My RIMS System Brewday

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I have been brewing on my Recirculating Infusion Mashing System (RIMS) for a little over a year now, and am loving every minute of it. When I first started all-grain brewing, I could never quite get my mash temperatures right. It would always be too high or too low after adding the grains to the strike water, and then my corrections could never get the temperature exactly where I wanted it. I am the kind of brewer that thrives on consistency, and the ability to recreate the same beer from batch to batch is extremely important to me, so not being able to consistently hit mash temps precisely or hold them steady for the entire mash duration really bothered me.
After completing my RIMS system, I never looked back. I now get consistent mash temperatures and have the ability to step mash, which has really helped my mash efficiency, and given me the ability to consistently produce beer the way I want it to turn out. I see a lot of posts on HomeBrewTalk asking about the RIMS process, so I figured a great idea for an article would be to detail my brewing process. So without further delay, here is a detailed outline of my brewing process recorded during a recent Belgian Golden Strong brew day.
Yeast Selection:
Just like any brew day, this one began with the creation of my starter.
For this particular batch, I was super exited to try out the Dry
Belgian Ale liquid yeast from The Yeast Bay.

Dry Belgian Ale Liquid Yeast From The Yeast Bay
Making The Yeast Starter:

Saving The Extra Yeast For Future Brews
I put a 1600 mL starter on the stir plate a few days prior to the brew day to produce enough cells for the batch, plus a bit extra to save for a future batch. After the starter had fermented out completely, the portion for a future batch was reserved, and the rest was put into the fridge to settle so that I could decant prior to my brew day.

Yeast Starter For Pitching And Some For Storage
Preparing The Brewing Water:
The early morning brew day began with filling the hot liquor tank (HLT) with strike water. In my process, all brew water is filtered through a carbon filter to remove chlorine from the water prior to brewing.

Filling The Hot Liquor Tank With Filtered Water
Heating The Brewing Water:
The mash water is then heated with a propane burner to reach strike temperature. Meanwhile, approximately a gallon of hot water is added to the mash/lauter tun (MLT) to preheat it for the brew day. Strike temperature for my system is approximately 10F higher than my target mash temperature to account for heat losses during dough-in.

Preheating The Mash Lauter Tun
After I reach strike temperature with my propane burner, the mash water is pumped into the MLT. Once the water is in the MLT, I briefly recirculate through the RIMS to make up for any thermal loss from the transfer until my desired strike temperature is once again reached. The mash liquid flows from the MLT through the bottom bulkhead connected to the false bottom inside the MLT, through my pump, into the RIMS tube where the wort flows over the heating element, and then past the temperature sensor and back into the top of the MLT.

DIY Controller Build Based On The Design From TheElectricBrewery.com
The temperature sensor at the output of the RIMS tube controls the heating element inside. I use a 5500 watt, ultra-low density heating element with my 20-amp, 120 Volt brewing system, and it works great. I have never had any scorching issues, and I am able to ramp mash temperatures at a decent rate.

