Tag Archives: education

Mash Tun Insulation Comparisons

It is a hard truth that you will lose some temperature during your mash.  In my desire to go electric, I recently purchased the BREWER’S EDGE® MASH & BOIL from William’s Brewing.  Without actually even having brewed a batch of beer on it yet, I already got to work figuring out how to insulate it.  I tested various insulation methods on the Mash & Boil, but the relative comparisons should be valid on any mash tun.  A post with a better review of the Mash & Boil and my reasoning for wanting to go electric will come at a later date.

Nerd Alert!

Warning, the material in this post could get a bit nerdy.

WarningSign

Difficulty: level_5

Easy for you

Time Required:

Just a read for you fortunately.  It took me about a week to perform the experiments.

Background:

One of the advantages of an electric brewing system should be accurate temperature control.  With such a new system as the BREWER’S EDGE® MASH & BOIL, there is a lot of discussion about the 6 degree swing in temperature control.  This is pretty well contrasted with much more expensive systems as the Grainfather or PicoBrew Zymatic that may hold temperature within a degree or two.
While I do agree this could and should be safely regulated to a tighter temperature band on the Mash & Boil, I would at least propose that the first line of defense is just to insulate your mash tun so that accurate temperature control is not as critical.  In all reality, this is a turn-key electric brewing system for less than 1/3 the cost of the other systems on the market.
I initially started brewing with a 44 Qt kettle doing 5 gallon batches with a propane burner.  I did notice a decent amount of temperature loss, so I created a thermal wrap to use during the mash.  This was made using some cotton based insulation meant for water heaters.  I did not want to mess with fiberglass based insulation.  When I moved to a 62 Qt kettle and larger batches, I think the larger thermal mass helped maintain temperatures better, but I went ahead and used the same wrap anyway.
With the new system, it had such a different diameter to height ratio, I decided to start from new again.  Since we homebrewers are a thrifty bunch, it usually comes down to whatever we had on hand at the time we needed to create it.  This time for me, however, I had enough time to plan it out and (gasp) actually test it before using it.  As stated before, these results should be applicable to any mash tun that adheres to the laws of thermodynamics.

Insulation methods to test:

Baseline – Stock BREWER’S EDGE® MASH & BOIL kettle

  1. Described as double wall stainless construction
  2. Pros: you don’t have do do anything
  3. Cons: Hypothesis is that this will be the worst performer

Duck brand, cotton enhanced (Non-fiberglass)

  1. Was about $20 when I originally bought it and that is about the going rate at your local hardware store
  2. This was the insulation wrap from my 62Q Bayou Classic kettle
  3. Pros: Fairly inexpensive, relatively easy to find and no special handing required
  4. Cons: A bit dusty when cutting and not as tidy as the Reflectix

Reflectix

      1. It cost me $27 for a 25 foot roll at my local hardware store and is enough for 2 kettles worth
      2. 3 layers from the lip of the kettle to the top of the control box
      3. 3 layers loosely fit on the lid
      4. Pros: Easy to work with, clean look
      5. Cons: Really requires a semi-custom fit for it to perform well
      6. I’ll have a future post with cut dimensions so you can make your own

Cold weather sleeping bag

    1. No link, as these have been in my family for a LONG time
    2. Pros: super quick and most people have them on hand
    3. Cons: If you somehow damage it for brewing, you’ll probably get in trouble with your family

Baseline – Stock BREWER’S EDGE® MASH & BOIL kettle:

024-Insulation_Baseline
Nothing to see here… move along…

Duck brand, cotton enhanced:

024-Insulation_Cotton_Based
 This was the setup from my 62 Qt. Kettle and wasn’t a custom fit for the Mash & Boil.  I wrapped a bungee cord around it to keep it in place.

Reflectix:

024-Insulation_Reflectix
I custom tailored this wrap in 3 layers to fit this kettle.  I wanted to be sure it did a sufficient job of insulating before I finished the edges off with Reflectix tape, hence the reason for the blue painters tape.

