I have been home brewing for about a year now, starting with extract kits and moving up to all-grain brewing, and have been having good success with a kit I have cobbled together from my original Brooklyn Brew Company kit plus some extras from Ikea. It has been working well but requires an extra (begrudging) pair of hands for the sparge and has a habit of making a lot of mess. Recently I have been experimenting a bit more with my brews rather than straight-up following recipes which has got me thinking that I would like to be able to produce more than a 1 gallon batch at a time. This would allow me to experiment with different dry hops, fermentation times as well as temperatures - all using the same base recipe so effects can be easily noted. Additionally, to experiment more, I want to have the ability to complete the brew-day in a timely manner with minimal assistance and mess.
I started this project with some sketches of my ideal brew kit - for doing large volume batches and incorporating some advanced methods such as RIMS and HERMS. I roughly costed out building such a setup and for what I am currently doing I could not justify the cost - something to consider for the future - although I did design this kit considering a future addition of a wort re-circulation pump!
Whilst developing my ideal setup, I had been doing a lot of research of the different all in one grain brewing equipment on the market (Grainfather, Braumeister, Brewster etc) and I really like aspects of all of these but feel that they are all a step too far for me just yet as I am not quite ready to be doing 25L batches and these are all expensive systems. Try as I might, I could not find the right combination of capacity and features and cost in an off-the-shelf package, so I decided to build my own. This Instructable details the journey through design, construction, testing and evaluation.
A few final points to note before we dive in…
- The kit is a BIAB all-in-one style setup and uses the 11L kettle for the mash as well as the boil.
- I future-proofed the design so I can add other features over time (re-circulation pump, counter-flow wort chiller, full electric power/control etc…).
- I have used standard equipment where possible so I can upgrade to increase capacity with minimal cost/waste.
- The motivation was to double capacity whilst simplifying my brew day to allow increased experimentation within batches.
- The immersion wort chiller is the biggest upgrade from my previous ad-hoc kit which it is not really discussed. I am hoping that this will reduce wort chilling times over the ice bath method I have been using to date.
Step 1: Bill of Materials and Tool List
Materials - Total £102.28
- 8.2L stock pot - £9.99 (purchased from Ebay)
- 11.2L stock pot - £13.99 (purchased from Ebay)
- Copper wort chiller for 10L batches - £29.95 (purchased from Get Er Brewed)
- Stainless Steel 6” bazooka screen - £5.45 (purchased from Get Er Brewed)
- ½” weldless ball valve assembly - £15.59 (purchased from Ebay)
- #14 316 Stainless steel mesh A4 sheet - £5.99 (purchased from The Mesh Company)
- ⌀4mm anodised aluminium rod - £3.18 (purchased from B&Q)
- Hozelock connection kit 1.5m - £10.14 (purchased from B&Q)
- Hozelock round mixer tap adapter - £8.00 (purchased from B&Q)
Tools - mostly already owned but a few I needed to pick up specially
- Q-max 21mm sheet metal punch - £11.20 (purchased from Ebay)
- PTFE Thread Tape - £0.50 (from Wilko)
- Hozelock quick connect female + length of hose
- Electric drill
- 4mm HSS drill bit
- 10mm HSS drill bit
- Dremel 3000 Multitool (or similar) with grinding head
- Adjustable wrench
- 8mm Allen key
- Kitchen scissors
- Centre punch
- 3D printed center finder
- Steel ruler
- 3D printed bending formers for 4mm rod
Step 2: 3D CAD Design
By roughing out my bill of materials as above and sourcing the parts through the links I have given, I could get the rough dimensions of everything which allowed me to build a 3D model of the complete kit, from which I could design the custom components and print templates and other parts. Later you will see how I have used the CAD file to produce a drilling template for the 8L stockpot drilling and also produced bending tools to allow me to shape the hangers accurately.
I built the 3D model using Onshape, the full-cloud CAD platform, and you can view it by following the link here. Onshape is a perfect tool for a project like this and has professional level CAD capabilities in a free cloud-based platform.
