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State of the brewery

I felt that the first post in my homebrewing blog should be a tour of my brewery.

My brewery is a single tier, electric, three vessel system, which is best described as a variant of the popular Heat Exchange Recirculated Mash System (HERMS) design. The standard HERMS design utilizes a coil in the hot liquor tank for the purpose of precise, but gentle mash temperature control. The temperature of the water in the hot liquor tank is maintained at a system specific differential to the target mash temperature, usually 1-5 degrees fahrenheit. During the mashing process, wort is recirculated through the immersed coil, effectively controlling the mash temperature.

In my brewery, I do not use an immersed coil as a heat exchanger. I utilize an external, counterflow heat exchanger. I call this design C-HERMS (Counterflow-HERMS). The advantage of this is that the external heat exchanger doubles as an efficient wort chiller. This design does require two pumps, which would negate the potential cost savings in utilizing a single heat exchanger. The use of two pumps has some additional benefits however. The hot liquor tank in this design is guaranteed to be well mixed since it, in addition to the wort in the mash lauter tun are being constantly recirculated. Two pumps also grants fly sparging abilities (on a single tier system) and requires far fewer hose changes over the course of a brew day.

This is what it currently looks like:



Published in Brewing Equipment


  1. I’m pretty jealous of your setup. You should do a brewery tour one day. :)

    • Justin

      If you’re nearby I’m always happy to have people over on brew days. Likely have one this weekend in fact.

  2. […] Comments: Two pumps are required in this design, but the counterflow heat exchanger replaces two HERMS brewery items – the HERMS coil and a wort chiller. The cost differences are not likely to be significant as a result. There are other benefits of having dual pumps such as fly sparging ability in a single tiered brewery and the ability to pump chilling water in breweries without running water. Plumbing is “more complex” than in a standard HERMS design. I personally use this design. […]

  3. This is a fantastic setup. Very simple but well thought-out. I just put a HERMS system together with my old BK, a cooler MLT, and a keggle, and it worked well (1 pump and a really hacked together PID system – just testing it out, really). I’ve spent the summer looking at Elsinore and getting my RPi set up and wired, I’m not sure if I prefer that or the hardware-based control panel I already bought the parts for. But I did decide I wanted to get three new kettles and plumb them properly. I’ve never heard of a C-HERMS but I like the idea.

    So, you know, prepare to be copied. ;)

    • Justin

      Thank you kindly. As far as I know, I’ve coined the term C-HERMS :)

      • I figured as much. I’d love to see a quick YouTube tour of your setup. Or, if “nearby” is near Central Oregon, maybe I’d take you up on the brew day tour. I’m assuming your HLT and BK are identical? How are your temp probes attached?

        • BK and HLT are identical yes.

          I use NPT thermowells from brewershardware, with DS18B20 temperature sensors inside. The kettle hardware has changed around a bit since the images in this post. I don’t use the dial thermometers at all anymore. This has greatly simplified the configuration on the kettle ports.

          I’m in Canada.

          • What is the purpose of the bleeder valves? Is it to vent air when priming the pumps, or to drain fluid in the lines after pumping? I’m trying to understand why you can’t just open the “out” valve to bleed before connecting the hose, or drain out of the “in” port to clear lines of fluid. Definitely looks great, I’m just trying to justify it.

        • Justin

          I couldn’t reply to your other comment because of the depth of reply.

          The bleeder valves have a couple purposes. Main one is for priming the pumps (often not needed). I also use them to reduce hose switches during a brew day.

          I would say if you have suboptimal pump placement, bleeder valves are a good idea. If your pump placement is good, you probably don’t need to worry about them. It’s something you can easily add on later on an as-need basis.

  4. […] As mentioned, grist consistency is highly important due to the recirculating nature of my brewery (Counterflow Heat Exchanged Recirculating Mash System). A crush too fine, and recirculation struggles and requires a high level of attention. Too coarse […]

  5. […] the mash, which is especially important for me because I use an recirculating mash system (C-HERMS, specifically). A poorly milled mash can cause serious headache with such […]

  6. […] significantly in recent years. Without that, it would’ve been impossible for me to build my current brewery. But this post isn’t about that! Here’s a look back to how I used to […]

  7. Brandon

    This looks great! And I like the term “C-HERMS”! I’m actually looking to build the same setup as yours (with some very slight variations). What do you use for your electric heating element? I am trying to decide whether to use gas burners or electric, and I’d like to see the price and efficiency differences.

