Quantcast

Help with a simple setup

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

Help Support Homebrew Talk:

JGF

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 28, 2014
Messages
72
Reaction score
12
Location
La Crosse
I've been brewing - on and off depending upon free time and where I've lived - for 25 years so. I started with extract many years ago and have done all grain for about 15 years. Brewed sub-4% beers to about a 13% barely wine. Done a few sours, parti-gyles, multi-step mashes, etc. So, I'm no newbie but looking to get back into it more on my own.

My dad and I brew together on a three vessel system (cooler HLT and mash tun, and brew kettle) which is versatile and works really well. I'm looking for something that takes less space, is a little faster (we fly sparge), and maybe a little cheaper.

Having done some 1 gallon batches recently, they quite frankly aren't worth the time and effort for me to do them (your mileage may vary). It's a good way to test out some ingredients or a new recipe but I'd rather make at least 3, preferably 5 gallons at a time.

Doing a bit of research, here are some ideas for a simple system that would meet my desire for taking up less space, being faster, and (maybe) cheaper and some questions:
  1. BIAB in the brew kettle (single vessel). How well can I maintain mash temp in a BIAB in a brew kettle?
  2. Electric system (basically a BIAB single vessel) - Is the extra expense worth it to maintain temperature? What are some suggestions without going $1000 in?
  3. Cooler MT no sparge (either in a bag or buy/build a manifold or screen) - Preferences of a bag vs. a more standard collection system?
  4. Cooler MT batch sparge. I assume I'd need an additionally vessel for a HLT or a second kettle to be able to collect wort and add more water.

Some other questions:

  • Do any of these have versatility limitations? I'd like to - once in a while - brew some big beers. How big of a cooler or kettle are required for higher grain bills in a 5 gallon batch?
  • Fermenting in a corny keg? I can probably buy them for pretty cheap from a friend that has 40+ of them and doesn't use them like he used to. (he had a small farm brewery which he doesn't do any more).
  • Recirculation - Since I probably can't do it all by gravity (I could but that would be more space), is there a significant advantage of recirculating the wort in any/all of these systems?
  • I like the idea of the electric systems but have zero experience with them. Any big pros and cons?
  • We've mostly used glass carboys but I'd like to get away from them.
  • Anything that I've not thought of / have overlooked? Other ideas for simple systems?
Certainly a lot of this is like personal preference but looking for others experiences - pros and cons - about the different simple options. Any help, suggestions, and experiences are welcome.

I know there's a lot there - thanks in advance!
 

JONNYROTTEN

Banned
Joined
Nov 21, 2009
Messages
4,054
Reaction score
1,326
Location
Long Island
BIAB really is so easy and makes great beer. I would go that route

It holds temps really well, lots of people wrap a blanket or something around the kettle.

Electric is really really nice. First and foremost you can brew indoors unlike propane, its quite doesnt make a peep which is enjoyable, and its cheap. Propane gets expensive, electric will run you like $2 a brew session, its a non issue.

I built a simple electric system from soup to nuts with a 20 gallon pot for 10 gallon batches for under $600 years ago. It paid for itself ten times over by now.
I knew not a single thing about electric and built the system with the help of the fine folks on the forum. If I had to do it again I could build it start to finish in a half day.

Buckets are way better than carboys, safe, easy to clean, have a handle...but thats a whole debate thats been beat to death

You dont need a cooler with BIAB...one pot for everything...so easy

I havent found a need for recirculation. A simple stir once and a while does the trick and theres no pumps worry about, clean ETC.

I'm all for "keep it simple stupid"
All the bells and whistles are to make the brewer happy, not to make better beer....for the most part. I'm sure they'll be some disagreement there.
 

mux11

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Supporter
Joined
Nov 8, 2010
Messages
159
Reaction score
20
Location
WAUKEE - IA
Your timing is funny to me because in thinking of simplifying I am looking at the Claw hammer set up. Its an all electric 1 pot BIAB set up.

I appreciate your questions as I had not thought of the different styles and bigger grain bills.
 
  • Like
Reactions: JGF

RM-MN

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Nov 26, 2010
Messages
14,165
Reaction score
4,866
Location
Solway
How well the BIAB pot keeps the temperature is a non issue if you take advantage of the inherent advantage of BIAB. With the bag as the filter instead of depending on the grain husks to form a filter you can get away with a much finer milling of the grain. In fact, it is difficult to mill too fine as the bag forms the filter and it can handle near flour. With the grain milled so fine the conversion isn't strung out over an hour or more. It happens quickly, much more quickly than the extraction of the flavors and since the enzymes responsible for the conversion are quickly denatured at mash temps you have a lot of leeway in how long to leave the mash go, from about 20 minutes (not recommended by me) to overnight if that fits your schedule better.

I prefer to mash for at least 30 minutes as I know with my system that the conversion will be done and the flavors extracted from the grain. That shaves half an hour off the typical mash. Then I also shorten the boil as 90% or so of the bittering happens in 30 minutes that is how long I let the boil go, saving another 30 minutes. No matter what system you use, there will be a period of time used to heat the water to strike temp and another period getting to boil.