Step 3: 11L Stock Pot Construction
To prepare the larger (11L) stockpot, I needed to install the bulkhead fitting, ½” ball valve and hose tail through the sidewall of the pot. I found and marked a centre point for the fitting (approx 25mm from the base) that would not interfere with the smaller pot when it was sat inside but also was not too close to the base radius which would result in a leaky fitting.
After marking the center point marked I drilled out the hole using a 4mm bit followed by 10mm with a little 3-in-1 oil as a cutting oil - it was all I had lying around! The 10mm hole is required for the Q-max sheet metal punch which uses an M10 machine screw to pull the tool together. The metal punch was incredibly effective - I had a little scepticism about it initially - producing a nice clean hole quickly and with minimal effort. The hole required minor tidying up using my Dremel afterwards.
With the hole cut, It was a simple matter of applying PTFE tape to the ½” nipple and hose tails and assembling the parts through the skin of the pot, with one of the silicone washers on each side of the skin. I did the fittings up as tight as I could by hand because I do not have a pipe-wrench and tested it by filling half full with water and leaving it to see if there was any drips. Over the course of 1 hour there was only a single tiny drop under the fitting - I deemed this acceptable, although it should be possible to achieve a complete 100% water-tight seal.
Further assembly instructions can be found on this link, although they show a slightly different fitting design, the process is exactly the same!
The final thing I did at this stage was to make some volume markings on the pot to butter judge my water and wort volumes whilst brewing. To do this, I measured 1L at a time and poured it into the pot. I used cold water on a reasonably warm day and a condensation ring formed around the pot allowing me to easily mark the volumes on the outside with a permanent marker. I then engraved these lines with my Dremel tool to ensure I wouldn't loose them over time. You can see the result in the images. I would like to properly etch the volumes on the inside of the pot following this Instructable by lordfili, but this is a later improvement!
Step 4: 8L Stockpot Construction
To build the smaller (8L) stockpot, I needed to create lots of holes in the single-skinned base which would allow the wort to pass easily through the pot. I use a mesh as a sieve to capture the grain which you will see next.
Using my CAD model, I experimented with different sized holes and patterns before finally settling on the arrangement shown in the model - 37x 21mm holes arranged radially about the center. This pattern helps to maximise the through-flow of the wort whilst limiting the qty of holes I need to cut by hand - a tedious job with a hand drill working on the floor in the spare room! If you have a pillar drill in your workshop it will be much easier!
Finding the centre of the pot was going to be a challenge, but I put my 3D printer to work and designed/printed a custom center finder that would use a steel ruler to allow for the large size of the pot - I have attached the STL if you are interested. I then used my printed (on paper) template to mark the remaining center points and drilled each out in the same manner as before.
When I reached the 10mm size I decided that actually a 10mm hole might be sufficient at this stage and so stopped before cutting the 21mm holes. My thinking was to evaluate the 10mm holes in the first brew rather than cutting 21mm holes straight away and having an issue that might be irrecoverable. I can always increase the hole size up to 21mm but it is very difficult to go back!
Step 5: Sieve Construction
Using the same paper template that is used for hole marking, I made a corrugated cardboard template for a 210mm diameter circle that I would cut and shape the sieve mesh to.
The #14 gauge mesh is easy to cut with standard kitchen scissors (as recommended by the supplier) and with an oversized border was easy to fold over manually to create a rolled edge and stop it separating. This grade mesh was very easy to form using a combination of steel rulers and a hammer to fold-over and wrap the edge. My regret is not having allowed a bigger border so I could double-roll the edge and also lose the sharp bits of wire!
The final product has a slight bow, presumably from the roll it came off, and a couple of sharp points but I hope when it is under the weight of the grain neither of these will be a problem. The sharp edges are more annoying than the slight bow - I will have to be careful when washing!!
Step 6: Hangers Construction
If you have studied my 3D assembly already you will have noticed my custom sparging hangers. This part of the build put my 3D printer to work again and gave me the opportunity to test out custom tooling for bending/forming of metal rods - an idea I have had for a while but not had the right project to test it out on!
