water line is colored blue. I'm not sure if this is an industry standard color code or just one that SpectraPure uses for it's line of RO filters but it was easy enough to understand when making the connections.

The black tubing that came with the filter had a hose connection on one end for connecting it directly to a hose bib if needed, which can make installing the unit a lot simpler. My sink already had a 1/4 inch tee adapter installed to the cold water line and after trimming the black line to length I used this connection to feed water to the filter. I still have about a three foot length of black tubing with the hose bib connection on one end if I ever need to use it.

The yellow brine waste water dump line has to be securely fastened to the sink so when the auto flush switches on the pressure doesn't force the line to move away from the sink's drain. During normal operation equal volumes of water flow from both the yellow waste line and the blue RO pure water line, the RO filter separates contaminants and routes the waste water to the yellow line while passing only pure water to the blue RO line.

The blue pure RO water line is used to supply contaminant free water and can be used with any faucet that has a 1/4 inch push connector on it. There are two type of faucets used with RO filters one is an air gap faucet the other a non-air gap faucet. In theory when using local city water if a water main break were to occur or the fire department opened a nearby fire hydrant the sudden loss of water pressure could suck contaminants back into the RO filters. Air gap faucets have three connections, one for the blue RO water line and the other two are used to connect the faucet in series with the yellow waste water line. In the event of a sudden drop in water pressure the waste water line, being open to the air in the drain, would prevent contaminants from being sucked back into the filters.

A 15-20% Increase In Pressure Indicates Filter Cartridges Need Changing
Using The Reverse Osmosis Filter

Once the RO filter has been securely mounted to a flat surface and the supply line and drain lines have been firmly connected its time to let water flow to the filter and begin producing pure reverse osmosis water. The unit in this article senses when the valve on the output is open and automatically begins a short membrane flush cycle to wash away any impurities that may be on the source side of the reverse osmosis membrane. If the output valve is shut the source water doesn't enter the filter and this feature saves lots of water as well as greatly extending the useful life of the RO membrane. Its important to know that the pressure in the yellow waste water line is very high during the auto flush cycle so you'll want to make sure that line is firmly held in place to prevent water splashing all over the place.

When it's time to fill a container with RO water simply open the output valve, located on the end of the blue RO water line, until the container is full. This starts the auto flush cycle that washes the membrane and this runs for about 30 seconds. Once the auto flush stops equal amounts of water will flow from the yellow waste line and the blue RO water output lines. A quick look at the TDS meter showed a reading of 0.10 after using the filter for a few days, so once the TDS reading has stopped decreasing in value its ok to collect the RO water you need. When the RO water output valve is closed the auto flush cycle will run again washing impurities off of the RO membrane before the filter shuts off the water flow.

Overall this unit is relatively inexpensive to use and maintenance is minimal thanks to the digital TDS meter that tells you how well the RO membrane is performing and the color coded filter pressure gauge that let's you know when the sediment and carbon block filter cartridges need replacing. Other than that a twice a year cleaning of the plastic filter housing with a mild mixture of bleach and soap, after removing the filter media, is pretty much all that's needed. I bought my unit to filter my brewing water before modifying it to suit a particular style of beer, but I also use the RO water for drinking, making coffee and iced tea. Needless to say the days of paying for then having to lug home heavy containers of drinking water and distilled water are now a thing of the past. The RO filter provides me and my family with more than enough fresh, clean, pure water whenever we need it.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Brewing Water Demystified - Part II

The first chapter of this multipart series on brewing water properties Brewing Water Demystified - Part I touched on the two water properties a brewer needs to be concerned with in order to brew a really great tasting beer, alkalinity and mineral content. In this chapter, using a favorite all grain beer recipe of mine, I documented the same steps and directions used to create the brewing water profile I used to brew up a five gallon batch of IPA. To brew along with me you obviously still need to get the grains, hops and yeast just like you would for any other recipe.

You don't have to buy a digital pH meter, but if you have one you can use it to see and record the actual pH values as the water properties change. Small amounts of minerals and salts from gypsum, Epsom salt and calcium chloride combine to season the taste of the water while lactic acid and baking soda are used to lower or raise the brewing water pH so you'll need those too. I picked up my minerals and salts from Princeton Homebrew but they are also readily available at other fine home brew shops as well.

