My Electric Brewery Build

The idea to upgrade to an all-electric brewery started 2 years ago after seeing some similar systems on several forums, including Homebrew Talk. I’ve been brewing for close to 10 years now, starting as most did: with extract in a single pot on a propane burner. When I moved to CT, brewing became a bit more seasonal; it was cold enough that I didn’t want to freeze outside while brewing. There were days that would accommodate a brew, but I found myself brewing much less during the winter. So the idea of brewing in the garage was born and electric brewing was the way to do it safely. I also wanted to be able to brew 10 gallon batches when needed, therefore part of the upgrade was getting everything one size up from my current setup.

My plan to upgrade was thought out in phases: Buy something that would be usable immediately, but would also help toward the ultimate goal. Most of the purchases were done over a 6-month period to spread out the costs somewhat. In the end, I wanted to end up with 3 x 15+ Gallon kettles, 2 x pumps, a counter flow chiller, a HERMS coil, an electric control panel, ULWD electric heating elements and associated parts to connect everything and make it work. I would be remiss not to mention that The Electric Brewery was a HUGE influence on my design. Many thanks are owed to Kal for being such a great resource for a project like this.

electric brewery ordering

Ordering Spreadsheet

Electric Brewery Phase 1: Supplies

The build started with Phase 1, a single larger Kettle. After a lot of searching, I decided I needed at least a 15-gallon Boil Kettle and I wanted it to be the ‘ideal’ size ratio (1.2 to 1 height to diameter ratio). For the price and features of the available pots (more have since come onto the market) I went with a Bayou Classic 16 Gallon stainless steel kettle. It was a bit larger than my minimum size, had a 1.25 to 1 height to diameter ratio and had volume markings pressed into the side. This could be used immediately with my existing propane burner, 10-gallon water cooler Mash/Lauter Tun and 5-gallon water cooler Hot Liquor Tank for all-grain brewing. I still needed a better way to cool the wort–especially when doing 10 gallon batches–so a counter flow chiller was the option I went with. It could utilize the pumps I intended to include anyway and was easier to clean than a plate chiller, while also having the capacity to cool a lot of hot wort quickly. To complete ‘Phase 1’ I needed a single pump, hoses and hardware to connect it all.

After a lot of searching, I purchased a Chugger ½” pump with plastic head on sale. It was a reasonable value and performed as well as a March pump according to reviews. There were a lot of choices for the hoses I needed, but they needed to be flexible, heat-resistant and–if at all possible– translucent. Silicone tubing ended up being the best fit; this isn’t the cheapest choice, but this build was designed to last for quite a while so it seemed worth the initial investment. The last piece of ‘Phase 1’ was hose hardware…how to connect the hoses to the pumps, chiller and kettles. I found many options, including fancy one-handed quick disconnects, twist locks and Cam locks. The cam locks seemed like the best compromise between price and function, they were all stainless steel, quick-disconnecting and not crazy expensive.

Stepping up from SS cam locks to SS quick disconnects (like an air hose disconnect) would have nearly doubled the line item cost for them. At this point ‘Phase 1‘ was done, and the system was ready to assemble. All that was required was to assemble the hoses; The Electric Brewery has a great example of this, and start brewing with the new components.

