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AKA DIY Microbrewery...

Here's the latest in my series of crazy projects. SWMBO gave me some real estate on the porch, so this is what I'm doing. I'm going to use a RANCO controller with a window A/C and an as yet undetermined heating element (space heater, fermentation wrap/belt, etc) for temperature control. I built the shelf only as big as it needed to be for the fermenter because I want the entire closet to heat and cool (lagering in the bottom half perhaps?). A lot of my brew equipment will fit in the bottom, and it's as close to a 3-tier setup as I want to get. I have a March magnetic drive pump and a bunch of quick disconnects to overcome the issues posed by gravity. Eventually there'll be a door on the front with insulation all around. The board for the shelf is just temporary - it will fit later.



I wanted to finish this thing this weekend, but I just plain ran out of time. I was really hoping to brew today, but I'll have to steal a few hours during the week I guess.
 
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Chairman Cheyco said:
I was going to ask if you ever did any actual brewing...


:D
Soon, soon!!! I'm bummed because I've put so much time into upscaling my operation and have yet to use it! I almost brewed another 5 gallon batch just to get some beer into a fermenter of any sort. I'm in brew-withdrawal!
 
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I just converted my Kenmore 5150 BTU room air conditioner from thermostat switched to constant cold by bypassing the thermostat. I can post a pic of a similar thermostat and the simple jumper required to bypass it if you like.

I'm excited - this thing was putting out 42 degree air in my 71 degree house without recirculating any cold air. Also, 5150 BTUs is over 10 times the estimated 350 BTUs required to cool my brew closet. I should be able to get this thing nice and cold!

EDIT: Just bought this RANCO 2-stage controller - will control a heating element and the air conditioner to maintain a constant temp. I've been very happy with the ETC-111000 single stage unit that runs my kegerator.
 
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Finally, I'm getting around to brewing. I just need to finish up the sparge arm for my cooler conversion mash tun. I'll take pics along the way and post them as an edit here. Thanks for all the help along the way to big time AG brews!

EDIT - progress:
Mashed in - missed my target of 122 by 4 degrees (118).
Immediately began recirculating to increase the temp - I'm up to 146 now with nice, clear runnings.


Sparge (fly) went well - nice and clear, no problems. 15 gallons exactly (a little shy of my goal, but that's ok).
The burner boils 15 gallons of brew really well!



Well, it was a success for the most part. No major problems except for the hops screen in my brew kettle coming off of its barbed fitting. Made for a SLOW transfer to the fermenter. I'm blaming my grain mill for the crappy efficiency (20 points low at 1.036 corrected, shooting for 1.056). I think I had the gap set too wide, since there were a lot of intact hulls in the spent grains - should've checked that sooner! I also need to use a better thermometer. The Brewmometer doesn't have a long enough probe to get to the center of the mash. A digital check of the temperature usually differed by 20-30 degrees from the Brewmometer reading. I should never have drilled that hole in my cooler! I boiled up a few pounds of DME to raise the OG 7 points - hopefully it turns out well. Lots of lessons to apply to my next brew session!

A pic of the completed rig:

 

disaffected

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Yuri, what is that middle picture with the wort chiller in it? Looks too clear to be wort. Of course, I haven't done anything lighter than an amber ale before, so I don't really know what lighter brews look like.

That pot also looks like it is too full to boil in. Why are the hoses disconnected from the wort chiller? Seems like you'd risk dripping water into your wort.
 

ian

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beer4breakfast said:
Yuri, what is that middle picture with the wort chiller in it? Looks too clear to be wort. Of course, I haven't done anything lighter than an amber ale before, so I don't really know what lighter brews look like.

That pot also looks like it is too full to boil in. Why are the hoses disconnected from the wort chiller? Seems like you'd risk dripping water into your wort.
I'm guessing that the "wort chiller" is part of his HERMS setup and the pot is hot water to heat the wort passing through the coil up to his target mash temps.

