26 September 2009

Brewery - Part 3

Testing the Rig

Finally, having plumbed together all the pipework and gas-lines, added electrical wiring for the pump and a light, modified the stand to accommodate a taller-than-planned gas-burner, jacketed the 3 vessels, it's time to test the bits and pieces.

As any good programmer will tell, you, first you run your Unit Tests. Then, if they're successful, you run Integration Tests. So the morning was filled with testing the various pieces by themselves.

First the gas burners: I had the good fortune to run into a fantastically helpful gas expert, Brian from Knysna Gas. The moment he heard what I was up to, he leapt into action. When I told him which burners I was planning to use, he immediately said, "No! That's not what you want. You want High Pressure burners!" Dragged me out to the back of the shop, and started cobbling together a high-pressure burner setup out of odd parts lying about. Pretty soon he'd put together a burner that can melt all known Chinese restaurants, and roast an ox at 30 paces. This, together with all its pipework,and a high-pressure gas regulator (the Really Expensive Bit) he just gave to me. I ended-up buying another burner from him, once I saw how effective these are compared to the puny piece of junk I had back home. A thousand thanks to Brian for the bits of kit and the excellent advice!

After testing carefully that there were no gas leaks, I fired-up the burners. "All system ready for liftoff. T minus 5." I had to modify the new burner to fit beneath the boiler -- it's stand was too tall, and not needed in any case, since the bench provides its own support for the boiler.

Next the chiller: Finally plumbed in all the necessary fittings for the coolant water, and was ready for testing. My cooling arrangement is a little unorthodox, reflecting both my peculiar circumstance -- no municipal/piped water supply -- and our on-going shortage of rainwater driving our need to conserve every drop.

Cooling water is drawn from the dam near the house, pumped by the already-existing water-pump and pipework. The stuff that waters the veggie garden. After running through the chiller, the water is allowed to drain of via existing drainage back into the dam. Right now the dam is pretty empty, so the water is not as chilly as it should be with a more reasonable depth of water. At least I could establish that the chiller acts as expected with no leaks. T minus 4.

Next up, a cold-water test of all the pipework and the pump. Far better than testing with hot water and discovering that something leaks! Small hold during countdown, here. The pump is a little washing-machine drainage pump, and really quite weak. It has a couple of significant advantages, though: It will happily pump quite large bits of junk along with liquids, which is a very likely scenario when lautering as the mash is quite likely to initially contain bits of grain-husk. Then, too, it is unperturbed by pumping air, provided it is able to self-prime. The only problem with my setup is that the outlet pipe is a bit long, and dips down from the pump, with the result that the pump is prone to developing airlocks which stop it working. It's a problem easily solved, though, and happily caught during testing and not when I have tubs full of rich, hot wort. T minus 3.

Time to find out how well those burners work! 20l of water at 19C in the HLT (Hot Liquid Tank) took around 30 minutes to heat up to 80C. Not bad going, I thought. Pumping the hot water through all the pipes, back and forth between the HLT and the MLT (Mash/Lauter Tank) also served to clean-out any solvents, oils and odd smells from the pipes and pump.

Here's where I discovered the first needed mods to the system. First, there's a bit of clear "plastic" piping joining some plumbing to the pump inlet, and I have strong doubts about its lifetime. I'll have to find a replacement. Second, I need to add a drainage valve to the bottom-most bits of plumbing. right now I have no way to completely drain the whole system, and I don't particularly want to leave water sitting in the pipes -- especially not in the steel parts of the plumbing.

Still, it all seemed to handle hot liquids quite handily. I also learned that, left to its own devices with the stopcock fully open, the pump wants to drain the MLT far too fast. I guess it will be a bit of a learning experience for me to see just where to set that stopcock for a good flow-rate for lautering.

In the process I also learned that I need to preheat the MLT before thinking about starting the mash: The water drops about 10C in temperature just to warm-up the stainless steel tank! T minus 2.

Finally transferred all the water over to the boiler, and fired up the Really Serious Burner. 63C to a full rolling boil in just 13 minutes. Wow! A whole lot of other little concerns got settled along the way. Despite the effectiveness of the burners, the pipes supporting the tanks are easily up to the job, and they don't get significantly hot during a burn -- at least, not hot enough to scorch the wooden frame. Whilst they do get pretty warm, I can still touch them without fear. I was a bit worried that they might bend under the combination of heat and weight. Of course I still have to test them for a full 60- or 90-minute boil under a full 40litre load! but I can have a reasonable degree of confidence that I'm not inviting a disaster. T minus 1 and counting.