As part of generating my CAD assembly in step one, I designed the path so the hanger would sit nicely between the larger and smaller pots and conform to a minimum bend radius of 10mm (R=2.5D). I made these using 4mm Anodised Aluminium rod which I deemed to be strong enough to hold the weight of the wet grain during the sparge but also small enough that I could bend/form it by hand.
With the path defined, I set about designing a former(s) capable of producing a 90° and 180° bend. The formers when an important part of the process to ensure that I could repeatedly produce the bends required to produce identical hanger shapes. I figured that the way to ensure consistency in size was to start with the same length rod (325mm) for each hanger and use the former to define the location of the first (180 deg) bend using a datum of the end of the rod. The second bend then produced in the same relative position by inserting the 180° bend into the former. I could do one end and then flip the rod over to do the other end.
With the former designed in Onshape (see file here) I only needed to 3D print these and put them into action. I have attached the STL is attached if you want to use it. It was entirely possible to use the formers whilst held in the hand but I would certainly screw the former to you work table to have an easier time. The photos and above description will hopefully explain how I accomplished the bends of the rod using these formers resulting in production of identical hangers with minimal effort.
Step 7: Final Assembly and First Brew
With the custom parts constructed, it was finally time to bring the entire kit together for the first time and admire the results before getting it wet with some sweet wort.
The first brew went off without a hitch, I completed it entirely unassisted and created only a minor amount of mess - my cleanup was certainly quicker than on other occasions. I won't bore with the details of the brew day here (that is another Instructable in itself!) but I must mention the copper immersion wort chiller. I have over time perfected a pretty good method of achieving a 25min chill using an ice bath (in the kitchen sink) and constant agitation of both the ice water and wort. It was quite an effective method but also the most frustrating part of the day for me. I hoped the wort chiller would reduce the chilling time and simplify the process for me. It succeed on both counts: 20 min chill (5min improvement) for 2x volume and it was certainly less frustrating, although that might have been my fascination with the chiller more than anything else.
The beer of my labour will take a little while to reach tasting quality but having used the kit for it’s first brew I am really happy with the setup. It is easy to use single handed and creates significantly less mess than my previous setup which is awesome!! There were a few things that annoyed me and I will address these before the next brew but they are really quite minor and insignificant in the big picture scheme of things.
Step 8: Evaluation and Future Improvements
All told, this brew kit is easy to use and addresses the issues I was hoping it would - I can now brew a 2 gallon batch quickly, efficiently, by myself and with minimal mess. There were a few teething issues and with a few minor adjustments as noted below, I will be able to have a very straightforward and mess-free brew day.
1) Spacer Clips
During the mash, when stirring the grain, it was very easy to force the smaller pot against the side of the larger one, resulting in squeezing some wort out of the pot over the stove top. This creates an annoying amount of mess to clean up at the end of the brew. I will overcome this next time round by using 4 spacers that clip onto the smaller pot and fit snugly inside the larger pot to prevent the relative movement between the two. These clips will likely be 3D printed although I could make them out of wood.
2) Thermometer Holder
This one really got on my nerves but is also fairly easy to address. You might have seen in the photos that I use a classic glass thermometer and towards the end of the sparge I had my first experience of the thermometer dropping into the wort and disappearing. It was easy enough to pull out at mash temperatures but would have been impossible during the boil!! There are two ways I can overcome this - a small 3d printed clip on the pot handle which can hold the thermometer shaft is a simple and quick solution for the immediate future but longer term I could consider using a temperature probe located low in the kettle.
3) Drain Holes
The final adjustment is to the drain holes in the small pot - I noticed that the sparge was very slow to drain into the kettle through the grain bed. My theory is that the 10mm holes in the base of the smaller pot limit the flow too much especially when combined with the sieve mesh that blocks with the grain it has caught. My solution is going to be cutting 21mm holes in half of the locations and evaluating that in the next brew before committing to cutting 21mm holes all over.