The power of a stir plate

I’ve put together a video showing the power of a yeast stir plate. The flask started with just a few milliliters of yeast and a liter of wort. Overnight it mutiplied to the giant amount you see in the video, which I estimate to be over 200 milliliters of pure yeast. It started off my fermentation within a few hours, and it was going very strong. The yeast is WLP007, Dry English Ale Yeast, and this is the fourth generation since buying the original vial.

In Line Thermometer How To DIY

Here’s a really easy project that helped me with a simple problem.  Since I’m using a picnic cooler for a mash tun, I don’t have a reliable way to measure my mash temp.  I am uncertain exactly what water temp I need to set my HLT for to get the desired mash temp using a HERMS setup.  The inline mash temp will go between the mash outlet of the HLT as it returns to the top of the mash.  I can then set my HLT temp based on the output temp of the HERMS coil.

I am also finally going to break down and buy a plate chiller.  Since I am using quick disconnects on this thermometer, I can also use it to measure the temp of the wort as it exits the chiller.  I can then adjust my water flow accordingly.

There are 4 parts in my configuration; a 1/2″ mpt thermometer, a 1/2″ stainless T, a 1/2″ mpt x male camlock fitting, and a 1/2″ mpt x female camlock fitting.

inline mash thermometer

Install took less than 5 minutes, just had to thread all the parts into the T.

Here is a shot of it mounted on the ghetto HLT.

Ghetto electric HLT with inline thermometer to measure exiting mash temp

Total cost for this project was around $39. You could change the input and output connections if you are not using camlock fittings. It would be very easy with a triclamp setup as well. Just get a triclamp T, 1/2″ female mpt x 1 1/2″ triclamp adapter, and a thermometer, then clamp it all together.

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Here is a video of it in action. It worked perfectly!

Mashing 101

Mashing is the process of producing wort from water and malted barley. The water and barley mix is held at a set temperature per the recipe (148 to 158 degrees) in a closed container for about an hour. This mixture produces maltose, a type of sugar, which yeast consumes to produce alcohol.

There are different mashing methods a homebrewer may use. A single infusion mash is by far the most common for homebrewers to choose. Crushed malted barley at room temp is added to hot water to get a mixture at your desired mashing temperature. Most mashes use somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.25 quarts per pound of crushed grain. The temperature of the hot water will have to be higher than the desired mash temperature, because the temperature will drop when the grains are added at room temperature. The exact temperature can be calculated using a mash infusion calculator or brewing software. On my system, I add water at a temperature of 12 degrees higher than my desired mash temp.

A temperature mash, which is more how commercial breweries mash, involves adding water and grain, then raising the temperature to your desired mash temperature. It is more difficult to mash like this using a homebrew setup, but it can be done.

A decoction mash is a style used to make classic German style beers. This mashing method requires the brewer to boil a part of the mash, then mix it with the rest of the mash to raise the overall temperature to the desired mashing temperature. Brewing software is extremely handy to pull this complicated mashing method offf.

Finally, a multi-step mash, is used with unmodified malts or certain brewing adjuncts. This method involves mashing at 105 for an acid rest, followed by a protein rest at 122, and finally your sugar conversion at your desired mash step. To perform this mashing method, you must have some way to raise the temperature of the mash and hold it at that temp for a specified period of time. RIMS and HERMS systems work great for this.

Most homebrewers will be able to make great beer by using the single infusion mash 100% of the time. There will be some styles you with to brew that will only taste just right by using one of the other methods above.

Mash Temp
The mash temp will have an impact on the final taste of the beer. A lower mash temp, in the range of 148-152, will produce a drier beer with a lower finishing gravity. More mashing time may be required to completely convert all the available starches in the grain. A higher mash temp, in the range of 155-158, will produce sweeter, fuller bodied beer with a higher final gravity. The wort will have more unfermentable sugars that will not be converted into alcohol.

Iodine Test
You can test if all of the starch in the mashed grains have been converted to sugar by a simple iodine test. Draw a sample of the mashed grains and water from your mash tun. Iodine, which is normally brown, will turn blue in the presence of starch. If you sample turns blue, more mashing is required. If it remains brownish yellow, the mashing process is complete.

Check out mash recirculation for more info on mashing.

Sparging 101

This page will discuss different methods of draining and rinsing your grains in an all grain beer to extract sugars after you have completed mashing. During the mash process, malted barley will sit in hot water at approximately 150-158 degrees for about an hour. When the hour is up, it is time to sparge (or lauter) the grains. There are 3 main methods we will discuss here.

No Sparge Technique
The the no sparge technique is the easiest technique, but also has its disadvantages. In this technique, you drain the wort from the mash lauter tun into the boil kettle without adding any more water to the MLT. In the MLT, there is a false bottom that will allow the wort to separate from the grain. You will need to add water to the boil kettle to bring the level up to the recipe’s pre-boil volume.

The benefits of this technique are ease and quickness. The other two techniques can add anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to your brew day, so this method is definitely the fastest. The drawback is that you will have to use more grain to get the same amount of sugar out of your grains (poor efficiency) than one of the other sparge methods.

