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.

Motivation

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.

Onwards

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).

 

Whirlpool test

Watch this video on YouTube.

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!

  32 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

      Hi!

      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?

  8. Brian
    January 12, 2019 at 5:52 pm

    Hi Justin, thanks so much for sharing your journey in homebrewing. As I stalked your blog the past few days I’ve been trying to have a better understanding of what your thought process is (you did outline much of your thought process in your systems which I appreciate, thanks!) and whether you would ever move back to the C-HERMs or another HERMs system in the future? I’ve been doing a ton of research to decide what kind of system I’d like to build. I’ve been extract brewing for 4 years and will be moving to a house soon, so I’m excited to finally get into all-grain. I’m of the mindset, buy once cry once, so I don’t want to take a tiered approach to figuring things out. As I noticed from your journey you went through a number of redesigns and modifications to get where you want to be. I obsessed over The Electric Brewery, and was thinking of going down that route, but then I saw Blichmann’s Brew Easy and wasn’t sure what would be right for me. Everything in homebrewing is so subjective, as you know. I did read through your post about the different designs that all make great beer which is helpful. I’m just not sure if the 2 vessel system is better than the 3 vessel HERMS setup (I preferred HERMS to RIMS in the unlikely case scorching could occur, but do like the variable control on the RIMS element to limit how hot it gets, as a possible option). So, how have things been working out for you since this most recent post? Do you still standby going the 2 vessel route?

    • Justin
      January 13, 2019 at 3:34 pm

      Hey Brian!

      I wouldn’t consider HERMS for a future brewery – Counterflow HERMS or not. Just unnecessary level of complication I think. It works fine, but the plumbing gets involved. 0 issues with scorching with RIMS. I use a 5500 watt element in my RIMS but I also have a limiter as part of my PID algorithm which I typically set to not go beyond 30% output or so during mash recirculation (100% output when heating strike water, etc). I would suggest if you are using RIMS, to have a loop back from the RIMS output to either below the false bottom, or somewhere otherwise before your pump. This allows a high flow level in the actual RIMS tube – keeping temperature readings accurate and solids well suspended – without necessitating a high mash recirculation rate (which can lead to grain bed compaction, etc etc).

      Do I still stand by the 2 vessel approach? Yes. I think full volume mashing is the way to go for homebrewing, whatever way you get that done – 1 vessel or 2. It simplifies water chemistry greater, reduces equipment requirement and space requirements at a relatively small loss in terms of efficiency. I have a spreadsheet that estimates my efficiency based on grain bill and batch size that gets me very accurate results. Efficiency curves are flater when sparge is involved for sure – so I think this is something that no sparge brewers should all do.

      If I were to do things again I would likely size my mash tun to 30 gal, and stick with 20 gal boil kettle. When I do high gravity beers I do “half batches” – 24l – which is fine. I sometimes do “collaboration brews” that are 72l, though those are limited to about 1.054 OG. Point being, I often am pushing my mash tun volume.

      I would consider kettle RIMS again (like the breweasy), with certain simple precautions. I’d want a bottom drain in each vessel, and I’d want level switches, volume sensing and/or float valves involved. Honestly before that though, I would likely consider brew-in-a-basket just from the perspective of keeping things simple.

  9. mo
    January 15, 2019 at 10:49 am

    Justin, thank you for these great posts. I have a question about your previous system (k-rims); I’m planning a similar design, but plan to incorporate a CFC as a heat exchanger. What I couldn’t figure out was how you used the valves to change you flows. Do you have a digram that illustrates this? Again, thank you and Cheers! mo

    • Justin
      January 15, 2019 at 11:25 am

      Just to double check – the CFC is just for cooling wort right? Not mash temperature control.