Screwy's Clock Str├╝kker IPA

The example recipe calls for a pound of CaraPils and 11 pounds of US Two Row grain with Centennial and Cascade pellet hops. An ounce of Centennial is added to the kettle during the lauter, followed by an ounce of Cascade and a quarter ounce of Centennial at 18 minutes remaining to the boil. With 10 minutes remaining to the boil add another ounce of Cascade and a quarter ounce of Centennial.

At knock out add another ounce of Cascade and a half ounce of Centennial. For this recipe I recommend removing all the hops from the boil before adding the knock out hop addition and then removing the knock out hop addition before transferring the cooled wort to the fermentor. After the first full week of fermentation you can add another ounce of Cascade hops to the fermentor and let them soak in the beer until it's ready to package.

The Crystal Clear OG Sample Came In At 1.060

For the yeast I pitched an 11g package of Danstar Nottingham dry yeast to ferment the batch at 65F until the final gravity was reached. Before pitching the yeast you may want to rehydrate it in 95F sanitized water until it forms a nice smooth consistency. Optionally you can add a bit of yeast nutrient to the kettle just before flameout and oxygenate the wort before adding the yeast and closing the fermentor.

For this batch I used a single infusion mash at 156F and fly sparged the grains with 172F water to collect almost eight gallons of wort in the kettle. You can just as easily do a batch sparge or brew the batch using BIAB as the intent is to brew the beer as you typically would and then taste for yourself the difference that a modified brewing water profile makes on the finished beer.

The Water Profile

After a few quick calculations to determine the grain absorption, trub and boil loss for a five gallon batch of beer, the recipe was estimated to need nine gallons of water for both the mash and sparge. Filling a single food grade container with nine gallons of distilled water made mixing in the minerals, salts and taking pH readings while adjusting the water properties a lot easier to do. Next enter the nine gallon water volume into EZ Water Calculator under the B. Volume section, along with the weight and types of grain used in the recipe to find out what additions will be needed to get the water properties within the recommended range for this style of beer.

** Distilled water and reverse osmosis (RO) water provide perfect starting points for modifying brewing water profiles. Distilled water and reverse osmosis water in general have had salts, minerals, fluoride, chlorine and other substances removed from them by as much as 99%.

Distilled water could possibly contain oils even after the distillation process, volatile oils will be boiled off with the water and then condense back into solution once that steam has cooled. It's important to note that the ion concentrations of the original water are not changed during the distillation process and that the distillation process doesn't do a good job of removing chloramines or chemicals.

Reverse osmosis using Thin Film Composite membrane removes up to 99% of water impurities so the processed water is free of salts, minerals and other contaminants. The processed reverse osmosis water contains no chloramines and has only a few parts per million of salts or minerals than distilled water.

** Deionized (DI) water is processed by running reverse osmosis water through a special deionization resin filter that removes nearly all the ions from the water. The imbalance of the water properties due to these missing ions however complicate the solution of minerals, salts and pH range adjustments made to the brewing water profile. The use of deionized water should also be confirmed safe for human consumption and free from any traces of deionizing resins, adding a carbon block filter stage after the deionizing resin membrane is recommended.

Calculating Both Mash And Sparge Properties The Same Way
It's up to you the brewer to determine the best way of calculating the water property additions though. You may later decide that adjusting the pH of the mash water is more important to you and that the salt and mineral additions are best left for the kettle at boil. For me it's just easier treating both my mash and sparge water the same way, adjusting the pH the same for each and the using the same salt and mineral additions.

Doing it this way you only have to modify nine gallons of water to fall within the 5.4 to 5.6 pH target range and have enough buffering to keep it there once it comes into contact with the grains in the mash. I'm a single infusion mash fly sparger by nature so rinsing my grains with the same modified water properties as the water used in the the mash tun makes the most sense to me.