How you heat the water and wort is up to you. My kitchen range works well with the 2 1/2 to 3 gallon batches and will do a 5 if I choose. Adding a heat stick would speed up that if needed. For the price of the bigger pot, a strainer bag, and a heat stick you are set to go. That seems to be a bit less expensive than the semi-automated brewing systems.
 

JONNYROTTEN

Banned
Joined
Nov 21, 2009
Messages
4,054
Reaction score
1,326
Location
Long Island
I prefer to mash for at least 30 minutes as I know with my system that the conversion will be done and the flavors extracted from the grain. That shaves half an hour off the typical mash. Then I also shorten the boil as 90% or so of the bittering happens in 30 minutes that is how long I let the boil go, saving another 30 minutes. No matter what system you use, there will be a period of time used to heat the water to strike temp and another period getting to boil.

.
Wait a sec...30 minutes and 30 minutes....thats enough time? Is something that brewers are doing nowadays with success?

Specifically the boil as I brew in my kitchen and the steam is brutal...THat would be huge. I dont add mid boil hops so this would work for me
 
  • Like
Reactions: JGF

RM-MN

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Nov 26, 2010
Messages
14,165
Reaction score
4,866
Location
Solway
Wait a sec...30 minutes and 30 minutes....thats enough time? Is something that brewers are doing nowadays with success?

Specifically the boil as I brew in my kitchen and the steam is brutal...THat would be huge. I dont add mid boil hops so this would work for me
It seems to be enough time. I always get beer when it is done. Now for more heresy, you don't need to boil very hard. Bring it to a boil, turn the heat down until it just rolls. I only boil off about half a gallon.
 
  • Like
Reactions: JGF

Langchop

Member
Joined
Apr 8, 2018
Messages
10
Reaction score
5
Location
Johannesburg
I have recently been experimenting with a nice lightweight 25 L 'boilbucket' setup (basically a budget plastic urn) which I am using as BIAB mash tun, boil kettle AND fermenter. I am busy on my second test of an AIPA after the initial cream ale that worked out fine. I am starting to love this setup in that it's cheap (~$14) so i could have multiple systems, less storage space (no separate fermenter to store), less cleaning and sanitizing (mostly sanitises itself in the boil, apart from the lid), shorter brew session (reduced cleaning and transfers)

Yes the trub carries right through the process to bottling stage, but from my experience and brulosophy 'xbeeriments' this is not a problem. It typically lands me with a 15L final bottled volume.

I currently place said bucket in air temp controlled cabinet for fermenting,which takes a chunk of space, but I am building/testing a setup to have a 'dip chiller' through the lid directly into the wort (consisting of a force vented peltier cell with pumped water circulation to extract heat, and 12-24vdc supply through the 220vac rated element for heating). This will bring down the size of space occupied during fermenting to basically the size of the boilbucket

My point is that it can be done very simply and in a small space from my experience. If I had started with a 3 vessel system I wouldn't still be brewing, and would be divorced.

Regarding your first questions..
1. I currently use a variable voltage controller during my mash set at ~35% of full power of 2kW and it maintains it well. I can get away without wrapping anything around the vessel during the mash. When I have just wrapped the mash tun with a thick duvet and not heating input it typically only loses about 3 deg C over an hour.
2. An immersed element is allegedly the most efficient way to get electrical energy into the water according to a mate of mine in the appliance industry, I would say electrical is a good option
3. I don't really have much experience with a cooler, but if using a bag you can mill finer and probably get more sugars out. So more beer for the setup size.

This is all based on what I have experienced and others may have different experiences.

Good luck figuring out a setup... That's half the fun of brewing!
 
Last edited:

Langchop

Member
Joined
Apr 8, 2018
Messages
10
Reaction score
5
Location
Johannesburg
How well the BIAB pot keeps the temperature is a non issue if you take advantage of the inherent advantage of BIAB. With the bag as the filter instead of depending on the grain husks to form a filter you can get away with a much finer milling of the grain. In fact, it is difficult to mill too fine as the bag forms the filter and it can handle near flour. With the grain milled so fine the conversion isn't strung out over an hour or more. It happens quickly, much more quickly than the extraction of the flavors and since the enzymes responsible for the conversion are quickly denatured at mash temps you have a lot of leeway in how long to leave the mash go, from about 20 minutes (not recommended by me) to overnight if that fits your schedule better.

I prefer to mash for at least 30 minutes as I know with my system that the conversion will be done and the flavors extracted from the grain. That shaves half an hour off the typical mash. Then I also shorten the boil as 90% or so of the bittering happens in 30 minutes that is how long I let the boil go, saving another 30 minutes. No matter what system you use, there will be a period of time used to heat the water to strike temp and another period getting to boil.

