After successfully assembling and wiring my new Electric Brewing system it was time to make my first beer with it. The style I chose was a Robust Porter as I have previously had success with a Coffee Porter and a Bourbon Coffee Porter so this time I wanted to try a basic BJCP style and focus on getting to grips with using Electric instead of Propane as an energy source and also become accustomed with Brew In A Bag (BIAB) process-wise as opposed to infusion mashing with my old 3-tier Sanke keg-based system.
My new brewing system comprises of the following:
- 15 gallon Bayou Classic brew kettle that can do both 5 and 10 gallon batches and has the following fittings:
- 5500 watt (240 volt 30 amp) heating element
- digital temperature probe
- sparge arm fitted into the lid
- ball-lock valve
- a metal basket insert that contains large holes and keeps the grain bag and wort chiller away from the heating element
- 240v Brew-Boss controller that has separate in-and-out power cables for the pump plus connectors for the heating element and temperature probe. The controller is connected to a 240v power supply via a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt) which is housed in a Spa Disconnect Panel.
- 7″ Android tablet for managing the brewing process by communicating with the controller via WiFi.
- Chugger pump with an Input connector that is attached to the Brew Kettle via a hose. Output fittings so that air can be bled from the system via a ball-lock valve in order to prime the pump and a separate flow-valve to control the recirculation rate during the mashing process. The flow-vale has a connector to attach the pump via a hose to the sparge arm in the Brew Kettle lid.
In addition to the above I also have an Immersion Chiller (50′ copper coil), a 15.5 gallon Sanke-keg full of cold water, and appropriate hoses and connectors for cooling.
I also turned on an extractor fan in the ceiling of my basement and a large fan in order to disperse the steam created during the brewing process.
For brewing software I use BeerSmith on my Mac so already had the recipe for the Robust Porter set up and it informed me that in order to brew a 5 gallon batch of this beer on a BIAB system I needed 8.25 gallons of strike water at 155 deg F before adding the grains. Details of the actual recipe will be in a follow-up article on homebrewing the Robust Porter style which is coming soon…
I had also already programmed the brewing steps into the Brew-Boss application on the Android tablet by loading the default saved steps and modifying them to reflect the desired mashing temperatures and durations as well as the boil duration and timing of hop additions.
Once the water reached strike temperature the large re-usable grain bag was placed into the kettle and tied around the outside rim. Using a long spoon the bag was pushed into the edges of the basket insert which helps keep the bag raised above the heating element. The grain was then added and the lid was placed on top of the Brew Kettle.
BIAB works by constantly recirculating the mash liquid out of the bottom of the Brew Kettle and into the Pump using gravity which then feeds it up to the Sparge Arm in the lid of the Brew Kettle and it is then sprayed over the top of the grain bed. The temperature of the mash is monitored by the Controller and heated as necessary by varying the amount of power going to the Heating Element.
The Brew-Boss application controls the temperatures, timing and also provides visual prompts and verbal instructions at the appropriate times e.g. opening and closing valves, removing and replacing the lid with sparge arm etc.
Whilst sparging I did notice quite a bit of foaming under the lid so backed off the flow rate as per the Operation Manual recommendations.
Once mashing was complete it was time to use the hoist which I purchased from Lowes at a cost of $12 and is capable of lifting 250Lbs. The hoist has a ratchet which is fixed to a ceiling joist above the Brew Kettle and hooks onto the basket insert so that it can be raised to allow the grain bag to drain into the Brew Kettle.
Once the grain bag had drained it was a bit tricky removing it out of the basket insert whilst suspended by the hoist due to the handle being upright so next time I intend to place a tray on the top of the kettle so it can be set down and the handle lowered in order to lift out the bag much easier.
Later on the grain bag was emptied into my neighbor’s compost heap so the spent grains do not go into landfill. I also turned the bag inside-out and washed it then hung it out to dry ready for reusing next time.
Next it was time for the controller to take over and guide me through the boil and prompt me for the hop and irish moss additions.
Cooling & Fermenting
Once the boil was complete it was time to place the Immersion Chiller into the Brew Kettle and connect it up to the large keg of cold water via hoses which flowed as follows:
Keg -> Pump -> Immersion Chiller -> Keg
Ice cubes and cold packs were added to the water in order to lower the temperature which enabled getting the wort down to 130 deg F and the keg of water got up to 80 deg F but we needed the wort to reach 65 deg F before it was at yeast pitching temperature.
In order to accomplish this the return hose was redirected into 6 gallon plastic buckets and fresh cold water was added to the keg. This was not the intended approach but was a workable solution in order to finish this brew day.
For future brew days I intend to add a second spare keg from my old system as this will double the water that is recirculated but initially I will connect the tap (faucet) to the chiller via hoses and a return to the sink.
Once the wort has been lowered below 100 deg F I will switch it over to the kegs with ice to bring the temperature down to pitching temperature. This approach will be especially useful when the ground water temperature is high in the summer and fall/autumn which posed problems when brewing outside in getting the wort down to anything below 70 deg F.
Once the wort was cooled it was time to rack it off into the carboys but another problem here was that I could only read the Original Gravity (OG) with a refractometer rather than hydrometer due to the problem of not being able to get the hydrometer out of the carboy if it had been used. With hind sight I needed a sanitized sampling glass to hand…! This never used to be an issue when I fermented in plastic primary fermenters as I took the gravity reading from placing a hydrometer into the fermenter but these are now old and scratched so I am using carboys as my primary fermenters.
The next step was 90 seconds of oxygen via an O2 tank with diffusion stone to aerate the wort. Yeast nutrient was then added prior to pitching the yeast itself. The beer was then placed into my temperature controlled freezer and within 12 hours was bubbling away – luckily I decided to use a blow-off tube instead of an air lock as I suspected the wort would be very fermentable and indeed it was!
One advantage of using the pump to recirculate water whilst cooling is that it avoids sticky wort remaining in the pump so after the Brew Kettle had been emptied and washed PBW was added to water to make up a cleaning solution. This was then recirculated through the hoses and sparge arm to ensure a thorough cleaning took place before draining it and rinsing with clean water.
Following a successful brew day there were some lessons to be learned and improvements to be implemented before the next batch:
- Find a tray to place the basket insert on top of in order to more easily remove the grain bag and avoid dripping wort everywhere.
- Add a second keg so 30 gallons can be recirculated with ice to reach pitching temperature.
- Take gravity measurements using a sanitized sampling glass and hydrometer for more accurate readings rather than a refractometer.
- Consider installing an extractor fan to filter the steam and not have a basement that smells of malt and hops for the next day or so.
Once the fermentation is complete the beer will be racked off the trub and into a secondary fermenter before cooling, force carbonating and bottling.
Overall I am very happy with my new system. Sure there are parts of my process to hone in and this was a simple mashing schedule but so far so good. Onto the next beer…
Comments or questions? If you have any comments or questions on this article please do not hesitate to leave them below.
Remember to watch out my upcoming article on homebrewing a Robust Porter to learn about the recipe used, typical ingredients and processes plus more.