Add Your Grain Bill To Let EZ Water Calculator Know Where To Begin
Now that EZ Water Calculator knows how much water volume it has to work with it next needs to know what types of grains are being used in the recipe and in what amounts. Entering the grain bill provides the average pH value for each grain type and are applied to the calculations that follow. The pH value printed on sack of grain varies by maltster, year, season and countless other factors. The calculations used to determine these pH values have been tweaked and tuned over the years based on feedback from brewers who use EZ Water Calculator to calculate their mash pH.

At Room Temperature The Recommended pH Range Is 5.4 To 5.6
The first goal of modifying your water profile is to get the water's pH reading within the recommended range of 5.4 to 5.6 with the water at room temperature. Using distilled water all it took was 2.5 milliliters of lactic acid added to the water and stirred for several minutes. The pH readings should be taken fifteen minutes or so after making that last adjustment to allow the water enough time to stabilize. When adjusting pH going slow is a good idea because adding two milliliters may not make a huge difference but adding another may move the needle a whole lot more than you'd think.

Season The Water Based On The Style Of Beer
Using distilled water and adding lactic acid will adjust the pH downward, if you find the pH too low it can be raised by adding some grams of baking soda. Baking soda will add a bit of sodium to the water but it's easily calculated and displayed to make sure you stay within the recommended range. Lactic acid has a flavor threshold of about four milliliters per gallon so unless you're modifying your water for a sour beer you'll want to stay well below those amounts.

Think Gypsum For Crispness Calcium Chloride For Maltiness
It all breaks down to this, with your mash pH staying nearer to the lower end of the recommended pH range, you'll get better conversion a more fermentable wort that's clear, colorful and flavorful with a very low risk of tannin extraction. Towards the upper end of the recommended pH range, you'll still get better conversion a slightly less fermentable wort that's clear, colorful and flavorful with a very low risk of tannin extraction.

The salt and mineral amounts can be adjusted to enhance the crispness and hop character of the finished beer or to highlight the beer's malt flavor and they do it in a way that's not possible by using only different grain bills or yeast types. The flavors of the beer are clearer and more pronounced, the clarity and color of the beer is cleaner and the overall perception of the beer is taken to a higher level of enjoyment.

Cleaner Tasting Beer With Bolder Flavor
"Buffers, moles, ions, cations, anions, acid, base, atomic weights, valence, electrons, Lewis structures, central atoms, bonding sites, mg/L as CaCO3, mg/L, ppm, milliliters, teaspoons. Really? Let me just arrange all that information in a way that's interesting and understandable by the majority of brewers" ~ Screwy Brewer

There you have it, the perfect IPA recipe and all the details and steps taken to create a matching water profile, what could be easier than that. Using EZ Water Calculator and distilled water to tune and tweak my brewing water profiles I've since brewed a light colored IPA, an amber ale, a wheat beer and two dark beers using chocolate malt and they've all tasted much better. It's interesting to learn with each style of beer brewed the impact on the levels of flavor different water properties have on some ingredients.

For example the coffee and chocolate flavors extracted from Carafa III and Chocolate malt went through the roof, when compared to similar batches brewed with unmodified water profiles. Now I know why some recipes call for 3 ounces of each where before I was happy to just round it off to the nearest half pound. Other additions like coriander and flaked rye seem to suddenly pop out in front or take a more subdued role in the background flavor. One thing is for sure once you've learned the basics to modifying your brewing water profiles and tasted the huge differences in your beer you'll be hooked too.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Brewing Water Demystified - Part I

In this first of a multipart part series on brewing water properties I explain the most basic information you'll ever need to know for making delicious tasting beer. In my view a brewing process really has three main parts. Each of the three parts influence the taste of beer in their own unique way. Having the perfect recipe is the first part of the brewing process, it's where the grain bill selections and hop schedules are created. The recipe evolves into flavors by boiling the grains mixed with water in a kettle for a predetermined amount of time. Hop and other kettle additions in just the right amounts are boiled in the water with the grains adding even more complex flavors to the beer. We're primarily interested in the first part of the brewing process because this is where having just the right water properties enhances the beer significantly.

