Introduction: Electric Beer Brewing System
Finalist in the
Brewing beer with electricity is a great way to both simplify and increase your level of control during the process. By adding an electric heating element directly to your kettle you can avoid the limited working space and heat output of a conventional stovetop and the space restrictions that come with a propane burner. Because the heating element is directly immersed in the water/wort, it also results in an extremely efficient transfer of heat. You'll be able to heat water/wort faster, cheaper, and more precisely than with a propane burner.
If you're thinking about doing an electric build, I highly recommend you visit The Electric Brewery. This is a fantastic resource where Kal shows you in-depth step-by-step details on how to create his electric brewery setup which is among the finest out there. HomeBrewTalk.com is another great source of information with a dedicated electric brewing forum. Many of the members there were a great help in putting together my setup.
Building an electric brewery setup isn't exactly cheap, but this instructable will show you how to build a basic combo hot liquor tank (HLT) & brew kettle (BK) setup as simply and inexpensively as possible--the entire setup can be assembled for around $300, a third of which is setting up the 240V supply outlet. The heating in this case is done with a 5500W hot water heater element powered by a 240V electic supply. This setup is also easily upgraded by adding a second kettle in the future.to have a dedicated HLT and BK.
Step 1: Parts List
I'm going to list the bulk of the parts needed here. There are a couple small things like machine screws, nuts, etc... I don't list because I'm assuming that if you think you can handle this project, then you have a coffee can full of them sitting around somewhere. Aside from basic tools like a reciprocating saw, drill, vice, and so forth, you will need a set of step bits for drilling holes in the keg. I used these harbor freight bits and they worked out just fine. If you have the fancy punches, more power to you, but they're not required.
Parts list--The control panel
The control panel is the center of the electric brewery. It will plug into your electric supply, monitor the water/wort temperature, and control the heating element. While we will be building a simple version with control for a single element, these can be as complex as you want with alarms, timers, switches, and the like.
PID temperature controller SYL-2352, $44.50: The PID is the ‘brain’ of your electric brewery. This reads the temperature and controls the heat output via the SSR. This particular model is highly regarded and can be run from a 120V or 240V electric supply.
Weldless RTD temperature probe PT100-L50M14, $33.95: The RTD temperature probe is what is responsible for actually measuring the temperature sent to the PID. This particular item is for a weldless fitting. You can get it in either a 2 or 4" probe, but having gone with a 4" I feel a 2" would be better if mounting directly on the kettle wall.
Panel mount connector for RTD sensor RTDCON, $3.75: A panel mount connector allows you to disconnect the probe from both the control panel and kettle.
40 amp SSR with heatsink, ~$12: The SSR turns allows is the switch that allows electricity to pass to the element and is turned on/off by the PID. They can be found fairly cheaply on eBay.
Panel mount fuse holder, ~$3: At only $3, it's a worthwhile investment to protect the expensive PID with a cheap fuse. Make sure you get one designed for 30mm fuses to ensure easy to find local replacements.
Thermal compound, ~$1: This will help heat transfer between the SSR and the heat sink. If you already have some that works too.
2-space Eaton load center #BR24L70SGP, $12.47: The load center will serve as the housing for the control panel. By using a load center it already includes all the lugs and terminal bars needed for the main power connections, and it's cheap.
30-amp 2-pole flush-mount outlet #621336, $5.29: This is the outlet the kettle will connect to.
3/4 in. twin-screw clamp connectors 5 pack #20512, $3.82: Connectors to secure electric supply to control pannel. Also used to secure wire to circuit breakers, spa panel, and outlet if installing new supply line.
0.5 amp fast blow fuse 5 pack #AGC-1/2, $1.68: Fuses for fuse holder.
Petra 4-wire 10' dryer cord #90-2028, $19.35: Wire and plug that will connect control panel to electric source. If using a different outlet make sure you get a cord that will fit the proper style. At 10' it's long enough to cut a couple feet off to use where 10G wire is needed for wiring inside of the control panel.
J-B Weld 8265-S Cold Weld, $4.98: Used to secure heat sink, kettle cover plate, and just an all around useful thing to have.
25 amp DPST toggle swtich #S331R, $12.04. Without a switch to completely cut power to the heating element, one leg will always be hot. This is an okay practice if, just exercise caution whenever you have the kettle plugged in. You may want to add a toggle switch to completely disconnect power to the element from the control panel. It's something I may still go back and do at some point, I'm really only skipping it because the test button on the line cord functions as a kill switch for me. When installing this switch, it is wired in between the SSR and the kettle outlet in the control panel.
