The All Grain Brew Setup and Long Overdue Updates

Now that my courses for the winter semester are finally complete, I now have at least the summer to dedicate to my wonderful hobby of homebrewing. Oh man, does it feel good to be done for the semester!

On a separate note, I have been thinking that considering my blog is called “My Broken Skateboard” I really haven’t provided enough writing, videos, or photos in relation to actually breaking skateboards. Does this mean I’m intentionally going to break some skateboards and take videos? Of course not! That being said, my skateboarding media could use a boost on the site, so I’m hoping future posts will incorporate my passion – skateboarding!

Now, back to business.

3 Tier Gravity Feed Stand

Like any of my projects, I like to try and build a CAD model before building. I always like to get a sense of what I’m building before I start, so naturally it’s nice to have some drawings and some plans.

I found myself getting rather frustrated with AutoCAD Fusion 360 as I was trying to make a 3D model of my brew stand. Considering a lot of my previous plans use Google Sketchup, I’m going to abandon my attempts at using Fusion 360 and start over using sketchup more exclusively. It’s what I used in the past to build the 3D models and drawings of my grind box. Plus, it seems like there’s a better community for downloading 3D models of pre-existing objects. In my case, I’d be grabbing models of a propane tank, 10 gallon Igloo cooler, and some stock pots. In the event I can’t find them, I’ll approximate the shape and dimensions considering them as basic cylinders.

Below is some CAD images of the 3 tier stand. My actual stand didn’t turn out quite as I’d expected, I made a few mistakes that I’ve made before.

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Side View 3 tier.JPG

Once I had the plans done, I got to work and got it done. Below is the end result, it functions, even if it doesn’t look exactly like the model.

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One of the things I really need to start doing is accounting for screw and bolt lengths between my wood sections. I changed the orientation of the bottom section so I could attach the 2 x 4 pieces of lumber using screws. Even with screws, you need a screw length of 3.5 inches to joint 2 pieces of lumber together.

At some point I’ll need to figure out a better way to join lumber using glue and clamps, or biscuit joints.

Once it was all ready, I tested my equipment to make sure the cooler sealed and the burners worked.

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Burner’s working!

Now with the 3 tier stand and all the equipment, I’m ready to rock on my first all grain brew!

My First All Grain Brew

I decided to choose an amber ale as amber ales are somewhat symbolic in my life. The first beer I ever brewed with the help of my dad back home was an amber ale, it was also the first time I learned fermentation produces C02, and that the gas needs to exit the container somehow. This is how I learned how much of a sticky mess beer makes when it blows the top off a sealed container!

A few more terms crop up with all grain brewing. Since we are brewing straight from the grains, we have a grain bill. This is like a bill of materials, but contains the grains used in the mash.

Since there are more steps involved in all grain brewing, the process can become really finicky and complicated depending on what kind of beer you want to make. Luckily, we live in the software age, where a generous soul has taken a lot of the complexity out of the process. The program BeerSmith has already proven to be immensely valuable in laying out the steps for an all grain brew day. Basically you take your recipe, enter the volume of wart you want to produce, along with the amounts of grain, the type of equipment you’re using, and the type of sparge method, and it punches out a nice looking recipe. I’m still on the trial version for another week, but there’s no question I’ll be buying this. For $27.95, it’s more than worth it.

Here is the recipe that I went with. It includes the grain bill and the type of hops I used. Amber Ale Recipe

Since this was my first all grain brew, I chose to go with batch sparging. Basically it means after my mash, I add a defined amount of water to the grains and drain the liquid out. This is known as rinsing the grain bed. I do this in 4 stages, which in the end gives me my pre-boil wort volume. For a much more detailed explanation of the sparging methods, check out this link.

The best part of all, my buddies joined me to partake in the fun! Of course, learning about making beer’s a whole lot easier when there’s beer to be enjoyed!

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First I needed to boil my strike water. This is done on the top tier of my brew stand with the pot that’s got a thermometer and a spigot. The strike water has to be at a specific temperature as it sets the temperature of the mash. Mash temperatures basically define the characteristic and the flavors of the beer. My recipe called for mash temperature of 156 F. Based on the temperature drop of the grains once the water’s added, my strike water needed to be 168 F.

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Strike water added

Next, the all important step of adding the grains to the cooler. It doesn’t look like much, but there’s a lot of joy in seeing what will eventually be a lovely amber ale.

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Ready to mash

After about 45 minutes, the mashing was complete. I tested this using tincture of iodine. You take a bit of the wort and add some of the iodine. If the iodine disappears, the starch to sugar conversion is compete and the mashing is complete. Something I discovered was that spilling iodine on yourself makes for a very difficult mess to clean up.

 

Now we get to the sparging part.

I didn’t quite understand this part because the steps that the software punched out indicated that my batch volumes needed to be done ~0.25 gal for the first batch, then 2.26 gallons for the second and third batches. I didn’t exactly understand why this was the case. I heated up the 4.75 gallons of water to 168 F and sparged as per the instructions. I did the following:

  1. Once the mash was complete, I drained the wort from the mash as quickly as possible. This was the first “batch” of liquid.
  2. Once the liquid was drained, ~0.25 gallons of water at 168f was added. The grain bed was stirred up and left to rest for about 5 minutes. This is the second “batch”. After 5 minutes, it was drained into the boil pot.
  3. Repeating the above process, I added ~2.25 gallons at 168 F for the third and fourth batches.

After sparging, I ended up with a pre-boil volume that was ~7 gallons.

Now that we’ve got our wort, the process is exactly the same as extract brewing. Bring the wort to a boil, add boil hops at the beginning and aroma hops at the end, cool, add to the fermenter, add yeast, a voila! Wort is on it’s way to becoming beer.

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Wort Boil

 

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My Amber Ale Fermenting Away!

The only downside of all grain brewing is there is a lot more prep work and clean up with the added equipment. Plus the mashing and sparging processes add at least another hour and a half to the process. It turns brewing into a full day adventure.

 

Planned Upgrade – Sparge Arm

Since my pre-boil gravity was lower than predicted as per the recipe, I decided to try and improve the process by fly sparging. The reason a low specific gravity is an issue is that it means I didn’t extract as much sugar as I could from the grains during sparging. To extract more sugars, I will change up the sparging process to fly sparging. It takes quite a bit longer, but it (supposedly) yields better results.

In order to fly sparge, I need a sparge arm to distribute water across the grain bed. If you just dump water in front a hose, you end up creating a channel in the grain bed which causes the water to drain unevenly through the grain bed. I decided to make my own sparge arm. A sparge arm is basically a piece of equipment that sprinkles the water evenly over the grain bed.

One of this nice things about this project is I got to learn how to solder copper pipe. It’s surprisingly easy.

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Everything needed to make a sparge arm
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Copper Cut to Size
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Copper drilled out.
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Soldering copper! I learned something today.
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My first copper solder joint.

The Finished Sparge Arm

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Sparge Arm Testing

I’ll report back on how it works, hopefully it doesn’t disturb the grain bed.

Other Updates

Being the wonderfully thrifty person I am, I managed to pass by a garage sale where they were selling a BBQ grill and a propane tank for $25! Considering an empty tank will run ~$30, I think I did pretty well. I also continue to discover the usefulness of my truck.

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Another Example of the Value of My Truck 🙂
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BBQ season is in!

My Next Posts

For my future posts, I’ll provide updates for fly sparging versus batch sparging. Also, I have a lot of projects to tackle this summer, including creating some storage containers for my tools, building a skateboard rail, and getting creative with integrating electronics into my homebrewing.

Thanks for reading!

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