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.

9 comments:

  1. What was the efficiency? Now that you have had this for a while, what do you think?

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  2. Peter, I would have to estimate that the efficiency is somewhere between 75-80%, using a double crush for the grains, a 90 minute mash, sparging and 168F mash out. I honestly could not be any happier with this system. After having brewed styles of beer ranging from Stouts to Kolsch and Brown Ales to Witbiers, I am convinced that there is not a single style of beer that this system can not handle.

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    1. Thanks for the info, Vince. I've been leaning towards buying an electric BIAB system for a few months. You said not a single style this system can't handle -- are you including high gravity styles like barleywines, quads, etc. These are not things I have ever brewed, personally, but I'm curious about the upper limits on gravity.

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    2. The system brews 10 gallon batches of 1.065 and under beers anything higher than that, like my 8.5% alcohol Scottish Wee Heavy, is brewed in 5 gallon batches.

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  3. Did the PID unit require any calibration or tuning? If so, how easy was it to do?

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    1. Well Chris the answer is no, not that I had to do. If the system designers tuned the PID before shipping it to me, possibly. After 2 full years of brewing with this PID the only setting that was changed was the mash temperature.

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  4. Great article! Thanks for the information!

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  5. Vince,

    Just wanted to say thank you for sharing your experiences. I stumbled upon your page as I recently purchased the high gravity EBIAB system and love it just like you!

    I am still trying to hone in my process and brew day but your Ez brew calc has helped me a lot.

    I look forward to following your brewing ventures in the future. I also grew up in Monmouth county - great to see someone from home.

    Best regards,

    Josh

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  6. Hi Josh, Thank you for the kind words and best of luck to you and you're High Gravity system too. I created ezBIAB Calculator© to help simplify all of the volume calculations that go along with eBIAB brewing. I have been hitting all of my brewing numbers ever since.

    Feel free to ask and I will try to answer any questions you may have regarding brewing on your High Gravity system.

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