Electric beer brewing system

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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.

Paso 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.

Home Depot
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.

Grainer.com (Optional)
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.

Home depot:
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.

Home depot.com
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

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kfbrooks dice: Mar 22, 2014. 4:27 AM

Great build! Just one thing: in step 4 you suggest it might be OK to simply transfer SSR heat through the box wall into the sink, this didn't work for me. I burnt my SSR out pretty quickly while Autotuning the PID. I would recommend any other builders to make sure their sink is in direct contact with the SSR (with some thermal compound for good measure). Otherwise, thanks for the info, this helped a ton in my build.

markmcg dice: Oct 25, 2013. 8:59 AM
Great Article, I have been reading the forums relentlessly about electric brewing and i really enjoyed this description and step by step walk through.
jadoiron dice: Ago 19, 2013. 12:18 PM
I was linked to this project from another forum. I'm looking to advance to electric brewing, and wondering what you recommend for a kettle? I see in the photos that you're using a keg? Could I use a 10 gallon pot? (Or two for the dedicated upgrade)
lhosfield dice: Dic 13, 2012. 12:13 PM
What is the deal with the whole wiring up your own 240V outlet? Most people already have one in their house anyways. Also I very much doubt that wiring your own 240V outlet without being a licensed electrician is not legal. Unless I am missing something here, why not use your existing 240V outlet?
MrBippers dice: Dic 13, 2012. 2:12 PM
There was no existing outlet. Most people probably don't have a 240V outlet where they'd need it, or if they do there's a dryer/stove plugged into it. As far as legality, at least where I reside you are welcome to get a permit from the town and do the work yourself.
abadfart dice: Jul 21, 2013. 1:06 PM
not to mention i live in a house built in the 1820s i don't have a 220 line watter dryer and stove are all gas
tflenker dice: Oct 25, 2012. 6:46 AM
Fantastic job on this one - I made a nearly identical copy to your system and it works like a champ.

I'm a bit confused on one part of it. Everything in the path to the heating element has a minimum rating of 30A, except for the cutoff switch which is 25A. I realize that with a 5500W element you're only pulling roughly 23A, but isn't general electrical practice to not exceed 80% of the rated capacity for electrical components? Or since it's a switch, is it safe to take it up to the limit?

I built it with a 25A switch and it's been working perfectly, but this came across my mind as I was putting together a switch box to control both an HLT and BK as I was planning on using a 30A DPDT toggle which are significantly more expensive than the 25A DPDT. Thanks, and once again awesome instructable!
MrBippers dice: Oct 25, 2012. 9:29 AM
I actually didn't use a switch in my control panel--I use the the GFCI line cord to toggle it on/off. That said, it'd be easier if I did have a switch. I think the recommendation of the 25A over the 30A was based on that large price difference you mentioned but it can't hurt to go for the higher rating. As for whether it's necessary, I would try the homebrewtalk forums as there are people there much more knowledgeable than me about the electric setup.

So you're building a switch box that would sit between the main controller and toggle between a HLT/BK? Have you been using a separate HLT and BK already? You should really only have to switch from the HLT --> BK once during a brew (for a single infusion anyway) so the manual switch of unplug HLT, plug in BK is still an option with two vessels. You'll probably be doing that anyway so you don't accidentally bump the toggle and dry-fire an empty kettle. You could always sell your current system to another brewer and built a new box to run the HLT/BK simultaneous--at least that's what I plan to do in the not to distant future. Good luck!
tflenker dice: Oct 25, 2012. 11:30 AM
Thanks for getting back so quickly. I'll take that question over there.

I'm currently using a one kettle setup, but have the second kettle assembled and ready to go.

The original plan was to unplug the HLT and plug in the BK, but I figured after I'd already invested so much on everything else, it was worth an extra $20 or $30 for slightly more convenience by incorporating a switch box, which will also serve as the housing for my exhaust fan control.

As is the way with this silly hobby of ours, I'm sure I'll soon be dropping in another 240 to accommodate running both at the same time. Curious - why sell your system instead of scavenging it? Are you planning on using different control units? I'm in the middle of putting together an Arduino unit capable of controlling multiple kettles, so I suppose I'll be in the same boat shortly. Thanks again!
MrBippers dice: Oct 25, 2012. 8:06 PM
I've got a friend jealous of my setup and it's either sell him this one or help him build his own. If I'm going to go through building another, might as well make it a two kettle unit for me! Also, becayse I went with the 30a line cord instead of the spa panel, I can't pull enough power to run two. I'll probably stick with the same PIDs but move to a proper 4 wire setup and add a march pump. My only experience with Arduinos for this is the guy in my brewclub who used the brewtroller and told me if he did it over he'd just use PIDs.
Uptonb dice: Mar 2, 2012. 4:25 PM
Congrats on being a finalist, and good luck!
ProCactus dice: Ene 20, 2012. 9:55 PM
Im very suss on the 5.5KW element.