Sleeping Bag:

I wrapped the sleeping bag all the way around the kettle once and then had enough length left over to do a sort of “comb over” on the top of it.  I finished it off by holding it on with the bungee cord.
024-Insulation_Sleeping_Bag 

Other methods considered (since I have seen them used), but not tested

  1. Fiberglass water heater insulation (I don’t want fiberglass anywhere near my beer)
  2. Single and double layers of Reflectix to understand the impact
  3. Custom molded expanding foam mold
  4. Red-Hooded sweatshirt

Setup and Test Methodology:

I have not modified the Mash & Boil in any way.  I just used the unit in stock condition and let the temperature controller do it’s thing to get the water up to temperature.  I used exactly 6 gallons of RO water for the experiment.
The kettle was placed in my basement storage room, which maintained a consistent 65 degF throughout the testing.
I had 3 temperature probes in the kettle.  One at 1″ from the bottom, then another 6″ up and another 12″ up.  This was a nice spread for 6 gallons of water.  In reporting temperatures in this experiment  I am only using the temperature sensor at the 6″ height.  The other sensors were a proof of concept for some future testing I plan to carry out.  I did see some stratification in the temperatures over time as the water cooled, but for consistency, I chose the 6″ probe.
To start the each test, I topped off to 6 gallons and set the Mash & Boil to 215 degF and let it ramp up.  As soon as the system was boiling, I turned it off and unplugged it from the wall.  Temperature measurements were taken approximately every minute.  I allowed the temperatures to cool to somewhere around 100 degF or as long as I could stand it.  Absolutely no stirring or opening of the lid occurred during the cool down.
The critical stage in the test was when the water cooled to 155 degF.  At that point, marker would be taken and then compared to the temperature exactly 60 minutes later.  This would be indicative of a typical mash temperature and the relative temperature loss during the mash.  Yes there will be different thermal capacities of a water/grist mix, so to reduce the experiment to just the insulation, straight RO water was used.

Results:

I normalized the cool down datasets so that the start time (t=0) was the same for each configuration at 200 degF.  As a visual reference aid, I placed a line at 155 degF to see what the curves look like near mash temperatures.  One can clearly see here that the baseline configuration with no additional insulation decreases in temperature the most rapidly.  The cotton based insulation is a bit better, then beat by the Reflectix and then the sleeping bag.
024-Mash Tun Insulation - Cooling
This small table places numerical values on the temperature drops through a simulated mash temperature window.  I calculated these temperature drops by taking the very last data point that was greater than 155 degF.  Then I grabbed the next data point that was +60 minutes from that initial point.  The values shown are then the differences between those two temperatures.
024-Mash Tun Insulation - Results Table
To glean even more from the data, I plotted the 4 different configurations only through the mash temperature window.  I normalized these curves so that the start time (t=0) was the same for each configuration at 155 degF The left axis shows the actual temperature reading, while the right axis shows the temperature drop, relative to the 155 degF starting reference temperature.  I also placed a helper line at 155 degF.
If you are to accept the belief that most of the conversion is done within the first 15 minutes of the mash, both the Reflectix and Sleeping Bag insulation methods show a drop of less than 1 degF within the first 15 minutes.
024-Mash Tun Insulation - Mash

Discussion:

My worst fear when starting this experiment would be that there would be little to no measurable difference in the insulation methods.  I was pleasantly surprised when processing the results, there were clear and measurable trends in the data.
None of the installations were optimized, but I think that unless you are really a stickler, the level of care i took on each installation is all the typical brewer would want to mess with on brew day.
Even though the clear winner in this showdown was the sleeping bag, as with almost all of my brewing equipment, I prefer to have it all dedicated to just brewing.  As such, I will go with the Reflectix jacket.  I am not going to pull the sleeping bags out of our closet on brew day.  Not to mention the eventual spillage of wet sticky grain outside of the kettle and the associated clean up of the sleeping bag.  I do plan to finish off the edges of my Reflectix setup so that when it does get messy, I can just spray it off with water.
I could possibly run another test with more layers of Reflectix, and I would suspect you would get closer to the performance of the sleeping bag.  However, in my case, I purchased a 25 foot roll and intend to make 2 sets worth out of the one roll, which gave me 3 layers worth for each.

