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The 3 Square Meter Brewery

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Okay, you live in an apartment; But what if you don’t want to have to brew in the kitchen and hide away your toys afterward? What if you wanted to have a dedicated home brewery?
That’s my case. We live in a flat. Luckily we have two restrooms – one is supposed to be a ‘guest’ restroom, though we very seldom have anyone coming to stay for more than a few hours.
My wife has so far stoically accepted all of my hobbies, from diving to RC-FPV flying, so she’s gotten used to tons of my gear occupying much of the floor area. She just sighed and nodded when on a bright sunny day I told her I was going to expropriate the guest restroom and turn it into a workshop.
Now here is the problem. The place is 1.60 x 2.05 meters – a tiny bit over 28 square feet, and half of the floor area is taken by the hand basin and the toilet. I promised I would not remove those by all means. This was the only firm condition Meine Frau set for me, so I thought it would be wise to agree.

This is how it all looks between brewing sessions


The 3 square meter brewery packed and dormant.
All steel structures are made of L-profiles. They are dirt cheap and in the event I want to change anything it will take me less than an hour to fully disassemble them all. You can see the window in the background; there is another rack made the same way outside the window. It is covered with aluminum foil-coated acrylic glass so that whatever I store outside is protected from sun and rain. I use it to keep the more stinky and aggressive chemicals outside. The conical is idle now – it has a cooling coil inside, and I use it for temperature-sensitive fermentations.
The weird tower in the front is one of two I made for glass carboys. They sit on wheels and can be moved anywhere to get out of my way when I am brewing. The bottom part is front-loaded; you can see a carboy sitting there. The front side can be closed with the same 3-cm thick double-sided foil-coated foam board, but I didn’t bother to do that as there is a saison farting CO2 there at the moment, and I am happily letting it rise the temperature to its own pleasure.
The top part is top-loaded, and provides surprisingly good cooling for low temps. A few ice packs suspended from the lid (not shown) keep it under 20°C for 9-12 hours even in the South China summer heat. Altogether, between the two 2-story towers plus the conical and two more carboys sitting in huge buckets filled with temperature-controlled water, I can have up to seven different beers fermenting simultaneously. The main brew stand has a shelf for crates. Cold and hot water hoses are also sitting there wound around one of the corner ‘horns’.

The water supply


A PUR Water filter hooked up as a water source, with star san and other cleaners at hand.
The water quality sucks in Guangzhou, and I would never risk drinking it raw, but I've deemed the use of a pretty basic filter to remove chlorine and heavy salts enough to make it suitable for my purposes. Boiling will do the rest, anyway. An RO filtering system might be an option for later time, but so far I am content with what I have. It only took drilling one hole in the marble stand and installing a tap with a filter head. While I still have to hand carry every 5L bucket from under the tap to the kettle, it is less than 1 m distance after all. I decided it was better than running pipes through and across this tight space. Everything I need for a quick clean up and sanitation is stored in this narrow rack squeezed between the basin stand and the toilet. The toilet brush is actually not for the toilet but for carboys and conical. Toilet is now decommissioned and not used as a toilet, so it is also as aseptic as can be.

Hooks on the walls


Maximizing space efficiency using walls and a shower rod
Everything that's not too heavy hangs on the walls. At the moment most of the hooks are vacant. This is just because I took everything out before brewing so I have more safe space to move around. Normally every hook is taken, and some are shared.
A bar across the room (which used to hold a shower curtain) helps with the cables and is also a home for a 70-cm long thermoprobe that would sit inside the conical when in use.

Counterflow chiller


Counterflow chilling setup. (click for large)
There's nothing special about this chiller. In the picture you see it being pumped through with nearly-boiling double strength NaOH dishwashing solution. I do it for 10 mins at temps no lower than 86°C, then flush with water, then re-flush with citric acid solution, then fill it up with StarSan and let sit until the wort is ready to be transferred to the fermentation vessel. In case it is too hot and tap water doesn’t allow for enough cooling, there is another trick - an additional 10m of copper coil and an ice bath. Sterilized by baking in the oven at 170°C for 25-35 mins, then also filled with StarSan. The kettle tap is filled with StarSan as well.

Ready to go


Prepped for Brew Day
The controls are ready, the grist is in the bag in the basket, and the pulley is in place. In the left there is a car tire pump: it deserves a separate paragraph, a bit later. Just remember it for now. All control boxes are kept in place on the wall by velcro.

Mashing


Many brew stands that I had seen were mere frames on which the vessels were mounted. I never understood any reason behind it because if any liquid spills out, it will foul everything beneath. Hence I use acrylic glass as a tabletop. It has no task of being strong or provide any support; just to protect the crates from spills. A control box on the wall contains two power regulators that allow me to adjust the power of both heat elements. Normally I run them at something like 1.5 kW during mashing and 2.5-2.8 at boil. A current meter is there just in case.