I think thats way over the top.
Beer is alive, What happens to the yeast that touches this element when on.

In Australia in winter, I used a 60W light bulb suspended in the middle of a milk crate. Then I wrap the entire thing in several towels.
danb35 dice: Ene 22, 2012. 2:29 PM
There's no yeast in there when you're using the heating element. It's being used to mash and boil. After those are done, the wort is cooled, and only then is the yeast pitched.
ProCactus dice: Feb 4, 2012. 1:03 AM
lol, Cheers for the polite reply.
Im guilty of not reading the whole thing
TheCheatOSX dice: Ene 16, 2012. 7:02 AM
Very timely Instructable! I've been collecting parts for a electric set up for about a month now and there are a lot of nice tips and tricks in here that I've not seen. Setting up the PID and the control box construction and explanation are particularly nice.

I believe I'm going to attach my element with a triclover connection for easy removal and cleaning. This is the part I've seen to do the job: http://www.hillbillystills.com/Heating_Element_plate_p/hecp.htm
It's just a 2" triclover cap with a NPS nipple. Also, http://www.glaciertanks.com/ has a lot of cheap triclover parts if anyone is interested.

I just need to lean to braze stainless steel first so I can attach some 2" triclamp furrels to the keg. Ha! I love acquiring new skills.
tim_n dice: Ene 16, 2012. 1:44 AM
Excellent work. I use a 7G aluminium cooking pot and a large metal gas ring on it. Generally though I've not bothered with the full works, just boiling up from cans and adding hops - still get excellent results at not much cost! 50p a pint
databoy dice: Ene 15, 2012. 5:59 PM
The trouble with the internet is that it contains too many unqualified electrical experts who have never worked in the electrical industry and regurgitate their electrical knowledge as gospel. The project as published is a basic electric hot water system using the wrong circuit for the application and unsafe.

Mythbusters did an episode into the exploding hot water system. To achieve the result; Mythbusters removed all the hot water system safety wiring and built an exploding hot water system.

Electrical hot water system safety regulations require that a mains supply electrical element must be electrically failsafe de-energised using a thermostat directly bonded to the tank. When more than one live supply is used, all live supplies must be simultaneously electrically failsafe de-energise through a contactor. The element must also contain a failsafe thermal overload series wired into the element circuit and thermally bonded to the tank. The tank must also contain a pressure relief valve.

Commercially manufactured hot water systems contain two failsafe electrical circuits and a failsafe mechanical relief valve. As wired the electronic thermostat is not electrically failsafe wired. If the electronic thermostat fails, the unit will become an exploding hot water system.

m9365428 dice: Ene 15, 2012. 6:14 PM
Ah maybe you didn't notice but the top of the keg has been removed probably with a grinder. How can you achieve any pressure with an 18 inch hole. As far as electrical fail-safes this system has one. The operator with a baseball bat. Oh and it does have dual breakers to cut the power in case of electrical overload.
m9365428 dice: Ene 15, 2012. 3:47 PM
Yea it's beer. Wort is the liquid mix that comes out of the mash tank.
If people are worried about scorching then use short frequent cycling on the heating element and install an agitator to keep everything moving past the element so that nothing will stick to it and burn (source of the scorched flavor).

I love this idea especially for maintaining the mix at the perfect maturation temperature in cold weather environments. Not only would it speed up the process but it would prevent the possibility of a severely cold night killing your cultures.
devonfletch dice: Ene 15, 2012. 12:50 PM
Well, I'm not into major production, and get by with a couple of 5-gallon buckets and aquarium heaters, total cost about $30.
Of course, I live in Australia, and the temperature never drops below 15°C (60°F), it's sort of like Paradise...
You'd have to add a few layers of insulation to help the humble aquarium heater keep up with freezing weather.
Wragie dice: Ene 15, 2012. 12:44 PM
Scorching plus cleaning are the two things you have to watch with electric. It's getting back in there to clean the heater etc that can get really annoying if you don't have clearance around it.

Never tried building with a keg but how hard would it be to mount the heating coil
externally on the bottom? That way the keg bottom would act like a heat sink and spread the heat more evenly and perhaps help with any scorching.
MrBippers dice: Ene 15, 2012. 4:18 PM
The Camco element is classified as ultra low watt density, so the heat is spread out over a larger surface area making them less likely to scorch. That said, plenty of people have reported brewing even with the high watt density elements without scorching. At the same time, I'd be nervous about having liquid extract land on the element if I was doing an extract or partial mash brew.

Getting the element clean requires a little more work, but I found a sponge fits nicely between the coils. Using a bottle brush also helped.

