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Old 08-07-2012, 04:17 AM   #1
tmyoung
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Default Long Term Brewery Build

Hey folks! I've been lurking from time to time for the last six months or so, but I think it has finally come time to post. I've got an idea for a long term project, which might need a bit of a reality check. Here goes...

Some background information about my self, and the project (skip this, unless you're bored):

Last spring my girlfriend and I decided we were going to start home brewing. This has been something that has never appealed to me, to be frank. (I've always been into beer, though.) I just saw it as something that you couldn't do casually, and my life seems to be busy enough already. However, after reading some books about beer (I think Randy Mosher's "Tasting Beer" deserves most of the credit for this.), I started to think home brewing would prove to be a great way of trying new things, as I could brew anything I want - and experiment. I was also partly convinced by a conversation with my girlfriend's uncle, who does some casual stovetop partial extract brewing.

I'm still a student (currently working on a masters in civil engineering), and I tend to be very busy while going to school, so my girl friend and I waited for spring break to come around. Spring break hit, and we found ourselves in a home brew supply shop very quickly. We bought a big kettle (5+ gallons), an outdoor propane burner, partial extract ingredients, and the appropriate supplies. I had been scheduled to take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam (I call it the Fun Exam) three weeks into spring term, so we decided to brew on the last saturday of the break, so we could bottle right after I was through with the exam. So we brewed - things went wrong,other things went right, we learned a lot about how to improve the process. Because I was pretty busy once the term started (I also had to have a concrete canoe built by a couple weeks after the Fun Exam) we didn't bother moving to a secondary before bottling. The beer tasted a little bit funny at first (much better after more bottle conditioning), and was WAY darker than we expected, but overall not too bad for a first run.

One of the things I learned from this experience is that the full five gallon batches produce too much beer for me. I know that might sound crazy, but I like variety, I don't have space to store beer, and I worry about the long term stability of the beer. This is part of what leads me to this project, which might be a bit of a unique idea.

I should also mention that I have read John Palmer's "How to Brew," in preparation for my first full grain batch. I definitely learned a lot from this book, but a lot of the biology was a bit thick for me, it will take some time for that to sink in. Luckily, my girlfriend has a degree in microbiology, I think we'll make a great brew team eventually. Palmer's book has made very attentive to detail, and given me so many more things to be paranoid about, things like water chemistry. Even after only brewing one batch, I'm ready to be a little more hardcore, and bulk up in equipment, expertise and experience.

The project:

So what I'm looking for in the long term is a pretty versatile, semi automated single tier brewery. This would be utilizing the typical three vessel layout, hot liquor tun, mash/laughter ton, and boil kettle. I'm looking at doing this over a long period of time. Ultimately, I would like to have two sizes of brew kettles, one that can handle 5 gallon batches, and one that can handle 1-2.5 gallon batches. Right now I'm interested in small batches, I'd like to try a lot of different things and experiment. The natural by product of experimentation is the occasional beer that I wouldn't want to have to drink a lot of. However, I imagine from time to time I'll want to brew larger batches, and I want to have that capability using much of the same equipment. This would mean vessels that have the same tooling, so tubing, temperature sensors, etc. could be switched between the two sets of vessels. This would also require burners that are sized for the larger vessels, and the burners would just be run on a lower setting for the smaller set of vessels.

The other aspect of the project is a long term build up. I see starting this with the small vessels, and either a stove top or an outdoor camp stove coupled with my big outdoor burner. Over time adding valves, temperature controls, building a brew stand, etc. This seems to be the logical way of doing things to me, as I'll be on a budget to start out with.

Concerns and questions:

Reproducibility between batch sizes: Part of the idea is to make a small batch beer reproducible on the larger scale. I'll obviously need to buy vessels that are very similar, if not the same, for the large and small set. I'm worried that there are other factors, like heat distribution in the boil kettle, that may make reproducibility difficult. Is this multiple vessel size idea too far out?

Size range of small batch vessels: I would like it if the small vessels could handle a size range between 1 and 2.5 gallons, but I'm not sure if this is practical. I'm mostly concerned about the depth of the grain bed in the mash/laugher tun. I would probably brew two gallon batches for the most part, but I can see doing single gallon batches from time to time when trying to fine tune a recipe. I'm thinking three gallon vessels could be versatile enough, any thoughts?

Thermometers: In the initial set up I intend to put thermometers in each vessel, but in the future switch these out for the probes of the temperature controllers. My local brew shop sells sleeves that are fitted to the pot, and then the thermometers are stuck inside. I'm hoping there are thermometers that have sleeves that could accommodate the temperature sensors of a control unit, has anybody done this before?

MIG welding: I'm a little bit weary of weldless fittings, although I have no experience with them. I think I know somebody who could MIG weld fittings for me. I remember reading that MIG welds are food safe, but I can't remember where I read that. Is this true?

Sorry for the long post, thanks for reading!

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Old 08-07-2012, 04:48 AM   #2
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Great to have you posting, sounds like you've given everything a lot of thought!