Dripping


Finishing the mash with a BIAB method.
The mash is over. The bag is hanging to drip. I will squeeze it later, or I won’t, depending on the beer I’m making and my plans for tomorrow. It might be just thrown into the box and sprayed with live kefir culture to get sour overnight, then re-mashed the next day together with some fresh grist. I don’t really like teeth-gritting sours, so I’m quite happy with the mild-sour taste that comes from mash-souring. When the bag is dry enough, the basket comes out and together they go into this big container. Later it will be put on the toilet and used as a washing up sink. I plan to add a proper drain in the box bottom.

Boiling


Boiling the wort under a hood to control steam.
Here you see my steam-removal system (patent pending… where is it pending?.. why do I always forget these little things!) During the boil I sanitize carboys with StarSan. The beer in and out lines are connected by the blow-off tube, so StarSan can freely circulate there as I roll the carboy on the soft floor mat. Proper silicone gaskets came to replace the crappy ones that came with the carboy. Now I can use sterile CO2 to push the beer out of the carboy without opening the lid. My beer never gets exposed to air from the moment it leaves the kettle until it's poured into the glass.

Aeration



Okay, back to the car tire pump. My aeration stones are too tight for an ordinary aquarium pump. Wetting pressure is about 1 bar, so I decided to go for a stronger pump. Now, it is way too strong! To remedy this, I made a little pressure relief tube on a T-connector. I keep my finger on it, and full pressure from the pump goes into the beer line; I release it a bit, and some pressure escapes through the hole. I plan to install a small plastic tap there to avoid having to keep my finger on it. See that tub with some beer-like slops? This is the StarSan that used to be in the CFC and immersion chiller. I let it drain into the tub until the first wort comes, then I quickly connect the hose to the aeration stone unit, and it goes into fermenter.

In the carboy


Done. The beer line is looped and sealed off. Some alcohol is locked inside to keep it aseptic till time comes to transfer the beer to kegs.
All that, mind you, in only a 3 square meter space.
 
I'm always impressed by the ingenuity of Homebrewers! What a great setup here. AND, if you have ever tasted the commercial beer anywhere in China, you know why it is all worth the effort to make a decent brew yourself.
 
Your bathroom setup is much fancier than mine will be when I get through with it. We live in a small mobile home, that HAD two bathrooms. I got rid of the tub and sink, as well as a small divider wall, re-routed the plumbing, and put in a laundry sink, and assembled an old steel office desk for a countertop. I left the stool (for guests). My brew space is in a former bathroom that is about 5' x 7'4" (approx 36.66 Sq ft), so I'm going to have a little bit more room than you do! My completion date is still a few months off, but your article gives me hope that I will eventually get it done .... even tho it's little by little. Thanks for the article!
 
Sick, bro! Small area brewing knowledge is essential when living without a yard or private garage. I feel your pain. As long as everything is organized all is well in the household.
 
No one would understand you better that I do :)
Well, practice shows that once the "what", "how" and "where" _to_brew_ problems are solved, now I'm facing an even greater a challenge, which is where _TO_STORE_.
Living in a flat in a high rise building leaves no hope for a cellar, end of story, no matter how many spare bathrooms you might have... South China summer is usually right under 40C with something about 85 to 95 per cent humidity, and I'm now having a few crates of beers that need 3 to 9 month long maturation. No idea where to put them :(
My last hope is to go around friends who are small factory owners or managers and see if they have basements I could use.
 
Now not having a cool basement is the biggest pain. Finding a place to brew turned out to be half of a problem; another is where to store!
Mark
 
Thank you!
However experience showed that was just the beginning of a problem. The biggest pain now is where to store my beers in an apartment...
Mark
 
Thank you!
It is not just about quality of local brews; some are no worse than foreign 'supermarket-grade' beers - but they are equally un-interesting and forgettable. I started a few years back with moonshining (although strong liquors in China are generally speaking of decent quality, if we decide to ignore the weird taste). But I wanted something different, so I went on making my own high thujone absinthe. Worked out fine, so homebrewing came in a natural course of development!
Mark
 
Thanks.... If only I could find out how to dig a cellar living on 12th floor... Need a place to store my brews.
Mark
 
Very impressive Mark!
I keg my homebrews in 5 gallon corny kegs which take much less room then bottles and the beer gets consumed much faster. If kegging is an option you can store them in plastic tubs with cold water to keep them from getting too warm.
Ganbei!
 
Ganbei!
I do have cornies and they help a lot, but still I like the feeling of a bottle and besides, there are brews that I want to mature for like half a year. Getting a keg out of circulation for that long means effectively having to buy a replacement... then another one... then... ;) you know how it goes, don't you!
 
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