The eternal upgrade…

It wasn’t planned to be like this.  Just a little bit of fun I thought.  Make some beer, it might even be drinkable.  Of course I wouldn’t be content just throwing some kits together, been there, done that, back in my university days.  No, I need to go full out, do it “properly”.  So I did.  And it was drinkable.  Very much so.  With only limited time available I couldn’t really brew enough.

I know, I thought.  I could expand this.  Make bigger batches, so for pretty much the same amount of time brewing I could get maybe twice as much beer.  I reckon there are a few improvements to make too that will speed things up.  I forget how long ago I decided all this, because it seems like forever that I’ve been working on this expansion plan.  But maybe, just maybe, the end is in sight.*

Having decided to scale up I (sensibly?) chose to set the capacity higher than I need, to prevent having to go through another expansion later (yes, in hindsight, definitely a sensible decision!), while being flexible enough to use at maybe half of capacity quite comfortably.  OK, I thought.  Break it down into simple steps.  One thing at a time, introduce the new equipment into the existing setup item by item, keeping the capability to brew so it won’t matter if it doesn’t all happen at once – after all, time is limited.

I wanted to start with the chiller.  Cooling the boiled wort in the existing copper** took an age, and was a clear candidate for making more efficient.  The problem was there was no way I’d be able to connect any sort of “in line” chiller to the outlet.  There was nothing else for it – the new copper had to come first.  I didn’t realise at the time that this sort of knock-on effect would become a common theme.  So, I got a nice big vessel for the new copper.  A few bits of plumbing, new tools (again, this became a common theme – every job brings with it a new piece of equipment necessary to complete the work), a few peripherals including a mighty gas burner, and hey presto, a nice big boil capacity of 100l+.

Having done this the chiller was now essential rather than desirable, as the old one wouldn’t fit in the new boiler.  So before I could brew anything using this brand new copper that had taken up the available brewing time for the past couple of months I had to make that too.  The first attempt was a bit disasterous but it eventually got there with the Mark II.  At last I could brew again.  Ahhh……

I’m still happy that fitting a sight glass to the copper was the right idea – it gives a good indication of level and I can read the volume off easily.  But at the point the copper was first brought into use with the rest of the existing kit I discovered that the volume at which the liquid first comes into sight is just a little greater volume than I can squeeze out of the current mash tun!  That volume is fine for the finished setup, I won’t be going lower than that, but it means there’s a lot of guesswork in the meantime and the existing mash tun and hot liquor tank (HLT) would have to be stretched to capacity.  Of course that means the output is more than previously, so the fermentation vessels would have to be stretched somewhat too.

Next on the list was the HLT.  In hindsight this should have come first but no matter.  Another of those knock-on effects came into play though.  No point having a nice big HLT unless I had something to stand it on.  Fortunately I decided to put some effort into the design of the stand because once I’d committed to building this it would drive the shape of the rest of the brewery, and space is at a premium.  A van-load of steel later, and after a session with a powerful saw (fortunately borrowed rather than purchased) and a couple of false starts, the nice new stand was in place.  The HLT conversion was relatively easy using the experience, and some of the surplus parts, I’d got from building the copper, and so relatively quickly it took its place on the upper level of the stand.  I say relatively quickly, but by now we were months on from the original decision to start this upgrade.  This wasn’t helped by the increasingly obvious need to fit out the whole space and with a few cupboards acquired second-hand, this work had to slot in around the brewery build too.  All the while, the few brews that could be squeezed in had to take place in the middle of a worksite, which was (and still is) trying to say the least.

Two main jobs remained – the mash tun, and the fermenters.  The latter would be easy to convert – just a tap to be added – but the problem was the bigger barrels wouldn’t fit into my crude temperature-controlled space.  And there was little point scaling up the mash tun until I had a big enough fermenter to transfer into.  Nothing for it then, a new temperature-controlled cupboard needed to come first.  Space was a problem now, so another delivery of some steel and another loan of the saw dealt with that.  The base of a nice new double cupboard was then topped with a wooden frame, insulated, and to date one of the doors has been fitted.  The other side will have to wait, but it isn’t a priorty anymore. 

Now the electronics side of things kicked in.  Lots of research and planning, several tactical purchases, more research and rethinking, more purchases, and finally I reach the point with a fancy little box of electrical wizardry that should, subject to a thorough test in the next week or so, allow me to keep the fermentation at the right temperature, and cool down to very low levels to improve the output and expand the brewing styles  I can dabble in.

So, finally, that leaves the mash tun.  I bought the vessel for this months and months ago, but it has just been sitting there getting in the way ever since while I sorted all the other jobs out.  All the fittings were bought ages ago too, and finally (with yet another new tool purchase) I managed to get the drain hole drilled out ready to fit it all together.  All it needs now is a bit of time to fit everything, seal joints etc.  Oh. And it needs a false bottom.  I’ve been dithering about this for months.  I know what I need to do, it’s just a question of doing it.  Buy an expensive piece of perforated steel, tools to cut it, various fittings, and put the effort in.  Finally, I’ve come to a conclusion though.  Cheat.  Get someone else to do it, because by the time I’ve paid for everything I need it isn’t going to work out much cheaper struggling to do it myself.  I can even get a better spec (thicker steel primarily) that way.  So, one false bottom finally ordered and the mash tun can be brought into use.  Except I planned it with a recirculation system which will help to keep the temperature constant and even allow stepping up of temperatures semi-automatically.  Overkill?  Maybe, but it is what I decided on.  So, back to the electronics, another raid on eBay, and subject to postage times from China for a few key bits, another fancy gizmo will be concocted to control the mash temperature.

So then we’re finished.  Potentially in the next few weeks.  Certainly ready for a big brewday in November.

Well, I say finished.  There’s a sparge arm needed.  And the pipework from copper to chiller to fermenter needs sorting out properly.  As does the plumbing supply into the building.  And the fitting of the sink.  And the permanent electrics.  And the other half of the fermenting cupboard.

And when I’ve done all that I’m sure there’ll be some other jobs that need doing…

Even so, it is quite exciting to be within sight of getting all the main jobs out of the way and to soon be able to spend a bit more time brewing and a lot less time building things.  It’s been much more than 12 months in the making, so far, and I’ve a new-found appreciation of all the different skills you need in order to make the capability to make beer, and I can’t wait to start using it properly.  Hopefully just in time for it to become the pilot plant for a slightly larger setup, but that’s another story of which more another time!

Having started this blog with the intention of recording progress on the brewery I thought it was about time I stopped getting sidetracked with other beer-related issues and actually wrote about the brewery for once.  So there you are, you now know as much as me about it!  Hopefully the next update will be rather sooner, and will be a positive report on the first “full” use of the new kit.  Fingers crossed…

 
* Strictly speaking, the end will never be in sight.  I quickly learnt that there’s always one more change, one more improvement, no matter how finished you thought you were!

** That’s the boiler, if you didn’t already know that

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