The keg wouldn't have enough room to mount the element underneath unless you welded on some legs, but more importantly the hot water heating elements are only designed to be run when immersed in liquid. I actually had a broken electric cook top and though about doing something like that with the burners (largest is 2400W). I might still get brave and toy around with that when adding another vessel.
xanxer82 dice: Ene 15, 2012. 10:41 AM
Looks like a pretty sweet setup. Could be worth looking into. The heat loss during an outdoor propane boil was incredible last week.
I'm on Homebrewtalk too. Great place to get information.
MrBippers dice: Ene 15, 2012. 3:43 PM
I did a propane batch in November when it was about 20 °F out. It took forever, I had less than anticipated boil off, and anything wet kept freezing to whatever I set it on. It really helped push me to action on this build.
fpuccetti dice: Ene 15, 2012. 9:35 AM
I like this article but recently I viewed an article to make gas for the car.

Now obviously this could be dangerous but the procedure is to distill the
ingredients - they start off with 4 gal+ of distilled water , and 10 lbs ??? of sugar . they had an electric distiller - which looked like a large coffee pot

to make the fuel - they had to distill the mix about 4 times to get to the volitile
level of gas, then I believe you add another liquid ingredient to stop the "Pinging"
which the local auto store carries .

Where do I find this auto distillation machine?

merkaba33 dice: Ene 15, 2012. 9:29 AM
Yeah its beer, never seen electric heaters for actually brewing beer though, just for distillation. Like t.rohner pointed out, scorching could be a problem, but if you're not a picky drinking I guess it doesn't matter.
DisplacedMic dice: Ene 15, 2012. 8:52 AM
This is amazing. any interest in adopting a 31-year old irishman?

bonus: i'm a pharmacologist so i could help you edit your thesis.
susanrm dice: Ene 13, 2012. 7:53 PM
Okay, but what are you brewing? It says nothing in here about that. Tea, perhaps? Seems a little elaborate for that... :-)
t.rohner dice: Ene 13, 2012. 10:03 PM
Looks more like beer to me ;-)
The stuff in the cooler in the picture of the last step looks somewhat familiar to me...

I was thinking about electric heating for a while.
I actually preheat the "brewing liquor" to strike temperature with a timed thermostatically controlled setup.
The malt is also milled, while setting up the water heater.

So i can "shave off" about one hour of my brew schedule.
I can start with mashing in first thing in the morning.

I use a 2kw immersion heater for that

These heaters are pretty cheap, but there is danger of scorching, as soon as you want to heat something else than pure water. (like a maltose-water solution)

We are planning to step up from a 14 to a 30 gal setup for a while now. (We already have the 3 pots of that size...(3 stainless beauties gotten for free))
But i'm still looking for large area electric heater elements.
If nothing pops up on my radar, i'll stay with my 10-20kw propane burners.

MrBippers dice: Ene 15, 2012. 4:11 PM
With a large volume system like that, you might even do a proper electric setup on the hot liquor tank while the brew kettle is propane fired. Unless you're talking decoction mash, the fine heat control on the kettle isn't as important.

You could also control multiple heating elements with a single PID as long as you had a properly sized SSR.
t.rohner dice: Ene 19, 2012. 11 PM
Pic of my actual setup.
All three pots heatable with 12kw propane burners.
So i mostly do step mashes. I didn't feel the urge to do decoctions up until now. I could do it, i have a extra 8 gal pot. (it was the kettle for my first extract brews, now i use it mostly for soups for bigger audiences...)

The electric safety, that databoy mentions makes sense. (With a degree in electrical engineering, i think i know, what i do... the www wasn't there then... i learned it from books and teachers)

As long as you have a GFCI and your pot/rig properly grounded, your life shouldn't be in jeopardy.

To brew all-electric in my projected size, i'd need a 32A 3 phase 240V mains, that i don't have.

But i can heat up my brewing liquor, in my insulatet hot water tank overnight.
And for exploding mythbusters gags... my pot is open on top.
Spokehedz dice: Ene 15, 2012. 7:05 AM
I think it's for hot chocolate myself. Can't think of anything else you'd need gallons of during the winter...
susanrm dice: Ene 15, 2012. 9:30 AM
Yeah, it doesn't really say, does it?

It talks a lot about kettles. I brew tea with a kettle. Hot chocolate, I make on the stove.

Maybe the author will clarify in the text... ;-)
MrBippers dice: Ene 15, 2012. 3:49 PM
I added 'beer' to the title and clarified in the beginning. I guess sometimes you get so into the details, you forget the obvious. Thanks.
Spokehedz dice: Ene 15, 2012. 4:06 PM
It was really meant to be more as a joke, sorry if that didin't come off as such. I think a quick google search for some of the terms would point you to brewing beer. Thanks for being a good sport though!
susanrm dice: Ene 15, 2012. 7:29 PM
Awesome! That should help you with searches too.