      You can kind of see the plumbing of my K-RIMS system here: https://onbrewing.com/2017-brewery-update/

      Here’s the essentials:

      BK output –> Valve 1 –> BK Tee
      BK Tee out 1 –> Valve 2 –> MT Tee out 1 (Let’s call this section the “cross over manifold”)
      BK Tee out 2 –> Valve 3 –> Pump 1 –> Mash tun input

      MT output –> Valve 4 –> MT Tee
      MT Tee out 1 –> Valve 2 –> BK Tee out 1 “cross over manifold”
      MT Tee out 2 –> Valve 5 –> Pump 2 –> Boil kettle input

      Mode 1: Heating strike water and mash recirculation
      Valves 1, 3, 4, 5 are open, Valve 2 is closed, both pumps running
      -Liquid flows from MT via pump 2 into BK
      -Liquid flows from BK via pump 1 into MT

      Mode 2: Vorlauf (mash only recirculation)
      Valves 4, 2, 3 are open, Valves 1 and 5 are closed, only pump 1 running
      -Liquid flows from MT – through crossover manifold – through pump 1 – back into MT

      Mode 3: Lauter (mash liquid transfers to BK)
      Valves 4, 5 are open, Valves 1, 2, 3 are closed, only pump 2 running
      -Liquids flows from MT via pump 2 into BK

      Mode 4: Whirlpool (boil kettle only recirculation)
      Valves 1, 2, 5 are open, Valves 3, 4 are closed, only pump 2 running
      -Liquid flows from BK – through crossover manifold – through pump 2 – back into BK

      I’m just doing this in my head, I think it’s right but it’s possible there’s an error in there :). Try to match up with the images in that link I provide above or your own diagram.

      I had another tee after each pump to allow for water input, system draining, and wort output, but have omitted above for simplicity. You could just plumb this “wort out” to go through your CFC.

      • mo
        January 15, 2019 at 12:59 pm

        Justin, this is exactly what I was looking for…it all matches up perfectly. Thank you. As to the CFC, I was looking at it serving a dual purpose…ramping up mash temps without a full volume recirc and for cooling; I guess like a k-herms with an external HLT/BK coil. Not sure if I can work that into the design…version 2. One final question, the tee after the pump for water input…I assume you would open the appropriate valve and use water pressure to fill the vessel (all other valves closed). Not critical, just curious. Thanks for your quick response. Cheers!

        • Justin
          January 15, 2019 at 1:10 pm

          Yeah basically. I have a garden hose to tri clamp adapter that I use. Just attach it where needed. While the plumbing in the following picture wasn’t the final plumbing layout for my Kettle RIMS, you can see these tees on the output of the pumps anyways.

          https://onbrewing.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/IMG_1112-1024×1024.jpg

          Here’s the post that that image was originally included in: https://onbrewing.com/brewery-build-pt-7/

          What you’re describing sounds a bit like a counterflow-HERMS but only 2 vessel. The plumbing could get complicated if you want to hard plumb it because you generally want to consistently keep the outer jacket on CFCs as water only. The very first system I detailed in this blog was a 3 vessel counterflow-HERMS, if you go way back you will find details on that.

  10. C Van
    January 17, 2019 at 9:21 pm

    Love the design Justin. I’ve been thoroughly reading them your posts as I’ve been designing my own system. If you’re willing to share, I’d love to better understand how everything flows thru your plumbing. For example, when you are recirculating in your MT, it looks like the wort would flow to the pump and end up routing in both directions. Just having the valve closed on your BK create enough back pressure to hold the air and push back on the wort? Also, after you’ve completed your boil, how do you drain into your fermentation vessel? It’s hard for me to tell what path that would take purely from the photos. I can imagine you using gravity to slow down the sight tube and out, I’m assuming that’s not the way you’re doing it. Would love to learn more!

    • Justin
      January 18, 2019 at 10:46 am

      Here’s how this system’s plumbing works:

      BK output (bottom port) –> Valve 1 –> Tee 1
      MT output (bottom port) –> Valve 2 –> Tee 1

      Tee 1 –> Tee 2

      Tee 2 –> Valve 3 –> this is the system fill/drain
      Tee 2 –> Pump –> Tee 3

      Tee 3 –> RIMS tube –> Valve 4 –> MT input (top port)
      Tee 3 –> Tee 4

      Tee 4 –> Valve 5 –> Wort output
      Tee 4 –> Valve 6 –> BK input (side port)

      Mode 1: Filling system with water
      Valves 2, 3, 4 are open. Valves 1, 5, 6 are closed. Pump is off.
      Description: Water supply is connected to Valve 3 (the system fill/drain point), which fills up the mash-side plumbing, and the mash tun through both the bottom and top ports.

      Mode 2: Heating strike water and mash recirculation
      Valves 2, 4 are open. Valves 1, 3, 5, 6 are closed. Pump is on.
      Description: Liquid from mash tun recirculates through RIMS tube. RIMS tube output controlled by PID, flow rate controlled by pump VFD and Valve 4.

