Jim Nielsen • Longmont, Colorado
Jim’s customized brewing rig was the first of the “Pro Series” to come off the B3 assembly line. The all-stainless homebrew system features three 14-gallon pots — all with tri-clover butterfly valves — that serve as his mash and lauter tun, hot liquor tank and brew kettle. In this shot, happy Jim hangs out with his rig, his stainless conical fermenter (at left) and his dog and brewing pal, Dee.
A closer look at his rig, showing kettles, connections and two digital controllers. Jim also has an oxygen stone and a sight gauge that can be connected with two tri-clover “T” joints. When shopping for his equipment, Jim was told that unless he wanted to become a professional brewer, this equipment would probably be a bit excessive. Nielsen was undeterred. “When you want the best, you want the best,” he says.
This is one of Jim’s two stainless-steel conical fermenters. The 12.2- gallon fermenter is controlled by the digital controller in front. Jim can control his fermentation temperature to plus or minus one degree Fahrenheit. The rotating racking arm is at the right height for a Cornelius keg for easy transfers. Once the beer is in the keg, carbonation is easy, since each keg has its own stainless carbonation stone.
Here is Jim’s fleet of 15 Cornelius kegs. (Cornelius, or “Corny,” kegs are the same type of containers that are used to dispense soda.) Each of Jim’s kegs has its own dedicated carbonation stone. A temperature-controlled 10-cubic-foot chest freezer can hold six Corny kegs for beer dispense. From here, the beer goes to Jim’s very own bar (see final photo below).
Jim’s “laboratory,” sitting atop a stainless table in his brew room, includes a few balances, plus the usual hydrometers and thermometers. A small fridge underneath this table is used for yeast storage and harvesting. In the background, you can see the peg- board, holding a variety of beer-making necessities. Just visible in the upper right are more shelves.
“This,” says Jim, “is my favorite place to be.” Lined in knotted pine — what? not stainless? — this room adjoins the brewery and features a fully-stocked bar, a cigar humidor and several beers on tap. The selection includes a keg from a local microbrewery. Great-Great Grandpa Nielsen looks out sternly from a photo on the wall and commands all to finish their beers.
Raymond Steinhart • Tinley Park, Illinois
Raymond Steinhart has been brewing since 1991. “Call me a control freak,” he says, “but I felt that the only way to brew a great beer was to have control over as many aspects of the brewing process as possible.” As a result of his quest to brew a tasty batch of beer, he built his all-electric RIMS system. He reviewed many of his fellow homebrewers’ set-ups and designed a system that would take some of the variability and manual labor out of the process.
By using electric power for the hot liquor, re-circulating and the boil, he is able to precisely control the temperature of the process. He also can brew indoors without worrying about the hazards of using gas. As an added benefit, his PID digital controllers have built-in timers. Raymond usually brews in the morning and sets the hot liquor tank to start before dawn, so he has boiled water ready by the time he gets out of bed. “Building my own RIMS helped me to better understand the brewing process,” Raymond says. “Plus, it was a lot of fun.”
Ray’s electronic control box can take charge of his system, even when he’s not there. The built-in timers can start heating the water long before a brewing session. That way, when he arrives, he can begin brewing immediately. The PID controllers, common in heating aplications, help prevent temperature overshoots.
The heating loop is the heart of any RIMS system. Made entirely of 304 stainless steel, this element heats the wort before it is returned to the top of the grain bed. A sight glass on the side of the mash tun helps Ray judge the flow rate through the heating loop. If too much water is drawn off the bottom of the grain bed, it can compact the grain bed. The level of wort, as viewed through the sight glass, should remain constant throughout recirculation.
Made from Loc-Line hose, this sparge arm allows water or heated wort to sprinkle over the top of the grain bed. The plastic used to make the arm is heat-resistant and reasonably inert. The yellow valve in the upper left of the photo directs water to the sparge arm for sparging. Wort from the RIMS heating loop enters from the right.
A magnetically coupled pump (on the left) recirculates wort through the RIMS loop during mashing. The pump also moves wort from the mash tun to the kettle once mashing is complete. The counter-flow wort chiller (on the right) cools down the wort after the boil. The wort temperature can drop from boiling to 63° F when the flow rate is 1/2 gallon per minute.
Raymond’s electric kettle has four heating elements that he bought at a surplus gadget store. The elements were originally part of electric tea kettles. About 20 minutes after the end of sparging, the wort is boiling. The heaters easily accomplish a good, rolling boil. If fact, Raymond only runs at about 70% of their possible output to avoid scorching the wort.
Here’s Raymond with his RIMS rig, grain mill and beer cooler. He uses a Valley mill powered by a drill, which “works great.” His cooler is temperature-controlled to 38–40° F and can hold six Cornelius kegs. He also stores his yeast in it. Raymond often has a pale ale and wheat beer on tap and continues to search for the secret of a killer dry stout.
The Budde Family • El Paso, Texas
The Budde family started building their homebrewery in 1995, in El Paso, Texas. A dedicated power circuit was installed to protect their equipment. Propane gas is piped from the outside to fire the burners. Grain milling is done with a motorized mill and full kegs are lifted with a motorized winch “to conserve energy for drinking.” Claudius Budde gives all the employees at his company one Friday off per month so he can enjoy a full day of brewing his German lagers. This summer, a family member even flew in from Germany to try his hand at brewing.
“It’s amazing the variety of people who have strolled into our garage brewery, curious to see what’s going on as they walk or drive by the house,” says daughter Xochitl Budde, a teacher. “We’ve talked to delivery guys, firefighters, teachers and lots of neighbors. The electrical meter reader thought it was some type of medical equipment. Once they enter, they leave with a wealth of knowledge and a new appreciation for German beer.”
