I brewed a batch of Karamel Citra Session IPA over the weekend to test out the new RIMS system that I had built for my home brewery. Sometimes you can test as much as you want, but until you go live with an actually batch of beer, you just never know what is going to happen. Thankfully everything with this batch seemed to work just about perfectly.
There are a couple of things that I would like to make note of for anyone else who is planning on building their own RIMS setup using a similar configuration as mine. Initially the march pump did not seem to want to pass the wort through the RIMS heating chamber. To correct the issue I bypassed the heating chamber and recirculated directly back into the mash tun for a couple of minutes until the work began to clear a bit. After that it passed through the heating chamber with out any issues. Also, as a safety measure I wired my Ranco temperature controller so that the only way that it can be on is if the mash tun pump is active. I would recommend that you do the same in order to help reduce the chances that the heating element engages with out any fluid in the heating chamber. You will also want to check on your flow rate periodically to make sure that the march pump is transferring fluid at the expected rate.
For those of you who are not familiar with RIMS, it stands for Recirculating Infusion Mash System. Basically it is a method for regulating the temperature of your mash tun during the mashing process when the grain starches are converted to sugars. The mash temperature is critical when brewing a beer and a swing of just a few degrees can have a dramatic impact on your finished beer. For instance, a mash temperature of 146F to 150F will create very simple sugars that are easy for yeast strains to convert into alcohol, providing you with a beer that has a dry finish. While a mash temperature of 154F to 158F will create a good deal of complex sugars that the yeast can not digest which makes for a very full bodied beer that will be lower in alcohol.
If you conduct your mash in metal kettles such as the stainless steel Blichmann 20 gallon kettles that I use, you will find that your kettles will shed a good deal of heat during the mash process. In order to maintain a proper mash conversion you will need to either heat the kettle or the fluid inside of it. The problem with adding direct heat to your mash tun kettle is that you risk scorching your grain bed or wort and may also have a large temperature variance at the bottle of the mash tun and the top of it. If you are going to apply direct heat, it is important that you are recirculating your wort with a pump to help minimize those issues. Another potential problem with direct heat is that it can be difficult to monitor and control with out the use of a temperature controller and means for regulating the heat source; if you are not careful your temperature can swing by 5 degrees very quickly.
For the reasons I stated above, I recently started work on a RIMS (Recirculating Infusion Mash System) to help me properly maintain my mash temperature. I am still conducting tests with it but plan on brewing my first test batch of beer this weekend and am optimistic that it will work out well and help me brew the best beer possible. The system is rather simple. I am constantly recirculating the wort in my mash tun via a march pump. The wort flows into a stainless steel chamber where I have an electric stainless steel heating element at the point of entry. At the opposite end of the chamber is a thermowell that is connected to a Ranco digital temperature controller. If the Ranco temperature controller detects that the temperature of the wort has fallen below my target temperature, then it activates the low watt electric heating element until the target temperature is once again reached and then shuts the element off. The wort flows out of the chamber and back into my mash tun via my MoreBeer Ultimate Sparge Arm. Instead of obsessing over my mash temp and constantly fiddling with my burner and pumps, I can kick back, toss the football around with a friend and enjoy a cold beer until my timer goes off! It should make for a more controlled mash and less stressful brew day if all goes well. Once the design is fully tested I will submit another blog entry with more details on how to build one of your own. In the meantime, you can find Ranch temperature controllers and the MoreBeer Ultimate Sparge Arm here.
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About a year ago I upgraded from my previous low output propane burners to these larger 210,000 BTU Banjo Burners. These new burners were literally about 4 times larger, heavier and produced about 4 times the BTU’s as my previous propane home brewing burners and I had high expectations of them. When it finally came time to test them out on a batch of beer I was left somewhat disappointed. Did they heat my kettles more quickly? Yes they did. Were they terribly inefficient and double by propane expenses? Yes, they did that too.
I was please with how much time they were saving, but was very let down by how much propane I was blowing through. In the past I was able to get about 4, 10 gallon batches from each propane tank. With these new banjo burners I was getting less than 2. Based on what I could tell from observation, much of the heat was being reflected off of the bottom of the kettles and pushed out of the sides burner housing. My plan was to create 2 metal baffles to help better direct the heat where I wanted it to go. I bolted the first baffle around the internal burner housing about 1 1/2 inches bellow where the kettle sits. I welded the second baffle near the outside of the burner housing, just slightly larger then the approximate diameter of my kettles. The top of the second baffle was approximately 1/2 inch beneath the kettle. I left a small area of space for me to pass through my igniter.
Improving Banjo Burner Fuel Efficiency
After testing these baffles I was very pleased with the efficiency gains to my home brewing banjo burners. I was back to getting about 3 1/2, 10 gallon batches per propane tank and was heating my kettles about twice as fast as I was with my previous burners. If anyone else has been experiencing similar issues with their propane burner efficiency, hopefully this will help you out.
Recently I decided that I would create a temperature controlled RIMS systems for my home brewery. I picked up a Ranco Digital Temperature Controller (model # ETC-111000-000) to manage the temperature regulation. I have not quite completed the entire Recirculating Infusion Mash System, but I just wrapped up the Ranco wiring and thought that I would share what I learned in case it will help out anyone else.
The RIMS heating element that I am using is a stainless steel 120v heating bar, so I have configured the Ranco for 120, but the Ranco thermostat is also capable of handling 240v; it just requires a slight wiring modification. I would like to point out that I am not a professional electrician. Electricity can be extremely dangerous to work with and may result in death. You should always consult with a professional electrician when attempting a project such as this. Manufacturer hardware designs sometimes change and you should refer to your instructions prior to beginning. Here is a wiring diagram that I used for my Ranco Temperature Controller.
Ranco Digital Temperature Controller Wiring Diagram
I cut apart a heavy gauge extension cord to use for my wall power connection and for the wiring I used to connect to my output plug. Inside the extension cord is a ground wire, common wire and hot wire. In the diagram above I use the green wire to represent ground, the white wire to represent common and the dark red wire to represent hot. Please be aware that different cables use different colored wire to represent different things, these colors are just meant to be an example. I ran the grounding cable from my extension cord directly to my output plug ground connection and also grounded it to the metal case that I am using to house my Ranco temperature controller, plug and switches. I spliced the white common cable from the extension cord and connected it to the “COM” port on my Ranco and ran an extension wire to the common connection point on my output plug. Since the RIMS heating element that I am using is 120v, I ran the hot wire from my extension cord to the Ranco “120” port. I then connected a small length of heavy gauge wire from the “120” port on the Ranco to the “C” port on the Ranco Temperature Controller. Lastly, I ran a segment of red wire from the Ranco “NO” port to the hot wire connection on my output plug. I reviewed my work to make sure that all of the wires were connected properly and there was no bare wire exposed. I then connected the device to a GFCI outlet and tested the device with a voltage meter to make sure that everything was working as intended. The Ranco is great because you can select whether you want the power to activate when the temperature drops below a certain point or rises above a certain point which means that it can be used for either a RIMS type device or to control the fermentation temperature in a freezer or refrigerator without having to rewire the device or modify the hardware.
Ranco 120v Thermostat
If you are not comfortable doing electrical work or if you would prefer to avoid the hassle, you can purchase a wired Ranco Digital Temperature controller. You can find several different options available here at a great price via the link below. They also have spare temperature probes and mounting brackets for the Ranco available if needed.