Shout-out to Chris Van

In early 2019 a brewer, and reader of this blog by the name of Chris Van reached out to me for some more details on the plumbing of my brewery. We’ve chatted off and on since, while he built his own interpretation of my brewery design. He now has a handful of brews under his belt using this system, and has provided some pictures.

Chris’ iteration includes a removable drain pan near the pump and system drain in his brew stand, and shelves for his counterflow chiller (Northern Brewer) and brewery controller (auber instruments). He went for a 3-way valve on the pump outlet (to route wort through his RIMS tube into his mash tun during mash recirculation, or towards his boil kettle), and another 3 way valve near the boil kettle (to select between boil kettle recirculation or to route wort through his CFC). The 3 way valves allow the system to be more compact (and look great). Like me, he opted for custom kettles with tri clamp fittings from Spike Brewing.

Well done Chris!

2019 Brewery Updates pt 4: The Grand Revert

In the process of planning the revisions detailed in part 3, I remembered that with my next brewery update, I had wanted to implement low oxygen brewing principles. This meant going back and adding a couple more design goals – namely the ability to underlet my mash tun to mash in with deaerated strike water. Also, I wanted to fill my boil kettle from the bottom port rather than the 20cm or so from the bottom through my whirlpool port. On the want-to-haves was (and still is), a stainless counterflow chiller.

It doesn’t sound like a lot, or maybe it does, but if my intention is still to have a hose-change-less brewery, the piping gets pretty complicated with even one of these feature additions. So for awhile I contemplated a brewery design that would have me making some hose changes instead.

Somewhere along the line I realized I don’t have the time or capital to see it all through, for now at least. I still have a PhD to finish here and hadn’t done the (essential?) task of brewing in several months. The last brew day at home was in May (4 months ago)!

So what I’ve done for now is basically completely revert things and settle with a few minor but meaningful improvements. Thankfully I had resolved to not destroy my old brew stand while I was exploring all of the system changes I explored (see parts 1, 2, 3), so it was there waiting for me…

Valve swap

The most immediately noticeable change is that I swapped out the butterfly valves that control the flow into my mash tun and boil kettle, for full bore quick-clean ball valves. What I had been experiencing during lautering with my system, is that the head pressure difference between a full mash tun and empty boil kettle was great enough, and my pipe restriction/friction losses minimal enough, that I could not control the transfer rate to be as slow and consistent as I wanted it. My pump VFD, which I dreamt as a panacea to all things flow rate control, was useless here. The butterfly valves essentially can only be used in an on/off type of scenario so there was no back up solution here. I had sanitary diaphragm valves at one point in my brewery’s history, and I expect I may eventually move back to those in some way. We’ll see how this goes first.

My brewery, now with quick clean ball valves (blue handles), for some primitive flow restriction.

Plumbing isolation

What else? I added a couple butterfly valves immediately off my pump output tee. This allows me to isolate sections of my plumbing. From a sanitation perspective this offered an improvement as the plumbing between my pump and mash tun return was free to back flow while transferring wort to fermentor, and that liquid, and the plumbing holding it hadn’t been boiled/pasteurized in the same way. This also gives me a bit more flexibility should I want to partially pull apart my brewery while in use, or only use a part of my brewery (i.e. limit soiling/contamination/cleaning) say for cleaning kegs or for using my mash tun and RIMS tube for Sous Vide.

Kind of difficult to see – but two butterfly valves have been added to my pump outlet to provide some ability to isolate sections of my brewery plumbing (black handled valves seen near top of image by pump).

Gaskets

Lastly, my friend Pat sourced some PTFE/EPDM/PTFE sandwich gaskets for me. Originally I used EPDM gaskets throughout my brewery, but I found they:

  • Didn’t have the rigidity that I wanted (i.e. most hardware required supports)
  • Seemed to swell pretty quickly – short lifespan,
  • Were so soft that they were easily overtightened/deformed, and,
  • They seemed to stick hardware pieces together/were hard to remove if had been in place for any extended period of time (perhaps due to minerality of local water interacting, I thought?).

