Posts Tagged brewing

Fermenting Chamber and more beer

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On Saturday night I filled up the boiler for an early morning beer brew to see if I could be over and done with by about 11:30am.  I was.  I was infact over and done with by about 10:30am, but started on another project, sorting out the fermentation chamber.

What is a fermentation chamber and why would you want one?  There’s two answers to that question.  The first and arguably the most important is that it gets the fermentation vessel out of our guest bedroom where it won’t disturb anyone.

The second answer is that it gives much more control to the brew.  The temperature that the yeast is at defines some of the flavours of the beer.  In the case of a wheatbeer, many of the esters that produce the banana  and clove flavours happen at different temperatures.  Want more banana? Raise the temperature to 20’C, want more clove, 17’C.  Some beers such as Lagers really need cold temperatures (well outside the scope of this post, click here for much more detailed information)

To make a simple fermentation chamber you need a working fridge and a heater of some sort.  I settled on a fridge from eBay and an old heating belt I had lying around.

You’ll also need a controller.  Many opt for an STC-1000 which is a great bit of kit.  It’s easy to hook up – you just set your temperature and off it goes.  Trouble is, it needs you to be around to monitor it.  If I want a brewing profile to start at 23’C for two days, then drop to 16’C for 6 days then crash cool to 2’C, I have to press the buttons physically.  It’s not possible because my commute (currently 3hrs each way) mean I’m spending more time in hotels than at home.  So it needs to be remotely controlled.  Something like this would normally cost hundreds if not thousands of pounds.  It’s not a commercial bit of kit and therefore not mass produced because professional brewers don’t tend to log into their brewery at home to control their systems.  I think.

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Brewpi is a fantastic bit of software that integrates an arduino uno and a raspberry pi to control temperatures.  The raspberry pi (this is a circuit board and nothing to do with edible pie) provides a web interface whilst the uno does much of the work.  It’s a bit of a cheek to call it a brewpi when the uno is doing most of the control, but the pi interface really does a nice job of formatting the data.  It’s all very much DIY.

Link the brewpi up to some sensors and some SSRs to drive the fridge and the brewing belt and hey presto, fermentation chamber.

The build took about 6hrs to complete including two trips to Maplins about 20 minutes down the road and I’m very pleased with it.  I can control temperatures from my laptop no matter where I am in the world.

For those that are interested the fridge runs at 110w and the heater at 25w.  They’re on for short periods of time (10-15 minutes max).  At 240v the fridge uses about 0.6a and the heating belt about 0.1a.  To maintain a hot temperature the heater will run for about 5 out of every 10 minutes.  It would take about 40 hours to use a unit of electricity (about £0.12?).  Similarly the fridge runs for 5 minutes out of every 30 and uses a very similar amount of electricity to maintain a temperature and would take about 45 hours to use a single unit of electricity.  Unless my maths is off.  This is with an ambient external temperature of 14’C and a 20’C or 4’C temperature respectively.

 

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Brewpi #2

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The 2nd controllable part of the brewing process is the fermentation temperature. To do this there is the brewpi. Whilst the name suggests the raspberry pi is the main feature you’d actually be wrong. It’s our friend the arduino again.

The arduino is used to control a couple of SSRs which turn on a fridge or heating element and do the maths for indirect heating or cooling to maintain a temperature profile for your beer. For some beers like wheatbeer and lagers you need different profiles to generate the different flavours from the yeast.

Where the raspberry pi comes in is the network graphs and more complex programming.

This weekend I got a cheap fridge from eBay ready for fermenting in! I also used the London Hackspace laser cutter to make a project box for the electronics.

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Brewpi

So the next step to really good beer is water quality and temperature control!

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To do this a good way is to use a fridge or freezer and a temperature controller.  Fridges make excellent fermenters because you can use the light bulb to heat and the fridge element to cool. The brewpi uses a raspberrypi and an arduino.  The software is developed and all you need is the hardware and a good project box to hold it all in.  So on a visit to the London Hackspace to watch some beer being brewed I was happy to be shown how to make the box on the last cutter. Now just need a fridge, some ssrs and a temperature probe or two!

Water quality wise I have hard water… and the analysis goes on!

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eBIAB #7 Dark German Wheatbeer!

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Brew day 2 – my wife and son were off in Hereford for the weekend, so I squeezed in another brew day – this time making a much darker brew.  This one was a Weissbier Dunkel – http://www.brewtoad.com/recipes/weissbier-dunkel

This was also my first solo brew using a recipe I’d adapted for the BIABacus.  I got a gravity of 1048 whereas  I was aiming for 1.051, so not bad.  I didn’t bother with dicoctions or step mashes.

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Much simpler hop recipe (just one addition at 60 minutes) and the wort tasted lovely.  I pitched a WLP-300 yeast.  Yeast is the most important part of German Wheatbeers – you need a special kind to get the correct banana and clove tastes!

 

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eBIAB #6 Making some beer!

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With the new SSR fitted, it was time one again to brew!  I used the standard NRB Amarillo BIAB recipe from the BIABacus at http://www.biabrewer.info.

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We raised the water to 71’C to hit our strike temperature.  The grain was stored inside, already in the bag ready to go.  If the grain was colder than room temperature, we’d have to increased our strike temperature to take this into account.  You can see above the bag already added and giving a stir to break up all the lumps.

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After the grain is stirred and at the right temperature, we wrapped up the grain in a sleeping bag and used my coat over the top (not pictured).  At this point, have a beer!

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Halfway through the 90 minute mash, the temperature had dropped about 4’C, so we raised the bag up and turned the element back on.

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At the end, we’d really squeezed the bag out and put the dried grain in the composter.

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Now it was time to raise the temperature up and give it a boil.