I'd like to see more pics of this setup. Looks much more simple (in a good way) than some I've seen.
 

Desert_Sky

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wow man, very nice yet again.

How much lower to do you set the temp for the first couple days of fermentation? or do you even compensate for the the fermentation temps?

I like this.....gonna look into making one for myself.
 

disaffected

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ian said:
I'm guessing that the "wort chiller" is part of his HERMS setup and the pot is hot water to heat the wort passing through the coil up to his target mash temps.

I'd like to see more pics of this setup. Looks much more simple (in a good way) than some I've seen.
Ah. I bet you're right Ian. I see a pump on the floor in the first pic.

Guess I'm going to have to go read up to learn what a HERMS and a RIMS is. I keep see ing references but have no idea really.
 
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All the speculation is correct - the thing that looks like a wort chiller is really being used as a heat exchanger to control the temperature of the mash. I recirculate the mash from the mash tun through the heat exchanger placed in the hot liquor tank and back. I can maintain or even raise/lower the mash temp with that method without adding water to the mash, and my sparge water is "built in." The disadvantage to this method is two-fold. First, you need a pump capable of handling hot liquid. Second, it can take a LONG time (15-30 mins or even more) to raise the mash temperature. If you do it "right," you never heat the HLT water above the target mash temperature. So, the temperature difference really shouldn't be that much between the mash temp and the HLT temp (20-30 degrees at the most usually). If you remember your physics (or a discussion about wort chillers), you know that the smaller the temperature difference in a heat exchanger, the slower the heat is exchanged.

To be honest, I didn't even know the difference between RIMS and HERMS until I looked it up this morning. This link describes it well. I was calling my setup a RIMS-type system because my AG "mentor" has a similar rig, and that's what he calls it. Apparently it would be more accurate to call it a HERMS system.

I'll post some more pics of this thing now that there's some interest.
 

DrewsBrews

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I've been eyeballing the plastic disconnects you've got on your heat exchanger coil in the latest Midwest catalog. They look pretty beefy.

One question: when you disconnect them from the "male" side, do they seal up? In other words, do they hold the liquid in or let it leak out? I've been thinking I could use them on hoses connected to a pump, allowing me to use one pump with multiple hoses to circulate/sparge and then transfer the wort to the brew kettle by swaping hoses on the inlet and outlet of the pump.

I just don't want a setup that spooges hot wort on the ground every time I disconnect a hose. :mad:
 
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To answer Chimone's question about fermentation temps, I have the controller set at 64 on the heat side and 66 on the cooling side, each with a 1 degree differential. That gives me a possible range of 63-67, but every time I check it, it's right at 64 (makes sense since it's a little cool outside). The optimum fermentation temp for my WLP011 yeast is 65-70, so my goal is to keep it at the low end of the scale, especially for the first few days. I haven't measured the actual liquid temp yet, but I guess I should. EDIT: Liquid temp was 70 when I measured it today. I held the test tube in my hand for a few minutes before measuring the temp, so I'm guessing 68 is more accurate. I think I'll dial the temp down to 62-64. It's already down to 1.014 from 1.045-ish.

For DrewsBrews - sorry man, those disconnects seal really well when they're connected, but the ends are open once you unhook them. Note the big puddle in one of the pics - some of it was caused by just plain sloppiness with the hose (so to speak) on my part, but some of it is from the open tube ends as well. Yes, that's an electric pump in the puddle...pretty stupid of me, I know.
 

DrewsBrews

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Crap... I figured as much. Well, if you've had success with them other than that, I think I'll still use them. I'll just have to put a three-way valve between them and the pump. When I'm done for the day, I can just pop them loose to clean the lines and put stuff away.

Yes, the pump in the puddle was a smooth move. 30 self-inflicted lashes with wet noodle for you. :D
 

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Where did you pick up your AC unit? I think I can get away with something that small for my fermentation closet.
 