The move to PTFE gaskets addressed all of these things, but unfortunately due to some very minor alignment issues in the vessel outputs, when connected with unforgiving PTFE gaskets they either leaked or put undue stress on the ports. Just a little bit of flexibility here using a series of sandwich gaskets has remedied this issue nicely for me, and I’m happy with that!

PTFE/EPDM/PTFE sandwich gaskets are awesome.

Diagram

Updated process diagram

Conclusion

So there you have it. My 2019 updated brewery. Time to brew!

2019 Brewery Updates pt 3: Design Revision (and Success)

This post assumes parts 1 and 2 have been read first, and probably won’t make much sense otherwise!

After a small tweak, I was able to get my idea of RIMS+loop to work basically as I envisioned it in a water test. A ball valve controlling the loop flow rate more linearly (compared to the butterfly valve used in my first revision) proved to be essential.

While I was setting everything up for my test [and preparing myself for failure], I figured even if only a small amount of flow was looped in the design, that would offer some meaningful safety for use of an inline heater – and surely that was possible.

Using two ball valves, I am able to dial in a RIMS loop recirculation rate ranging from 1/2 to 3/4 of the overflow (for example, 12 litres/min flow rate through the RIMS tube, with 9 litres/min recirculating back through the pump immediately, and the flow rate in/out of the mash tun consisting of the remaining 3 litres/min. I keep the pump frequency around 50%. Centrifugal pump RPM and flow rates have roughly a quadratic relationship, so this is may be more of a reduction in actual flow rate than you might think (N.B. I don’t actually have a flow meter, unfortunately. Sanitary flow meters are super expensive – even without taking into account the ability to handle some suspended solids).

With the water test a success. I should probably brew with it. For the test brew, I won’t worry about making the plumbing look perfect and will focus on functionality. If the real world performance impresses, I will consider implementing the design more permanently (which I figure may require one custom Tri Clamp tee to pull off). I can’t brew with the set up shown here exactly as I removed a temperature probe from my RIMS tube to run the tests. Yes that’s my old stand. Good think I didn’t demolish it yet.

2019 Brewery Updates pt 2: Initial Implementation (and Failure)

I’ve made some progress with the design changes I detailed in post 1 of this series. I was able to implement the design, but in testing, it failed to give me the result I was hoping for. It has informed a revised design that I hold hope for working, however. This post won’t make any sense without reading the one linked above first.

When the loop was open to a significant degree (controlled by a butterfly valve), excessive pressure is not built within the loop – pressure sufficient to push liquid up to the mash tun return anyways. A check valve may be required on the mash tun output to prevent this, as with this design there is nothing stopping that loop pressure from being removed with just a bit of back flow. I don’t know enough about check valve internals and mechanisms to know whether it would be advisable to put one in this location. I do know that it would be a bit of an expense for me to get one to try it. My instinct is that a check valve isn’t a great idea as the involved pressures are pretty low and likely insufficient to trigger the most check valve mechanisms (whether closing a normally open check valve, or vice versa), and this may not even be the main issue.

The second issue, what I think is a larger issue, is that some kind of proportional valve, rather than a butterfly valve is necessary to control the loop flow rate. I think it’s possible that with sufficient throttling at this point that the idea works without a check valve on the mash tun outlet. In my initial testing, I did not have the granularity to test this using the butterfly valve. You would think this would be as easy as swapping one valve out – and it is, except the valve dimensions are different from one another, requiring a new plumbing layout. So, I’m in the process of testing a revise design with the butterfly valve swapped for a ball valve. Due to some decreased confidence in this idea, I am no longer determined to devise an entirely hard piped layout to test the second design revision. If I figure something out, great. Ironically, as my revised plumbing is almost identical to what I started with – I could’ve easily tested this without work on a new brewstand.

All in all, this has been a good lesson for me – test new ideas as rudimentary as possible and build from there. My next post will be testing the second design revision, hopefully with different results!

Updated process diagram, with addition of check valve and proportional valve (highlighted in yellow). Revision 1 diagram can be found on the previous blog entry.

