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Re-plumbing the club Big Brew System

July 6, 2011

The club decided to re-plumb the club’s brew system to simplify brew days, cleaning and maintenance. This is the story.

First a note about the brew system. We’re very lucky to have it and several members and a member who has moved away spent a lot of time building it. This is not bashing session on the original system. We’ve learned a few things and had a few needs that could not have been foreseen and might not have been possible at a reasonable price when the system was constructed in 2001.

A group of six members got together through email and proposed ideas on how the club’s Big Brew System could be redesigned to achieve the following
Flatten the learning curve to encourage more members to take on the head brewer role.

  1. Reduce mistakes that even experienced brewers have made.
  2. Improve the system’s efficiency.
  3. Simplify the cleaning process.
  4. Simplify future maintenance.

The original design was hard plumbed with half inch copper pipe running between vessels through two pumps and eleven ball valves. Running the system typically required a brewer to apprentice for two to three brews to get comfortable with the array of plumbing and workaround tubing needed to efficiently complete a brew day in around six hours.

Several times the efficiency of a brew day was impacted by a valve being left open. Moving wort from the mash tun to the kettle involved four valves being opened through one pump and two or three valves opened for sparge water through the other pump. Due to this complexity, and possibly a couple beers, wort has run into the hot liquor tank (wort in the water) or better yet a drain valve (wort in the weeds).

Cleaning the system after a brew day has varied from eat out of the boil kettle clean to “hey, this pump seems to be broken. Oh wait, it’s just siezed up with hardened wort”. Anything that can be done to make the job easier after a six hour brew and a few shared homebrews will help avoid the latter condition.

In 2009 Steve and Glen made some minor modifications to the plumbing to attach a counter flow chiller and add a temperature gauge to measure the ramping temperature. It was not a large task but it took some time and flux. If we had a more flexible system we might be able to improve our process without planning work parties. Although the work party was fun. I remember something Belgian and something Russian.

After much discussion we found that we all had fairly similar ideas on what the system should become. By replacing the runs of copper pipe with silicone tubing and quick disconnects we could create point A to point B connections without worrying about four off-ramps (valves) along the way.

 

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