Batch Sparge Technique
Batch sparging is only slightly more complicated than not sparging. After you have drained the MLT, you will add hot water at 168-170 to rinse the malted barley of any residual sugar. You will then drain the MLT again to bring the kettle to the recipe’s pre-boil volume.

This method will greatly increase your efficiency over the no sparge method. The drawback is that it is not as efficient as a continous sparge method, and you will disturb the filter bed by stirring in more water.

Continous Sparging Technique
Continous sparging, or fly sparging, is the most efficient sparge method you can use. It involves slowly (over 45 minutes-1 hour) draining the wort from the mash tun and simultaneously adding hot water to the top. It is the most complicated method because you must balance the speed of draining the mash tun as well as filling it from the hot liquor tank. It is advisable to stop the sparge when the gravity of the wort drops to 1.019 to avoid extracting undesirable tannins from the grain.

RIMS 101

Recirculation Infusion Mash System
A RIMS system involves you constantly draining the wort from you mash, pumping it through a heating element, and returning to the top of the mash. You will be rewarded by this method with a clearer wort than manual recirculating, and more consistent mash temperatures, which will make you better beer.

Most RIMS systems are made up of a tube that has in and out connections and contains an electric heating element. The wort temperature is monitored by a sensor placed in the RIMS tube and the temperature controller tells the heating element to turn on and off as the temperature changes. The contorller needed for this mashing method is identical to a HERMS system.

A variant of the RIMS method involves heating the mash tun directly with gas from the bottom. The wort is still recirculated from top to bottom, but not over a heating element. This method was made famous with the Brutus 10 design.

To build a RIMS system, you will still need the same 3 vessels in standard all grain brewing. You will need a way to heat your HLT, mash (RIMS tube or directly), and your boil kettle. You will also need a temperature sensor and temperature controller, a pump, and two hoses.

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Heat Exchanged Recirculation Mash System
In a HERMS system, the mash is circulated through a coil in the hot liquor tank to maintain a certain temperature. The temperature of the HLT can be controlled in a few different ways, the most common are manual control, electric heating, or electronically controlled gas. With all 3 methods, the goal is to maintain the water in the HLT at a temperature high enough to get the returning mash to the desired temperature. The main benefits of a HERMS system are a much cleaner wort than manual recirculating and consistent mash temperatures.

In a manual controlled hot liquor tank, you would have to monitor a burner to maintain your desired HLT temp. This can be tedious and difficult to be consistent, but is fairly easy to implement. All you would need is a HERMS coil, a pump, and 3 hoses, in addition to your normal all grain equipment.

In an electric hot liquor tank, you would have a heating element in your tank. A PID control intelligently switches the element on and off as needed to maintain the temperature, much better than you could do manually. This is my preferred system. The benefits of this method over a manual HERMS system are very consistent temperature control, an inexpensive heat source, and very fast heating of water. In addition to the equipment needed for a manual HERMS system, you would also need an electric heating element in your HLT, a temperature sensor in the HLT, and a controller to tell the element to switch on and off.

An automated gas HERMS system is very similar to an electric, but the controller turns a gas valve on and off. A pilot light stays lit throughout the process. This route is really a matter of preference of gas heating over electric, but the equipment required may be more expensive. Instead of an electric element, you will need an electronic gas valve, a pilot light, and a burner. The controller will be similar, but will need to be wired up to control the 24volt valve and not a 240 volt heating element. A benefit is the you wont need a high amperage circuit wired in your house or garage.

No matter wich HERMS system you choose, you will need still need the same 3 vessels as all grain brewing. You will need to choose one of the ways to heat your HLT, and you will also need a way to heat the boil kettle.

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Mash Recirculation

One of the easiest ways to get clear wort is to recirculate your mash. Recirculating your mash involves taking wort from the bottom and returning it to the top of the mash. Small grain particles and proteins will get filtered through your grain bed giving you clearer wort.

The easiest way to do this, which requires no additional equipment, is to drain the mash into a pitcher. You will see particles come out in the wort for the first few quarts. Once you fill up your container (I use a quart measuring cup), pour it back on the top of the mash. Do this until the wort runs clear. It is called vorlaufing. You will end up with a cleaner finished beer.

An even better method is to circulate your wort by pump. If you are using a HERMS or RIMS setup, you will see this in action, because both methods involve taking wort from the bottom of the mash and returning it to the top. Even if you are not brewing on a HERMS or RIMS setup, you can accomplish the same result with the use of a pump. Attach a hose from your mash outlet to your pump inlet, then a hose from your pump outlet to the top of the mashtun. Doing this for a few minutes at the end of your mash will keep your mash nice and clear of debris. One of the first things I noticed when moving to a HERMS setup was how clean my beers were coming out, and I attribute it mostly to this automatic recirculation of wort.

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Wort Chilling 101

There are a lot of ways to cool your wort, but all methods have a common mission. Cool down that wort as quick as possible. It accomplishes 2 things. You keep the aroma in your finishing hops from getting boiled away, and you form a cold break, or a collection of protiens that you don’t want in your finished beer.