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Chimone said:
Where did you pick up your AC unit? I think I can get away with something that small for my fermentation closet.
Look on eBay. This is a good time to pick one up for a cheap price. I got mine for $50 used, but it seems brand new (looks like someone unpacked it and thought about installing it, then sold it).
 
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I promised more pictures, so here they are:

My $20 Home Cheapo ceramic space heater:


I'm gonna build a mechanism to slide the burner from one pot to the other. For now the burner is just on top of another stock pot.


My boil kettle. I'm using the false bottom as a hops screen.
 
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My mash tun. I made the false bottom from some perforated stainless and some #10 stainless hardware. The fitting above the false bottom is for the Brewmometer. Below it is the outlet valve. The sparge arm is fixed, but the holes are drilled horizontally so that they create a subtle "whirlpool" effect just under the surface of the mash water.


The hoses, chiller and pump to make everything go:
 
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Since there was some interest in how my system works, here's my 15 gallon AG brewing process. You probably won't get much out of reading this if you brew with a 3-tier system, already use a pump for sparge/wort transfer, or you despise fly sparging.

1. Make sure the yeast starter is ready. Clean/rinse everything. Start heating 15-17 gallons of water in the 20 gallon boil kettle (grain bill dependent). Mill the grain.

2. When the water gets to ~140 (recipe dependent), begin pumping it up to the mash tun (filling it by pumping through the mash tun outlet valve). When the water hits the false bottom, add the grain. Stir occasionally. Stop filling when the mash tun is almost full.

3. Transfer the remainder of the heated water to the 9 gallon hot liquor tank containing the coiled immersion heater. Top up the hot liquor tank and heat to desired step temperature. The boil kettle is now empty.

4. Set the pump up for recirculation from the mash tun through the immersion heater and back via the sparge arm. Begin recirculating after the protein rest (if one is necessary). Monitor the temperature of the mash. Stir every 20 mins or so. Continue heating the hot liqour tank and recirculate as required to meet the mash schedule. Measure hops.

5. Fly sparge. Why? Because I can, and it makes sense to me. Heat the hot liquor tank to sparge temperature. Configure the pump to transfer the sparge water (same water as was used for immersion heating) from the hot liquor tank up through the sparge arm. If I haven't stirred the mash recently, the runnings should already be clear from HERMS recirculation. Begin draining extracted wort to the boil kettle via gravity feed. Monitor sparge speed so that sparge water enters at the same rate that wort exits. Use first wort hopping for the first hops addition in most cases (helps with boil overs and adds aroma for some reason).

6. Begin applying heat to boil kettle when it's about 1/4 full (faster boil that way). Stop sparge when enough wort is collected or the extracted wort is too diluted to be of value.

7. Boil. Follow hops/adjunct schedule. Fill fermenter with Star San solution.

8. Drain fermenter, using drained sanitizer to clean anything that will be on the cold side of the chiller. Begin heating 6-9 gallons of tap water in the hot liquor tank for cleaning later. Use pump to transfer boiled wort from kettle to fermenter through the counterflow chiller. Monitor chilled wort temp (no greater than 80).

9. Pitch yeast.

10. Clean up. Dump spent grain and hops into a cardboard box lined with a big garbage bag. Clean the pump, chiller, all lines, etc with the hot water from the hot liquor tank.
 

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Yuri_Rage said:
5. Fly sparge. Why? Because I can, and it makes sense to me.
lol nice

Well that, and I really wouldn't want to batch sparge a 15 gallon batch. I've batch sparged a 10 gallon batch, and man....thats quite a bit of 175*ish water to have to dump in. 15 gallon batch.....that would be scary.

Allthough Im sure theres a safer way, but I just put on a pair of mechaincs gloves, then pick up the smokin hot kettle and dump it all in at once.
 
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I got the perforated stainless sheet here. I used tin snips to trim it to fit, and I use some 2" #10 stainless button-head machine screws/nuts to space it up from the bottom (the round heads keep from scratching the plastic too badly).
 