Electric Brewery Phase 2: Kettle Upgrades

HERMS Setup

HERMS Setup

Phase 2 was essentially building the Hot Liquor tank and assembling the HERMS (Heat Exchange Recirculated Mash System) coil. Another 16-gallon kettle was purchased, along with a 5500 watt Ultra Low Watt Density heating element kit, the HERMS coil and hardware to assemble. For this part of the build quite a few holes needed to be made to add fittings to the kettles, so it was worth buying a tool to make them all easily and accurate. The best tool for this is a Radio Punch; this makes an accurate, neat hole in the kettle wall. This tool is well worth the money and can be found used on Ebay for reasonable prices. One thing I wish I could have done differently was to better size the HERMS coil. I purchased a pre-rolled 50’ coil online since I wanted to stick with Stainless Steel and that kind of tubing is hard to roll successfully by hand. The Kettle is 15” in diameter and I purchased a coil that was 14” in diameter, this seemed like it would be a great fit. What I didn’t count on was how big the compression fittings that connect the coil to the kettle wall were were, it made for a very tight fit, but did work (barely). In hindsight, I should have ordered a 12-13” diameter coil, to better allow for a little circulation space. The Hot Liquor Tank also got another valve and elbow installed at the top of the pot to recirculate the water while it was heating. The radio punches were used to make the holes for the ball valves and heating element in the kettle. The heating element installs through a 1 ¼” hole, sealed with an O-ring against the outside of the kettle. Once it was installed and leak tested, I filled the void around the element connection with silicone to protect against any possible water intrusion. In the end this wasn’t as hard as it seemed like it would be, the element just had to be tightened down a lot. Once the coil, recirculation valve and element were installed and leak tested the Hot Liquor Tank was done and set aside.

Electric Brewery Phase 3: Control Panel

Phase 3 was the control panel. I really liked the one ‘The Electric Brewery’ put together but didn’t have the money to buy it pre-built, so I started a list of parts I’d need to build my own. While doing this, I found an ad in a magazine for exactly what I was trying to do; as it turns out EbrewSupply offered exactly what I wanted: a 30 amp PID controlled DIY kit. It included the enclosure, all wiring, all components, labels and even temperature probes for the kettles. Over the course of a few weeks I followed the wiring diagrams and assembled the control panel. I also had to solve the issue of powering the panel, as it turns out a 30 amp GFCI circuit breaker is quite expensive. The solution was to get a relatively cheap 50 amp ‘spa panel’ GFCI breaker and enclosure, then wire it up to a 30 amp regular circuit breaker in my house’s breaker panel. Nearly everything worked the first time, a testament to the great directions provided, more-so than my electrical skills I think. The control panel included the safety relay feature. This basically won’t allow the main power to energize if either of the pumps or elements is not in the OFF position. So if an element switch is left ON, the panel won’t power up. This will likely save me from burning up a heating element as they are only designed to be powered on when submersed in water.

Picture 4-F

Phase 4 was the home stretch, the last kettle for the Mash/Lauter Tun and the second pump. The Mash/Lauter Tun had only a single extra hole needed for the mash recirculation system so it was by far the simplest to put together. I installed a bazooka T screen on the valve and bent it to reach the bottom of the kettle, this let me siphon down to ½ inch of the bottom of the vessel. This kettle was purchased with the same brand Bayou Classic false bottom. Both the bazooka screen and the false bottom were installed for some extra insurance against grain making it into the pump. The Boil Kettle also needed a 5500 watt Ultra Low Watt Density heating element kit. This was the tipping point for my brewery, once that was installed I couldn’t brew on propane any longer (cords don’t react well to fire). I had to finish the electric brewery build in order to brew my next batch, so there was a little extra motivation to push on and finish.

After phase 4 was done I was able to set the new electric brewery up on a used stainless steel kitchen prep table and give it a trial run. The Hot Liquor Tank PID was calibrated first so that it could adequately control the temperature of the water. The PID actually learns how much power is required to maintain a set temperature based on the calibration cycle. Once that was done it was time for the initial brew, my favorite recipe an American Pale Ale. That first brew went a bit slow as I had to learn the new system but ended in a successful beer, all in the comfort of a warm garage. I did learn that ventilation is still fairly important when brewing with electric indoors, steam can fill a garage pretty quickly. I’ve been brewing on this setup for over a year now and am very happy with the way it turned out. In hindsight I may have changed a few things, such as the size of the HERMS coil, but am overall very happy with my new brewery.

Brewing the inaugural batch!

Brewing the inaugural batch!

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26 Responses to “My Electric Brewery Build”

  1. Marc77 on

    Great article! I’m working my way to an electric build as well which is where my question is headed. I’m also piecing together a Kal control panel build. I’ve got a panel and an omega timer but had to stop there as finances ran out (read wife said no more beer stuff for a while).

