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homebrew

My first brewing experience came via a Mr. Beer kit. The result, something akin to brownish vinegar, left much to be desired. I knew I needed better equipment, so I started with a few plastic buckets and a turkey fryer. My results improved, and I was hooked, but not satisfied. I wanted a system that allowed me to make beer from scratch — no more extracts, no more Mr. Beer.

I spent a few weeks formulating ideas and sketching out the mad science it would take to give life to my newfound passion. I developed a parts list as

I went along, and scoured thrift stores and badgered friends for the necessary components: essentially, two pots or kettles to brew the beer in; a frame or stand to hold the kettles; a way to heat the beer; and a pump to circulate the contents through the system. An old steel table became the base for the stand, and abandoned kegs from a local liquor store served as my kettles. The table formerly had a glass top, so I had to fill in the gaps with scrap metal and use more scraps to complete the basic framework. With some amateur welding and a fresh coat of paint, I soon had the infrastructure in place.

Next, I needed some heat. With my old system, I’d used propane to boil the wort (unfermented beer). I wanted my “FrankenBrewery” to run on electricity, not only for consistency in temperature but also in case I ever found a way to power it with the sun. My solution divided the system into two parts: high-voltage and low. The front control panel was designed to run on 12V DC, and a sealed NEMA box housed the 240V AC power for the heating elements. For temperature control, I adapted a PWM circuit to vary the power to the elements.

Next, I developed a way to move my brew from kettle to kettle. The use of an electric ball valve allowed me to remotely control flow from the pump. Using a mix of copper and PEX tubing for the main routes, I incorporated a quick-change panel on the front to help move fluid around using only one pump. I was ready for a test run.

On a frigid Colorado afternoon, I hooked up the power and started flipping switches. Lo and behold, rather than the lights flickering and the machine rising up and smashing through the door, it worked like a charm. Since the inaugural run, several delicious batches of beer have flowed through my creation, with the process becoming more familiar and more fulfilling each time.

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