2018 brewery update

An update on my brewery is quite overdue. Many changes have been made in the year+ since my last post on this in early 2017.


Ultimately, what triggered the changes I describe below was the fact that I wasn’t quite happy with my implementation of the Kettle-RIMS (K-RIMS) design. Couple reasons for this:

  • In some beers I was detecting astringency, which I chalked up to the amount of grain that made it into my boil kettle during mash recirculation (and stayed in my boil kettle). One way of countering this is to do a mash tun only recirculation – bit of a vorlauf before the usual K-RIMS recirculation. Only problem with this being that I experienced massive temperature loss during that (one of the downsides of stainless plumbing vs. silicone hose), defeating the purpose of my recirculating mash system perhaps entirely. I was able to get better temperature stability if I slowly added hot water inline into the mash runnings during this initial recirculation. Pretty complicated though, especially when trying to control mash pH. I couldn’t easily automate to hit my target temperature either.
  • There were annoyances in trying to balance flow rates during recirculation. I used two pumps with sanitary diaphragm valves for this purpose, but even with this precision adjustment I was not satisfied, and it felt as I could not leave the system unattended at all during mashing. The one time I did leave the system unattended for a couple minutes, I ended up dry firing and destroying my heating element. I really should’ve had at least one float switch in this design to protect the heating element. I looked into this, and I ended up starting to go down the road of volume sensing and a software implementation instead. I should’ve also had float valve like the Blichmann autosparge to permit me to match my flow rates more easily. I was close to going that route but I had some concerns with supporting multiple batch sizes, session and imperial beers equally, so ultimately, didn’t.

K-RIMS Advice

If you want to want to run a K-RIMS, I have a couple suggestions:

  • Use a centre drain boil kettle to bettle allow flushing of grain particles during mash recirculation.
  • Size your mash tun to allow “full volume mashing” such that all water chemistry adjustments can be done in bulk in the mash tun, before recirculation begins.
  • Use a Blichmann autosparge to simplify flow rate matching.
  • Protect your element with a float switch.


My favourite thing about tri clamp fittings is how easy it is to prototype new system ideas. I ended up doing almost a complete redesign of my brewery, but only needed a couple new fittings to pull it off. While settling on a “final” design, I tried dozens of different variations. Seriously. The idea was this:

  • Ditch the K-RIMS design, and build a more conventional RIMS brewery with an inline heating tube (often called a RIMS tube).
  • Reduce batch size slightly, to support full volume mashing in a single vessel.
  • Replace my two pumps, and my two diaphragm valves with a single pump which I could control the speed of with VFD.

The Pump

Really, the pump was the heart of this redesign. It is a true sanitary centrifugal pump, with a 3 phase 1/2 HP TEFC motor. When a deal came up on it Fall 2017, my plan was put into motion.


C100MD Sanitary centrifugal pump from CPE Systems.


This pump was ultimately coupled with a Toshiba variable frequency drive I picked up off of ebay, converting my single phase power to three, and providing plenty of control over pump speed, torque, acceleration/deceleration, etc. I probably wouldn’t have had much success with this it weren’t for bouncing ideas off friends in my homebrew club True Grist. The combination is dead quiet, especially when compared to the base model chugger pumps. Video of initial tests with the pump below. I figured out later that the flow rate in this video was principally limited by the proximity of the pick up tube to the bottom of the kettle. I ended up adjusting this to allow for an even more voracious whirlpool. Really helps in wort chilling with my immersion chiller, as well as extraction of flavour and aromatic compounds from hops (I like to think).


The Rest

After playing around with the plumbing configuration for months, below is what I came up with.

I built a brew stand out of scrap lumber to support the configuration – idea being that this would allow for further modifications and tweaks if found necessary after a couple brews at no cost. Eventually I may replace this with a welded SS stand, but for now I am perfectly happy with it.

5″ casters were added to make it easy to move around my pitted garage floor.


Ta da! Boil kettle on left, mash lauter tun on right. All plumbing is 1″ SS or 1″ brewer’s hose. Plumbing can truly be cleaned in place this time around. System has a bottom drain/fill port as well as an outlet on the pump side near the boil kettle.


