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AiredAle 09-24-2011 09:49 PM

My built-in electric brewery - Posts 1 to 4
4 Attachment(s)
My electric brewery is finished, at long last. I began the design phase in mid-2007 by lurking and asking questions on a couple of forums, the greenboard and this one. I completed the construction phase about seven months ago, and have brewed nine times on the new system. I have not attempted to document each step of design and construction as diligently as some of you have, but I took some pictures that I am posting.

Before getting to the pictures that I am sure you are just dying to see, I do want to thank the countless individuals who knowingly or unknowingly contributed to my project design and execution. I can’t name them all, because I didn’t always record where an idea came from, or whose design I copied, but I expect you will recognize your handiwork or answers when you see the pictures.


1. All electric fired, so I could walk away from it if I needed to; I used to brew with propane and never left the room when the flame was on, for safety’s sake.

2. Semi-automatic – no, not like an AK47 – but enough controls so that I could set temperatures or boil rates and duplicate them reliably and repeatably.

3. Able to fit into my pre-existing brewery, the half of the utility room my patient wife “gave” me.

4. Efficient moisture extraction, i.e., no dripping cold water pipes in the utility room

5. Maximized safety risk management.


My brew space is approximately eight by twelve feet, with an L-shaped counter and storage.

The cabinets are for storage of equipment and supplies. The sink to the left in the picture was put in specifically for brewing purposes, and has softened hot and cold water as well as un-softened cold water plumbed in. The countertops are the brewing surfaces, and some of the brewery is built-in, unlike many systems I have seen that are mobile or portable. I enjoy indoor brewing, particularly here in Minnesota in the winter and during mosquito season (when it’s not winter).

Instead of just describing my build, I’ll describe my brewing process, and then the equipment. This may make clear why I designed it the way I did. Or not.

I have a private well; the water tastes great, but is hard and alkaline. I treat the brewing water with calcium hydroxide to soften it, other salts to suit the style of beer I’m brewing. I don’t filter it because it has no chorine or iron, and tastes good.

A brew day starts the day before, when I fill the treatment tank (the white tub beside the sink in the photos above) with 12 gallons of hard well water for a five brew, or 20 gallons for a ten gallon brew, then pump the HLT full (7 gallons), and heat it to about 110 or so. I then drain it back into the treatment tank to warm all the water to about 75 F. Then the treatment salts are dissolved or suspended in a quart of the warm water and mixed into the tank. This precipitates the alkaline bicarbonate ion as calcium carbonate. That night I pump the HLT full again, neutralize the water in the HLT with phosphoric acid to pH 6-7, and either set the timer to turn the element on before I get up, or just turn it on when I get up.
I mash in by gravity, and use a blue cooler for my MT. The remaining water in the HLT is boiled for use as mashout water. Then the HLT is refilled, neutralized and temp set to 180 F for sparge water. I started batch sparging the first few brews, but found that purging air out of the hoses and pump between sparges was a pain. So now I fly sparge, and only have to fight the air out of the system once. During sparging the wort is pumped up to the BK, which is elevated on a stand about a foot above the counter. I use a CFC chiller, gravity fed to my fermenter which is a 6 gallon Better Bottle or a 6.5 gallon acid carboy. If I need to, I use a water bath heated with an aquarium heater to maintain fermentation temperatures.

more in the next post

Sea 09-24-2011 09:51 PM

Very nice. I'm so jealous of all you guys that have finished basements.

AiredAle 09-24-2011 10:11 PM

My new built-in electric brewery - post 2
4 Attachment(s)

Most every hose connection is made using Pro-Flow Dynamics stainless steel QD fittings. So far, I have not noticed a problem with slow flow through their standard hose barb fittings. I use ˝” i.d. silicone hoses for all hoses, except the BK-to-CFC connection, which is 3/8”. All kettle fittings were done with Sta-Brite silver solder and belled holes in kettles. The thermocouple fittings were belled inward and threaded to accept the NPT male bushings, then soldered. All steel fabrication, the HLT and BK stands, were TIG welded.

The water treatment tank is a 20 plus gallon HDPE tub. I have a pond pump in the tank to pump treated water up to the HLT. The HLT is a pony keg (legally acquired), equipped with a bottom drain, a calibrated sight gauge, a thermocouple, a level switch to prevent the element energizing if it’s dry, a 4000 watt/240 volt spa heater element, and a tangential inlet tube connected to a pump to circulate the water during heating to even out the temperature.

connects through the HLT rim to a 3/8” adaptor soldered into the bottom of the vessel.

The level switch is like the one below in the pictures.

and is mounted through a simple “solderless fitting” in the HLT. This has proved it’s worth already, because I have drained water from the kettle and been surprised to hear the relay click open when the water level dropped enough to activate the level switch.

The hot strike water is gravity drained into the mash tun, and the grain is doughed in. The mash out water is heated to give a mash out temp over 160 F. After an hour, I start vorauf, and getting my March pump primed, and air out of the hoses. By the time I get this done, and the pump running with no air, vorlauf is over, and I pump the wort into the BK.

