My journey into homebrewing started like the majority of us; walking into my local homebrew supply shop and declaring, “I want to brew! What do I do?” I started small with extract brews, but quickly started to dream of brewing all-grain batches and building my own equipment to do so. I’m an engineer by trade, which fueled my build of a three-kettle HERMS (heat exchange recirculating mash system) with electric controller, all of which I built myself from scratch. All was right in the world.
After the first several brews, it became apparent that the dream system I built had a flaw — its setting. My brew space where the system resided lacked some major essentials: Water supply, drainage ability, and ample space for brewing. I found myself lugging 5-gallon (19-L) pails of water to my garage, setting up temporary hoses draining into the yard, and moving yard equipment in and out to make space to brew. Homebrewing became exhausting! So, in the midst of a pandemic where I’ve been quarantined at home, I decided to use my off time to build a brewery. In late 2020 I officially moved in, and the list of add-ons for the brewery was extensive. Follow along as I highlight some of the major components that are now home to my total homebrewing experience.
Welcome to Zonut Brewing!
The idea was to take an old rotting shed that had a patio/pergola area attached and transform it into a brand new 14×24-foot (4.3×7.3-m) combo building to house a storage shed in the back and a fully insulated and temperature-controlled brewery space in the front. We were able to salvage the pergola area while tearing down the shed and ended up building the rest from scratch. This project was the quintessential “while we’re at it . . .” space.
Three-Kettle HERMS System
The heart of Zonut Brewing is the three-kettle HERMS. I wanted the control of using electric brewing, and with inspiration from several other electric brewers I settled on using three 20-gallon (76-L) kettles, modified with quick disconnect fittings to use transfer hoses. The system is built around a garage storage rack, which was the perfect size for the equipment. The 30A controller I built from scratch is mounted on a swinging TV stand, so it stays out of the way when not in use. The controller build tested my patience in wiring, but turned out great and gives me precise temperature control on the hot liquor tank (HLT) and mash kettles. A steam condenser attached to the boil kettle makes for very little steam release in the room, and requires much less power for a rolling boil. The system is finished off with lighting, black high-density polyethylene (HDPE) paneling, and of course, the brewery logo.
My keezer starts with a 7-cubic foot Arctic King chest freezer, which is the perfect size for four Corny kegs. I’m a big fan of nitro beers, so I wanted to have total flexibility for using both CO2 and nitro on any tap. To do so, I constructed a parallel manifold setup that can channel both gases to each secondary regulator. I took extra care to make sure all my fittings were sealed before final installation. Since the taps are remote from the keezer, I placed a small glycol reservoir in the unused space that can keep the beer lines cool on their way to the taps. An Inkbird controller maintains optimum beer temperature.
Iron Pipe Four-Tap System
The aesthetics in the brewery are meant to be industrial. I once saw iron pipe used in a craft brewery and I knew right then what I wanted to use for my taps. The system starts with 2-inch (5-cm) iron pipe from the home center. To ensure serviceability, I cut a large window in the faucet pipe and formed a piece of steel sheet to cover the opening and house the faucet shanks. With the four lines plumbed in and wrapped around a glycol cooling line, I used small button head machine screws to secure the shank panel. From there, the remaining elbows and vertical members were screwed together, and the tap system was ready to be bolted directly to the countertop. I chose Intertap flow control faucets for flexibility in using CO2 or nitro in a single tap, and finished it off with custom cut tap handles and 3D printed dogs. (Zonut Brewing is named after our brew dog, Zoe). And “while we’re at it . . .” since I had a sink just below the taps, I added a glass rinser to the drip tray.
While I have access to a local homebrew shop’s grain mill, I wanted to include my own motorized grain mill in the space to have more control and freshness over the crush. I bought an inexpensive high-torque drill that I modified to fit in a case with external speed control, directly spinning the rollers. This mill mentioned an optimum RPM of 350 for grain crushing. Well, how would I know what speed I’m turning? An easy add-on was a Hall-effect sensor fixated on the drill chuck. Now I can dial in the precise RPM no matter what type of grain I’m using. There’s something very exciting about listening to your grain mill spooling up right before you intend to mash. I mounted the whole system on a standard kitchen island I found at the home center, which houses a bucket perfectly for catching the grain.
I wanted to use a glycol chiller for total control over the Ss Brewtech fermenters, however glycol units are quite expensive. Instead, using a standard 5,000 BTU wall air conditioning unit, the evaporator can be placed in a 60 qt. cooler full of glycol to do the same job as purpose-built chillers. As I wanted a professional look, and keeping with the industrial theme, I built a custom enclosure with an LED lighted plexiglass front, so the entire unit is visible. An Inkbird controller keeps the glycol as cold as desired, and as a finishing touch I added an old iPad as a screen to monitor Tilt hydrometers. This thing is a beast — I’m certain it can control many more fermenters. (I think my homebrewing friends will start to drop off their fermenters soon!)
Bar Top and Swinging Doors
From the beginning, we wanted a brewing space that connected the indoor and outdoor spaces. As such, we devised a plan to have a bar top area that could be accessed both in the brewery and out in the patio space. We wanted the bar to have a unique look and feel, so I made a plywood base that we inlayed pre-finished wood strips in a herringbone pattern, and then poured 3⁄8-inch of epoxy bar top resin on top. The look is dramatic and gives a real sense of depth. Resin countertops also allowed us to insert our brewery logo in between pours. We also built swing-up doors at the corner bar area that utilize gas struts and truly invite people into the space from outdoors. Entertaining is now a joy and promotes our favorite hobby with every pour.