Sanke keg cleaning for homebrewers

I’ve long been a fan of sanke kegs. My first brewery in 2010 was built with converted sankes for the boil kettle, mash tun, and hot liquor tank. I have used sanke kegs extensively for fermentation, and for the past couple of years I’ve been turning to sanke kegs rather than corny kegs for all my beer serving needs (and I can fit a lot of sanke kegs in my beastly keg fridge). With all of these sanke kegs I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to clean them at my scale (roughly 10-15hL per year). You may have already seen my 3 various attempts at sanke keg clean-in-place (1 and 2, and 3), and I’ve now come to the conclusion that true sanke keg CIP is not entirely practical for a homebrewer like myself. Continue…

The ultimate keg fridge

As some followers of this blog know, I have a penchant for an obsession with shiny things. In the last year I’ve spent a lot of time on building my new brewery… and with this new brewery, I have a slightly larger brewing capacity. Each brew day typically leaves me with a full 50L keg of beer to share. These 50L kegs take up a lot of space however, and if I wanted to have more than two beers on tap at a time I was going to need to figure something else out.

Continue…

Brewery build pt 6: brewing vessels

There are plenty of proven homebrewery designs out there, amongst all of the ways they differ, the number of required brewing vessels is perhaps the most obvious. My new homebrewery is being built as a two vessel system. On my search of two 20-25 gallon tri clamp outfitted brew kettles in Canada, I didn’t come up with much. Continue…

Brewery build pt 5: pumps

3A sanitary pumps are out of reach to homebrewers. Their price is at least an order of magnitude higher than what most of us are able and willing to spend. Recently, some brew-it-yourself-ers who are interested in sanitary design, but not so much the associated costs, have been modifying affordable food grade stainless steel pumps to be mostly sanitary. I am now amongst their ranks. Continue…

Brewery build pt 4: fermentation and kegging

As I haven’t quite received all my equipment for wort creation just yet, I’m going to skip ahead to discuss fermentation and kegging with my new brewery. When I sold my last brewery, my conical fermentor went with it. With my new brewery having a slightly larger batch size capacity I felt it would no longer be suitable for my purposes. While I expect at some point in the future I will own another, albeit larger, conical fermentor, for now I have to do something a bit more economical. You see, all of the tri clamp fittings I equipped my new brewery with made pretty quick work of my budget…

The solution I’ve come up with is to return to using 15.5 gallon sanke kegs for my fermentations, as I used before I owned a conical. When I brew larger batches on my new system I’ll have to use a carboy for the extra volume likely, but this affords me the opportunity to experiment with different yeast and such, so I’m not complaining!

I decided I needed to take my sanke keg fermentation to the next level. The “neck” of a sanke keg is exactly the same size of a 2″ tri clamp fitting… you see where I’m going with this?

 

IMG_0792

 

I have used a reducing cap to go from the 2″ tri clamp keg neck, to a 1.5″ tri clamp tee. When fermentation is taking place, one side of this tee will be capped while the other will be connected to a blow off tube (as seen above). When I go to dry hop or add some funky organisms to the beer I will just loosen the 2″ tri clamp and remove the whole assembly, do my thing, and reinstall.

For racking into kegs, I have the following set up:

 

IMG_0791

 

The racking tube depth is adjustable with a compression fitting that has been bored through, and equipped with replaceable silicone o-rings. This way, I don’t need to draw beer from the very bottom of the keg where all of the sediment has settled, as when I previously used a sanke spear for transferring out of sanke keg fermentors. The racking tube itself is a 1/2″ diameter stainless tube. The large diameter here ensures that none of this equipment will be obstructed by hop debris and such. A connection to my CO2 tank will be made to push beer through the racking tube to finally… this monstrosity:

 

IMG_0793

 

This is how I’ll fill my kegs. The check valves have been removed from the sanke coupler to turn it into a filling head. I have attached a “beer thread” to tri clamp adapter to the liquid side of the filling head.  With this I have attached a butterfly valve and a sight glass. Depending on what I see through the sight glass I may choose to close the valve to readjust the racking tube while kegging beer (i.e. CO2 bubbles indicate the racking tube is too high, and heavy trub indicates that the racking tube is too low). It should also make transfers for me a lot less messy as it will eliminate nearly all beer loss when I switch between the serving kegs I will be filling.

For a fraction of the cost of a new conical, I think this will keep me quite happy for a while!