Monday, November 17, 2014

First Look - BrewsBySmith Fermentation Kit

The latest piece of brewing hardware to make it's way into my brewroom is the BrewsBySmith Fermentation Kit, I've grown so attached to it already that I don't think I could ferment another batch of beer without one. At the heart of this precision two stage digital controller is the ubiquitous STC-1000 controller. The controllers can be found online just about everywhere these days and they usually range in price from $10.00 to $22.00. Technically known as a 1.7 Inch LCD Microcomputer Temperature Controller the venerable STC-1000 controller is available in 110 volt or 220 volt models and can come with several different firmware versions. The firmware is what ties the STC-1000's hardware devices together and determines which key functions the controller will support. The firmware version is responsible for the controller's menu navigation, the order that the settings are displayed to the user and if the controller supports Celsius or Fahrenheit. The default firmware that ships with the STC-1000 off the shelf comes with support for Celsius and basic temperature control. BrewsBySmith STC-1000+ controllers ship with the latest v1.06 firmware to deliver greatly increased precision and functionality over other off the shelf model controllers.

BrewsBySmith Controller
The BrewsBySmith Fermentation Kit was shipped to my door using USPS Priority Mail 2 Day delivery and an hour after unpacking it had the STC-1000+ fermentation temperature set point configured and ready to go. The controller already had its firmware updated to v1.06 allowing me to be able to set up and read the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit which made my life a lot easier. STC-1000+ firmware supports separate adjustable delays and allowable temperature swings for both the heating and cooling outlets. It also has a tricolor LED that lights up red when the heat outlet is energized, blue when the cooling outlet is energized and the LED turns off when neither one is energized. For the serious brewer the STC-1000+ adds support for six individually programmed fermentation profiles each having ten set points for over the top control of the most complex fermentations.


Right out of the box the controller's heat outlet set point was set to 78F, so I lowered it to match my yeast's target fermentation temperature of 70F. Next I checked to see that the heat outlet's differential temperature was set to 1F to let the controller know it should energize the heat outlet whenever the temperature falls to 68.9F. The heat outlet's delay set point was already set to 5 minutes to prevent the heat outlet from cycling on and off too often.

The default set point for the cool outlet delay was set at 5 minutes and matched the heat outlet's set point. The cooling outlet's differential temperature set point was to set to 1F to let the controller know it should energize the cold outlet whenever the temperature rises to 71.1F. To control the temperature inside a refrigerator a 100 watt light bulb, or a 32 watt Fermwrap heating element, are plugged into the heat outlet of the controller and the then put inside the refrigerator. With the refrigerator 's power cord plugged into the cold outlet of the controller when temperatures fall too low the heat outlet will turn on as the cold outlet turns off.  

Paint Can Heater With 100 Watt Light Bulb

The average daily temperature where I live has been bouncing around between the low to mid 20's to upper 50's for the past few weeks and I've had no need to use the cool outlet at all to maintain a 70F set point. The controller turns on a 100 watt light bulb to power the paint can type heater sitting inside a foam lined fermentation chamber, when ever the temperature falls more than 1F below the 70F set point. The chamber is basically a finely crafted wooden cabinet, that I built myself, that's been insulated with three inch thick high density foam board top, bottom and sides. The chamber sits inside my brew room, in an unheated but insulated garage, that has been hovering between 55-60F all week. The 100 watt light bulb heater has output more than enough heat to maintain the perfect 70F temperature for the WLP-400 Belgian Witbier yeast and the foam insulation holds the heat in so well the heater hardly ever turns on.

Stopper, Thermowell, Probe And 100 Watt Clamp Light Heater

For the DIY'ers out there BrewsBySmith sells all of the parts needed to build and wire their complete Fermentation Kit. The STC-1000+ controller, stainless steel thermowell, temperature probe, fermwrap, rubber grommet, pre-machined case, outlets, power cord, 10 amp time delay fuse, optional tricolor LED and complete DIY instructions. Basically you get everything needed to build a complete Fermentation Kit except having to pay someone to assemble it for you. It's a great DIY project that will provide you with accurate temperature control over your fermentations when used with a freezer, refrigerator or to increase the functionality of a wooden fermentation chamber like the one I use. For the folks like me who would love to take on another project, but can't seem to find the time needed for building their own, BrewsBySmith sells the complete STC-1000+ Fermentation Kit delivered to your door already assembled, tested and ready to use.

The BrewsBySmith Fermentation Kit Modernized My Fermentation Chamber
Although advertized as for use with carboys, by making a one inch round hole in the lid of a plastic Ale Pail I was able to use the grommet with a bubbler airlock and the thermowell to mount the temperature probe inside the fermentor. I also mounted the temperature probe from an outdoor digital thermometer, covered with a block of Styrofoam and taped to the outside wall of the Ale Pail to display the ambient temperature inside the fermentation chamber. At the height of fermentation there was an almost three degree difference between the wort's 70.5F internal temperature and the chamber's ambient air temperature of 68F.  Using the controller to monitor and maintain the actual wort temperature, instead of the chamber's ambient air temperature, provides the most accurate temperature control over fermention. You can find detailed part descriptions, current prices and available discounts on DIY parts and completely assembled STC-1000+ Fermentation Kits at the BrewsBySmith website. Don't forget to mention that Screwy sent you. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

November 2014 qBrew Update - Classic Homebrewer's Recipe Calculator

The qBrew application was originally written by David Johnson and was last updated on May 25th, 2008. The qBrew application is also available as an open source download from his original qBrew Site in case anyone is interested in expanding on the calculator's original functionality. Although the original .qbrewdata ingredient database file is installed with the application it only contains ingredients that were available to home brewers in 2008, since then many new ingredients have been made available including hop varieties, yeast types and fermentables.

qBrew Classic Homebrewer's Recipe Calculator

You can increase the usefulness of qBrew by clicking on the link below to get my November 2014 updated ingredient database for Windows, Linux and MAC right now. This updated ingredient database contains several brewing calculations, lots of new ingredients, hop varieties and yeast strains all combined in an easy to install database download. The classic qBrew application has been around for six years, has a very large user base and is accurate, reliable and easy to learn. Get started using the most up to date qBrew ingredient database with 10 favorite recipes today by clicking the link below. 


The Screwy Brewer: qBrew - Homebrewer's Recipe Calculator

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.