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YURI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Your a genius. As i was reading your posts and thinking about buying a hot plate to put in the fridge in my garage for lagering in the winter i realized, i have 2 window air conditioners sitting in my garage for over a year as my House does not need them like my old rental did.................................To home depot i got for the pink insulation and a few 2x4s.

Reverend
 
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To give you an idea of how well that air conditioner works, I set the controller to 40 degrees F last night, and the closet went from 65 to 40 in about 20 minutes. The air conditioner has hardly been working at all, and this morning, the beer in the conical is nice and chilled. Cold conditioning...mmmm!
 

Yorg

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I thought you had gone over to using steam as the heat source. What happened?
 
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UrbanFungiPilze said:
How do you bypass the thermostat?
Find the assembly inside the air conditioner attached to the temperature control knob. There should be 3 wires coming out of it - 2 of them are switched by the thermostat, the 3rd is ground. Simply splice the 2 switched wires together and do a test run. The air conditioner should run continuously.
 

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Yuri_Rage said:
To be honest, I didn't even know the difference between RIMS and HERMS until I looked it up this morning.
I'll post some more pics of this thing now that there's some interest.
I like the HERMS system much better. I don't like the idea of directly heating the sugar water. When I finally build my system, I'm going to go with HERMS.:rockin:

love that hook and horns emoticon. :rockin: :rockin:
 
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Skrimpy said:
I like the HERMS system much better. I don't like the idea of directly heating the sugar water. When I finally build my system, I'm going to go with HERMS.
Your response is to a post that's about a year old now. I've since gone with a steam injection system that is WAY better. Search the forum for more info on mashing with steam.
 

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Yuri_Rage said:
Your response is to a post that's about a year old now. I've since gone with a steam injection system that is WAY better. Search the forum for more info on mashing with steam.
I just saw that the post was still active and read it from the beginning. Thats all. I will look into the steam injection. I don't know anything about it but just by the sound of it, it's 100 times better.


Just found some of the posts. Looks good to me.
 

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Yuri

It's been about year now since you built this.

Hope you don't mind a few questions about the cabinet....

Are there any modifications that you've made?
Your thoughts on how it has performed?
What would you do different?

Is the insulation board sufficient?
How does the heater fair in colder ambient temps (> 0 and < 20F)?
 
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No mods. It works great for ales in the summer, but lagering has to wait for the winter. I can only maintain about 30 degrees less than ambient, so when temps are at 90+, lagering is right out. The heater works just fine in sub-freezing temps, but we don't see less than 20 down here in southern New Mexico.

What would I do differently? Hmm...perhaps a bigger A/C unit so that I could get the temps down enough for lagering year-round. Otherwise, this thing suits my needs just fine!
 

DaleJ

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Thanks Yuri.


I'm considering rotating the framing 2x4's 90° and filling the spaces with kraft back insulation batting, covering that with visqueen, and then the insulator board inside of that.

Looks like it's going to be my winter project!

Do the Ranco, or other, temp controllers have RS232 connections or the like?
It'd be nice to be able to collect temp info on the computer.
 
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DaleJ said:
Thanks Yuri.


I'm considering rotating the framing 2x4's 90° and filling the spaces with kraft back insulation batting, covering that with visqueen, and then the insulator board inside of that.

Looks like it's going to be my winter project!

Do the Ranco, or other, temp controllers have RS232 connections or the like?
It'd be nice to be able to collect temp info on the computer.
I don't think the Ranco controllers have RS232 connections readily available. However, check out Arduino microcontroller boards. For less than the cost of a 2-stage Ranco, you can make a multi-stage controller with all kinds of functionality (including USB communication). You just need a little programming skill and maybe some soldering ability.
 

DaleJ

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Thanks.

I'll check out the Arduino.
With 30 years of programming, I got that part covered.
And I've soldered a few things in my time.

Sounds like fun.
 

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I realize this thread is a few years old, but I want to build something like this, and I was wondering what you did for the door to the unit. I can't really tell from the pics, is it just a sheet of insulation that you move?
thanks
 

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