As far as reproducibility between large and small vessels, keep in mind both are pretty small vessels as far as brewing is concerned. Personally, I'd probably have this set up:
A) 5 gallon kettle on stove top. With <4 gallons I can get a good rolling boil, which is what you need.
I'd brew in a bag, so 1 5 gallon nylon mesh bag for kettle makes my mash tun. It never hurts to have another 5 gallon pot around and they can be pretty cheap ($10 aluminum at pottery barn for example)
I'd probably do either a counter flow chiller or a plate chiller so I could use it for both sets of equipment. To get the chill times the same just restrict the flow of water.
B) 7.5+ gallon kettle on propane burner
If you want to keep BIAB for reproducibility then fine, or do a 10 gallon cooler mash tun with a mesh bag for the manifold (works great for batch sparging)
Same chiller as above

But that is me, I try to get everything done with as little extra purchases as possible. Basically I treat BIAB as batch sparging all grain with a bag as a manifold so it really would keep about the same as long as you keep the temps the same and duplicate the process. As far as weldless fittings, they work great. If you can get a person that will weld on your fittings then by all means, just make sure you get the best fittings you will want for it since you won't be upgrading unless you weld a nipple on there. Another thing to consider about reproducibility is that if you're experimenting a lot then you probably won't be doing the same exact batch on a larger scale. You'd more than likely add 1/4 oz more cascade, or 8 oz of some crystal malt, try it with english ale yeast, etc.

Plenty of people brew small batches of beer, and Basic Brewing Radio/Video is constantly doing it so you might want to watch some of their stuff.

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Old 08-08-2012, 06:07 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Erroneous View Post
I'd brew in a bag, so 1 5 gallon nylon mesh bag for kettle makes my mash tun. It never hurts to have another 5 gallon pot around and they can be pretty cheap ($10 aluminum at pottery barn for example)
Great thoughts. I think mashing in the bag is the best way to get started on this, it could probably keep me satisfied for quite some time. It seems to me that a mash/laughter run will ultimately produce the most consistent results, but I obviously have far less experience than anyone else on these forums. To conduct a mash in the bag, would you mash using the full volume of boil water, or would you mash with a small volume and sparge by rinsing the bag?

My current set up for partial extract brewing is somewhere between a 6.5-10 gallon stainless kettle. I can't remember the size, but I know I was talked into amuck larger kettle at the last minute. The big kettle I think would be too comber some for small batch sizes, and harder to clean, etc.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Erroneous View Post
I'd probably do either a counter flow chiller or a plate chiller so I could use it for both sets of equipment. To get the chill times the same just restrict the flow of water.
The chiller I use with this set up is an immersion chiller. I made the chiller with fifty feet of 3/8th inch copper refrigerator coil. I used solder on elbow joints instead of bending the pipe so I could turn it into a counter flow chiller later. This should be an easily achievable project.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Erroneous View Post
As far as weldless fittings, they work great. If you can get a person that will weld on your fittings then by all means, just make sure you get the best fittings you will want for it since you won't be upgrading unless you weld a nipple on there.
Good call on the flexibility of the weld less fittings. I can always weld later if I'm not satisfied with the weld less fittings. At my experience level I'm more likely to change my mind on what kind of fitting I want.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Erroneous View Post
Another thing to consider about reproducibility is that if you're experimenting a lot then you probably won't be doing the same exact batch on a larger scale. You'd more than likely add 1/4 oz more cascade, or 8 oz of some crystal malt, try it with english ale yeast, etc.
The idea would be to experiment at the small scale, and if I grand slam a recipe, or have a party, or need a lot of beer for any reason, I would be able to produce large batches.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Erroneous View Post
Plenty of people brew small batches of beer, and Basic Brewing Radio/Video is constantly doing it so you might want to watch some of their stuff.
Thanks for pointing me in the direction of Basic Brewing, I think this will be good listening for a beginner like myself.

Thanks for your thoughts, I always appreciate more perspective on potential projects.
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Old 08-08-2012, 06:22 AM   #4
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Generally biab people mash at full volume but I like batch sparging it. I feel that I get better efficiency that way, plus it is similar to normal all grain batch sparge process. Only difference is that you use one vessel and take the grains out instead of drain the liquor. You can't vourlaugh or however it is spelled but otherwise the same.

I think basic brewing video focuses more on the small batch brewing. Great show though and the radio podcast has a lot of guests that are very knowledgeable in various aspects to brewing.

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Old 08-08-2012, 11:30 AM   #5
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Good luck on the FE. It was the EIT when I sat for it.....either way it's a bitch.

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Old 08-08-2012, 11:43 AM   #6
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sounds like you're on the right track.
I brewed for a long time with a 10 gal polorware pot and two five gal coolers (one HLT, one MT). I was doing 5 gal batches but don't think you would have any problems doing 2.5 gal batches with something similar to that.
I started on the stove top and shortly after moved to an outside burner, you can keep it pretty simple as far as your equipment goes and after you get a few batches under your belt you will start getting the things that will make the brew process easier for the two of you.
You know what your long term goal is and that will help when your looking at what you want to spend your money or time on getting/making. Sounds like you already have what you need to be brewing some awesome beers. RDWHAHB!

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