Brewery: Hot Liquor Tank heating controller

For the last two years or so, I have experimented with temperature control for my femto-brewery with varying results.

The purpose of this post is to convince you that buying something off the shelf is the smartest option, or for an even simpler solution, do single vessel BIAB.  Building your own, in particular if you don’t have someone to copy, is insane. It is more expensive, and it is more frustrating. I do like tinkering, though…

Heating approach one: Immersion Heater

My first heating solution used  an immersion heater which worked quite well. An IKEA colander became a heat shield around the hot end. I also quite early added recirculation using a little brown pump (buy them on ebay or ali for the best price). Recirculation is necessary to be able to maintain the temperature when doing eBIAB.

Controller one: Brewpi 

For reasons I don’t remember I ordered two brewpi shields, one was intended for converting my soon-to-be-replaced fridge to wine storage, and the other I intended to use for mash temperature control. I never did the wine fridge conversion, because we still haven’t managed to find a new fridge of the correct height. I assume that the brewpi will work perfectly fine for that, since that is the design objective of the brewpi. I can’t explain why I thought the second one would make a good mashing controller though.

Quite soon after I got the hardware, brewpi moved to a new HW platform as well, which meant that the Genuino version didn’t really evolve at all. The software required the Atmel studio for hacking, and it was quite difficult to understand what was going on internally.

The stock software wasn’t really suited for mash control and I got impatient trying to figure out how to control it, so I abandoned this idea. The SSR:s and the one-wire temperature probes have however been used in all subsequent attempts.

Controller two: Adafruit sous vide

The Adafruit sous vide controller actually worked quite well, except that it lacked step mashing and remote control. I used a Genuino, with a screw shield and an LCD shield, adapted the software a bit to fit the hardware I had, and started brewing.

The main problem with this solution was probably that it wasn’t complex enough :-). I wanted to be able to step mash.

Controller three: Brewtroller

Please note that there is a new business selling new variants of brewtrollers, my hardware was delivered by the old business and I don’t know anything about the newer alternatives.

The third attempt was based on a brewtroller BX2 (I think). Apart from some serious problems with the rotary encoder (that I fixed), this has actually worked out quite well. However, the company making the brewtrollers went out of business quite soon after I bought the kit (of course) and software updates stopped. The main downside with the brewtroller is the programming interface, the rotary encoder issues made it a bit of a bother to program the setpoints. I have implemented a python interface to make it  bit easier to use.

I used this solution for nearly two years and have been mostly happy with it.  I actually think that the brewtroller could be a good solution for someone who want something out of the box, but the lack of software updates made me frustrated.

Heating approach two:

Some time during this period, the utilities company increased the voltage from 198 volts to 230 volts, which caused the immersion heater to be too hot and I got problems with wort scorching and decided to rethink the heating approach. I ordered a water heater element from ebay, and a sheet metal punch of the correct size, and built an electric kettle with recirculation. I also purchased a Chugger pump since I had problems with cruft in the little brown pump. Unfortunately, the Chugger turned out to be way too powerful and I still haven’t managed to get it working right.

I used this together with the brewtroller for about 1.5 years, quite successfully. Then I wanted to experiment with HERMS. (I like tinkering, remember?) So I got some hardware (solenoid valves, etc) and decided that modifying the brewtroller would be stupid: it works, and I intend to keep it that way. So, time to do something new.

Controller four: return to the brewpi shield

After finishing my Ph. D, I had time to tinker again, and I decided to build something off the brewpi hw that was collecting dust in the garage. I realized quite quickly that using the Atmel IDE and modifying the existing software was an exercise in frustration, so I extracted the display driver and the buzzer driver (both are on what seems to be non-standard SPI interfaces) into a separate Genuino IDE libraries which allowed me to use the genuino IDE and write new software for the brewpi shield. At the time of writing, controller four is being tested with lots of water.

I will spend some time in a future post describing how controller four works and what the design approach has been.

Summary

 

As I wrote in the introduction, I have most likely spent more money on this than an off the shelf solution would cost (there were no good solutions available when I started building mine, though) It has definitely been more difficult to use the home-made system for brewing than plugging something in and just using it.

Would a pre-made system have been as fun as building my own? Absolutely not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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