When we first started with the 6 guys brewery plan, bought a few shiny new kettles from Blichmann Engineering, and some of their other examples of brew-engineering (the wort chiller, and the autosparge). We were very impressed with them, and brewed a couple of batches before Christmas to get a feel for how they worked. We knew that long term there was a lot more that we could do to automate and have better control over the process.
Faced with this task, we started to read, investigate, and shop around. We started checking out various posts, plans, and ideas from various sites including a large number of posts from homebrewtalk.com
There we found quite a few possibilities, HERMS, RIMS, Brutus 10, Electric, Gas, PIDs, Brewtroller, BCS-460.
The first thing that caught our eye was the Brutus 10. We liked the automation and control of the system, but the direct fired RIMS was a bit disconcerting. In the past it we have found it hard to maintain control over the amount of fire that heated the mash and risk scorching the wort.
On another set of posts we found a plan for an RIMS with a electric heating element, in a configuration made out out stainless steel piping in what I can only imagine a pipe bomb looks like. We thought about a HERMS setup, but we didn’t care for putting another set of tubing for recirculation in the HLT, and appreciated the simplicity of the RIMS setup.
To control this all we found that a lot of people used standalone PID, or LOVE controls. They seemed to do the job, but weren’t very well integrated. The BCS-460 seemed like a cool choice, but the option that really caught our interest was the Brewtroller. Being a bunch of engineers the micro controller route, especially one where we could impact the hardware and software design was very appealing. The Brewtroller could control up to 4 PID heaters, all of the pump/value controls that we could ever want (up to 32), 8 temperature sensors, and other options such as volume measurement.
For the RIMS heater, we planned on using a 120V 1500W Ultra-Low density heating element. The ultra low density element is important to avoid scorching the wort as it is recirculated. Coupled with the PID on the brewtroller, we could precisely control the temp of the mash, i.e. 150 degrees.
As we were planning all of this we intended to use natural gas with ASCO valves to control the heaters. The natural gas seemed like the obvious choice, given the availability, and common precedence set by others. We knew that we didn’t want to use high pressure LP gas, in the typical BBQ cylinders, as they were expensive and inevitability they always run out a the most inconvenient time.
While we were working on purchasing the stuff that we needed, we re-thought the gas choice. Going all electric seemed to make a lot of sense. One problem that we came across is that the appropriate gas burners were not easy to come by. In addition we thought since we were already planning on using electric for the RIMS heater, it makes sense to use electric for all of the kettles.
With this in mind, we found out that using a 240V 4500W heating element could heat the HLT for a 10 gallon batch in a reasonable amount of time. For the brew kettle 240V 5500W ULD element would be perfect for the boil. Again, the ULD is required so the sugars do not burn on the element. For the HLT, there is only normal water in there, so the higher density elements can be used.
Now that we have our plan, we need finish buying stuff..