    What are the main differences you found between the Kal control panel and EBrew Supply panel? I know Kal also frequents the site so hopefully he’ll chime in too. I know Kal says buy once, cry once…granted its in relation to the Blichmann pots, but it’s still the question.

    Reply
    • redtangent on

      The control panels are very similar on the outside but from the guide on Kal’s site the internals are laid out differently. I probably should have included a picture of the inside of the panel, but there is only so much space in the article. As far as I know the function is nearly identical, just a difference in layout and they included an E-Stop button to shut off the pumps and elements. The eBrew Supply panel had all the connections laid out on rails which I liked more, it seemed a nice neat way to make all the connections, again a picture would help a lot, I’ll post some and link them. From what I can tell from the kits, EBrew Supply DIY kit does come with more included, the temperature probes for example.

      Reply
  2. jamaral141989 on

    Great read. I was trying to look at expenses for such a thing and I like provided the break out you made. I’m going to be going the same route but attempting to use induction stove heating.

    Reply
    • Brewbuzzard on

      I looked into the induction units and unless you brew small batches they are very expensive, around $3400.00. I have 27 gal kettles so I use ULWD elements and hardware from Brew hardware. With a lot of help from buddies I am building a 236 sq ft brew shed. I’ll post some pics sometime.

      Reply
      • Siberian on

        Just my 2 cents on induction here. I’m probably up around over 100 batches (my brew log isn’t here to count right now) in a 20g kettle on a WebRestaurant.com 3500w induction element. Works great. Not sure I’d want to scale up to 25g (is that your intended batch size?) on the system, but I wouldn’t knock it for 20g and lower. I do have to boil with a modified lid in order to get it to hold a solid rolling boil, but it works.

        That said, if I did it all over again, I’d put ULWD elements right in the kettle and will when this induction unit kicks, but anyone looking to do it simpler I think induction is a viable alternative.

        Reply
    • redtangent on

      I was somewhat worried about weight too, a 16 gallon kettle full of water is decently heavy, not sure if the induction cook tops are meant to deal with that?

      Reply
  3. Ronald James on

    This is awesome, any chance of sharing more pics as well as some more diagrams of how the system is connected, how you seperate the mash grain and liquor, how you connected the pumps….. or is that a big secret? :-)

    Reply
    • redtangent on

      I’d be happy to share more pictures, maybe in the electric brewing forum? There is a normal false bottom in the MLT as well as a bazooka filter under the false bottom (just in case). I do use 2 Chugger pumps to transfer between the kettles. One pump recirculates the HLT water for most of the brew, one is used to recirculate the sweet worth through the HLT coil to maintain/change temperature. When I sparge I run the hot water through the first pump, through the coil to clean it of wort, then into the MLT. Second pump is used to move the sweet wort from MLT to Boil Kettle.

      Reply
  4. Brewhahadave on

    You will really like brewing on this electric system. I have been brewing on mine for almost 4 years now and love it. The only thing I changed was to add a 3rd pump for the Ltr tank and added another pickup to it also. This was done so that I could control the water temp at all times while brewing.

    Reply
  5. hgearle on

    You have a beautiful system, but since I have been brewing with the Brewha BIAC (brew in a conical, all in one) electric system, I do not know why anybody would want to use a 3 vessel system. This system, once it catches on, will be the new standard for home brewers. https://brewhaequipment.com

    I have no affiliation with this company except I am a happy customer.

    Reply
    • redtangent on

      I do enjoy brewing on the system, it would be nice to have it stay setup in one place, kind of a pain to put together and tear down every brew day. What is the 3rd pump doing? I didn’t quite follow how that helped you maintain water temperatures.

      Reply
    • redtangent on

      That does sound like an interesting concept, but I have 4 fermenters so can have multiple batches going at once. The 3 vessel setup is more complicated but seems to offer more flexibility.