The Right Water Profile Produces Clear Flavorful Beer
The second part of the brewing process starts when the wort has cooled and the yeast is pitched. This is where things like yeast cell pitching rates, the type of yeast and propagation methods contribute their flavors to the beer. Sanitization and temperature control play key roles during fermentation too by coaxing the yeast into producing beer flavors in ways that only yeast can. Brewing with the right water profile significantly improves the flavor of grain, hop and other ingredients but it also provides the perfect environment for yeast to produce a healthy fermentation. Its time to demonstrate how the pH and alkalinity of brewing water actually improves the taste of beer, but before that we should do a quick review of the third and last part of the brewing process.

Simple Ingredients To Adjust Alkalinity And pH
Packaging is obviously the last part of the brewing process because this is how our beer is stored and delivered to be enjoyed by other craft beer lovers everywhere. After a seven day stay in the refrigerator the beer in the fermentor clears up considerably. During that time the yeast has fallen out of suspension and stuck to the bottom of the fermentor and the cold beer is ready to be kegged or bottled. The carbonation level of the beer contributes to it's flavor as the Co2 levels are adjusted up or down. Higher levels of carbonation tend to give the beer more bite and add to it's perceived bitterness than lower levels of carbonation. Extra care taken during packaging will guarantee that your beer will still taste fresh and full of flavor for many months to come.

There we have it a brief overview of the three main parts of the beer brewing process, with the fist part being identified as the most important for water properties. Once the water properties have been adjusted correctly for mashing and sparging our grains they will be perfect throughout the rest of the brewing process everytime we brew.


Benefits Of Brewing With The Right Water Profile

Whenever I mention brewing water chemistry to most people their eyes start to glaze over and they politely change the subject to something more interesting. Unless of course they're professional brewers, have a passion for chemistry or are career hydrologists with plenty of lab experience. Learning to identify and understand the effects of atoms, ions and molecules on brewing water is a bit more difficult than learning about other areas of the brewing process. The average beer drinker will taste the difference good brewing water adds to the flavor of a beer but they typically won't ask anything about the brewing water profile. They may love the fresh bright hop aroma in your IPA but you'll never hear them say things like 'it could've used a bit more gypsum'. Discussing water properties over a cold one isn't the most interesting topic of conversation for everyone but that could also be the reason why home brewers consider it to be a subject left only to advanced brewers. Creating a good water profile really isn't that hard to do once you've learned a few basics.

Kettle View Of Bright Clear Wort Color And Compact Cold Break
To understand how something as simple as water can make such a huge difference in our finished beer we'll have to talk a little bit about alkalinity and pH. The alkalinity of our brewing water reacts with the potassium released during the mash. To get the best wort color, clarity and conversion rates the pH of the mash should remain stable, somewhere between 5.20 and 5.40 at mash temperature, throughout the mash. But all water contains buffers that resist changes to alkalinity and pH, just how hard the buffers resist change depends on the strength of the buffers. There are several software packages out there that calculate the salt, mineral and acid amounts needed to adjust the water pH to match any given style of beer and they're easy to use. 

A Crystal Clear 4 SRM Color OG Sample
Once you see how easy measuring, evaluating and modifying your own water profile is you'll wonder why you waited until now to try it. By adding small amounts of gypsum, Epsom salt, calcium chloride and lactic acid to your brewing water the mash will produce clearer wort with improved color and flavor and higher conversion rates. The ingredients are readily available at your local home brew store, are inexpensive to buy and completely safe to use in recommended amounts. Mashing within the recommended pH range efficiently converts starch into sugars and the grain bed develops finer particles that dramatically increase it's filtering capacity which makes the wort extremely clear and colorful.

Grain Bed With Fine Particles That Filter The Wort
Overall the most obvious benefit of brewing a recipe using the right water profile is a better tasting beer. For comparison I brewed the same recipe I have been brewing for years using filtered tap water but this time I brewed the recipe using a water profile I modified myself. I can't even begin to tell you how much better the modified water version came out than any of my original tap water versions. The color of the beer was extremely light and it looked great in the glass. The hop aroma was bright and clean and the beer had a nice flavor from the combination of grains and hops.

The most remarkable thing for me is that I had also managed to capture that nice bready taste noticeable when exhaling through my nose after swallowing a sip of beer! Up until now I had found this one single component lacking in almost all of my previous beers. Some of my beers would have this bready finish but I'd never been able to consistently reproduce it with every brew until now. It never occurred to me that this bready finish was attributed to the brewing water and mash pH more than it was to the grain bill or yeast alone.