Conclusion:

Everyone has their own selection criteria when choosing the best equipment for their needs, so I hope you’ll find the information reported in this post useful.

Disclaimer:

William’s Brewing has been set up as an affiliate site, so clicking on links to the Mash and Boil system on this site and in this post will give credit to fermware.com for the referral.  This post and any others, should not be taken as an endorsement of the BREWER’S EDGE® MASH & BOIL, it was simply the test bed for my experiments.  If you found this post helpful and do wish to purchase the BREWER’S EDGE® MASH & BOIL, please click on the links listed on this site and in this post.

NHC 2014 Homebrew Expo

Ok, so this is REALLY what I came for.  You know I’m an equipment geek, so it was cool to see all the latest stuff.  In no particular order, here is my list of the coolest things I saw.

Missed my first post on my thoughts of the evening events?  Go back to the beginning..

Difficulty: level_1

This might be slightly more difficult to read than most, because your inner brew geek mind will easily wander into thinking about what you can buy or make next.

My Favorite Things….

010-NHC_2014-SYNEK

SYNEK Draft System

This is like the countertop kegerator. And the thing is, that isn’t the coolest thing about the SYNEK. What is so cool, is that they have brought focus to a new way to package beer. The best way to describe it is like box wine. If you’ve ever bought some and taken apart the box to find the bag inside, you’ll know what I’m talking about. I’m not ashamed to say that I still do buy it, because there actually is good box wine. I’m an ultra-beersnob, but I’m fine with the Two Buck Chuck (or Three Buck, depending on where you live).

Anyway, back on subject. The premise is that anyone from homebrewers on up to professional breweries will be able to use the new packaging. It’s one of those ideas that was waiting to happen, since all the technology was there. I like the fact that with growlers, you can go to most any brewery and bring home the deliciousness. The bad thing is that once you open them, you need to drink the beer within a few days or it goes flat. Unless you are using some sort of carbonation cap (I’ve got a method, which I’ll have a post on soon). In any case, glass is not an ideal material for holding pressure.

I talked for a while with Steve Young, the founder for quite a while.  He’s the guy in the videos on their site.  You really have to watch the videos at the SYNEK Kickstarter page. It can do more justice than me writing about it.

I myself am planning on acquiring an early unit to run it through it’s paces. For purely scientific reasons….

010-NHC_2014EV_Keg

EV Container Plastic Kegs

So a few plastic keg manufacturers have come to market with mixed reception. What I think is so great about this one is that they have a removable liner, so it makes cleanup a snap. This will have huge implications for commercial breweries. NOBODY likes cleaning. I had this idea when I decided to go with the Fermentation Bucket Liners, but hadn’t thought all the way through how to do it with a corny keg, so I’m glad to see that somebody has done it with normal kegs at least. Currently, the only fittings available are for a Sanke keg connector. They are supposed to be slightly larger in diameter than a standard sixth-barrel or corny keg.  Visit their site to get more info.

010-NHC_2014Braumeister

Speidel Braumeister

Not necessarily new, but my first time seeing it in person. I have to say, it is quite beautiful. It’s like the Porsche of brewing equipment. Appropriate, since they are headquartered in Ofterdingen Germany, not too far from Stuttgart, Germany, home of Porsche. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.
If you can read German, go here:
http://www.speidels-braumeister.de/brauprozess.html
If not, go here:
http://morebeer.com/category/braumeister-electric-allgrain-brewing-systems.html

Hop Union

Until NHC, I hadn’t used their products or website. I had just seen their nice advertisements in Zymurgy. I got a few hop samples and intend to use one for my 1 gallon brewing experiment (in process). Their website has a ton of resources applicable to the homebrewer. You MUST go to their site and find out all you didn’t know about hops already.