Another angle of the plumbing configuration. Sight glasses make better beer, didn’t you know? In all seriousness, this is one piece of bling that is particularly useful – allowing me to monitor the consistency of the mash runnings during recirculation through the RIMS tube.


Filling the system with water, using an RV charcoal filter to aid in the removal of chlorine.


Filling the MLT with water. I heat the total volume of brewing water to strike temperature using the RIMS tube, to give the mashing-side of my brewery a nice-preheat before any grain is introduced. Both the RIMS element and the BK element are 5500 watts, so this doesn’t take long.


Brewer’s eye view. Pump at home. On the right we see the RIMS tube supplying the mash tun with precision-heated runnings. On the left, plumbing for whirlpooling within the boil kettle.


In action: mid-recirculation of a recent wheat-heavy beer.


The set up when put to work for kettle souring – lots of saran wrap and well purged with CO₂. Since this picture, it has come to light that a strictly anaerobic environment is not actually necessary for a clean and quality quick sour.

What’s next?

What’s next – hopefully nothing major for a while! Each time I modify my brewery, it ends up snowballing a little bit, and I’m offline, without homebrew for months on end. The system is working quite well now. If I were to make any modifications it would likely be with my mash tun – perhaps adding a mash stirrer, or a wedge wire false bottom. Some insulation to the mash tun would be helpful as well. I have a sanitary 4-20ma pressure transducer I intend to test for the purposes of volume sensing – that’s on the list too!

  15 comments for “2018 brewery update

  1. CD
    April 30, 2018 at 9:41 pm

    Ever think of ditching it all and going manual?

    • Justin
      May 1, 2018 at 8:34 am

      As shiny as it is, everything here is still all manually operated. I have no aspirations of automated valves and the like. I do use a PID algorithm for mash temperature control – if you count that. That being said, do I ever consider having done it differently – simpler? Absolutely. When my brewery was down for this redesign I was doing a lot of sourdough baking to scratch my fermentation itch. It was great to make that in the kitchen, wasn’t a big deal to make a loaf/week. Leads me to think that in parallel universe I have instead invested energy (and money) into my kitchen – maybe doing smaller more frequent BIAB batches on a nice gas range.

  2. Nick Parker
    May 1, 2018 at 10:09 am

    This looks awesome! The layout seems intuitive. Hopefully long-term it works for you. I’ve got a BIAB system that uses a Blichmann Tower of Power. So with two kettles I can be mashing one batch with my Blichmann Tower of Power. Then once that one batch is done mashing and into boiling I start mashing the second batch. I brew 2.5gal at a time so this works great. Two totally different beers and one brew day that takes about 6 hours start to finish. Good luck & happy brewing!

    • Justin
      May 1, 2018 at 9:57 pm

      Layout for accessing valves easily, as well as layout for the system input/outputs were major considerations to the design. Being compact, yet without obstruction. This being a 2 vessel full volume mash type system simplifies things here considerably. SS Brewtech I think does a nice job with this with their 3 vessel nano system – they use more than twice as many valves as me by my count to accomplish this though (13 vs 6)!

  3. Doug F.
    May 17, 2018 at 6:41 pm

    Hi Justin, very nice system indeed, and your blog is a good read – thanks for doing it!

    I’ve also thought quite a bit about hard plumbing a single tier, 2 vessel system. I’m not completely sold on k-rims and your experience seems to justify my doubts. I also prefer a one pump design.

    For k-rims you recommend sizing the MT for full volume mashing… at that point why not just forego k-rims and heat the mash tun directly. What advantages did you see with your previous k-rims system compared to this iteration? Having unbalanced flows between kettles resulting in dry firing or even overflowing a kettle makes me think a foolproof k-rims system is just too complicated to be worth it.

    Curious, do you drain and clean the lines after mashing and before whirlpooling?

    • Justin
      June 11, 2018 at 10:32 am

      Hi Doug sorry I missed this comment in May!