It's important for a brewer to produce the best tasting example of their beer consistently and that basically means having the ability to mash grains within a recommended temperature and pH range throughout the year. Ultimately that comes down to being able to brew using water that has consistent properties throughout the year. Water properties from the same location can vary widely from season to season so each batch of brewing water needs to be analyzed for it's mineral content and pH value before being used to brew beer  and then modified as needed to match the beer recipe's water profile. 


Using The Tools Of The Trade

There are two different approaches to modifying brewing water. The simplest approach is to start off with either distilled water or reverse osmosis water that basically has had all mineral content removed from it already. This provides a source of water with a consistent baseline to use when calculating the salt, mineral and acid additions needed to build a particular water profile. I prefer this approach over the alternative of doing frequent water analysis to determine the seasonal adjustments needed to compensate for changes in the water's properties. In my view it's definitely easier to start off with water having the same properties because water profile adjustments can be easily repeated based on the results of prior brews.

This becomes even more important when entering values into the EZ Water Calculator because when using reverse osmosis or distilled water you simply have to enter the volume of water in gallons as 100% of the total water volume. Otherwise you have to take the results from your latest water test then enter those amounts as parts per million of calcium, magnesium, sodium, chloride and sulfates in order to calculate the amount of additions needed to reach the recommended mash pH value.

Calculating 4 Gallons Of Mash And 5 Gallons Of  Sparge Using Distilled Water
Once the confusing part, whether to use your local water supply with seasonal water quality reports or reverse osmosis or distilled water with their consistent properties, has been decided and entered we need to enter the grain bill. Darker malts have an acidic value which works to lower the water's pH value, which is really just an indicator of the water's alkalinity. In contrast pale malts do very little to lower the water's pH because they are not as acidic as darker malts. We can't rely on pale malts to lower the water's pH enough but by adding lactic acid and other minerals we can reduce the water's pH while strengthening the water's buffering properties.

Darker Grains Add Acid And Lower The pH More Than Lighter Grains

Buffering properties?! Let me explain. Let's assume that reverse osmosis water has had all of it's minerals and salts removed, in effect weakening it's buffering capabilities. Now the slightest additions of either acid or base minerals will swing the pH values down or up accordingly. But as we add gypsum, calcium chloride and Epsom salt to the water we start to strengthen those buffers to the point where they become much more resistant to pH value changes when acid or base minerals are added. This is exactly what we want in order to maintain a constant mash pH in the 5.20 to 5.40 range throughout the mash. If you've decided to use your local water supply you have to determine it's pH, salt and mineral content to understand it's buffering strength and then calculate the additions needed to maintain the recommended pH range during the mash. 


Digital pH Meter With 4.01, 7.01 Calibration Buffers
You've managed to hang in there up until now. I can tell because you're still reading this post. We can assume you are serious about your brewing water properties and learning how modifying them correctly will produce the best tasting beer ever. Going forward you will need a quality digital pH meter with a resolution of a tenth of point and calibration buffer solutions to correctly calibrate the meter before each pH reading. A digital scale is also needed that can measure to the tenth of a gram. This type of scale is very useful when measuring out salt and mineral additions. Each salt or mineral has a different weight per teaspoonful so having the ability to accurately measure grams will make modifying water properties much easier. Lactic acid comes in liquid form and the additions are calculated in milliliters so a small syringe like those used to administer children's doses of liquid medicine are perfect to use.


What's Next?

In part II of this series we will build on the basics layed out in this post and brew a hypothetical batch of beer using a water profile made from scratch. I've already brewed several batches of beer using the same recipe and brewing water profile and I will include every step of the brewday in detail. If you choose to you can brew a batch of beer for yourself at your own pace by simply following the brewing instructions. The basic recipe is an East Coast IPA style made from a pound of CaraPils and eleven pounds of US 2 Row malt. Two ounces of Centennial hops and four ounces of Cascade hops provide the bittering, flavor and aroma. But the recipe really comes to life when mashed using the modified water profile we will build together and the resulting beer will be delicious.