This picture shows the mash-lauter tun with grain hopper on top. This tun is used for mashes smaller than 50 liters. The kettle is used for larger mashes. The mash tun is equipped with a thermocouple and a temperature controller. The grain hopper holds 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of grain and has a stainless dump valve.
If you’re brewing beer, you’ve gotta have water. This two-stage water filter filters the water leading to the hot water tank. The hot water tank (see picture on previous page) supplies all the water to the garage brewery through the custom-made water distribution system. The tank is equipped with a pump, sight tube, thermocouple (and back-up thermometer) and sample valve. From the hot liquor tank, water is pumped to either of the vessels that are used for mashing.
Without strict sanitation, you can’t brew good beer. Everything in a brewery needs to be clean and as free of microbial growth as possible. To this end, the Budde brewery has a dedicated 100-liter tank to hold sanitizer solution (they use iodine). This tank has its own filtration system (seen at right front) and a pump to move the sanitizing solution.
A series of hoppers (and smaller airtight containers) hold the Budde’s grain. As brewers of German lagers, they use plenty of German and Czech malts and hops. Everyone in the family helps out with the brewing. Xochitl is in charge of measuring and milling the grain. Her mother, Martha, is in charge of the water.
A motorized grain mill crushes their malt — would you crush all that malt by hand? Once milled, the rest of the brewing falls to Claudius. He is also responsible for one more thing: the St. Angelo Brewery logo (shown at top left). “The brewery name comes from the middle name of our own mad scientist,” says Xochitl. (The mad scientist, of course, is Claudius.)
Here’s a close-up of the small mash tun and grain hopper. The cone of the hopper is made from aluminum and has a stainless-steel dump valve. The rest of the hopper is constructed from a water bottle. The mash tun has a false bottom so it can also be used for lautering. You can see the temperature controller to the left and the hot-water delivery pipes behind the grain hopper. The mash tun also has a grain dump feature.
Sitting to the right of the mash tun is the whirlpool vessel. Hot wort is pumped here after the boil. The action of the whirl-pool collects the hops and trub in a pile at the bottom of the stainless vessel. The wort can then be pumped off to the chiller box, which contains two counter- flow chillers and an aeration system.
The 100-liter stainless brew kettle is shown here with the steam vent hood — the Tin Man’s hat — removed. This kettle, which doubles as a large mash tun, has a thermocouple (with back-up thermometer) and temperature controller, just like the small mash-lauter tun. Since it is used for mashes over 50 liters, it has a motorized grain mixer.
In Texas, tap water is rarely cold, so Texas homebrewers need to go to extra lengths to cool their wort. The Budde’s chiller box contains two counter-flow chillers. The box is filled with ice water when in operation to reduce the temperature further. The box also contains an oxygenation system and is connected to a hot-water collection tank.
How many homebrewers have an automated bottling line with a conveyer belt? Well, the Buddes do.
As if the bottling line were not enough, the Budde family also has a semi-automiatic 5-liter keg filler. The keg filler was designed and built by Claudius.
In El Paso, you need to control your fermentation tempertures, even if you’re brewing ales. And if you brew German lagers, as the Buddes do, you need to get serious about temperature control. The Budde’s miniature “cold room” holds two stainless fermenters. You gain entrance to the cold room through access doors on either side. In addition, there is a sliding window on the bottom for taking samples of beer.
This 10-gallon (37-liter) stainless-steel conical fermenter sits in the temperature-controlled cold room. Their other 5-gallon (19-liter) fermenter sits behind it. As with all conical fermenters, yeast and trub can be dumped out the bottom after primary fermentation. In addition, beer can be sampled from valves on the cone. Each fermenter has a thermocouple for monitoring the beer’s temperature.
The beer sampling table in the Budde garage brewery is probably the favorite place for non-homebrewers who wouldn’t know a mash tun from a hole in the ground. Appropriately, the walls are covered with plenty of “beeraphernalia.”
Xochitl Budde, Mauricio Dreher (a visitor from Bavaria) and brewmaster Claudius Budde gather at the sampling table to raise a toast to another outstanding batch of homebrewed German beer.
Dennis Collins • Mississippi
This is the outlet of Dennis’ mash tun, with valves leading to the recirculation heating loop and the kettle. The hoses are fitted with quick disconnects (QDs). In fact, all of his hoses are fitted with QDs because he hates barbed fittings. Much of his Website — at sdcollins.home.mindspring.com — is devoted to this pet peeve.
Like the pumps most RIMS brewers use, Dennis’ pump is magnetically coupled. Magnetically coupled pumps are much easier to sanitize than other pumps. It has two inputs — one from the mash tun and one from the hot liquor tank. The output can be directed back to the mash tun or to the kettle. Magnetically coupled pumps must be primed before use and care must be taken not to have bubbles in the line, as this is hard on the pump.
Dennis’ mash tun is a modified picnic cooler (see picture on page 40). This slotted copper manifold sits at the bottom of the mash and allows the wort to drain away from the grain bed. Dennis made it out of 1/2” copper pipe slotted by sawing slots approximately every 1/2 inch. A similar manifold sits atop the mash for wort return.
Probably the most unique part of Dennis’ system is his pancake screen. This screen sits at the bottom of his brew kettle and filters out hops and trub when he runs the wort off to the chiller and fermenter. His Website contains the construction plans for this piece of equipment.
Dennis’ heat exchanger consists of copper tubing submersed in a small water bath. The water is heated with a heating element and the wort, running through the copper tubing, is heated by the water. This method, in which “heating elements of unknown composition never touch the wort,” makes scorching of the wort impossible.
Here’s Dennis relaxing with his HERMIT and a beer. (He’s smiling because there are no barbed fittings in sight.) If you’re interested in building a rig, his Website describes his system in detail, plus offers a lot of insight into the logic behind designing home breweries in general.