Posts Tagged homebrew

The Home Brew Festival

In a few weeks I’ll be joining members of the craftbrewing forum in Market Bosworth for The Home Brew Festival.

Its the successor to “the spring thing”.

Its members only (membership of the home brew festival not any associated forum).  You pay the membership fee, then about £23 for the full weekend camping! Beer is provided completely free at the bar.

There’s also a competition – I’m putting in three entries – one of my entries is a kit, but the rest are all grain.


So 3 weeks later, I’ve kegged 160ish pints!

If you’re going, I’ll see you there!

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So the old kitchen has gone into the garage and the brewery has its own space. Next is to make it food safe! Bodge job on the extractor fan to get steam out efficiently.

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Brewing Forums

Well up until recently  I’d spent a lot of time at the home brew forum.

Sadly a few days ago the forum was passed to what seems to be a commercial organisation to manage.  On April 1st, suddenly it moved platforms from phpBB to vBulletin.  The usual stuff happened, posts broke, signatures got 10x larger and where certain characters were used all sorts of random stuff got printed.  Even as writing now, you can’t edit posts.

You’d expect a better phased move, but what most people are up in arms about was the sudden change without consulting a thriving community.  Then people who complained started getting banned.  Some of the higher regulars upped sticks after being banned and put up a new forum.  The words used to describe the forum (Craft Brewing) suddenly got banned on THBF.

So if you’re looking for some of the old community, try and join the unrestricted debate.

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Fermenting Chamber and more beer


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.


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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eBIAB #7 Dark German Wheatbeer!



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 –

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.


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!



With the new SSR fitted, it was time one again to brew!  I used the standard NRB Amarillo BIAB recipe from the BIABacus at



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.



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!



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.



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



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



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.



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.




Taste testing with an absurdly long spoon is necessary.



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



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



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



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


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!


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.


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.


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!


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


I used a chassis mount for the 32A socket.


With plug


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.


PID being wired.


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


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.


Inside is being wired up on a wooden base.


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.


Box now wired up.


Element switched on! Look, bubbles!


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


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.


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


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eBIAB Build #2


Above is the pot, with sight glass attached.  Because Paul has only recently started offering stickers for sight glasses, mine was the first 70l pot to need one.  So he used mine to calibrate the sticker (breaking new ground in the pursuit of eBIAB)


Closeup of the pencilled up sight glass.


Ongoing discussions on the location of the fixed analogue thermometer.  Note: Sticker now applied!


Boiler is now almost finished – we’re awaiting the arrival of the 1″ chassis punch to make a suitable hole for the element.  Then it’ll be posted.


The above/below is the bag in which the BIAB happens.  The big handles are to allow me to hang the bag from a pully when removing it from the mash.  It’s one of the compromises we have to make with BIAB – the removal of the grain bag is hard work and is what limits the size of batches.  For a 10 gallon brew, the grain will be 10kg when dry, it’ll probably absorb at least its weight in water making it very, very heavy.  You can see where Paul has doubled the material over the fabric strip which gives the bag its strength.

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I’ll keep you advised of the progress as it continues!

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eBIAB – The Electric Brewery

Yet again, the summer harvest means all of a sudden I go quiet!

Well, the nights are drawing in, I’ve already made the mistake of forgetting to spike chestnuts and had explosions in the kitchen.

As ever, a week doesn’t go past without another project rearing its head.  I’ve decided to become somewhat self sufficient in beer by brewing my own.  I’ve always used kits in the past, but after spending a whole day at the London Hackspace ( with the all grain brewers I fancied building my own gear and having a go.

When I lived back in Norwich having read the free ‘How to Brew’ by John Palmer, I bought a very large stock pot (about 19ltrs) because this would be enough to do both full extract brewing and all grain if I so wished.

I’ve seen several different types of brewing – mostly using gas.  Then a few years ago I came across the electric brewery.  Warning, viewing that site may make you buy expensive matt black control panels.

Unfortunately I don’t feel my current pot is really big enough for me as I want to do brewing in a bag, with an electrical element in built.  The last time I tried to do a full extract brew in it & hopping it myself, the pot melted the electric cooker, so doing stove top again fills me with fear. Putting the element in removes that fear, but then I can’t put the bag in easily without it touching the element – a false bottom will keep it separate but I loose too much volume.  A user on Jims beer kit pointed out I could do mini-BIAB or maxi-BIAB.  My main reasoning for going down this route is I want to brew large all grain, but with as little hassle as possible.

On this site, they use electricity instead of gas to heat up the vast volumes of water required.  This appealed to me because gas is very expensive and not very efficient, especially in a draughty garage and I don’t much fancy carbon monoxide poisoning by shutting the door.

Last year I got an ARC welder and this is not the sort of thing you can run off a normal 13A socket.  Though that’s exactly what I have done by limiting the number of amps so I don’t melt my wiring.  To run the ARC welder safely, it really needed a dedicated 32A supply.  So whilst installing a line like this would normally not be cost effective, I bought the parts and ran the wires and my friend Allan wired it all up.  I now have a switched industrial 32A socket and a new consumer unit  in the garage.

I’ve scavenged a sink from a neighbour and I’m lucky I have a waste pipe in the garage I can put a pipe into and hopefully run a nice new cold feed from the adjacent outbuilding toilet.

Some people go for the slightly cheaper option of having two Asda smart price 2.2kw kettle elements mounted in a plastic bucket, but I didn’t want to do this by half and worry about the safety later.  So I’ve taken the plunge and advantage of my Christmas list by getting relatives to help out with the costs.

Paul at has a number of fairly cheap 70ltr stock pots.  He’s drilling the holes for me so I don’t need to invest in a bunch of expensive hole punches which I’ll likely as not never use again.  I’ve bought a 2 piece ball valve tap, 5.5kw low what per inch camco element from the US, had a stainless steel shim custom laser cut off ebay (£5), temperature gauge, sight glass, temperature probe, 40A SSR, Auber PID for temperature control.  All of this has been fairly pricey, but with the exception of the PID/SSR & Camco element, exactly what you’d normally buy for all grain. (There’s a few bits I’ve not included, thermal grease – about 99p inc P&P, a SSR heatsink £8 inc P&P, a Stainless Steel nut from China for the element which I hope fits 99p, high temp silicon o-rings, and a project box to put this all in, I’ve not found where that is yet…)

I did initially approach my wife to get a bag sewn for brewing, but in the end we went with Paul again from Angel Homebrewing.

So after Christmas I hope to chronical the build, take you through my first brew step by step from grain to bottling.

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