Recently Beer Infinity featured a series of five articles examining the options available for electric homebrewing systems. The reason for this investigation was to find a solution that would help address a few issues I had been encountering such as frozen pipes during the winter which prevented me from brewing in the garage and to also resolve some challenges with trying to maintain correct and stable temperatures in the mash.
These articles covered the following:
- BIAB – Brew In A Bag
- HERMS – Heat Exchange Recirculating Mash System
- RIMS – Recirculating Infusion Mash System
- Conversion – upgrade, modify or convert my existing homebrew system
- Results – summarising and grading the above four options and variations.
Although the results pointed in the direction of using a Brew-Boss controller in conjunction with existing converted Sanke-kegs from my current propane-based system, in the end I opted to go for a full system in order to obtain a new brew pot that although had the same capacity as a keg it is ultimately lighter and easier on my back when cleaning the equipment.
In this article I will run through the wiring and assembly of this 240 volt electric brewing system.
IMPORTANT: Electricity is potentially dangerous, especially when mixing 240 volts and 30 amps with water so extreme caution is advised and the services of a qualified electrician should always be used as appropriate! What is contained in this article is an explanation of what I encountered during the assembly and wiring of my system and not a list of instructions or advice about electrical wiring.
Choice of brewing system
Whilst writing the earlier articles I exchanged many emails with the various system vendors and found them all to be very helpful. Darin, who is the owner and developer of Brew-Boss, was no exception and I would like to thank him for his assistance with questions about the system and the smooth purchase and delivery.
Below is the specification of the system I ordered and promptly arrived in just over a week:
- Controller Type: 120VAC Pump Output Plug & 240VAC Brew-Boss Heater Plug.
- Android Tablet: 7″ Android Tablet with Brew Boss application installed.
- Brew Kettle: 15 Gallon Bayou Classic with pre-drilled holes.
- Pump: None.
- Recirculation Hardware: Including recirculation hoses, stainless steel fittings and Sparge Arm.
- Heater Assembly: 5500 Watt including kettle mount & plug.
- Upgrades: Camlock fittings.
I selected the 240V over the 120V version as the latter would have needed two elements instead of one and I intended on using an existing 240V outlet (see later).
There were 10, 15 and 20 gallon kettles available – the reason behind opting for the middle one was that it can do both 5 and 10 gallon batches whereas the 10 gallon kettle can only do 5 gallon batches and the 20 gallon version cannot do 5 gallon batches.
A pump was not needed due to having an existing Chugger pump which could be reused.
Finally the upgrade to Camlock fittings would give me the flexibility of using the pump for brewing and cooling so would therefore need the hoses to be quick release – this will be covered in an upcoming article.
With living in the USA, as most of you will no doubt know, the power source is primarily 120V compared to 220-240V as found in the majority of the rest of the world. Many houses do however frequently have higher voltage appliances such as ovens and dryers. My house is no exception and in the basement we have a laundry room that has a dryer plugged into a 250V (30 Amp) socket that takes a NEMA 10-30P plug.
I therefore decided to utilize this socket and avoid the expense of having a new wire run from the circuit breaker box which I understand can cost a small fortune and definitely not something I should or could tackle.
The Brew-Boss system came with the suggestion of using a GFCI (Ground Fault Interrupt Circuit) for safety reasons, here is a definition of what a GFCI is from the US Dept of Labor:
The ground-fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, is a fast-acting circuit breaker designed to shut off electric power in the event of a ground-fault within as little as 1/40 of a second. It works by comparing the amount of current going to and returning from equipment along the circuit conductors.
After doing countless hours of research I managed to find out that one option is to get a GFCI (costs around $50) and install it in the circuit breaker box. Unfortunately the problem here is that because there will be a dryer using this socket whilst not brewing then this is not feasible because the consensus of opinion is that dryers can trip a GFCI as the motor starts up.
What many people in the homebrewing world do is use a Spa Disconnect Panel which comprises of a metal box, electrical connectors and a GFCI – the total cost was around $70 from the local DIY store. In addition to this I also purchased a 3-wire dryer cord which came with a moulded NEMA 10-30P plug.
The Brew-Boss controller came with a 3-wire cable but no plug and I had to sign a disclaimer prior to the ordering being completed. This is due to the potential hazard that electrical systems can cause if wired incorrectly.
The idea is that the dryer cord, Spa Disconnect Panel, and brewing controller are then used to build an inline GFCI and according to what I have read in various articles and forums means that because this is not permanently wired into the home then it does not need to comply with coding regulations though this was disputed by some.
Most of the wiring diagrams I found online covered 3 wires coming into the panel from the circuit breaker box and 4 going out as used by some electric brewing controllers but this tends to be when they have both a 240V output for the heater element and one or more 120V outputs for pumps.
The Brew-Boss controller does not work this way as it has separate In and Out 120V power cords for the pump so the main 240V cord is 3-wire i.e. no Neutral.
