My Brewery is the 99%

99% done that is!

My brewery has been about 99% done for a few months now. I’ve been brewing on it and until I have time to redo some fairly major things this is how it’s going to stay, so I thought it was finally time I took some pictures of it and showed it off a little.

The brewery has been a work in progress for about 2 years now. I set out to build a fairly simple “Brutus 10” system and just kept adding and adding and adding. Along the way I learned a lot of new skills and worked my ass off, but it really turned out to be all worth it.

Before I can really show off the system, it will make a lot more sense if you know how beer is made. So, in short, this is how beer is made:

  1. Malted barley is mixed with hot water to create the Mash in the Mash Lauter Tun.
  2. The Mash is allowed to steep for about an hour. This causes the starch in the barley to turn into sugar.
  3. The liquid from the Mash, which we now call Mash Liquor, is drained through a filter from the Mash Liquor Tun into the Boil Kettle. This process is called Lautering.
  4. Hot water from the Hot Liquor Tank is rinsed over the remaining barley in the Mash Lauter Tun to capture any remaining sugar. This process is called Sparging. This water is also collected into the Boil Kettle.
  5. The sweet liquid in the Boil Kettle is brought to a boil and hops are added. We now call the boiling liquid Wort. The process of boiling extracts bitterness from the hops to temper the sweetness of the Wort.
  6. The boiled Wort is cooled down, moved into a Fermenter tank and Yeast is added.
  7. The Yeast work their biological miracle and turn the sugar in the Wort into alcohol and CO2. The CO2 goes out the top and the alcohol stays in. We now have Beer!
  8. The Beer is enjoyed.

The system is an E-HERMS with a ton of automation. E-HERMS stands for Electric Heat Exchanger Recirculating Mash System. What that means is that liquids are heated with electricity (instead of gas, which is more common), and the Mash Liquor recirculates through a heat exchanger to change it’s temperature. More on that in a bit.

The automation comes in the way of temperature sensors, a BrewTroller brewing control computer, motorized ball valves and solenoid valves, a very large control panel and lots of wires. There’s also two brewing pumps to move all the liquids around.

The point of all this is that I can brew without ever having to deal with lifting heavy buckets of hot liquids or disconnecting and reconnecting a bunch of hoses as I go. And, of course, to be super geeky while making beer 🙂

So, now for the tour. First is the brewery from afar…

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From right to left is the Hot Liquor Tank (HLT), the Mash Lauter Tun (MLT) and the Boil Kettle (BK). The HLT is basically a glorified water heater with a twist. It’s goal in life is to keep a bunch of water at a set temperature. Usually around 180 °F.

The twist is that inside the kettle is a coil of stainless steel tubing. This tubing is the heat exchanger. I pump Mash Liquor from the MLT through the heat exchanger and back into the MLT to heat it up. This allows me to control the temperature of the Mash without directly heating it, which can be bad for the grain.

The next set of pictures shows the three kettles from the inside.

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The Boil Kettle contains a heating element which is used to heat up and boil the Wort. The Mash Lauter Tun contains a filter called a False Bottom which is used to drain the Mash Liquor without getting grains. The False Bottom has a series of slots cut into that are too small for the grain to pass through. And finally, the Hot Liquor Tank contains a heating element for heating water and the heat exchanger coil for passing Mash Liquor through.

Next we have some pictures showing the pumps and plumbing of the brewery.

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The brewery is plumbed using all 1/2″ OD stainless steel tubing. I custom bent every piece to get it just how I wanted it. There are two March magnetic drive pumps for moving liquids around, 11 motorized ball valves for controlling liquid flow and direction and 2 solenoid valves for controlling fresh water input to the system.

The plumbing system is designed so that I can move liquid from any tank to any other tank by opening the right configuration of valves and turning on the right pumps.

There is also a plate chiller (the thing that looks like a set of stacked metal plates) which is used for quickly cooling the Wort down from boiling to 68 °F, which what the yeast like. The chiller has channels that allow the Wort to pass in one direction and cold water in the other direction. The metal of the channels transmits heat effectively between the hot Wort and cold water without letting the two mix.

Next up are the electrical systems.

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The control panel is responsible for controlling the motorized ball valves, solenoids, heating elements, pumps and temperature sensors. It shows me the temperature of each tank, along with some auxiliary temperatures and lets me control the other components either manually or automatically. The knob in the middle is an iPod style control that lets me scroll through menus on the LCD and select options.

You can also see a breakout box I made which allows me to hook the 5 temperature sensors together to connect to the control panel.

That pretty much covers the brewery itself, but there is more to the process. Next we have fermentation equipment.

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Here we have 2 BrewHemoth 22 gallon Fermenters and their associated bits. Each Fermenter is wrapped with heating tape which allows me to raise the temperature of the Fermenter and each has an integrated chiller inside it which allows me to cool it. Managing the temperature of fermenting beer is very important in determining how it turns out. The Fermenters also each have a temperature sensor which is locked into the top at an angle. This is used to monitor the temperature of the fermenting beer.

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To manage all that stuff, we have a FermTroller. This is a miniature version of the system in the brewery. All this one does is monitor temperatures and either turn on heating or cooling. It is responsible for turning on and off the heating tape and turning on and off the chiller pumps and valves.

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The chilling system is not yet complete. I had intended to use this freezer to recirculate cold glycol solution through the chillers but it turned out that the glycol needed to be much colder than I wanted the freezer to be. I want to also be able to use the freezer to store beer, and beer needs to be around 45 °F. Unfortunately, the glycol needs to be around -20 °F. So, the chiller system is still being worked on.

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And finally, we have some kegs. These kegs are how I store and serve the beer I make. Each one holds 5 gallons and they go into the kegerator in my kitchen. All the kegs with open lids are currently dirty and need to be cleaned. The one that is closed and is hooked up to the CO2 tank contains fresh beer that is carbonating.

3 thoughts on “My Brewery is the 99%”

  1. Jason that is a very nice setup. I too started off wanting to build a Brutis 10 and now I have been spending hours on learning about a Herms system and have bought a Brewtroller.
    How can I get the pcb boards for the pids you built. Do you sell them or at least the board schematic to have it built?


  2. I am building a similar setup, but have a manifold of swagelok valves (two 3 ways and two 4 ways) that I’m looking to add actuators to. After finding a site with a good deal of actuators at reasonable prices, I’m left trying to wrap my head around which actuators to go with, as I’m going to need to be very precise in where the valve sets to for outputs on the valves.

    Do you mind talking a bit about what you’re using to control your valves, and any design issues you encountered / would do differently?

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