Okay, had the first brew day on the system a couple of weekends ago and everything went reasonably well with a couple of exceptions as noted below.
I brewed KingBrian's Common Room ESB since this was a nice straightforward recipe to use as a first brew on the system. The brewday was quite long at around 7 hours from starting the HLT heating to finishing cleaning, but I was being pretty meticulous about each step being the first time brewing all-grain (prior to going electric, I was just an extract/partial mash brewer) so this should time hopefully shorten the more I brew.
I'm not terribly happy with how I heated my strike water. I did end up having to move a fair bit of water around to dough in at the temperature I wanted.
1. I heated about 18 gallons to 164
2. Transferred ~7 gallons water over to the MLT
3. Brought HLT up to 16 gallons (not the full 18 - see step 6!)
4. Recirculated MLT water though HEX while heating HLT until I hit Dough-in temperature again
5. Dough-in at 164, temp dropped in MLT to ~152 as expected
6. Added the final 2 gallons of water to HLT to bring HLT down from 162 to around 154
7. Started recirculation
This was a pain - although mainly just in calculating the volumes for the correct temperature changes. The upside was that my mash stayed at 152 for the entire hour - HLT was consistently at 154 so it seems my HEX isn't 100% efficient (like that matters!). pH for the mash was 5.0 which is on the low end, so I need to spend a little time figuring out why (since I just used faucet water, I used two or three campden tablets in the water to remove the chlorine but I don't know if that had anything to do with it or not), but at least it was still within an acceptable range.
After an hour, I raised the mash to 168 via recirculation through the HEX coil rather than by adding water to the MLT and this took about 20-25 minutes (I thought that going from 152 to 168 wouldn't take that long, but with no prior experience with a 5500W electric element, who knows). Anyway, once I reached mash-out temps I started sparging. Matching flow rates from the HLT-to-MLT and MLT-to-BK was a bit tough as I was either going too fast into the BK or ending up with more sparge water on top of my grain bed than wanted. I guess this is just an inherent issue with manual ball valves and I'll get better at adjusting them with more experience. Overall, the sparge took about 75 minutes to collect ~14 gallons and hit better-than-expected numbers for pre-boil gravity (1.052 vs. 1.049 expected), so I'm not going to complain.
Boil was pretty non-descript... used Fermcap so really nothing to even worry about in terms of boil-overs. However, at flame-out, frustration and weariness from the long day set in. One oversight was not putting a ball-valve on the input to my CFC - that meant I had no way to restrict the flow into it other than from the BK out-valve (which can cause priming issues obviously). So, basically, I just let it fly and figured I'd just be cooling wort in the freezer before I could pitch. First of all, I **LOVE** my Chillus Convolutus (from MoreBeer) - even without any control, that thing dropped my wort from boiling down to 90 degrees in one pass (with tap water around 70 degrees)... However... I have a HopStpper in my BK and as soon as the wort level hit the top of that thing, I lost siphon and ended up with around 2 gallons of lost wort sitting there at a ridiculous temperature with nowhere to go. Apparently - and I did not know this beforehand - if you're using the HopStopper once the wort gets down to this level, you need to severly restrict flow exiting the BK as the cavity in the HopStopper cannot refill fast enough for the flow and therefore empties and the diptube loses siphon. Once that happens there's no real way to restart. So on top of adding an extra ball valve to my chiller, I'll be extra careful next time!
Anyway... in the end I just used an auto-siphon, got my 12 gallons into two Ale Pails and sat them in the freezer for several hours before pitching the yeast... Of course, with all this going on, I completely forgot to take my gravity measurements so ABV will be somewhat unknown. fermentation kicked off within 8 hours and I'll probably keg and force carb this weekend. Should be ready to drink in about 10 days. Fingers crossed.
Overall, an 'okay' brew day, with some lessons learned for next time.
P.S. The ventilation has been setup moving the fan as far as I could (about 2 feet) away from hood and mounted vertically. Still had some condensation drip down the venting but not nearly as bad as before. I'll probably put a dish towel or something on the hood each brew day to avoid damaging the wood top, but nothing really to worry too much about.