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 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 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.

Review of OBK’s “grain defender” false bottom

During the craziness of the holiday shopping season, one of my favourite homebrew equipment and ingredient suppliers, Ontario Beer Kegs put their false bottoms on sale… I’d been eyeing up one for awhile and couldn’t resist ordering one even though it wasn’t officially designed to fit my mash tun. Continue…