      Reply
  6. stickyfinger on

    Nice setup! I had the same desires as you and finished my E-Brewery about 13 months ago. I LOVE it! i also highly recommend EBrewSupply. I did a custom order working from theelectricbrewery.com plans, but I changed around the configuration and changed the timer to the much better Auber one, as you did. I would highly recommend people try the Spike Brewing V3 mash tun and then if you want to save some cash, go with a Concord pot (ebay) for the BK and HLT. I like that combination a lot. Also, I had some problems with the Chugger pumps decoupling, but I bought new impellers, and they seem to be working for now. So, I guess my only regrets are the following:

    -not going with a Spike mashtun from the start vs a Concord pot with Norcal false bottom
    -not going with a 50 Amp panel (put two elements in the HLT so heat up times are not so long!!)
    -not going with March pumps
    -oh, i also went with the cheaper, thinner silicone tubing, and I wish I had just gone with the thick tubing that Kal recommends, as they sometimes fall over and pinch when heating water

    Reply
    • redtangent on

      Thanks! I agree on the tubing, I wish I’d gotten the thicker type, but when I was buying parts it was really hard to even find. I’m actually really happy with my chugger pumps, never had any issues, unless the March pumps flow a lot more I don’t have a reason to change. I think eventually the MLT will get an upgrade, the HLT and BK don’t really need more than I already have. A 50A panel is also a possible upgrade in the future, but more so I can run both the HLT and BK at the same time for back to back batches, i.e. heating up mash water for batch #2 as batch #1 is boiling away.

      Reply
      • stickyfinger on

        I think McMaster Carr may have the thicker silicone, but it is an investment for sure! The March pumps actually flow a lot slower I think, maybe due to the impeller. That is what I surmised from the flow chart I saw I think, but they are rock solid. Chugger is more like buying Black and Decker vs. buying Milwaukee. The biggest gain on the MLT upgrade is the better false bottom and lower dead space, probably less likely to get sticky on a fast flow too. Do you do malt conditioning? When I switched to that it was a HUGE gain for me, better extraction and higher flow with less compaction. I can see doing the 50A back-to-back if you want to brew in larger time periods and get a lot more beer that is of a completely different wort makeup.

        Reply
  7. Norselord on

    Good job.

    I noticed the words “Electric Brewery” but i did not notice any words related to electrical service requirements.

    240V 30A single phase?

    I am wondering what i can do with 240V 15A service…

    Reply
    • redtangent on

      Ah little details, yes its a 30A 240V single phase service (2 x 120V legs). I ended up buying a 50A GFCI Spa Panel and connected that to a 30A dedicated breaker in my main panel. I did recently hear from someone that it may be better to reverse the order, and have the brewery plug into the 30A non-GFCI breaker first then have the 50A GFCI breaker in the main panel, but I haven’t switched yet. If you’re running 15A service I think you’ll have to use smaller elements, mine are both 5500 watts and the panel normaly sits at ~24A+ with 1 element on and 2 pumps going, not something you could do with a 15A service. I’m not sure if them make a 2500 or 3000 watt element?

      Reply
      • stickyfinger on

        I wouldn’t do a 15A setup unless you are doing small volumes. Go with 30A at a minimum and try to go 50A (but decide if you want to do back to back OR larger volume/quicker heating)

        Reply
  8. dave3210 on

    I appreciate your write-up. In the process of designing mine. Just a simple question: Did you make any modifications to the control panel kit from the supplier? Thanks.

    Reply
    • redtangent on

      Sorry for the crazy late response, i didn’t see the last few comments until now. Just in case you still want to know…. Yes in the end I added 3 extra switches so I could turn off the alarm function for each PID separately. I often have the timer going for the boil and want to clean the MLT, but unplugging the temp probe sets off the PID alarm. This way I can just turn the alarm off individually. Other than that the panel is as designed.

      Reply
  9. cshelden on

    Couldn’t agree more on HERMS. I initially used 3/8 Id. At 50′. Ramp up times were awful. I’ve since gone 1/2″ id. Much better.

    Reply
    • redtangent on

      Sorry for the crazy late response, i didn’t see the last few comments until now. Just in case you still want to know….I don’t actually know, I got it for free from a friend that owns a restaurant. It has held up well so far, no issues. I’ll double check to see if there was a label on the table.

      Reply

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