Parts list--Electric supply
The electric kettle is going to need a 240V power source to plug into. At full power a 5500W element will pull somewhere around 24-amps, so it should be protected with a 30 amp breaker and wired with 10G wire or thicker. It should also be GFCI protected similar to outlets in a bathroom or kitchen for safety. The problem is high amp GFCI breakers are very expensive. The cheapest route is to use a spa panel designed for hot tubs that comes with a 50 amp GFCI breaker far cheaper than you could buy the breaker alone. Another option is a line cord that has the GFCI protection built in. This is the route I went because I found one for $75 on ebay, but they are usually much more expensive. I opted for this since it will be easier to bring with me when I move. In most cases you are going to want to install a separate outlet for the kettle. If you're not familiar with electric wiring, do a bunch of reading and ask questions to someone who knows their stuff. Don't try anything unless you feel comfortable with it.
My setup runs entirely on 240V using three wires (two hots and a ground). Given the option, it's better to go with a 4 wire setup (two hots, a neutral, and a ground) as you can supply 120V by connecting to one of the hots and the neutral. It offers more flexibility if you wanted to use the outlet for something else or add other components like pumps that utilize 120V. My line cord doesn't carry a neutral, so that was my limiting factor.
30-amp 2 pole breaker, $8-12: Assuming you have 2 spaces open in your circuit breaker, you need to install a 30 amp breaker to supply the outlet. You need to get the proper breaker for your brand of panel. In my case I'm supplying from a Cutler-Hammer BR type panel.
10/3 NMB wire, ~$1-2/ft: This is the wire that will run from your breaker to the spa panel and from the spa panel to the outlet. I had some laying around so I don't have an exact price on it. You may be able to find a local electric supply shop to get your wire cheaper than at home depot. I use a place that charges a per foot price based on 1,000 ft rolls regardless of how much you buy, but YMMV.
30-amp 4-wire flush mount outlet #918137, $7.49: Outlet for control panel connection.
2-gang metal box #443497, $1.02: Box to house the outlet.
1-gang square 30-50 amp receptacle cover #338974, $2.14: Cover plate for outlet
GE 50 amp GFCI spa panel #UG412RMW250P, $49.00: Cheapest way to add GFCI protection.
Parts list--The kettle
These parts, along with the temperature probe, are installed kettle side. If you wanted a separate BK and HLT then you order two sets of these (plus an extra RTD probe).
PETRA 90-1024 3-wire 30-amp dryer cord, $11.58: Cord with plug to connect kettle to control panel.
Camco 02963 5500W 240V heating element, $23.91: Heat source for the kettle. This one puts out a LOT of heat.
1-gang steel city handy box #421405, $1.61: Box of kettle wiring.
Raco handy box cover plate #744425, $0.50 x2: Cover plates for wiring box. Order two.
PVC pipe fitting ring
1" stainless locknut with O-ring, $9.00: Nut to secure heating element. Difficult to source part.
1" silicone O-ring, $0.85: Doesn't hurt to have an extra and shipping is flat rate.
Parts list--Sight Gauge upgrade
Sight gauges are extremely useful for quantifying volumes and for less than an extra $30 can be installed in the same mounting hole as the temperature probe. Bargainfittings.com is flat rate shipping, so might as well make use of it. If you are going this route, then replace the weldless RTD probe from Auberins with the 4" x 1/4" NPT probe. The 2" probe will be too short if connected through the sight gauge T.
Weldless thermometer sight gauge kit, $25.95: Sight gauge from the top and thermometer connection via the side.
1/2" NPT to 1/4" NPT stainless reducing bushing, $3.00: To connect 1/4" NPT probe to 1/2" NPT sight gauge T.
Total Cost Estimates
Control panel: $140 + tax/shipping
Outlet: ~$75 + tax
Kettle: $53 +tax/shipping
Optional sight gauge: $29
Grand total: ~$300 + tax/shipping
Step 2: Installing the Supply Outlet
The first step is going to be to install the electric supply outlet. As mentioned before, the way I did this and the way you'll be doing it are probably slightly different. I had a line cord to provide my GFCI protection but the common route is go with a spa panel. I'll keep this brief as the point of the instuctable is not to teach you how to wire electric panels. It goes without saying to be very careful when doing this and don't work in a live panel.
To install the spa panel, install the 30-amp two pole breaker in your main panel. Connect 10/3 NMB wire to this with the red and black wires each to one lug on the breaker and the neutral/ground to the appropriate bars. Wire the other end of this to the spa panel. Likewise wire the GFCI break in the spa panel to an outlet mounted where appropriate with the same 10/3 wire.