RIMS Wort Recirculation While Immersion Chiller Cools The Wort
While the strike water is recirculating through my brewing system, I grind the grains for my batch using the Cereal Killer grain mill and my cordless drill. I have never measured the gap setting on my mill. Instead, I gradually adjusted the gap down until the grind resulted in cracking the grain husk and releasing the interior parts of the grain without completely shredding the grain husk. Before every brew day, I grind about a half-pound of grain, check how it is coming out of the mill, and adjust if needed. This works great for my system, as I am able to consistently achieve a mash efficiency of ~82%. Personally, achieving a consistent efficiency level is far more important than achieving a high efficiency level just to save a dollar or two on grain for each batch. Once my system has established a constant strike temperature, the RIMS is turned off, and the crushed grains are added to the strike water and stirred to create the mash.
I perform all of my mashes at a ratio of 1.5 quarts of water per pound of grain. My MLT has approximately 0.5 gallons of dead-space below the false bottom, so this is accounted for when calculating the strike water volume. Once the grains are thoroughly mixed into the strike water, I allow the mash to rest for 5 minutes to establish a solid grain bed. After 5 minutes, the RIMS is turned back on, and the wort is allowed to flow through the system while the heating element maintains the set temperature. For this particular batch, the saccharification rest temperature is 149F. The PID on the left controls the RIMS tube heating element, and the PID on the right measures the temperature of the wort leaving the MLT.
After the mash is complete, the mash temperature is increased to 168F via the control panel. My system heats at approximately 1F per minute. While the wort is heating to mash-out temperature, my sparge water is heated in the HLT using my propane burner. While the sparge water is heating, I add lactic acid to bring the pH of the sparge water down to 6.0 to help with mash efficiency and to eliminate tannin extraction. I have been using the Brun Water spreadsheet for a bit over a year now, and I find that the results are so spot on that I rarely ever measure mash and sparge pH anymore.
That may also be helped by the awesome and consistent water supply that I get from the downtown Cincinnati Water Works Plant, but the spreadsheets calculations are always spot on. After the sparge water is heated to sparging temperature, I move the HLT off of the propane burner. I then place the boil kettle on the burner so that mash runoff can be heated during sparging to save time during the brew day. After the mash has reached 168F, I allow time for a 10-minute recirculation at the mash out temperature. After mash out, I sparge with 170F water. My sparging setup is a bit cobbled together as shown in the picture below.
The Boil:
Once the mash has been sufficiently sparged with all of the water in the HLT, the wort is brought to a boil using my propane burner. While the wort is heating up to a boil, hops and other ingredients are weighed out for the batch. For this particular Belgian Golden Strong Ale, the only boil additions are Saaz hops at the beginning of the boil and corn sugar at the end of the boil to really let the yeast character shine. While the wort is boiling, I take the time to clean out the MLT.
This is a great time saver as most batches don't have a ton going on during the boil with the exception of a few hop additions. With 15 minutes left in the boil, I add one WhirlFloc tablet to every batch I make. Similarly, at 10 minutes left in the boil, I always add yeast nutrient to my batches to help the yeast do their job efficiently.
Cooling The Wort:
After the 90-minute boil, the batch is chilled using my immersion chiller and whirlpool set up. I pump from the bottom of the boil kettle into a stainless steel recirculation arm installed in the kettle to make sure that my chilling efficiency is maximized, similar to Jamil's Whirlpool Immersion Chiller. I cover the boil kettle with foil to keep all of the nasties out during the chilling process.
During the winter months, I can typically take wort from boiling temps down to pitching temps in as little as 5 minutes. This isnt the case in the summer, so I have to recirculate ice water during chilling to help bring temperatures down. I have recently started chilling the wort down as much I can with tap water, and then use my chest freezer to finish off the chilling process. I typically collect the cooling water from the wort chiller in the MLT during the beginning of the cooling process to use for cleaning after the brew day is complete.
Transferring To The Fermentor:
Once the wort reaches pitching temperature, I turn off the cooling water, remove the immersion chiller, and let the wort whirlpool for an additional five minutes. After the cold whirlpool, I turn the pump off and allow the wort to rest for 25 minutes. This is usually plenty of time for the hop debris and cold break to form a cone in the center of the boil kettle. After the rest, clear wort is slowly drained into the fermenter. I currently use the 6.5 gallon plastic Big Mouth Bubblers sold by Northern Brewer. They are super easy to clean, and I love the large opening for adding ingredients to the beer as well as cleaning them out after fermentation.
I typically collect 6 gallons of wort for every batch that I brew. The point of this is to make sure that I have 5 gallons of finished beer at the end of the process to completely fill a corny keg. When the fermenter is full, I oxygenate the wort using pure oxygen from the red welding tanks that are purchased at your local hardware store and a stainless steel diffusion stone.

Oxygenating The Wort Using O2 And Diffuser Stone
Fermentation is completed within my chest freezer with a heating pad installed on the inside in case the batch needs to be heating during fermentation. This is all controlled by my BrewBit temperature controller. The Dry Belgian Ale yeast ripped through this beer and took it from a gravity of 1.078 down to 1.001 for an ABV of 10.2%. Hopefully I explained my process thoroughly enough to help anyone who is interested in RIMS brewing to understand my take on the system.

Controller Measures Temperatures At RIMS Tube Outlet
I also have to thank Kal from TheElectricBrewery.com for his detailed build steps on his control panel. I built mine based on his design and couldn't be more pleased with it. It is truly a joy to brew with. Please let me know if you have any questions about my brewing process or any comments below. Cheers!
Thank you for this great write-up! My LHBS just got a few Grainfather all-in-one setups in, and we brewed a simple Heff to sort of break it in and figure out its quirks. Unbeknownst to our own damn selves, it features RIMS for the mash and we had never used this system before. Reading your article, I now understand where we went wrong, so batch number 2 will hopefully be a little easier.
Good write-up, but the pictures don't really help me understand how this works. I'll have to devote some time towards reading every line
@TheHairyHop Send me a PM if you have any specific questions. I can also send you some more pictures of my system that may be easier to follow. Some didn't make it into the final article. Cheers!
Did the auto-tune features of your PID work well for you? I manually overrode the P, I, D, and T variables in order to get my PID working for RIMS but it could probably still be improved.
Nice article and glad to hear you found my TheElectricBrewery.com website helpful! Cheers! Kal
@andrhamm I ran an auto-tune cycle three different times. Once while water testing the set-up and twice before doughing in the first batch. All were checked with my ThermaPen and the results seemed to work perfectly. I will say that during the fly sparge, I run my sparge water through the RIMS tube at an extremely low flow and that will cause huge temperature overshoots. The flow has to at a mash-recirculation flow rate for the PID to work properly in my case.
Would you explain the RIMS tube a little more. Is it a DIY project or could it be one? It seems like a 120 Volt service wouldn't be enough for a 5500 Watt element but I'm certainly no electrical genius to know. Information on where to get this, prices, or how to make it with parts would be super. This is a well thought out article with very nice pics, thank you.