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Here it is – boiling.  It did this for a further 90 minutes.  The hop additions weren’t pictured, but I used three brewing socks to make the additions through the brew.

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We added curtains halfway down the garage to keep the steam at bay and used a fan I’d found in a skip to push the steam out the double doors.

 

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Taste testing with an absurdly long spoon is necessary.

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Immersion heater in, you can see the hop bags.  Five minutes before this I added a protofloc tablet to aid with clarity.

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I pitched the lot (cold break and hot break) into the fermenter.  Everything smells fine to me.

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I used the drop into the fermenter to aerate the wort.

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Lots of bubbles! So well aerated that I couldn’t easily pitch the dry yeast.   Next time, maybe I’ll make a starter!

I really enjoyed the brew – a few things didn’t go as planned and the immersion cooler hose ends had gone AWOL so we had to run round looking for those at the last minute, but it was fairly relaxing.  The wort tastes excellent and I’m looking forward to the beer.  My only concern is I only used half a protofloc tablet (thinking they were the same as whirlfloc tablets) and I tossed in all the break rather than filtering, but I’ve been told conflicting views.  We’ll see how it works out.

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eBIAB #5 – a small fire

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Note to self, use an appropriately sized heatsink (ie one that doesn’t boil a cup of tea on it)

Investigations as to why the PID wasn’t shutting off the brewery found this melted SSR.

You need a large oversize heatsink to make sure yours doesn’t melt.

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eBIAB #4 – The build

First day of the build, having found the workshop in single digits, I dug out the heater and some stove pipe I found on the side of the road.  Rigged up, it took the chill out of the air… Just!

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Because the build costs have been more than expected, we re-purposed an old computer.  Once we’d stripped it out and given it a bit of a dust, it looked OK.

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After looking at the case, we decided the best way to deal with it was to lean it over on its side.  The top of it would become the panel, the back room for the plugs etc.  Here’s making sure we’re all square.

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We added a 3 pin plug to make the sensor easily detachable.  Sadly, it turns out that the sensor I’d ordered (a PT100) wasn’t as expected – it was a K probe.  This caused a lot of confusion later on.  For all of the cuts, we used a dremel clone picked up from Lidl on the cheap.  It was not a quick process!

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3You can see the main 32 Amp socket being rounded off.

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I used a chassis mount for the 32A socket.

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With plug

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Pot box all fitted – I used an IP65 Aluminium box 2.5mm box – cost about £8 inc P&P.  The thickness of the box was too much and I went down the same route many others have gone.  Namely JB Weld and a stainless steel blanking plate.  I paid over the odds – twice actually because I badly drilled the first.  £5 from B&Q – just make sure you get a flat blanking plate.  I hammered the two screw holes flat and JB Welded it.  The Aluminium box had a 2.25 inch hole drilled into it and the steel plate 1.25″ hole.  It’s held in place by the element which has been tightened by a nut on the inside of the kettle.

We drilled the 32A lead into the rear of the socket, put on an earth and a drain hole in the base – just in case.

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PID being wired.

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Making a hop strainer (check out the special use of safety equipment and eye protection)

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Rear of the computer case – SSR fitted with heatsink, sensor connector, 32A input and output (input is wire into grommet) and the kettle plug powers the PID separately.

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Inside is being wired up on a wooden base.

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Case and Pot.  It was at this point we found problems with the PID – first we thought it was bad soldering (I’m terrible with a solder iron) – The PID was reading -360-something.  Then we found it was in ‘F – a quick change to ‘C and we were -149’C.  Offsets wouldn’t let us get it up to temperature (9’c). Then after checking the resistance we discovered nothing added up.  I said I was concerned that the probe may not be as advertised – after checking, we realised I’d definitely been sent the wrong probe.  Sigh.

Anyway, we hooked it up and reconfigured the PID.  The K-Probe really didn’t do a great job.  Either that or water now boils at 80’C at sea level.

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Box now wired up.

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Element switched on! Look, bubbles!

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To show how out the probe was, I took these pictures.  Manual, clearly showing 35’C

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And the PID, 27’C – by the time we were boiling, the overall temperature differential was 15’C.  A fair difference when you’re trying to hit a temperature of 72’C.

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Not far off a boil!  Ready now for the first brew!

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eBIAB #3

I got two bits of good news.  On Friday I found that the stainless steel NPT nut (yes the US is the only ones it seems to not use the BSP standard in pipes) had arrived from the US.  I’m glad I didn’t pay the £30 extra P&P to guarantee delivery before xmas now.

I seem to have everything I need – so very happy.   The 2nd bit of good news is the holes have all been made in the big stockpot.

I didn’t really want to drop £100 on a cabinet for storing all the electrics – though many do.  So I’ve decided to use an old computer case to do the same thing.

Now just to cleanup the garage so we can make the appropriate renovation.  Pics to come!

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Nettle Beer

The first of my undertakings to become more green was to make myself a nettle beer – no wine here.

On the Friday of last week I read an article on selfsufficentish regarding the making of ale from nettles.  I’d never considered doing this before so rather than read lots, I went out, picked a kilo of nettles, washed and boiled them, added them to a demi john with 8gms of ginger and 250gms of demeria sugar and pitched some yeast when it came to room temperate…

Just under a week later primary fermentation (the sugar has been used up) has finished and it’s ready for secondary fermentation.  For those who don’t know much about brewing it’s best to visit http://www.howtobrew.com and read read read…

My first impressions of the process:

  • Nettles when boiling smell horrible.  So does the residue.
  • Ginger makes everything taste better
  • the aftermath of nettles leave you with plenty of small spiders…

Apart from that it was fairly easy.  The starting gravity of the solution was 1.010 which to me seems fairly low.  We’ll see how much tonight the gravity of the beer has dropped.  The difference in the gravity dictates the alcoholic content of my beer.

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