Now that I’ve been brewing (and tweaking) my new brewery for about half of year, it’s due time for me to share an update!
Butterfly and diaphragm valves
Butterfly valves are a pleasure to clean, and it was because of this that I decided to use them everywhere in my new brewery. They can be cleaned in place, or easily disassembled and thrown in a bucket of PBW. I do both. What they’re not great at is controlling flow velocity. To better control flow velocity, I’ve added two sanitary diaphragm valves to my brewery. With recirculating mash systems, it is of high importance to control flow rates such that a proper grain bed can be established, and that that grain bed is not getting compacted during the mash. These diaphragm valves allow me to achieve this. The flow rate is set very low while the grain bed is established, and is slowly increased during the recirculation process to achieve greater heating efficiency.
Tri clamp plumbing
For a long time I wanted a tri clamp hard plumbed brewery. I have that now (mostly). What I didn’t take into account is that stainless steel plumbing conducts heat much easier than silicone tubing! Silicone tubing is an amazing insulator of heat in fact. This poses some difficulty for a recirculating mash system as significant heat loss occurs due to the movement of wort through my brewery’s plumbing (especially brewing in a garage in the winter), and I need to account for that with a higher temperature delta between the boil kettle and target mash temperature. Around 3-4F works well.
I do love the tri clamp fittings though, for a tinkerer like myself, the modularity they provide has been one of their greatest features. They’re super easy to clean – whether in place, or disassembled. They look gorgeous. The larger diameter plumbing is much less restricted than using silicone hose throughout a brewery, and pumps are able to achieve very high flow rates as a result. This is great for whirlpooling in the boil kettle.
Temperature probe placement
Initially I was reading temperatures inline. My temperature probes were located in a tee on the outlet of my kettle and mash tun. The issue with this is that you must be recirculating liquid to get an accurate reading. While I often am recirculating these vessels, that’s not always true. I ended up having an extra 1.5″ tri clamp port welded into both my boil kettle and mash tun – something I wish I would’ve had done by Spike Brewing when they built my custom kettles. I actually went through this exact same decision making process with my previous brewery – I started with inline temperature sensors, then later switched to vessel mounted sensors because of the recirculation requirement. Why I made the same mistake again, I’m unsure!
At the time of writing this, I am still using StrangeBrew Elsinore brewery software, it does do everything that I need, and does it well. I am keeping my eye on some other software for the Raspberry Pi called CraftBeerPi though. The hardware requirements of this software are identical to StrangeBrew Elsinore – it works by connecting the Raspberry Pi GPIO to relays, and uses DS18B20 sensors for temperature readings. A huge community is building around this software, and it’s next version (version 3), looks like it will have plugin support. It’s written in python, and I know python, so perhaps I could contribute through this plugin feature in the future, we will see!
I conditioned my malt with my previous brewery, but mostly because that was before I owned my Monster Mill MM-2, and it was my only shot at getting a consistent crush. Well, now even having a great mill, I’m back at it. The main reason is that malt conditioning seems to lead to better suspension of the mash, which allows for greater recirculation speeds, which for those with recirculating mash systems, generally means greater temperature control. My process has been to condition to approximately 2% moisture content with a spray bottle, and mill with a gap of 0.035″. This works well for most malts, some, like oat malt evidently requires an even tighter gap though.
My efficiency is lower with this brewery than my last because I do not sparge. I’ve gotten really great at predicting brewhouse efficiency though, which, really, is the important part (for homebrewers at least). I wrote a small app to help others with no sparge systems estimate their brewhouse efficiency as a function of grain bill size, works great! Efficiency is typically around 75% for me.
While I’m content with how things are working with my new brewery, there is definitely still room for improvement. I’d like to use a proper manifold for mash recirculation to minimize grain bed disruption – that’s probably at the top of my list. I’m also considering adding a level switch to my boil kettle in order to automate one of my two pumps during the mash recirculation process. Currently I am required to monitor and adjust the flow rates from the mash tun to the boil kettle, and back again such that they are roughly equal. This would double as a safety feature against element dry firing – definitely a good idea for systems of this sort!
A couple more pictures below!