Since I used a line cord, I wired directly from the 30 amp breaker to a 3 wire ring lock outlet.
Step 3: Preparing the Control Panel
Cut off the tabs where a breaker would attach. These are not needed and risk contacting things they shouldn't if not removed. They unscrew easily and are quick work for a hacksaw or dremel.
The extra plastic piece needs to be taken out as well. It just unscrews from the base.
Remove the center rings of the punch out on the top of the box to make room for the 3/4" clamp connector.
Cut out the space for the PID towards the bottom of the box.
Drill holes to mount RTD connector, fuse holder, and toggle switch (if used). I don't have a picture of these cut prior to install, but they went directly to the right of the PID and can be seen in the finished pics. Just test fit them for now.
- Remove the punchouts on the top plate. Test fit the 3 wire outlet. This will likely require grinding a small amount (1/8") from one side to accommodate it. Mark and drill holes for the outlet mounting screws.
Step 4: Making Room for the SSR
The SSR will generate a good deal of heat which is why it comes it a heat sink. Ideally the SSR is going to be in direct contact with the heat sink for the most ideal heat transfer. The problem is that for these eBay SSRs, the heatsink does not have a much larger footprint than the SSR itself. What I wound up doing was carefully cutting out space for the SSR while leaving just enough room to attach the heat sink with J-B weld. If I had to do it over again, I would probably just drill two holes and mount the SSR on one side, the heat sink on the other, and the box wall in between. If you apply thermal compound on each side this should be sufficient to transfer enough heat from a single SSR setup. Either way, make sure you leave enough room between the PID and the SSR.
Step 5: Painting the Box
This part is entirely optional and is a matter of personal preference. If you do decide to paint it, know that traditional spray paint will adhere poorly. Either use a latex-based spray paint (i.e. Krylon H20 Latex) or hand paint on actual latex paint. Prime first. Take care to mask of everything including open holes and scuff up the surface with sand paper.
Step 6: Understand the Wiring.
It's important to understand exactly how the wiring is going to work. I've included the schematic I used for the 3 wire setup as well as the changes needed to run this from a 4 wire system. The switch is included, although this can be omitted if desired. I used 1/2 amp fuses even though the diagram specifies 1 amp. The PID should pull very little power regardless and the fuse is just there in case something goes very wrong. Not pictured are the connectors for the RTD sensor. The white wire goes to terminal 5 while the two red wires go to terminals 3 and 4. When connecting the PID to the SSR note there is a + and - terminal, connect these appropriately.
All of the wiring on H1 and H2 between the power in and the element should be 10G. You can either use length cut from the supply cord or buy stranded 10G separately at home depot for around 50 cents a foot. I wired the PID with 14G as it is fused to 0.5 amp. The RTD sensor wires can be pretty thin gauge.
Step 7: Finishing Up the Control Panel
It's time to connect everything in the control panel as per the diagram. When soldering on all of the RTD connectors, keep the white wire on pin 2 (ultimately connecting to slot 5 on the PID). The top of the box needs to go on 'backwards' to keep the outlet from hitting the SSR. If you look at it from the side, the rounded lip on the edge of the box should line up with the smaller holes on the ends. Rather than connect the power supply for the PID to the main lugs, I added crimp on rings and connected them via the screws directly adjacent to the lugs. If so inclined, you might add silicone to seal the box up. You can plug it in to make sure the PID powers up, but it will need to be programmed before it functions properly.
Step 8: Preparing the Heating Element Mount
There are a couple ways to attach the heating element to the kettle. I based mine off of Kal's from theelectricbrewery.com and used a handy box. Other people have been known to make a mold and pour J-B weld thinned with acetone around the electrical connections. I like the idea of the handy box to provide support from damaging the connectors as well as the option to disassemble things if a problem arises. Since the wires come up through the bottom of the box, I wasn't worried about going nuts with waterproof fittings.
Cut out the bottom of the handy box with a large hole saw. You want it to be big enough that the element can freely rotate without getting stuck, I think I used a 1 3/4" hole saw. Mark the center of one of the cover plates and drill a 1 1/4" hole with the step bit. Sand off any burs. One of the mounds on the back of the cover for the screw needs to be ground flat as well. Line up the cover plate with the back of the box, apply a liberal amount of J-B well, and leave them to set overnight.
Ultimately the silicone o-ring will sit between the kettle and the box. Theelectricbrewery method uses a stainless washer to maintain the o-ring's shape when tightening the box down. The problem is that sort of washer is not an easy part to find and I didn't want to place an order for 1 washer with McMaster Carr. I first tried to skip the washer completely, but wound up with a leak as the o-ring got warped when I tightened the nut. Looking through my box of parts, I found that a PVC slip washer was just about the right diameter, but too tall. I filed the skinny side of the washer down to just a little bit shorter than the o-ring. This worked out and I haven't had any leaks yet.