      Mode 3: Transfer liquid from MT to BK
      Valve 2, 6 are open. Valves 1, 3, 4, 5 are closed. Pump is on.
      Description: Liquid from MT is pumped into BK. Flow rate controlled by pump VFD and Valve 6.

      Mode 4: BK recirculation/whirlpooling/chilling (using immersion chiller)
      Valve 1, 6 are open. Valve 2, 3, 4, 5 are closed. Pump is on.
      Description: Wort in BK is recirculated. Flow rate controlled by pump VFD.

      Mode 5: Wort output
      Valve 1, 5 are open. Valve 2, 3, 4, 6 are closed. Pump is on.
      Description: Wort in BK is transferred out of system into fermentor. Flow rate controlled by pump VFD.

  11. C Van
    January 17, 2019 at 10:29 pm

    Nevermind! I didn’t realize there were added comments in the last couple days. Looks like you already answered my question. Thanks Justin! Keep it up, I need to learn more!

    • Justin
      January 18, 2019 at 10:29 am

      What you might be looking at is a detailing of my previous kettle-RIMS. I’ll answer your other comment when I have a moment.

      • C Van
        January 18, 2019 at 4:56 pm

        Ya, I was originally asking about the 2018 update version, saw your flowchart was referencing 2017. Thanks for adding the 2018 flow. Mode 5 still perplexes me. I can’t figure out how the wort flows down the sight tube and out of valve 5 to the fermentor. Seems it would go the direction to the pump…

        • Justin
          January 18, 2019 at 6:18 pm

          Wort always “collects” from the vessel outputs (bottom ports) in the sightglass and flows into the pump’s centre inlet, and out to either the right side through the RIMS tube and into the MT, or to the left side and then either into the side port of the boil kettle (whirlpool port) via valve 6, or to a fermentor by connecting another hose to valve 5 and opening it. Make sense?

          There is some plumbing loss in this arrangement as the wort output isn’t the lowest part in the system. It’s not much though.

          • C Van
            January 18, 2019 at 8:14 pm

            I think so! Just the valve 5 to fermentor still has me scratching my head, mainly because you run the pump. Seems that would be pulling the wort the opposite direction…

  12. Nick Parker
    January 22, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    There’s a lot of activity here in the comments lately! I’m hoping you have or will soon release another brew day video using the new system. I like the format you use where you can just click play & watch. No commentary or anything like that. However…with guys so interested in your system, I wonder if you’d be willing to do a video tour/walk-thru of a typical brew day? For educational purposes. :) Thanks!

  13. Erik
    March 26, 2019 at 8:11 pm

    Hey Justin, ok not expecting you to see this, but came across your blog today – thinking of going to a KRIMS – what I was needing was a 10 gal BIAB approach without the bag or large crane in my kitchen.

    How would I protect the element on the Boil side? I got the Mash side (auto sparge) but now you have me thinking, if I regulate the Mash side will this protect the level of the Boil side if both are equal in volume?

    Also does Spike have a way to reach into bottom center of BK with some sort accessory to bring those grains back through the filter?

    Thanks and congrats on your new setup.

    • Justin
      March 27, 2019 at 10:04 am

      You could implement a level switch in your boil kettle – there are various styles of those. That’d be easiest. Though as long as there is self regulation happening in one direction, that should actually control both vessels volumes, so you are probably OK with just an auto sparge!

      Spike has a centre style pick up tube that they use on their mash tuns, that you could put in your boil kettle but I do really think a bottom drain in the boil kettle is idea for K-RIMS. Worth nothing that a centre pick up would hurt your ability to whirlpool – you almost need both – a centre and a side pickup.

  14. danvh
    April 21, 2019 at 12:56 pm

    Thanks for this info,
    will use the 3 way valve tip next brew to keep BK temps steady during stuck, slow mash manipulations. I mash/brew on a 120w 5 gallon Breweasy. I try to use all the hacks I find on brew blogs.
    I use a biab in the mash tun, above the false bottom, stops grain from blocking false bottom and NO grain goes to BK. Also allows quick reset of gain bed when it compacts, and easy fast grain removal in clean up.
    I also save 1 gallon clean brew water to sparge grain, so much sugar in the MT grain, just cannot toss it out. Hope to add Rims Rocket for mash heating soon.
    Keep the tips and hacks coming.

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