Saturday, April 21, 2012

How I came up with my setup

Today's post will give you an idea of the system I've settled on for BIAB and why.  I spent a fair amount of time reading and researching numerous equipment configurations that were discussed on the forums.  It took me several months to decide what I wanted, but the key requirements I ended up with were:

  1. Electric-powered system.
  2. Stainless-steel vessel that could hold entire water volume.
  3. Plate chiller for cooling the wort.
 Let's walk through my reasoning for each.

1.  Electric-powered system.  When we started making extract kits, we used our stove to boil 2.5 gallons or so of water.  No big deal.  An electric stove or gas will work.  Moving to All-Grain requires 6+ gallons of water to be heated.  To heat this much takes more heat than your stove is able to provide, so the most popular solution is to get a propane burner/stand and move the operation outdoors.

For me, the thought of having to lug propane tanks around was not attractive.  Also, propane offered no way to brew indoors during the winter months.  Add to that my general fear of gas leaks/explosions and propane quickly was ruled out.  Plugging something into an outlet with no worry of running out of fuel made it easy for me to decide on an electric brewery!

2.  Stainless steel vessel - Here, I have to admit that stainless is not a requirement.  At the time I made my decision on stainless I had read about the possibility that aluminum vessels could impart a bad taste to the beer.  Since then, my son has used an aluminum pot with no issues so if I were to do it over again I may opt for an aluminum brew pot.  As it turned out, I found a keg for sale on Craigslist and purchased it.  Having a 15 gallon vessel is nice since it allows me to brew a double batch in one session.  It's nothing fancy, but here is my keggle.  I do want to give a plug to Bargain, as they have great pricing on all that you need to convert a keg into a brewing vessel.  That's a weldless bulkhead kit of theirs installed at the base.

3.  Plate Chiller for cooling the wort - I had attended several group brews with my brew club and saw both the copper coil type wort chillers and the plate chillers in action.  Most guys were using the copper tubing type, but I was looking for something smaller than a big coil of copper tubing.  I was told that the plate chillers were pretty expensive, but I found a nice on at Keg Cowboy for a reasonable price and decided to go with it.  I have not regretted this decision as it quickly cools the wort down to pitching temperature once you get the wort flow and cold water flow right. I made the mistake of ordering it with standard hose fittings instead of quick-connects, so after a few brews I made the trip to Wal-mart and bought/installed them myself.

My next post will detail how I constructed the electric heating system for my electric brewery.  Stay tuned!

And please feel free to post a comment and/or questions regarding the setup.  Thanks!

How I got started in Homebrewing

It all started in December of 2010.  My brother-in-law has been brewing on and off for 5 years plus.  He had a friend who was getting out of the homebrewing hobby, so he gave a lot of his equipment to my brother-in-law.   Figuring that my 20-something year old son might enjoy brewing, my brother-in-law gifted it all to him (read us).

For some reason, it took about a month or so before I came around to the idea of getting into brewing, but since it seemed cool to be able to say "I brew my own beer", and it gave me a hobby I could share with my son, I dove in.

Before my wife knew it, we had commandeered her stove and stock pot to boil 2.5 gallons of water so we could complete our first Brewer's Best kit.  Let me take a moment to say how wonderful my wife is for allowing this all to happen in her kitchen!  (831)

Over the following 9 months, my sons and I (the 20-something AND the little 5 year old) brewed at least 5 different kits, and with the help of Tom at Thirsty Brewer, developed several custom recipes as well.  Truth be told, I was becoming the process guy, and my son was the brains behind the recipes.

Nate helping with the bottling a batch of Wheat Beer/Blue Moon Clone
As my son was becoming more skilled at coming up with recipes, I was becoming more interested in saving money.  With kits costing anywhere from $30-$50, when someone told me that All-Grain (AG) brewing would cut the cost in half, I instantly had a new goal: find a way to go AG!  My issue with AG was that it seemed to be overly complicated, and honestly I was not sure at that point what mashing and sparging were all about.

While surfing YouTube for instructional videos on brewing, I came across videos like this one that showed how easy it is to Brew in a Bag. I spent a lot of time on, and as well reading about BIAB.  This looked like a winner to me, so the only question left was how could we put together a system at the lowest cost to be reliable and safe.

I'll discuss details of that in my upcoming posts.