Craft The Perfect Draft Pump Up Your Brewday

HomeBrewTalk.com - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Community.

Help Support Homebrew Talk:

Sooner or later a day comes when many homebrewers decide to add a pump to their brewing system. At first most probably buy a small inexpensive pond pump to help recirculate their chiller water through some ice. Pumping ice cold water through a chiller really cuts down on the amount of time needed to get your wort down to pitching temperature. These types of pumps are easy to setup, are easy to replace and do a very good job of moving low volumes of cool water relatively short distances.
For the tougher jobs like recirculating hot or boiling wort either a March pump or a Chugger pump seems to be the homebrewer's pump of choice. Choosing a Chugger pump had nothing to do with the Chugger company being located just five miles from my home, the pump I use shipped with my High Gravity BIAB Electric Brewing System. When ordering a high temperature pump there are a few things you should know before pulling the trigger. Wort is sticky, pumping wort can be a bit more complicated than pumping water, and eventually your pump will need maintenance to keep it running when you need it the most.

I was boiling my fifth batch of beer when my Chugger pump began to act up. I was pumping the boiling wort through my chiller to sanitize it and then whirl pooling it back into the kettle when the pump started to seize up. Panic? A little! Lucky for me it happened just two minutes short of the ten minutes I planned on running it to sanitize the wort chiller. Since then I've taken a few final gravity samples of the beer and it's fine, infections avoided and I'll be packaging it this weekend.

A call to the Chugger toll free number the next morning put me in contact with Danny, who turned out to be very knowledgeable when dealing with the most common pump issues homebrewers experience. It seems that the impeller used in my Chugger pump and the stationary shaft it rotates on were designed with very close tolerances for maximum performance and quite operation. The same close tolerances also allow a tiny amount of sticky wort to get in between the surfaces causing the impeller to bind on the shaft. Danny explained that even though my pump used a magnetic drive the magnetic connection was strong enough to stop the motor from turning, once the impeller bound on the shaft.

In my case Danny recommended that I disassemble the head and clean the hole in the impeller that was bound to the shaft. Since the tolerances were so tight to begin with its very difficult for cleaning solutions like PBW or OxyClean to get in between the shaft and the impeller to dissolve the sticky wort that causes the motor to seize. After the call I removed the four outer bolts that connect the head to the magnetic drive on the motor. These are the same bolts I had removed earlier to rotate the pump head 90 degrees so the inlet pointed down making the pump easier to prime. With the head off of the pump I then removed the four small screws that secured the rear housing to the pump head.
The rear housing holds the Silicone O ring in place so the head doesn't leak when it's filled with liquid. With the rear housing removed you can see the impeller, it's drive magnet and in its center the stationary shaft that the impeller rides on. I had filled the pump head with a mild solution made of PBW and boiling hot water before taking it apart to soften the sticky wort a bit. It only took a little gentle twisting of the drive magnet to free the impeller from the shaft so the inside of the hole could be cleaned out with small bristle brush. Visibly the inside of the pump head and it's parts looked clean and shiny but there was no doubt that the impeller was stuck tight enough to the shaft to keep the motor from turning.

Danny had recommended I repeat this ten minute cleaning procedure at the end of each brewday and that would keep the pump working like new. There was also another option to use a 'G' size, or a 17/64 inch size drill bit to carefully ream out the inside of the impeller hole. The bigger hole diameter should help prevent the sticky wort from seizing the impeller to the shaft as easily. Up until now I had cleaned my brewing system in place, using PBW and hot water, by pumping the solution through my chiller and recirculating it back into the kettle for about twenty minutes. Apparently that did a good job of keeping the inside of the pump head clean and shiny but did little if anything to keep the impeller from sticking to the shaft and seizing the pump up. After going through this experience myself I've learned how spending just a few extra minutes on maintenance can help to pump up your brewday.
Vince Feminella [aka: ScrewyBrewer]
[email protected]
I actually had some grain particulate get inside my impeller hole which was causing a bind and giving me issues. I was getting really frustrated with everything until I finally disassembled the entire thing. Now I make it common practice and havent had an issue since.
I've been thinking about a pump, for wort transfer, for some time. I have a small pond pump that pushes the ice water thru my immersion chiller. Best $20 ever spent. I probably have the worlds ugliest immersion chiller. I took a coil of 1/2" soft copper and sort of separated the coils some and pulled the two ends up. It's an eyesore, but with an ice chest full of ice water, it cools 5-6 gal from boil to 65 in 15min. Thats pretty important in AZ. Plate chillers can only go so far. Ground water is 75+ pretty much all year.
A stir plate and Chugger/March are next on my wish list for equipment. Thanks for the article.
I'm curious about the quick connects you have there. What material are they? I'm in the process of hard plumbing my pump in place, so I'm adding unions on either side for easy removal and cleaning of the pump head. Clean in Place is great, but designing your system for easy maintainability is important, too. Great tip with rotating the pump head for easier priming. I hadn't though of that. Thanks for the write up!
I had a stuck pump about 8 brews in on my chugger, I dismantled it and indeed some wort gummed it up. Haven't given it much thought but I really need to get in the habit of a post brew day maintenance cleaning, clean pumps are happy pumps...
I run a march pump and a chugger. The march has never had any issues. The Chugger "screams" once every brew day until I take it apart and apply some petroleum jelly to the impeller shaft. This helps for the rest of the brew.
@DanDodge I like the HFC 35 Polysulfide High Flow Quick Disconnects for a few reasons, mostly because they won't burn your hand when trying to connect or disconnect hoses after running hot wort through them.
They are rated to operate safely with liquid temperatures up to 280F and they have large easy to press thumb latches to make connection changes simple. The HFC 35 series quick disconnects are perfect for use in brewing systems especially when used in combination with high quality 1/2" ID food grade silicone tubing.
Nice write-up and perfect timing for me. I was literally opening my web-browser to purchase a Chugger pump when I saw this in my inbox. Glad I read this first. I'll still get the pump, but now I am even better prepared for keeping it running smoothly. Thanks.
And thanks for the tip on the quick disconnects. I'm still debating about those :)
I use a march pump though I am sure the maintenance is the same. I always disassemble and clean before a brew day and run a cleaning cycle on my counterflow chiller using the pump. This seems to keep things working well. I did once mess up my gasket and the pump leaked. Now I keep a spare gasket.
I disassemble both my chugger pumps after each brew day. I wash the wort pump components in hot water and then leave both pump heads open to air-dry. After dry, I re-assemble and the are always ready for action on brew day. Keeps mold and other crap from growing in the pump heads as well.
Finally took the time to pull one of my pumps apart to see what the issue was. I was shocked how dirty and mucky it was in side. Though, to be honest, I haven't used that pump in almost a year, so its just been sitting there, but still, nasty!