There are basically 3 methods available to homebrewers to cool down their wort. The simplest, and what most beginners do, is to put your boil kettle into something that will cool it down. The next natural step is an immersion chiller that goes into your boil kettle. The third method is a conterflow chiller, which moves your wort past cold water.

Ice Bath
A lot of beginning homebrewers coold thier wort by sticking the pot in a kitchen sink or bath full of ice. It will quickly become obvious that this is incredibly innefficient, but it is worth trying for your first few brews. If you’re going to do ice, fill the sink with water to fill in the voids between the ice cubes. It will work a little better. Another trick is to use a two stage method of cold water to bring the wort as low as possible, then drain and add a ice water mixture to do the rest.
Here’s a demo with a cool little trick to make the ice water even cooler.

Immersion Wort ChillerThe natural progression for a homebrewer is to buy an immersion wort chiller as one of their earlies equipment upgrades. A cleaned wort chiller goes in your boil kettle 15 minutes before the end of your boil to sanitize it. When your boil is done, you connect it to the hose, and cold water runs throught the chiller, which cools down your beer. It’s pretty simple, and it works reasonably well. It’s a must if you are doing 5 gallon boils.

Counterflow Wort ChillerThis type of chiller, which comes in various configurations, works by moving wort past cold water instead of sitting in it. It is definitely more efficienc, but also more costly. It is pretty much necessary to have a pump push the wort through the chiller, which is an added expense. Another drawback is the additional cleaning necessary. Because your wort moves through the chiller, it is important to keep it very clean.

There are 2 common types of counterflow chillers. A plate chiller is made up of plates with narrow passages that move water and wort past each other. The other type of wort chiller is actually 2 different tubes in one. The smaller inner tube carries wort and is surrounded by a larger tube, which carries water the opposite direction.

Here is a counter flow with a garden hose as the outer tube in action:

Wort Chiller Recirculation Arm Build

The whole idea of using a wort chiller is to cool your wort as fast as possible. This little gadget attaches to your wort chiller and with the help of a pump, recirculates wort across your chiller, cooling it down faster. The benefit to you is more hop aroma in your beer.

To make this work you will need:
about 2 feet of 3/8″ OD soft copper pipe
a 1/4″ copper by 1/2″ female fitting
a torch and solder
a 1/2″ mpt by male quick disconnect (depends on which hose fittings you use)
a tubing bender

1. I started this project by bending the copper pipe into the shape I wanted. I made sure I can zip tie the arm to the vertical portion of my wort chiller, while one end exited right on the coils of the wort chiller, and the other end extended out a little beyond the kettle. The purpose is to get wort from the bottom of the kettle to be recirculated directly onto the chiller coils, so make the bend accomplish this. Also, I didn’t want my hose connection to be made over the kettle in case anything dripped, so I made sure the fitting would extend past the edge. To make the bends I used a spring tubing bender like this:

You could also use a bender like this:

2. Next, you will solder on the fitting. In the picture, I had to use actually 2 fittings because my store was out of the proper size. I used a 1/4″ to 1/2″ copper reducer and a 1/2″ copper by female fitting. Your fitting should look like this:

3. Thread quick disconnect into arm, using ptfe tape

4. Zip tie arm to wort chiller. You could also solder the arm in place, but it will be much more difficult to clean. I chose to zip tie it to my wort chiller so I can easily remove it to clean out the wort.

To start using the arm, get it hooked up and recirculating with 10 minutes left in the boil just like you would with a wort chiller.

Guide to Opening a Nano Brewery

So you are ready to move from homebrewer to commercial brewer, but you want to start small? A nano brewery, which brews anywhere from 5 gallon to 3 barrel batches at a time, may be your answer. There are many reasons why people go this route, but it usually comes down to money. The nano brewing concept allows you to start with less capital than a traditional brewpub or brewery, and some brewers even find a way to keep their day job.

From an nano brewery owner’s view, their operation is a lot smaller and very different from a traditional brewery. From the government’s point of view, they are one in the same. If you plan to sell even 1 pint of your beer, you will have all the same licensing requirement as a craft brewery.

The last couple of years have gotten pretty exciting when it comes to equipment. There are systems available today that can turn out commercial quality beer in batches as small as 5 gallons, and as large as 3 barrels. This guide will show your options for nano-brewing equipment.

The basic steps to getting licensed as a nano brewery in order are:
Create your LLC or Corporation
Get a city or county business license
Get an IRS tax id number
Get a state sellers permit
Get local zoning approval
Get TTB (tax and trade bureau) approval
Get state alcohol beverage control permit
Get city or county health department approval

Nano-Brewing equipment you will need:
Brewhouse (mash tun, hot liquor tank, kettle)
Fermentation equipment
Conditioning equipment
Pumping and Filtration
Packaging equipment
Yeast Handling

The individual skill sets you will need to focus on:
Brewing and Fermenting
Packaging and Serving
Marketing and Distributing

This is an ever-changing document, so check back often.