      K-RIMS I think is for those that want many of the benefits of “brew in a bag”, but with a dedicated mash tun. That was my thought behind it anyways. Direct heating a mash tun can be difficult which is why all of these RIMS and HERMS variants exist in the first place. If you can figure out how to direct fire a mash tun without scorching, that would be ideal method. Jacketed mash tuns and mash tuns with steam injection are potential avenues for this but in the end are probably more complicated/dangerous/expensive as the popular homebrew RIMS and HERMS designs.

      My most recent thinking is that a well insulated mash tun is probably the easiest/best solution. Conversion happens quite quickly with modern malts, much of it within 20 minutes anyways. In a well insulated, preheated mash tun the temperature drop in that window is negligible. I still see value in enabling recirculation in the mash tun to get ultra-clear runnings and that, and I use my RIMS to preheat my mash tun and strike water. My current approach has been to not recirculate the mash tun for the first 20 minutes, and do a very slow recirculation following that. Not so much for controlling temperature, just to get nice clear runnings.

  4. Markus
    June 11, 2018 at 9:21 am

    Hi Justin, love your new system. I am currently also moving from a K-Rims to a traditional 2-Kettle Rims system. Are you running the RIMS-element on full power? 5500 Watts sounds quite a lot. I have a 2700Watts element and I am a little bit worried that it might lead to scorching. What are your thoughts and experiences on this? Thanks.

    • Justin
      June 11, 2018 at 10:17 am

      Hey Markus – I run at full power to heat my strike water, but then with a custom PID algorithm I set the max output to 25% duty (using pulse width modulation). This works even better if you have an SSVR as you can make a 240V element super low watt density by varying the voltage – at half the voltage, the element has 1/4 of the original wattage. In my case it’s still 5500 watts, but in short pulses.

      Another thing you can tryu – and I hope to do when I have the time is to use a three way valve (or a tee with 2 independent valves) on the RIMS output – with most of the flow diverted back to before your pump. The idea being that you can run a low flow rate out of your mash tun, while having a very fast flow rate through the RIMS tube keeping mash runnings well agitated and debris suspended, preventing burning on the element. This should also reduce RIMS temperature probe lag time, further reducing volatility in the RIMS tube, and I also think this will help with grain bed compaction issues.

      • Markus
        June 12, 2018 at 3:01 am

        Hey Justin, thanks for the quick reply. I think I’ll try out the PID algorithm. I am using CraftbeerPI and I’ll have to check how to implement this. If that doesn’t work, I’ll give the three way valve a try. I have one lying around anyway. So thanks for your help and thanks for your great blog. I got a lot of great info from here.

        • Justin
          June 12, 2018 at 8:26 am

          I’m not actually using CBPi anymore so this isn’t in any of the plugins I’ve authored. I have now moved over to using Node-Red (https://nodered.org) 🙂 – much easier for those who want to implement custom algorithms and that. Quicker to get up and running with CBPI right now I imagine though.

          • Markus
            June 14, 2018 at 9:33 am

            Thanks for your advice. I think I’ll see what I can do with CBPi. Keep up the great work.

  5. Martin
    August 5, 2018 at 8:53 pm

    I also had grain particles going into the boil kettle during sparge on my herms system, grains would get caught in the valve causing inconsistent flow into the boil kettle, I fixed it with putting a stainless scrubbie over the mash outlet.

  6. September 17, 2018 at 4:20 am

    Hey i like it.

  7. Matt
    October 19, 2018 at 11:26 am

    Have you had any issues with scorching by having a 5,500w element in your rims tube?

    • Justin
      October 19, 2018 at 11:32 am


      I don’t. But, I’ve also written a PID algorithm that allows me to set max output, which I usually set to 50% during mash recirculation (100% for heating strike water, for various cleaning duties, etc). The issue isn’t scorching, but heating was too aggressive for a slow recirculation with a slight delay in temperature readings – i.e. it was possible to boil in the RIMS tube and I wanted to reduce that risk.

      In a future design I plan to recirculate the RIMS tube back to the pump AND to the mash tub such that I can have a high flow rate/well homogenized liquid within my RIMS tube and plumbing, while still having an overall low draw rate from the mash tun. Make sense?

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