One point to note about the Spa Disconnect Panel is that it contains a GFCI that is rated at 50 amps yet the Brew-Boss system requires a 30 amp supply. This is not an issue because the main circuit breaker feeding the dryer socket is 30 amps so the GFCI just needs to be rated at 30 amps or higher because it is the ground tripping that is being utilized in case of a problem and the main circuit breaker will trip if the load exceeds 30 amps.
The power cable from the controller has 3 wires as mentioned:
- Black – HOT load wire
- White – HOT load wire
- Green – GROUND wire.
4-wire sockets and/or controllers have an additional NEUTRAL wire.
When looking inside the Spa Disconnect Panel, or when purchasing a separate GFCI for the main circuit break box, there is a white ‘pig tail’ wire which is the Ground wire. What confused me initially is that the Brew-Boss controller also had a white wire BUT this was a hot so it is not simply a case of wiring by colors, I needed to check that the correct type of wires were being matched!
The photo of the ‘Spa Disconnect Pale with GFCI’ above shows how the GFCI came pre-wired and the subsequent photo shows how the input dryer cord was wired together with the output controller cord.
The box was mounted on the wall and BEFORE the plug was even put into the socket I contacted a qualified electrician and asked him to come and check the wiring, test the GFCI tripped when the test button was pressed, and turned on the Brew-Boss controller to verify that it worked correctly and nothing went up in smoke. When it all worked I was very happy and somewhat relieved 🙂
Online there is a downloadable 38-page Operational Manual for the Brew-Boss system and this covers the assembly as well as testing, configuring and brewing operations of the system plus there are some recipes at the end.
The 15 gallon Bayou Classic brew pot comes complete with a basket insert and lid. The pot itself has 3 pre-drilled holes for the heater element, temperature sensor, and ball valve. These are all simple to install and the manual provides clear instructions on how to do this.
The lid also includes a pre-drilled hold which is for the sparge arm to be inserted through. Next it was a matter of installing the Camlock fittings onto the sparge arm and ball valve with the aid of some Teflon (PTFE) tape wrapped around the threads to ensure a water-tight seal.
The basket insert helps keep the nylon grain bag raised up above the heater element which would melt if they came into contact but it also has an additional benefit when using an immersion chiller in that it keeps that raised above the heater element.
Next up was installing the various fittings onto the Chugger pump and assembling the correct connectors onto the silicon hoses to complete the mash recirculation system.
I then connected the heater element and temperature sensor to the brewing controller, plugged the Spa Disconnect Panel into the dryer socket and flipped the GFCI switch from Off to On.
The Brew-Boss Operation Manual describes how to run some basic tests including:
- Filling some water into the brew pot – NEVER turn on the heating element unless it is submerged as this will burn it out instantly!
- Turning on the brewing controller and ensuring that it shows the pump and heater element as off plus gives a reading of the water temperature from the sensor.
- Switching on the Android Tablet and connecting it to the brewing controller wifi connection.
- Opening the Brew-Boss application on the tablet and testing the heater element followed by the pump.
Once the basic tests were completed then the Brew-Boss Operation Manual recommends a ‘wet run’ with water only to check everything works properly and goes through a basic set of steps i.e. heating up to strike temperature, maintaining the mash temperature, raising to mash out temperature, and finally raising to a boil.
There is even a pre-saved set of ‘wet run’ steps on the Android Tablet which I loaded and pressed Start to begin… well all went fine until the temperature of the water started to warm up and I noticed a couple of the joints on the Out side of the pump were leaking so I tried to tighten them up with a wrench.
No luck they kept on leaking and if I had not done a ‘wet run’ that could have been beer making a mess everywhere if they had started post mash-in! I therefore had to stop the run, shut off the valves and drain the hoses then take apart the leaking joints and re-apply Teflon (PTFE) tape.
NOTE: This problem with leaks had nothing to do with the Brew-Boss system, I have re-used my own existing pump and the problem was with the fittings/connectors to the pump head.
Once the pump assembly was complete again I hooked up the hoses and repeated the process only to find it did the same again. Over the next couple of very frustrating hours I went through the process of starting up the system, finding the leaks, shutting it down, taking the pump fixings apart, swapping out parts, cleaning off and re-applying Teflon tape, re-assembling the system and so on.
Eventually I managed to conclude that some of the fittings will not seal at all but once they were replaced I ended up with the Chugger pump Out connection refusing to seal. There is no obvious damage to the pump threads which leads me to think that the In side does not leak as that is fed by gravity but with the Out being under pressure then this must cause the issue.
Finally I have now opted to use sealing paste on the threads instead of Teflon tape in the hope that once the 48 hours of drying are up then I can redo a ‘wet run’ but be leak-free. We shall see…
UPDATE (Oct 23, 2014): The sealant worked perfectly and I subsequently had a 100% successful ‘wet run’. This weekend I plan on brewing my first batch of beer with my new system – cannot wait.
Comments or questions? If you have any comments or questions on this article then please feel free to leave your replies below this article.