I would also recommend that you use a step bit to enlarge the bottom punchout hole to accommodate a 3/4" screw clamp. I used a 3/8 in. clamp and it should have been larger.
Step 9: Installing the Heating Element
I wanted to mount the heating element as close to the bottom of the keg as possible so I could heat up smaller volumes of sparge water if needed. Of course the bottom of the keg is curved, so go too low and the o-ring will not make a tight seal. I marked where I felt comfortable and drilled a 1 1/4" hole with the step bit. I threaded the element through and tightened the 1" stainless lock washer down on the inside. After tightening I added a ring of silicone around the edge of the element as an extra precaution. This shouldn't come in contact with the wort, so again I wasn't overly concerned about food grade.
Secure each of the hot wires to the heating element. You want the ground to be secured to both the handy box and to the brew kettle itself. I mounted the ground wire directly to a machine screw I put through the bottom rim of the kettle and ran a short strand of 10G wire to connect it to the mounting point inside of the box. Check for continuity between the grounding prong on the plug and the kettle.
Drill holes for the temperature probe and/or sight gauge and mount those as well. If doing both a sight gauge and probe, I recommend using the parts listed earlier to save drilling another hole. Less possible leak points are never a bad thing. The probe needs to be calibrated and it's way easier to do before you mount it to the keg (see next step). You will also want to calibrate the sight gauge by adding water a half gallon at a time and using a marker to mark the volumes on the gauge.
Step 10: Configure the PID and Test It Out
Hold down the set button on the PID to enter the options menu. Continuing to press 'set' will cycle through the options. The following settings need to be changed.
- HY from 0.3 --> 0.1. Controls how much over or under the temperature can be.
- Sn from 0 --> 21. Change input type from K type thermocouple to RTD.
- Pb from 0 --> (32-Temp of probe in ice water). Calibrates the probe. Mine read 34 so with an offset of -2, it now read the proper 32 in ice water.
- A-M from 2-->1. Allows manual control which will be used for boil.
If the temperature is massively off, check to ensure all the wires are properly connected and the pins are not mixed up. If testing with a multimeter and the RTD probe connected, you should get ~100 Ohms resistance between the white and red wires and zero resistance between the red wires. My probe initially read -94 F and I sourced this back to one of the red wires having broken off the PID when I was pushing it back in.
Step 11: Brew Time
Using a combo HLT/BK is a good way to ease the cost of jumping into both all-grain and electric brewing. In a traditional three vessel setup you have the HLT, the mash tun (MT), and the BK. Water is heated in the HLT for mash/sparge, added to the MT, and drained into the BK. To use a combo HLT/BK, you need an extra vessel to temporarily store either the sparge water after heating or the drained wort before boiling. This can be either a cooler, plastic bucket, or metal pot. If you are going to store the heated sparge water, heat it an extra degree or two to allow for some heat loss. After a couple batches you should get a better idea of exactly how much heat you'll lose.
That said, you can add a second vessel for the cost of the element, box, probe, and dryer cord. Once sparging is about half way finished, disconnect the HLT and plug in the BK. This is probably the direction I'll be headed shortly. More advanced systems incorporate multiple PID's and SSR's to be able to heat both a HLT and BK simultaneously, but these rapidly increase in cost from the components and need to be built to handle higher amperage.
Fill the kettle with proper volume of mash water and use the arrows to program the set value to the desired temperature. Disconnect the power before you drain it since you do not want to run the heating element without it completely immersed in water. When it comes time to boil the wort, you are going to want to switch from automatic mode to manual. Automatic mode attempts to reach a specific temperature whereas manual mode will allow the element to run a given % of the time. Crank the % up to hit boiling faster, then dial it back to maintain the boil. I found that around 70% had a vigorous boil going in my cold basement with a boil off of about 1 gal/hr, but this will obviously vary a bit. When finished disconnect the kettle power cord, but you can leave the temperature probe connected to continuously monitor the temperature of the wort as it cools.
This setup worked fantastic on my first brew, with many more to come. The entire process was much easier and more precise than my propane burner efforts had been. For a long time I've been struggling with efficiency around 60% and I jumped up to the mid 70's on my first effort here. Being able to run the entire process next to a sink really streamlined cleanup too. Not to mention by doing this indoors in the winter, all the energy lost during the boil is that much less I have to use to heat the house. Though the work involved and start up costs can be somewhat daunting, I couldn't be happier with the end results.
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