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I thought I'd share the experience I've had in building my current brewery: a compact 2.4kW recirculating BIAB rig.
I moved to NZ from the UK around 5 years ago with my wife and daughter, as you'd expect we had lots of "stuff" so space is at a premium. Also, with a young family (two daughters: 5 and 3) my brewdays need to fit around the family schedule. I've been brewing for around 3 years, starting the usual kit & kilo, moving to BIAB in gas fired keggle and then a modded 3kW urn.
The urn rig really opened my eyes to electric fired brewing but it was pretty big and the analogue thermostat lacked accuracy, making it hard to dial in precise temperatures. After a year brewing in the urn, I decided to build a more compact, modular system which would allow me to replace or upgrade parts independently.
Requirements for the Build
Before buying parts, I put together a list of the key requirements for the new system:
- Needs to enable me to be precise about temperatures and volumes to achieve repeatable results
- Needs to be capable of 19L batches (I keg)
- Needs to have a small footprint, ideally able to be packed up into the kettle to be stored
- Needs to run off a single 10A socket (I wanted use off the shelf 10A RCDs and timers to add a little safety and automation to the system)
- Needs to minimise the amount of 'hands on' time in a brew day (the end to end length of the brew day doesn't matter as long as I don't have to spend long periods standing over the kettle)
What I ended up building was a recirculating BIAB system, powered by an STC1000 temperature controller (see pictures below.) Some of the parts, eg silicone tubing and camlocks were left over from my old urn rig, while others were purchased. The kettle has a steamer basket which I line with my BIAB bag. The main attachments to the kettle are via triclamp: element, combo thermometer and sight glass and butterfly valve. The pump is from Keg King and is hooked up using camlocks, silicone gaskets and silicone tubing. There is a camlock connection in the kettle lid with a Loc Line sparge / whirlpool arm. The 11 plate chiller is also hooked up with camlocks and standard garden hose connections. I built a small caddy to make it easier to move the pump and chiller around.
34L stainless kettle with steamer basket (brewshop.co.nz)
2.4kW ULWD element, triclamp element housing, pot to triclamp adapter and assorted triclamps (StillDragon.com.au)
Keg King pump + stainless head (brewshop.co.nz)
STC housing & cable glands (Jaycar)
Silicone gaskets and tubing (ebay)
30cm 11 plate chiller (aliexpress)
3 triclamp - male npt adaptors, 1 triclamp - female npt adaptor (aliexpress)
Brewing on the New System
To date, I've done three brews on the new system, so I'm still in the early stages of learning how to drive it:
Brew #1 - NZ Pale Ale (19L): The STC worked perfectly to bring the strike water up to temp and hold it. The recirculating mash held steady +- 1C at 67C with the temp probe in the middle of the mash and no insulation around the kettle. Throttling the pump meant there were no issues with stuck mash or air pockets around the element. Sparged with too little water and had to top up in the fermenter. Mash efficiency was 85% and the wort fermented from 1.050 to 1.008.
Brew #2 - NZ IPA (19L): Strike and mash were as above, but I sparged with more water to collect the right amount preboil. A bigger grain bill may have contributed to a dip in mash efficiency (77%) The wort went from 1.065 to 1.008
Brew #3 - American Stout (9L): This was my first nightmare brew day! Since it was a half size batch, I decided to go 'no-sparge' with a full volume mash. I also decided to try doughing in cold and ramping the entire mash from cold to mash temp (67C.) This was a bad choice! With the mash going through a temperature range that it normally wouldn't, a lot more protein ended up in the wort. During the boil, this coated the element and ended up scorching pretty badly - the first time in my brewing experience. I ended up dumping the wort as it tasted too burnt - lucky it was only a half batch.
The new system really meets all my needs, giving flexibility and adding a bit of automation to my brewing process (STC and timer), allowing me to break it apart to clean and store it in a small space (triclamps.) So far, I'm very pleased with how the system works; at this point, I can't say I'd do anything differently.
Hit me with any questions you have in the comments.