Electric Homebrewery: Getting Started

As promised, I am veering away from the current events theme that has been dominating my blog lately for this upcoming series of posts. Instead, I’ll be posting updates on something I am almost as passionate about (though perhaps I should not admit that): my homebrewery.

If any of you homebrewers out there are anything like me, you are perpetually in some state of upgrading–or at least planning to upgrade–your  brewing system or fermentation/dispensing rig.  Over the years, I’ve slowly made improvements to just about every aspect of my brewing process.  I given myself more dispensing options by moving to kegs, converting an old dorm fridge into a kegerator, and building a jocky box for serving on the run.  I’ve more tightly controlled my fermentation temperatures by converting an old fridge into a fermentation chamber.  I’ve added pumped aeration and filtration to my brew day.  And even geeked out pretty hard on water chemistry to try to get the most out of my mashes and dial in on the characteristics of styles I brew most.  What I have surprisingly NOT changed much over the years is my actual brewery.  My propane burner, brew pot, mash tun, and wort chiller have served me well for years, but are LONG overdue for an upgrade.

IMG_1089IMG_2163IMG_2156Friends know that I have recently relocated from Charlottesville to Lynchburg Virginia to join the faculty at Randolph College (GO WILDCATS!). The move has been a perfect opportunity to make a lot of changes for the better–in the way I live and work, in my space and with my belongings, in my health and well being…and now, in my homebrewery.

I have a few specific goals in mind in making this upgrade.

  • First and most significantly, I want to move from my gas-fired system to an electric system. While I have enjoyed many hours over the years standing outside on mild and sunny brew days listening to the gentle burble of a boiling wort; I have also suffered excruciating heat, freezing cold, high winds, unexpected rain, swarming insects, falling leaves, and more. Further, I am simply tired of hauling equipment and (often very hot) gallons of water and wort around my house and yard.  I am simply looking for a more booshy brew day.
  • Second, I want to make the footprint of my homebrewery much smaller. I am probably not unlike a lot of homebrewers, who tended toward MORE when leveling up. As such, my homebrew equipment takes up a LOT of space…too much space. The truth is, I rarely make more than 5 gallons of any particular beer at a time, though I have always maintained the capability to do three times as much. I’ve finally reached the point in life where less is actually a more attractive option.
  • Third, I want to increase my efficiency.  With my current setup, I can only achieve about 70%-75% efficiency.  No matter what I do, I rarely get out of this range.  Somehow this has always been something of a moral defeat for me and to be honest, I’m cheep enough to mourn the admittedly small cost of those wasted ingredients.
  • Fourth, I want to add more automation and precision to my brew day. Though I have been able to achieve relatively precise temperature control during my mashes, I’m not really set up to do anything more than a single infusion mash and frankly I just don’t like being limited in that way.  I don’t need complete automation, but I want to be able to walk away from my mash tun and/or kettle and not fear that I will make some sort of colossal, off-taste producing error.

I’m also sure that I am not alone in having drooled over and dreamed about Kal’s indoor brewery build at www.TheElectricBrewery.com.  It truly is a thing of beauty if you have not taken a look.  For years, I have simply marked this build as awesomely unattainable (after all the parts and tools, it’ll set you back about $7,000).  Now,  it is still awesomely unattainable.  But, I am in the position to do my own build–one that is scaled WAY back from Kal’s–but makes use of much of the incredible design and planning work he so meticulously and generously documented online.

So, in the same spirit of open documentation that is making my build possible, I am going to be documenting my process is it unfolds.  Feel free to comment (particularly if you see me doing something that will result in burning my house down), collaborators are encouraged.

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