Start With the Hardest Part: Control Panel Design

There are clearly more than two types of people in the world, but if we were going to work with this popular (if asinine) theory, then a nice way to make the distinction might be to make it between people who tackle challenges by addressing the easiest part first and those who go for the hardest.  I belong to the latter group of folks and for this reason, I am starting off my e-brewery build by attacking the control panel first.

Key Decisions

In a lot of ways addressing the control panel first is the only logical way to start, as it forces you to make some key decisions in the overall design of the system.

120V or 240V Power? – How to power the brewing system was probably the decision I waffled over most.   At the center of most e-breweries are electric water heating elements (like those in household water heaters).  These elements can run off 120V (the voltage in a normal outlet) or 240V (the voltage in an outlet like your electric clothes dryer) residential power. Unsurprisingly, when available, 240V power is superior choice, allowing for the use of 4,500W-5,500W elements and shortening the time it takes to bring water and wort from room to boiling temperatures.  The Electric Brewery build uses 240V power to fire two 5,500W heating elements.  The problem with 240V power is that it isn’t widely available in most homes (rather specifically wired for a few appliances like dryers and stoves), it can be a pain in the butt to install a new receptacle, and I am renter (meaning I can’t monkey with the house too much either way).  Because I am locating my brewery in my laundry room, I do have the option of unplugging my dryer and using that receptacle on brew day.  But ultimately, I don’t know that I am going to live in this house forever and I want to build something that gives me the most flexibility into the future.  And so, I decided to use 120V power for my e-brewery so that it can be plugged into almost any residential outlet.  Moreover, because my build is designed around 5-gallon batches (smaller than those driving The Electric Brewery design), I’m hopeful that my heating times wont be too terrible.

RIMS or HERMS? – My quests for higher efficiency, better temperature control, and all around better beer, demand that I upgrade to a recirculating system.  The Electric Brewery build uses a HERMS design.  Wort passes through a stainless steel coil located HLT (hot liquor tun) where it is heated and recirculated back to a mash tun using a high temperature pump.  While this is a great design, it is NOT particularly compact (it uses three large Blichmann Boilermaker pots and two pumps all on the same tier) and it doesn’t have much consideration for energy efficiency (nothing is insulated and it does not take advantage of gravity).  Because I am looking to brew inside a very compact footprint, I started looking at two-vessel builds (for example the rather cool Brutus 20).  I finally settled on a RIMS design that uses the boil kettle like a RIMS tube during the mash, or what the good folks at Blichmann are calling a Kettle-RIMS or K-RIMS system.  The result will be a two vessel, no sparge system where an insulated mash tun is positioned vertically in relation to a boil kettle.  This design allows me to eliminate an accessorized brew pot, a heating element,  a pump, and a lengthy stainless steel coil from the original The Electric Brewery design.  Now that’s $AVINGS! 


Having made these two key decisions, I began planning the wiring for the control panel.  Again, the information on The Electric Brewery was absolutely invaluable in my planning.  Having something to modify was infinitely more feasible than starting from scratch.  I did however, modify the design heavily, as I was able to eliminate quite a lot of circuitry from the The Electric Brewery control panel.

  • Because I am using only one heating element (in the boil kettle), I can remove all of the wiring and components for one of the elements as well as the switch that toggles between elements in the original design.
  • I  scaled back from 3 to 1 PID Temperature Controllers.  The original design used one controller for each element and a third simply to read temperatures from the  mash tun (which, seems to amount to a rather expensive thermometer).
  • I eliminated the Voltage and Amp meters from the control panel, as they were merely cosmetic.

Below are the wiring diagrams I will be using for my 120V control panel’s four major systems.

Control Panel Power
Timer and Alarm
Heating Element
Wort and Air Pumps

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