Finally, plugged the chiller onto the (still extremely hot) boiler, plugged in the coolant hoses, and let 'er rip. Incoming water (soon to be boiled wort) at a high 90-something C; water falling out into a fermentation vessel: 24C. Good enough for me, and I was really running the coolant water quite slowly. I stopped the coolant water once I was satisfied that the chiller was working well, as I wanted the hot water to clean out any gunk in the chiller copper-inner before I run real wort through it! I do need to figure out a better way of coupling and uncoupling the chiller from the boiler, though. The way I'm doing it now is quite unsatisfactory, and the brass parts probably won't last very long under current conditions.


Now if Vincent at beerkeg.co.za will get his arse in gear and get me my ingredients, we might even have a liftoff!

19 September 2009

Brewery Part 2

Good progress yesterday and today. Having cleared the shed and built a sturdy bench for the pots to stand on, today was about testing and refining that design. The pots are now insulated with pink-stuff, and I have some old aluminium printers' plates that I'll use to encase them in Full Metal Jackets. (Duct tape doesn't work in the heat! ;-)

I've assembled the main plumbing bits and pump, and added supports to the bench for mounting all that plumbing machinery. I would have like to get stainless steel pipe-connectors, but sourcing it in a small town has proved too challenging. Instead I've gone with galvanised steel. Yes! It'll rust in time, but I should get a good bit of use out of it first, and -- who knows! -- by then the brewery might be able to pay its own way for new parts...

I've also added mounting structs and steel shields for supporting the burner, and more-or-less decided that I need a second burner. As much as I want to keep the whole setup as simple as possible, initially, I can see that shunting the one burner back and forth between the Hot Liquid Tank and the Boiler is
  1. way too much hassle, and
  2. a recipe for a disaster involving very hot liquids!
So a second burner and the various bits of gas piping, T-pieces, etc. are on the shopping list (subject to price.)

I also built a support frame for the counterflow chiller I built yesterday. Just a simple, lightweight wooden frame so that I can hang the whole affair up and out of the way while it is not in use. The only real cock-up so far is the connector for hooking the chiller onto the boiler: The guy at the hardware shop gave me the wrong size. :-( Not serious -- I'll just exchange it -- but it set me back from testing the boiler/chiller system today or tomorrow, as they won't be open again until Monday.

The major Outstanding Obstacle at this stage: The Crushinator.

I have a couple of designs in mind for a crusher, but none of it is simple, despite the simplicity of the concept. As with anything, the devil is in the details, and the details ramify out fractally.

Update: I forgot to mention -- I'd post some pix, but I seem to have mislaid the connector lead for the camera. Oh the joys of aging memory...

15 September 2009

Brewery - Part 1

Building a new brewery... a 40litre system this time. I'm tired of hacking around with buckets in tubs of ice, so the aim is to "do it properly". Amongst my design goals:
  • Keep things as simple as possible to keep costs down for now
  • Keep the design as open-ended as is realistic. This is just "good OO design 101".
  • Budget limit R2500 (around EUR230/USD335 today).
  • Must be easy to clean/sterilise the dirty pots. (Having been party to a pretty terrible-tasting brew once before...)
What kick-started the whole affair was scoring 3 used stainless-steel kegs via a friend for R750. I could possibly have knocked the price down a little, but... new, half-sized kegs go for R1250 and up... and used kegs are like hens' teeth around here. So: a bargain at the price, especially as the kegs already had the tops cut our and various holes cut with threaded fittings attached. (Stainless-steel welding goes for around R300 per weld, so I scored R900-worth just in welds!)

My basic plan is a 3-tank system: The first is simply a Hot Liquid Tank -- the source of hot water for mashing, sparging and cleanup. The 2nd will be the mash/lauter tun, and the 3rd the boiler. I could get away with only 2 tanks, but I have definite intentions of converting it all to a HERMS system pretty soon for the extra control and precision it gives for mashing temperatures.

First stop has been to clear the shed nearest the house (just outside the kitchen door!) of junk, and to build a sturdy bench to accommodate the 3 pots, gas burners, chilller, etc. The shed was the most logical place for the brewery: electrified (for pumps) and plumbed (it houses the house-water pump) and close to the dam for cooling water. This much is pretty-much  accomplished. All that's left is to arrange a stand/support for the gas burner. I'm sticking with gas heating, since, sooner or later, we want to get off the grid, and then electrical water heating is a no-go. I also have some vague ideas of trying to build a wood-gasifier for heating at some later date...

Still to do:
  • insulate the pots
  • build a chiller -- immersion or counterflow still undecided and much-debated (input welcome!)
  • plumbing and pump
  • build a crusher
I have about a week or 10 days until some ingredients arrive. Can't wait!

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