The BK is equipped with a thermocouple to track temperature, a hop stopper and side drain, and a 5500 watt/240 volt ULWD element. All heating elements are grounded to the keg. I cut the upper rim off the BK, as was recently described here, and love the access it gives to the kettle. The element is screwed into a 1” NPST locknut soldered to the BK. See the picture to observe my not very attractive but serviceable soldering. The electrical connections to the element are protected by an outdoor electrical box, attached to the BK by two stainless bolts soldered by their heads to the side of the BK. The power cord exits the top of the box and is sealed with RTV silicone and a waterproof fitting. Silicone is also used to seal the BK-to-electrical box area.

More in post 3.

AiredAle 09-24-2011 10:39 PM

My new built-in electric brewery - Post 3
5 Attachment(s)
Here are the pics of the brew kettle.

AiredAle 09-24-2011 10:48 PM

My new built-in electric brewery
5 Attachment(s)
The boil off moisture is extracted by a 900 CFM in-line vent fan in a 5” duct connecting to a 7/16” Baltic birch plywood vent hood. I made this after pricing out stainless steel ones. The hood outside is stained and polyurethane sealed, and the inside is painted white. I installed some LED lights in the hood to illuminate the inside of the BK. Before you tell me about how water and wood don’t mix, let me point out that the flow of air is so fast through the vent hood and vent duct that so far, no moisture has condensed on any surface.

I welded up the HLT and BK stands and painted them white. The HLT stand mounts to the basement block wall and to the floor joints above it. The BK stand is sized so I can gravity drain or pump drain the BK into my CFC chiller.


The control system is housed in a ˝” Baltic birch plywood box with box finger joints. This is woodworker’s bling, as well as a strong way to join a box. The back panel is plywood, and the front panel is 1/16” aluminum sheet, rattle can painted black. This is one thing I wish I had done differently, the paint chips too easily. Were I to do it over, I’d look into powder coating the panel. All the cut outs were done by hand, and tediously filed to the correct size. The box has a computer muffin fan inside that sucks air in from the bottom and out the top to provide cooling. The box can be rotated up and out of the way for storage if I want. It fits between two of the floor joists and is latched into place.

Power is from two 30 amp 240 volt GFCI breakers. The panel is hard wired into the house wiring, and the iron pipe that holds the control panel in place is the conduit for the wiring. You can see the conduit and pipe in this picture. The main switch for the control system controls all 120 V power to the panel, and acts as an emergency shut off if needed. The PID controllers are fuse protected. The labels and the logo on the panel are white cut vinyl, I got them from a local sign maker.

The control system for the HLT consists of the level switch and a timer stolen from a coffee maker so I can set it to come on in the morning before I wake up if I want. The element is controlled by a Love PID controller bought off eBay, and a mechanical two pole relay, and maintains temperature to +/- 1 degree. The timer has to be switched on and water covering the element before the PID controller can power up the element via the relay.

The pump that circulates water in the HLT plugs into a switched 120 V outlet on the side of the control panel. It is controlled by one of the row of white switches in the center of the panel. Power to the element also runs through a DPST switch and an analog ammeter – the gauge at the top left of the panel. The thermocouple and the level switch plug into a thermocouple outlet and an RCA jack respectively. The power lead for the element plugs into a stove or clothes drier 3 wire plug. The second 120 V outlet is energized whenever the main switch for control panel is on. The ammeter is so I have a visual indicator that the element is energized, and to look cool.

The wort transfer pump is powered by a switched 120 V outlet on the right end of the control box. The second outlet is also energized when the main switch is on.

The BK has a 5500 W 240 V water heater element in it, a thermocouple to read temperature courtesy of a second Love PID controller. That’s all the PID does, except provide some symmetry in the panel, because the power to the BK element is controlled by a PWM (pulse width modulation) controller through an SSR. The power controller is the black knob in the lower right hand corner of the panel, just about the 2 hour count down timer. The SSR is technically a SSC – solid state contactor – which is an SSR with a built in heat sink. This one is rated for 40 amps, and is controlling about 23 amps. I can control the power from about 10% to 95% as I recall from the information about the power controller. The element power runs through a DPST switch and an ammeter, like the HLT power does.

That’s about it, except to thank the many creative and clever individuals who have posted here over the last three years, and whose ideas I have stolen to make my system. Questions and comments are welcome, and I’ll try to answer them.

HHP 09-25-2011 01:40 AM

All I have to say is, wow. Very, very nice. I love the unconventional control panel, its awesome.

hatfieldenator 09-25-2011 01:53 AM

Very cool, very original! I love the nice wood work on that control panel! Any pics of your control panel build?

bendiy 07-28-2012 08:27 PM

How is the spa / hot tub heater working for you? I'm considering doing something similar.

AiredAle 07-29-2012 04:02 PM

Spa heater element is working just fine. I've probably brewed a dozen times using it, and no issues at all. I like it for it's low placement in the vessel so that there is good heat driven circulation of the water as it is heating. Despite that I use the pump under the eHLT to ensure even temperatures. I would not hesitate to use this heater again in another build.

wottaguy 07-29-2012 04:55 PM

nice job! what kind of PID's and timers are you using?

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