How you heat the water and wort is up to you. My kitchen range works well with the 2 1/2 to 3 gallon batches and will do a 5 if I choose. Adding a heat stick would speed up that if needed. For the price of the bigger pot, a strainer bag, and a heat stick you are set to go. That seems to be a bit less expensive than the semi-automated brewing systems.
Some very valid and thought provoking points you make, that I have never considered
 
  • Like
Reactions: JGF

wilserbrewer

BIAB Expert Tailor
HBT Sponsor
Joined
May 25, 2007
Messages
11,233
Reaction score
2,775
Location
New Jersey
My biased 2 cents...

BIAB with a double pulley ratchet hoist...min kettle size 2x batch size w/ 2.5-3 times batch size preferred.

How you heat is up to you, but a simple electric element works well.
 

LittleRiver

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 3, 2017
Messages
1,111
Reaction score
1,279
...How well can I maintain mash temp in a BIAB in a brew kettle?
Just insulate the outside of the kettle during the mash. Some folks make multi-layer reflectix jackets for the kettle, others use blankets or a sleeping bag. I use an old sleeping bag. In the warm months I can hold temps within one degree. In the cold months I may lose another degree or two. Not a problem.

...How big of a cooler or kettle are required for higher grain bills in a 5 gallon batch?...
15gallon kettle is a good size for 5 gallon batches, that's what I use. Gives you flexibility for large grain bills, and no worries of a boilover.

...Recirculation - Since I probably can't do it all by gravity (I could but that would be more space), is there a significant advantage of recirculating the wort in any/all of these systems?...
I don't recirculate, and I'm not missing out on anything (other than stuck sparge issues, pump hassles, cleaning extra gear, etc.).

Some people say you need to recirculate to get clear wort, but I've found that time in the fermenter and/or a cold crash produces nice clear beer. If I wanted it even clearer, I'd add gelatin to my process before I'd add recirculation.

Anything that I've not thought of / have overlooked? Other ideas for simple systems?
Set yourself up an overhead lift point where you can hoist the bag and let it drain into the kettle during the boil. Some squeeze the bag, but if you let gravity fully drain it there's no need to squeeze. There will only be about 1 to 1.5 cups of liquid left in a bag that gravity has fully drained.

Raise your kettle/burner so you can drain directly from it into your fermenter. Gravity will drain the bag into the kettle, then gravity will drain the wort into the fermenter.

Use a tight gap on your grain mill. I get great results with .025". I can easily hit or exceed recipe targets without sparging, so normally I don't sparge at all.

Get a good quality bag made of swiss voile. I use one from Wilser, it's great.
 
OP
JGF

JGF

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 28, 2014
Messages
72
Reaction score
12
Location
La Crosse
Thanks all! Intrigued by the idea of an electric brew system. So of course, some more questions...

If I do BIAB in a single kettle, do I have to worry about keeping the bag off the heating element? Can I use the element to keep the mast tun at temperature or do I need to insulate well enough to keep temperature?

Not that money is the most important issue but at what point is buying a kettle and building my own system a better bet than an all in one system which can be had for $500 on the lower end and about a grand on the Grainfather end? I ask because as you start to think about buying a kettle, a heating element, a controller, a wort chiller, a good bag, etc., you're pretty much already at $500.

Thanks again.
 

Langchop

Member
Joined
Apr 8, 2018
Messages
10
Reaction score
5
Location
Johannesburg
If I do BIAB in a single kettle, do I have to worry about keeping the bag off the heating element?
Assuming its a high power element for the boil as well, I would recommend you do keep the bag off the element.Technically speaking tho if you have turned the element off and given enough time for it to equalise before putting in the bag it should be okay. In my view its not worth risking a burnt through bag

Can I use the element to keep the mast tun at temperature or do I need to insulate well enough to keep temperature?
I think insulating regardless is a good way to maintain the temp for sufficient time and keep a flat thermal gradient through the mash. Unless you can discretely control the power in the element, its likely you will substantially overheat locally around the element before the heat can transfer through the mash

Not that money is the most important issue but at what point is buying a kettle and building my own system a better bet than an all in one system which can be had for $500 on the lower end and about a grand on the Grainfather end? I ask because as you start to think about buying a kettle, a heating element, a controller, a wort chiller, a good bag, etc., you're pretty much already at $500.

Thanks again.
I think in reality it often can be cheaper if you really consider ALL the costs of piecemealing it. But I think for most of us homebrew types, the building and the hacks are half the fun of brewing
 
  • Like
Reactions: JGF

balrog

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 26, 2013
Messages
3,600
Reaction score
3,093
It seems to be enough time. I always get beer when it is done. Now for more heresy, you don't need to boil very hard. Bring it to a boil, turn the heat down until it just rolls. I only boil off about half a gallon.
This. If it is moving, it is a rolling boil. It rolls the liquid, hops, orange peels, lime zest--whatever. All around.

Not the reading glasses you drop from pocket when leaning over to read volume markings. Those stay at the bottom until you spoon them out.
 
Top