All Work and No Play Make James Go Crazy

Once again, I’ve let far too much time lapse from the last time I wrote a blog post. I had hoped to keep my updates a little more frequent, however life as always has made it very difficult to just sit a write a post. I’ve discovered that two engineering masters courses and full time work means there’s very little time left for hobbies. It’s tough managing my time, but I’ll get through.

Trying to be as concise as possible, I will admit these last couple of months have been a bit trying. Between getting stressed out by school, by work, and by the constant bombardment of news that encompasses the USA’s newly elected President, it’s been hard to find peace sometimes. What I’ve found is that I’ve had to work at accepting the things I cannot control and calming myself down when I’m stressed out. Deep breathing has been a great source for those times when life in general becomes overwhelming.

But enough of that, I don’t need to dictate in detail my feelings, despite how interesting and exciting they are.

What am I here to talk about today? Skateboarding, beer, and electronics! (Yes, I’m just that cool 🙂 )


We’re finally turning the bend where there should be some consistently nice weather. We had some not too bad weather a little while back, but it’s been so inconsistent. Once school ends in April, skateboarding awaits!

I plan to build a nice rail to complement the grind box I built for myself last summer. I made a lovely round bar rail in AutoCAD Fusion.

I’ve been thinking about how I would build this and I’m looking to keep it as simple as possible. So while the rail shown below uses round pipe, I’m likely going to end up using square pipe instead to make the welding process a little easier.

Now I just need to find someone with a welder…

Grind Rail Rendered.jpg

Grind Rail side view.jpg


On the homebrew front, I really haven’t has as much time to brew as I did going into the holidays. Only a couple of weeks ago did I get a Belgian White and another IPA going.

While malt extract brewing has been going well and I’ve got a good feel for it, I’ve got the itch to start upgrading my equipment and going towards all grain brewing. All grain is about as close to making beer from scratch as it gets. Only step after that would be to start a farm and grow my own ingredients!

The All Grain Brewing Process

All grain brewing really doesn’t add many more steps to the brewing process. Right now, I do the following:

  1. Steep grains in hot water.
  2. Add malt extract to the water and bring to a boil
  3. Add hops a boil for an hour (add more hops at end if necessary)
  4. Cool wort
  5. Add yeast
  6. Let it ferment
  7. Carbonate and enjoy!

All grain brewing modifies the first two steps. With my current process the malt extract is already prepared, so there’s not much flexibility in terms of changing the characteristics of the wort. All grain brewing basically modifies the first two steps of the process, you in a sense create the wort by adding hot water to crushed grains and letting it sit for a while (this is called “mashing”). The liquid is then drained off, and hot water is then run through the grain bed to rinse it (called “lautering”). The wort is then boiled. After that it’s the same as Malt extract brewing.

What’s required in all grain in the beginning is the drain hot water into the grains. The vessel that holds the grains is called the “mash tun”. A lot of people use gravity to move liquid from one vessel to another, so one of my ideas is to build a 3 tier stand similar to what’s shown below. Considering it’s all wood, I figured it would make a great gravity feed system.

3 tier brew stand.jpg
Source: (See attached link)


I have a lot of plans for modifying my boil pots, modifying coolers to make a mash tun, and possibly a few side projects, such as making a counter flow chiller for cooling my wort faster.

Before I get into all grain brewing, I want to have the equipment to make sure my first day goes as smoothly as possible. I will likely have a slew of posts for all the little modifications I plan to make to my kettles prior to my first all grain brew. I’ve got the following planned:

  • Kettle additions
    • Site glass installation
    • Weldless Ball Valve
    • Temperature Gauge
  • Making my own Mash Tun
    • Fun Instrumentation
      • Level sensors for fly sparging
      • Temperature Probes for Mash temperature measurement
      • Wort re-circulation pump
  • 3 tier brewing system (woodworking project)
  • Counter-flow wort chiller

Electronics (and More Homebrewing)

As always, the world of electronics continues to peak my interest, despite the fact that I constantly get overwhelmed by electronics once I really start trying to map what I’d like to achieve with how to accomplish my end goal.

I have a couple ideas for some projects that I could apply to my homebrewing. Right now, most of them involve applying multiple temperature sensors to the homebrewing process to track temperatures throughout the process. This becomes more critical in all grain brewing since the temperature of the mash will define the characteristic of the beer. Mash temperatures influence the body of the beer, along with the fermentable sugars you get out of the grains.

Plus, going forward, I’d like to start logging more of what I did during the brewing process, and temperatures are a large part of the end result of the beer.

Oddly enough, it seems like most of my project ideas inherently turn into some kind of control system problem. The kind of control I want to have for whatever system I’m looking at  eventually lends itself to some kind complex control system (think P.I.D control. If you don’t know what that is, take a look here.)

Take for instance the grain rinsing process in all grain brewing. In a nutshell, it’s pulling the fermentable sugars and starches out of the grains. At the beginning of the mashing process, you add a certain amount of water at a given temperature to the grains and you let it sit for a given amount of time. Once that’s over, the wort has to be drained from the mash tun into the boil kettle. This is called “sparging”.

There’s a few different methods to capture the sugar and starches from the mash. One method involves adding the water in batches (also called “batch sparging”). You take a given about of water, add it to the mash tun all at the same time after the mashing is complete, then drain it all at once into the boil kettle. You add the water and drain in “batches” until you have enough wort in the boil kettle.

Another method is adding the water in a controlled process and matching the outflow of the water at the bottom to the inflow of water on top (this is also called “fly sparging”). Basically you try to match the inflow of the hot water to the outflow of the wort at the bottom.

In an ideal world, there’s a perfect height (we call it “X” in my illustration below) where the height of the water will not change in the mash tun with respect to the inflow of water and outflow of wort. Now if we think about this for a second, the outflow of wort is in a sense, a function of “X”. There is an idealized mathematical relation between the speed of the outflow at the bottom of the vessel versus the height of the water call Torricelli’s law.

Note that in reality, we can’t really rely on Torricelli’s law, because we have a whole bunch of other stuff going on. The ability for the water to travel through the grain bed and out the bottom is going to highly fluctuate depending on the grain bed density, porosity, and distribution of grains in the mash tun.

Without trying to model this as a mathematical system,  I’ve made a ghetto illustration with paint to show the process. In reality, we need a control system to match the inflow of water to the outflow of the wort. We want to get as close to height “X” as possible without deviating too much.

Using a given height “X” from the top of the grain bed, we can measure the upper and lower changes in height and modify our “Flow in” while keeping the “Flow out” constant.  We can accomplish this by measuring the height of the water on the grain bed with a level sensor, then adjust the water flow in until we get close to the set point.

Level Control.jpg

On further investigation, there are many other simpler ways to accomplish this. There’s mechanical devices out there that already attempt to accomplish this, and then there’s most other people who spend more time doing things rather than thinking about doing them.

For my first all grain batch, I’m better just to adjust the inflow and outflow valves accordingly. As much fun as it would be to automate certain aspects of the process, it’s not worth the investment in time until I figure out how to do all grain brewing from start to finish.  Then I can think of nifty contraptions later on.

Going Forward

For now, I have my classes to finish, which is likely to hinder my ability to make new posts in the next month or so. Ideally in the beginning of May, my plan is to get an all grain brewing system up and running and document the fun of my first all grain brew! I have yet to decide what kind of beer I plan on making, but that’s part of the fun!

Thanks for reading!


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