White Labs

What’s so new with White Labs? They’ve been around. Ok, well besides what I think is a cool application of genetic mapping technology to study the yeast family tree.

White Labs is introducing their new FlexCell packaging. All the information you would want can be found here:
http://www.whitelabs.com/innovation
And in case you were wondering, as with the traditional vials, if you collect 5,000 empty FlexCell packages, Chris White will come to your house. Start saving!!

Clear Beer Draught System

So I keg and don’t filter my beer. I use a combination of patience and not necessarily caring what my beer looks like. OK, so when I do get to that point in the keg where my beer is crystal clear, I do feel pretty pleased with myself. What we have here is an invention that allows you to pull beer from the top of the keg, instead of at the bottom. It’s basically a floating siphon. When I saw it, I thought “I wish I had invented that!”. I must acquire one and try it out.

Grog Tags

Ok, so I don’t bottle. Why do I care? It’s not just bottle labels, but keg/carboy labels, coasters, bottle caps and more. I hadn’t realized this before visiting their booth at the expo. I currently use gaffer’s tape on my fermenting buckets and then keep the same label all the way to the keg, but I do like the keg/carboy labels. And since my bottle labeling consists of a handwritten Sharpie label, it might be handy to have some real bottle labels made up. What else is cool about the bottle labels is that they are re-usable. As a test, I even ran my NHC tasting glass through the dishwasher with their sample label and it came out just fine.
More info and video.

Click on my link below for 10% off.

GrogTag

Brew Toad

First off, thanks for the free wireless at NHC!

Another brewing software has entered the market. I talked to the developer of Brew Toad at the expo. While it doesn’t yet support special tools for BIAB, I will wait for it to mature a little and then include them in a future comparison of brewing software. I currently use BeerSmith, but I know things are moving the way of web based so you can have your information anywhere you have an internet connection, so we’ll see how this turns out.

I’ll be breaking my thoughts into a few posts:

Part 1: Evening Events
Part 2: Seminars
Part 3: Homebrew Expo (This post)
Part 4: Other highlights and parting thoughts

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Choosing a Starting Brewing Kit

Choosing a Starting Brewing Kit

Difficulty: level_1

Time Required:

As long as it takes you to read this post and shop.  Unless you are like me and it will require at least one spreadsheet and reading at least 5 reviews of each kit at 3 independent website.

Background:

Interested in learning to brew?  Looking for a gift for your special Cotton Headed Ninny Muggins?  Everyone needs to start somewhere, so I was going to give a quick breakdown of various starter kit types to help you get going.

Brewing your own beer?  I mean hey, what is the deal with this?:

Everyone needs to start somewhere.  I’ve heard many different phrases regarding brewing:
“If you can make oatmeal, you can make beer”
“If you can make macaroni, you can make beer”
I agree with those statements.

In picking out a beginning brewing kit, you need to take into account:
How patient are you?  Beer isn’t done the day you brew it.
How good at cleaning are you?  Nobody likes cleaning, but it is essential.
How much space do you have to store the equipment?  Buckets and carboys take up space, so make sure you have a space to store them in when you are not using the equipment.
How well equipped is your kitchen?  Starting in the kitchen is acceptable, but when you start going bigger, you’ll want to move outside.
Do you have a “phone a friend”?  Knowing someone who has brewed before will be very helpful.

There are many kits available and many different ways to get into brewing.  I will attempt to give a brief overview of a few popular options and list in my opinion, the pros and cons of each.  With all kits, they should come packaged with an ingredient kit or at least be packaged with choices of a certain beer ingredient kit.  The best advice I had when I started was to pick a kit for a beer that you like to drink.  There is no sense in producing beer that you wouldn’t normally like anyway!  I’m not going to go through the entire process of making beer, since there is a plethora of information on the internet.

