Category Archives: Brewing

Beer Home-Brewing

Brew Controller: Update

This last year has been busy. I married my longtime girlfriend and we bought a house together. As with all things home-owner, there are projects, so my home-brewing has taken a back-seat while we made some improvements. We had some plumbing redone that required us to do a little remodeling in our bathroom. That is nearing completion and I’ve started focusing back on my brew controller.

I got the Receptacles and inlets all mounted and screwed down, but I’ve had difficulty in fitting everything I want into my controller. The Watlow MicroDIN PID controllers I originally got are pretty large, and so is the power meter. The rest is pretty small and fits easily. I don’t want things on top of each-other and wires running everywhere like a rats nest. I started looking at some options for alternate PID controllers and found some Eurotherm PID controllers for $22 or best offer on Ebay. I made the guy an offer on 8 (4 for this and 4 extra for other projects). They’re about half the width of my Watlow MicroDIN controllers.

The great thing about these, is that I can bypass the controller and toggle on and off the 3 alarm outputs, which allows me to turn on and off my pump SSRs. Another cool thing, is that they have a bus that connects all of the power and communication. The really handy part, is they have an input for a current sensor. This allows me to look at the current while the SSR for the boil coil is on, and alarm if it gets out of range (shorted coil, or open circuit), and when the SSR is off, it will detect leakage current, which means a failed SSR. I can read the value and at least tell roughly how much current is flowing.

I also worked more on the HMI and think this version is fairly clean and gives me most of what I’ll need to see while brewing. There’s an Aux temperature readout, but I haven’t figured where I want that to be.

I also need to do some electrical work in our garage. Since we moved, I no longer have a 30A 240V receptacle. Since I’m going to have 2 fermentation chambers and my brewing equipment possibly running at the same time, I’m going to run a 50-60A service over across the garage from my main panel to a panel that is meant for temporary power for RV’s. It has a 50A GFCI/50A outlet and 20A breaker/GFCI duplex. I’ve ordered it and should be able to install in the next few weeks, and finish my control panel.

New Fermentation chambers

I’ve come to realize that my conical and carboys scattered throughout my house was not only getting annoying, but it isn’t very consistent when it comes to fermentation temperatures. I had been looking on Craigslist the past few months and ended up getting a non-working Rock Star fridge with clear doors. A friend of mine said he could re-fill it and I picked it up.

Shortly after, I came across an add for some lab-grade temperature/humidity/light controlled chambers. They’re made by a company Conviron who specializes in these chambers. I messaged the seller and inquired a little, but the Ad ended. After tracking them down through another ad, it ended up they were right down the street. She sent me the manuals and specs and I realized how great they’d be for not only fermentation, but also another hobby I had tried before, Growing Shiitake mushrooms. They were asking $600 and I got her down to $300 each.

I went by to make arrangements to pick one up and these things were indeed gigantic. They’re over 6′ tall, 36″ deep and 30″ wide. There’s a touchscreen control that allows you to program to turn on and off lights, adjust humidity and temperature according to a schedule. They were in good shape and came with all their racks. Initially I only wanted one, but after going over there, it seemed that one of them didn’t run right. I took a gamble and offered $400 for both a working one and the non-working one thinking I could fix it.

They’ll fit 5 carboys in each, and if I put in shelving (would be a bit heavy for the shelf though), maybe even 10 carboys. I figure the second one would be for cheese, meet and growing mushrooms.

I got them home and tried working on the non-working one first. The motherboard had shorted and blown several chips off the board. It wasn’t likely salvagable and it was over 10 years old. There was no chance for getting it back to it’s previous condition. I figure I’ll slowly work on this one and install a Raspberry pi, PID controller and a couple SSR’s to control the cooling and heating system.

The other one works great and regulates temperature and light perfectly. These will be put to good use and hopefully end up saving room in the house!




Brew: Bourbon Barrel aged Vanilla Porter

About a month ago, I got some friends hooked up with some equipment so they can start brewing. We decided on a Porter and the brew day went really well. I kind of winged some of it, since I lost the instructions, but I had done enough brews to know what to do.

After about 2 weeks in the primary, we racked into the secondary and added an entire vanilla bean, split lengthwise and in half. The SG was a little high due to slow fermentation in their garage. I also got some bourbon barrel stave chunks and soaked them in bourbon and added the chunks and bourbon into the secondary as well. We let it age about 3 weeks and then force carbonated in my kegs. We took 2 growlers to the beach and I have to say, it was pretty amazing.

The vanilla was not too strong, just enough to give a nice finish. It was really smooth and the head retention was actually pretty impressive. It was enjoyed by all. We will definitely make this again!

Kegerator #2

After the first kegerator project stopped working, I started looking for another fridge. I decided to go with a mini fridge and ended up buying one from my friend Gordy. They were moving and didn’t want it. The great thing about this, is that it doesn’t have internal coils/Freezer. It had a shelf that comes out. It fits 2 5-gallon or 1 5-gallon/1 3-gallon kegs along with a CO2 tank. I re-used my tap tower, removed the top and figured out where the cooling lines were and drilled and mounted the tap. I used a metal plate to strengthen the top so the plastic wouldn’t break. I used my ITC-1000 temperature controller and wired the fridge to run when plugged in. It will always be used with the temperature controller.

Below are pictures of the build and final product. It works quite well.

Kegerator #1

A while back I built a pretty cool kegerator using a Redbull display fridge. Its a round fridge with space inside to fit a 5 or 3 gallon corny keg + CO2 tank.

I got my woodworking friend to build a nice butcher block top for it. He routed the edges along the top edge with a molding bit, and routed an inside groove on the bottom to fit along the lop of the fridge top. I epoxied the top to a bar-coat finish and installed a single tap tower.

Unfortunately it worked for 3 months before it stopped cooling.