    • Brian

      If you’re doing anything like this, electric is the way to go. Solenoid valves and such for gas has to be a pain. Check out the excellent website for the whole story.

      The most popular setup is a 3-vessel 240v system with 5500w water heater elements in the HLT and BK. Spend the extra few bucks for the ALL stainless elements like you can find at Justin has some great insights, and I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have as well.

    • Justin

      Shouldn’t be any brewhouse efficiency differences with electric vs. gas. There’s higher energy efficiency with the electric approach (much of the heat energy is wasted when using gas burners). Gas will be more expensive I believe in terms of equipment and offer slightly less control. A gas burner will have some minimum time you’d keep it on, while you can cycle an electric element such that it is on for only a fraction of a second. Also, the ventilation requirements for gas are much more serious.

      I’m actually in the process of putting together a new brewery, a 2 vessel, 2 pump, all tri clover Kettle-RIMS design. Just to try out some new ideas really. I’ll be trading brewhouse efficiency for time savings (no sparge system), and money for increased modularity and cleaning ease.

      That being said, and I may be biased, but I think the C-HERMS design is the best 3 vessel design there is!

      • Brandon

        Do you fly sparge? If so, what do you use as a sparge arm?

        • Brian

          Try Loc-Line, they have some cool attachments that some people use. (I batch sparge so I can’t testify to much more.)

  8. Brandon

    Also, was there any particular strategy for your valve placement on your kettles (not the valves at the base)?

    Thanks for your help!

    • Brian

      I liked this setup (returns about middle-height for the HLT and BK, and near the top for the MLT) because it was easy to attach short arms inside to whirlpool the water and boil under the liquid level, and to set up a silicone hose (or sparge arm, if you prefer fly sparging) above the mash surface for the MLT.

      I am considering adding dedicated fittings for my threaded temp probes so I can monitor more accurately without having to recirculate. It’s a bit if a pain with the probes in the valve assembly for my preference, but it also has advantages. Something to consider if you’re designing a rig.

      • Brandon

        Ah, I see! So is this how it works?…
        First, hookup a pump to your BK. Second, open the bottom valve (outflow) to let wort flow into the pump.
        Third, turn on the pump.
        Fourth, open the inflow valve on the BK, which will be located midway and the high flow 90 will be completely submerged in wort already.

        Question: Did you use high flow 90s (like the one in this link) for both the BK and HLT?

        Question: I’m looking to fly sparge, do you have any designs that you recommend? One of the goals in my design is to build everything in a way that allows me to refrain from opening my lids.

        Thanks for all your help.


        • Brian

          You got it. The way mine is set up, the kettle fittings have female 1/2″ NPT connections on the inside of the kettle. I used copper fittings inside to direct flow parallel to the kettle wall (whirlpool style). Actually, in the HLT I put a tee there so flow splits and comes out both left and right inside the kettle wall, just for good turbulence.

          Can’t really recommend fly sparging ideas other than what I said earlier. Anything that disperses trickling water over the top of the grain bed will work. If you don’t want to open the lid, get a sight glass so you know your liquid level. If it drops too low you risk stuck sparge. You also need to be sure to keep flow rate high enough during the mash if you’re recirculating, so consider whether fly sparging is worth it in that case.

        • I’m probably not the guy to ask about fly sparging because on this design, I batched sparged, and on my new system, I’m doing no-sparge!

          I ended up using high flow 90s for whirlpool ports and pick up tube.

      • Yeah I agree with the temp probe comment. I ended up putting them where all the dial thermometers are in this picture and did away with the fancy valve assembly at the bottom.

  9. Jason Loxton

    I am thinking of putting together a very similar system, and Googling brought up your page. Could you provide a little more info on your set up? (Or point me to more images or a diagram, if you’ve got one.) Is mash temp maintained through a constant re-circulation of the wort, with the HLT flow only on periodically, or the other way around? I was planning on a constant mash recirculation with the HLT running as required based upon the return temp coming into the mash tun (with a sensor at the inlet), but perhaps this is not the best way of doing things. Thanks for your advice!

    • Jason Loxton

      Or are you constantly recirculating from both the tun and HLT, and modulating the temp of the HLT to maintain temps like in a traditional HERMS system?

      • That’s exactly right. Note: I’ve since sold this system and built a new one, but this worked very well for mash temperature control!

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