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 1: The Concept

I am always tweaking things in the brewery. Motivation for these changes vary, but usually start with a curiousity and snowball from there. This year’s updates have been related to an idea I’ve been sharing for recirculating mash systems. These types of breweries require recirculation that is quick enough to keep wort well mixed such that temperature readings are representative (minimal lag and stratification), heat exchange is effective (ideally somewhat turbulent flow), and mash solids (coagulated proteins, lipids, various grain material) suitably suspended to prevent scorching and other issues. At the same time, the draw/return rate from the mash lauter tun must be low enough as to not cause grain bed compaction, vectoring, etc.

My idea is not unique, but I haven’t seen it used by another homebrewer anyways. It involves a high flow rate “loop” in a breweries plumbing, which should prevent the formation of excess pressure across the grain bed (i.e. can work as a wort grant, essentially), and also allows higher flow rates in a HERMS coil or RIMS heater without requiring a high draw/return from the mash lauter tun. I don’t know exactly what to call this modified design. RIMS+loop and HERMS+loop?

Some brewers, myself included, have been reducing the wattage of their inline heater during the mash recirculation process. This remains as a good, common-sense idea, though I expect that with this kind of system you may not find that is necessary. I personally will be experimenting with gradually lifting the limiter I apply during mash recirculation.

Everything is perhaps best explained diagrammatically. Check out Figures 1 through 3 for plumbing and flow paths during mash recirculation, lautering, and whirlpool. The descriptions contain lots of extra details.

Figure 1: This diagram shows the mash recirculation process. Line thickness indicates the relative flow rates. You can see that a high flow rate is maintained in a loop containing an inline heater (for RIMS anyways, though the idea would work as well for HERMS) and the pump. A relatively low flow rate is maintained for actual mash lauter tun draw and returns. This offers a safety advantage over a no-loop RIMS system, in that if there are permeability issues with your grain bed, liquid will continue to move across the inline heating element and your temperature sensor should continue to be accurate if placed within the loop. Ideally this situation does not happen due to the ability of the loop to function like a wort grant – preventing the formation of excessive pressure across the grain bed.

Figure 2: This figure depicts the lautering process. It is very similar to Figure 1- a higher velocity pump-heater loop is involved (which could be used for heating to mash runnings to a mash out temperature, or just used passively), with a lower draw rate from the mash lauter tun. The pump-heater loop again provides some of the functionality of a wort grant in theory.
Figure 3: This figure depicts whirlpool process, which can be carried out as usual.

Next steps

This will surely require some optimization on my part. I expect that it is not suitable for most homebrewer pumps (e.g. smaller chugger or march pumps), though I could be wrong (I use a 1/2 hp sanitary centrifugal pump).

In terms of “dials to tweak” that I have with my brewery using this design, I now have a couple full port quick clean ball valves for my mash lauter tun and boil kettle return ports which should offer reasonable flow rate control. I also have VFD pump control which can control the flow rate and pressure of the pump-heater loop. There is also a small amount of flow rate control possible with the butterfly valves throughout my brewery – but not much!

I have some concern over the generation of excessive wort shear. I have not researched this sufficiently, but my understanding is that it can be damaging to wort quality in ways. Certainly it can disrupt coagulations of proteins and lipids, possibly allowing these materials to be carried further through the brewing process than might be ideal. Perhaps having impacts to beer stability or clarity. Whether proteins are actually degraded somehow seems unlikely to me with the forces that I would be generating… but not an expert here (yet).

I was able to implement the plumbing changes without really buying any new tri clamp pieces – I’ve amassed enough at this point to experiment with whatever idea I might have, which is handy. The valve tree had some inspiration from the SSbrewtech nano systems.

I would very much like to incorporate one or two sight glasses to my revised plumbing. These are very useful in monitoring the brewing process (e.g. mash running clarity, flow rate), but I have not found a great placement for them yet.

I also have to make a new brew stand or modify my existing one to work with my new plumbing. Pump placement, spacing, support locations are all slightly different. I am leaning towards making a completely new stand from lumber in case I end up wanting to go back or something. The materials are very cheap and already on hand, so no issues there.

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…