Building an All-Grain Brew System Part 1

3 Main Brew Systems
3 Main Brew Systems

Building an All-Grain Brew System is just has fun as brewing the beer itself. Recently you may have seen on Instagram that I have built a 3 tier gravity brew rig and have put down my first solo all-grain brew.

As you may know up until now I have been a Kit and Kilo extract brewer. But after doing a few all-grain batches with Kevin I figured it was time to get in on the action. Let me put it out there now, I’m not going to start brewing beer all-grain style because I think it will make better beer. I want to start brewing all-grain because it’s a more intimate process and it’s fun. I have made some bloody good beers extract style and I will continue to brew this extracts from time to time. So you won’t hear me saying that all-grain produces better because that’s a myth. Better beer it’s produced with good brewing practises and processes. Such as temperature control during fermentation or good cleaning and sanitising practices.

Over the next few weeks, I will be writing a series of posts explaining how I designed and built my own brew rig. Then I will tell you all about the inaugural brew and what you need to do or watch out for as a beginner.

Brew Rig Requirements

The first thing you need to do before starting the design of your brew rig is to decide on what type of system you’re planning to build. I will give a brief description of 3 main types of homebrew rigs you can build below.

Single Infusion Manual System (SIMS)

Single Infusion Manual System (SIMS)
Single Infusion Manual System (SIMS)

I made SIMS up because I’m not sure what the system is actually called. I don’t even think it has a name so I wouldn’t walk into a homebrew shop asking for a SIMS brew rig, because they may look at you funny.

SIMS usually consists of a hot liquor tank (HLT), esky or cooler for a mash tun and a boil kettle. These systems usually involve moving the wort and water around with jugs or by hoses and gravity. The strike water is heated in the HLT to the required strike temperature, then transferred by gravity or jug to the mash tun. Grains are then added to the mash tun, stirred and left to rest for an hour. The wort is then recirculated through the mash tun until the wort is running clear. Once the wort is running clear it’s then transferred on to the boil kettle. When the wort is 25cm (1 inch) above the grain bed begin its time to start sparging. The sparge water from the HLT is then sprinkled over the grain bed, rinsing the grains and flowing through to the boil kettle.

Recirculating Infusion Mash System (RIMS)

Recirculating Infusion Mash System (RIMS)
Recirculating Infusion Mash System (RIMS)

RIMS requires a pump and a temperature controller. The wort is recirculated from the grain bed of in the mash tun through a RIMS stick that is temp controlled to turn on and off as required. The RIMS stick contains an electric heating element that comes in direct contact with the wort. The wort then goes back through the grain bed and so on. This systems design is to keep the wort at a steady temperature and clear it up as much as possible by filtering through the grain bed. After the mash, the wort is then pumped or gravity fed into the boil kettle simultaneously as the sparge water from the HLT rinses through the grain bed.

Heat Exchanged Recirculating Mash System  (HERMS)

Heat Exchanged Recirculating Mash System (HERMS)
Heat Exchanged Recirculating Mash System (HERMS)

HERMS works pretty much the same way as the RIMS. The major difference is the wort is recirculated through a heat exchanger such as a copper or stainless steel coil immersed the HLT. The HLT contains the sparging water and it’s used to control the temperature of what’s flowing through the heat exchanger. The benefit of HERMS is no risk of scorching wort and the temperature is controlled more precisely.

Which system will I build?

Because I didn’t go into much detail on each one of these systems I hope I haven’t confused you too much? In the future, we will post about each of these systems going into more detail and the pro and cons of each.

What to consider to start the design?

What’s your budget?
How much beer do you want to brew in each batch?
Brewery equipment you already have?
Tools do you have available?
What building materials do you have on hand?
Steel or Wood stand?
Electric or Gas? Available space?
Experience level in construction skills?
Automation vs Manual labour?
Are you willing to use 2nd hand or prefer new equipment?

OK, that’s a lot to think about I know. If you’re as passionate as I am with homebrewing I’m sure you’re going to lose sleep over this as I did. I got to the point where I thought too much about it and overwhelmed myself nearly resulting buying a completely new system from Keg King. Don’t get me wrong the pre-made systems are great but I was set on building my own.

For those that know me at work I like things done properly, so when things are not done by the book I get what they call “itchy-scratchy”. But on my most recent project, I have been able to overcome this problem and let things go as long as they are “fit for purpose”. This is the attitude I took towards building my brew rig, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be fit for purpose and able to brew great beer. The bells and whistles can come later.

My design factors.

I wanted to build a system myself on a low budget that could brew enough to fill 2 corny kegs if I needed to. I also wanted to have the ability to upgrade it in the future, so I decided to build a Single Infusion Manual System (SIMS) using gravity to transfer. This straight away cuts out the cost of pumps and temperature controllers.

The Brew Stand AKA Brew Sculpture.

Timber for the Brew Stand
Timber for the Brew Stand

I had plenty of 90 x 35mm lengths of pine lying around in the garage from a recent renovation. As the timber I had was not all full lengths I needed to determine the height of the top tier and the length of the system. I also have to design it in a way to fit in my garage or with permission from the wife in the outdoor area.

Because I wanted to reduce the height of the HLT, I decided that I was going to go electric. This would involve inserting a 2200 watt heating element into each the HLT and boil kettle. Going electric saved me over 600mm of height as the gas burners I was looking at were 325mm high. Also, I’m sure it would have been fine, but I did not feel comfortable having an open flame near a timber brew stand. Electric also gives me convenience, as I won’t have to swap gas lines over from the HLT and boil kettle. I also don’t have to worry about running out of gas mid boil which would have been my biggest worry.

The vessels for the brew rig.

OK, now it’s time to work out the bigger ticket items. When I decided I was going to build the SIMS rig, I knew I was going to convert an esky to a mash tun. As excited as I was that this was actually happening I ducked down to Bunnings and purchased 47lt esky for $77. I also picked up the required parts to convert into a mash tun which I’ll explain in the mash tun build post.

For the HLT and boil kettle I had a couple of options and stealing kegs from outside of a pub was not one of them. I was keeping an eye out for a second-hand hot water earn and a large stock pot over 30 litres on buy swap and sell pages. Then I came across retired kegs for $20 each which I could not refuse. Even though the kegs were a bit knocked about, $20 each was a great deal as they would be perfect on the inside. All I would have to do is cut the top out and drill some holes, but this will be covered in a future post.

Now that I have an idea of what I wanted I’m ready to start designing and building check out Building an All-Grain Brew System Part 2.

Are you in the process of dreaming up a design for a Brew Rig? If so let us know all about it in the comments below.

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