Needs:

  • Attention to cleanliness and sanitation
  • Be able to follow directions in the order they are supposed to occur
  • Patience
    • First you produce the wort and add yeast
    • Then you wait for fermentation to complete (7-10 days with the kits)
    • Then you bottle (1-2 weeks) It could be longer.  Everything just depends…

Wants:

Essentials:

Keep it fun.  If you aren’t having fun, then you need to think about what made it not fun and figure out a way to make it better next time.

Some kits:

Mr. Beer Kit

I would call this The “Gateway” Beer Kit.  This is probably the easiest way to make beer.  This is the equivalent of the Easy Bake Oven for beer.  You are simply mixing extracts with water and adding yeast.

Pros:

  • Super easy
  • Low effort entry to making your own beer
  • Kits are even found in liquor stores now
  • “Brew day” is maybe 45 minutes to an hour
  • Kits that come with plastic bottles will save you from exploding bottles
  • Could have beer in as little as 14 days

Cons:

  • Lowest tech way to make beer
  • Only makes 2 gallons, which will probably go quickly

Brewers Best Basic Equipment Kit

This is the way I started.  Well the kit, plus a bunch of other stuff you can read about HERE.  There are several variations of the kits.  Some come with a glass carboy and others come with buckets.  I started with the glass carboys, but quickly went back to buckets for practicality reasons.  See blog post Fermentation Bucket Liners. Most of the Brewers Best brand kits are full extract and made for 5 gallons of beer (boiling water for an hour with either dry or liquid extract additions and hops).  You can get by with what is called a “partial boil” where you are only boiling 2.5 gallons and adding cold water at the end.  Some of the Brewers Best kits are extract plus steeping grains.  This is slightly more complex than pure extract, but their instructions are clearly written and produce good beers. I’m still using some of the equipment I got with my kit.  Well, plus my neighbors kits since they gave theirs to me.

Pros:

  • In my opinion, a very good way to get started making beer
  • Not completely all grain, but in reality, you will be surpassing the taste of the macro-breweries from the get go and within a few batches, you might be producing better tasting beer than some of the national craft breweries.

Cons:

  • More involved that Mr. Beer, but your steps will be what you will be doing throughout the rest of your brewing career/hobby.

LHBS (Local Home Brew Store) Kit

American Homebrewers Association LHBS Finder

If you have a LHBS, your best bet is to go there and talk to them.  Make friends with them, as they will be one of your biggest sources of help in your brewing.  If they aren’t helpful, then you either need to find another store or go to the internet for help.  Every brewing supply store I have been to has employees that live to talk about beer and help others make it.  Every store should have a variety of starter kits and be able to help you choose the right one for your needs.  When you go in, don’t be intimidated by the towers of stainless kettles or the bearded guy with the body piercings.  You should make it in and out with ease.

Pros:

  • You will be meeting your new friends
  • You will feel more confident about the process after just having talked to someone at the store

Cons:

  • You are probably already hooked on homebrewing before even leaving the store

Small batch starter kit

These Fun Size kits are actually pretty cool.  For someone just getting started with brewing, this is a way to start with smaller size equipment that won’t go to waste when you get more advanced and start going to bigger batch sizes.  Your LHBS might have these, or they could set you up with the stuff to put your own kit together and scale down some of their recipes for you.

Northern Brewer 1 Gallon Small Batch Starter Kit

Brooklyn Brew Beer Making Kit, Everyday IPA

The Brooklyn Brew Kit actually bypasses the extract concept all together and teaches you all-grain brewing from the get go.

Pros:

  • Potential to make the best beer of all the kits
  • If done right, and you have just gotten started brewing, you are going to make what you will consider some excellent beer
  • Requires a minimal amount of space and equipment
  • Small enough to keep it fun

Cons:

  • Only makes enough beer for 9-12 bottles
  • Most effort of all kits for little output

Conclusion:

You really just have to find the kit that suits your budget, ultimate desire, storage situation, etc.

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