My Brewing Process, Updated

Back in January I posted a brief overview of how I brew. Well, January was almost six months ago and several things have changed. Brewing commercially every week at Habits Gastropub has prompted me to rethink some things and really focus on simplifying my system to make brewing beer as stress free and easy as possible. After a 12 hour brewday, it’s hard to summon up the energy to brew in a complex way. It has also prompted me to get some better tools and equipment. So, here is my new setup…

To start with, my electric coil stove broke for the second time and I just couldn’t use it for brewing anymore. I replaced it with this:

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It’s the Avantco 1800 induction burner from here. It’s smaller than the one other induction brewers use, but it plugs into a standard household plug, which was key for my apartment setup.

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It fits this 8 gallon advanced brew kettle from OBK perfectly. I use this pot for both my boil kettle and my hot liquor tank. It’s fitted with two ball valves and male quick disconnects.

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The heart of this recirculation system is the interaction between the two pots. This bottom pot just sits on a chair below the top pot. It’s an old OBK model, but their 16 gallon advanced brew kettle would be my choice for the replacement. It’s fitted with a ball valve and a male quick disconnect.

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The final piece of the system is a chugger pump. I connect it to a power bar so it’s easy to turn on and off. It’s fitted with male quick disconnects on both sides and a three way valve on the output to both throttle the pump (when vorlaufing into the mash tun) and to allow for a bleeder line for easy priming of the pump. Just a note, the input side of this is the only male quick disconnect that has female NPT threading. The rest (5) are male NPT to connect to the ball valves.

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The way this system works is easy. All the hoses have 1/2″ hose barb female quick disconnects. One connects to the bottom ball valve of the top kettle and gravity moves the water over the mash (which would be in the bottom of that pot). I have a bazooka screen in the lower pot, though a false bottom might be better.

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The gravity lets the wort from the lower pot enter the pump where it is pumped back up into the upper pot.

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The top ball valve acts as the pump throttle, so you can keep your mash as loose or as thick as you’d like. Because your top kettle is on a heat source, you can heat water at a fairly aggressive rate and conduct step or ramp mashes easily. You can also set the burner to 1 or 2 and not worry about heat loss during the mash. The only thing to be careful of is keeping the pump throttled as to not compress the grain bed and stick the mash.

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I recirculate for the whole mash, usually doing a ramp mash starting at 54C, rising to 64C, and then mashing out at 72C with each rest lasting 10-20 minutes. And I check for starch conversion using iodine. After I’m done recirculating, I collect all the wort in the bottom (mash) kettle, rinse the top kettle from any mash debris, and vorlof into the bottom kettle before pumping all the wort to the top kettle for the boil.

It’s worth noting that I’ve attached an elbow and a hose barb on the inside of the top connection of the top kettle. This allows for the wort to whirlpool upon recirculation. That means we can also use this kettle as a whirlpool when boil is completed.

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I have a really shitty wort immersion wort chiller that works a lot better with this recirculation while cooling, though it would be easy enough to add a plate chiller on the way to the fermenter.

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I also attached a male quick disconnect (with a 1/2″ barb) to my auto-siphon so I can run cleaning and sanitizing cycles on the pump and hoses.

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Those are the key aspects of the two pot system. With five gallon batches I can usually get 72% efficiency and reasonable boil times and activity. No spargin necessary, just set your software to brew in a bag and collect all the water at the start of the brewday. Once collected and heated, all the water for the whole day is in the kettles, so there is little else to do but wait for starch conversion, boil, and chilling. Simple.

I’ve also recently upgraded my oxygen situation to this disposable tank from Canadian Tire and a oxygen wand.

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The regulator is from Canadian Homebrew Supplies and the wand/stone is from OBK.

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The rest of my setup is pretty much the same.

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I still use this mixer from OBK as a stirplate.

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I buy base grain by the sack.

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And I keep a bin of specialty grains.

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I mill with a drill and an OBKrusher.

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I filter my water with a Brita filter, though a better in line filter might be a future addition (this with some fitting and hose would be great).

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I have a hose adapter for my sink to wash things easily (and to connect the wort chiller).

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I still use this cheap probe as an alarm for near mash temperatures and as a timer.

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And I still store crucial brewday equipment in a bin.

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My favorite tools are my thermapen, my carefully calibrated ph meter, my cheap refractometer, and my 100g scale for hops and water additions.

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I’ve also begun keeping my hops in jars using this foodsaver jar sealer and a hand held foodsaver sealer.

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It makes hops easier to open and reseal than bags.

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I’ve also recently taken to adjusting my ph more carefully now that I have a tool for measuring it properly. I use lactic with this syringe for measuring.

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And, of course, I recently started kegging.

I think that’s it for the wort production side of the homebrewery. My fermentation temperature control is my next target, but for now my bucket of ice water method will have to do. As long as you monitor it daily, it can lock in at 18C, 20C or higher with a heatbelt. Though heat is never a problem for me.

That’s it! That’s the new system. What do you think?

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