Electric Brew in a Bag (eBIAB) Build

I’ve been brewing on a pretty standard three vessel (HLT, MLT, Kettle) propane system for a few years now and I’ve been happy with it but I have a few issues I want to address:-It has nice automation for the HLT but I have been unable to control the temp in the MLT since it is a cooler setup and even though I built a HERMs for it I haven’t gotten it to work to my satisfaction.  In particularly cold weather, it is very hard to get my temps right in the MLT and even when I do they drop 3+ degrees over the course of the mash.  Step mashes would be nice but more importantly I want to consistently hit my mash temp and hold it.
-It takes over 6 hours for a brew day plus another couple hours for cleanup and that is with setting everything up the night before.
-I can really only brew 5+ gallon batches.  I can only drink about 5 gallons a month even with a great deal of sharing and a bit more personal consumption than may be healthy 🙂  So, I’d rather brew more often but smaller batches.  Ideally twice a month with 2.5 gallon batches.
-I have to brew outdoors since the system is too big for my garage and I’m not comfortable with propane indoors even if well vented.  YMMV.  My brew schedule is not very flexible so when I have a brewday I brew rain/shine/wind/snow/hail/whatever and I would much rather be in my garage than out on my back deck when mother nature decides to get ugly.
-I’m super tired of buying propane.  I have a stack of propane tanks outside just to make sure I don’t run out.  It is a hassle to refill.  It is expensive.  It is a big nuisance to have to monitor a tank when you get near the end to make sure your boil keeps going.
-It is a pain to store all my stuff.  I’d really like fewer vessels, burners and other odds and ends to clean, dry and pack away.So, I did a bunch of investigation and it seemed that an 11 gallon Electric Brew In A Bag (eBIAB) system is the way to go.  It addresses all my above concerns except maybe the brew time.  I think it will be shorter but with All Grain there is only so many areas where you can shorten the time it takes.  I especially like theHigh Gravity Brew setup and my build is very, very similar other than the placement of the temp probe and some differences in how the control boxes are setup.  The main reasons I didn’t just buy their setup is I really wanted the temp probe in the kettle since I think the reading is more accurate (definitely something I’m going to test thoroughly) but also because I want to be able to see the temp in the kettle when I’m cooling.  Once I start cooling I don’t open my lid and with their setup I would have to in order to take temp readings.  I can see how there could be a concern about the probe being to close to the heating element but there is not a good way to get it in the mash without using two temp probes, that I’ve been able to come up with, and I have my temp probe as far away from the element and as close to the mash as possible.  Fingers crossed.  Of course, I could have just moved the temp probe on their system which leads me to the other (and real ) reason I didn’t just purchase – I’m a total dork and I love building stuff 🙂  I have the partlist below but I already had about half of the stuff from my current brewery and other projects so it ended up costing me less than buying one.  Maybe not a lot less but it was a ton of fun building it so no regrets there.  Certainly not for everyone and,  as you can see from my partlist, High Gravity has very competitive pricing for their product.

I’ve broken out my build documentation into parts (Kettle, Recirculation and Electronics) but the partlist is consolidated at the bottom.  First, an overview of how the system works:

Overview

One of the big strengths of the eBIAB setup is it’s simplicity.  As with all things in life, the more complicated something is, the more likely you are going to have issues and the harder it will be to fix those issues.  Single vessel eBIAB is as simple as it gets without going back to extract brewing.  The kettle has a big steamer basket so you are placing your bag in that and filling it with your grain.  Below the basket there is a heating element which will both be used to heat for mashing but also boiling once the mash is done.  Under the basket, there is also a temperature probe and a valve.  During mashing, the mash liquid goes out the valve to a pump and is then pumped back to the lid on the kettle and back into the mash.  The pumping recirculation is run the entire length of the mash but is run fairly slowly.

WARNING!  The biggest risk with this setup is if you run your pump to fast you can create a cavity of air beneath your mash (you are drawing wort off with the pump faster than it makes it back down through the grain bed) where your element is and heating elements cannot be run dry – they will fry – literally.  So you need to be sure that you are running the recirculation slow enough to not cause cavitation.  The Bayou Classic basket has holes almost up to the top and there is a gap between the basket and the side of the kettle so it would have to be very full of grain in order to prevent the recirculation water from going down the sides.  So, not a huge concern but something to watch out for.

The heating element and the temperature probe run back to a control box which has an Auber PID that controls when to turn the element on and off.  One of the cool things with running electric is that you can quickly turn the element on and off so it is easy to control how hot the element is running.  After building a couple of propane based automation systems, automating electric elements is a piece of cake.

So that’s it!  If the mash gets below the temp you have set on the PID the element kicks in and warms it back up.  The wort is recirculating the whole time which ensures even mash temps but also really helps with efficiency.  A couple differences from propane (other than not having to buy any 🙂 :

-I repeat – you have to be VERY careful to not run the element dry.  They aren’t very expensive but it is certainly a big rain on your brew day when your heat source kicks the bucket.
-RESPECT ELECTRICITY.  You certainly have to be very careful with huge propane burners but electricity scares the crap out of me.  Belt and suspenders and add a second belt.  Double triple check your grounds.  Anything anywhere near your setup should be GFCI.  Make sure the GFCI works!  There are 110v GVCI test units you can get at the hardware store for cheap and my control box has an emergency stop that works by tripping GFCI so you can test the 220v side that way as well.  Don’t assume GFCI alone will save you.  Don’t assume ground alone will either.  They protect you in different ways so make sure that both are functioning flawlessly.  Also, it is a good idea to make sure your environment is as dry as possible (no puddles) and wearing insulated shoes is a good idea as well.

Other than that it’s really not very different from gas.  Just a different source of heat.

Here is an overview video:

KettleSince I won’t be blasting the bottom of the kettle with 100,000+ BTUs, I figured a cheap stainless steel kettle would be fine.  A bunch of BIAB brewers were praising the Bayou Classic with steamer basket which makes total sense.  It is super cheap ( < $100 ), made of stainless (ooooohhhhhh….aggggghhhhh….shiny), the basket sits ~ 3 inches from the bottom of the kettle giving you room for your electrical element and the basket also makes it super easy to get your bag out and and hang it to drain.  It is certainly not the thickest pot but I think it will work really well for this application.  Time will tell.In putting the kettle together there are four things to be installed – 1) the element 2) the valve that goes to the pump for recirculation 3) the temperature probe and 4) the connection for the recirculation to come back from the pump to the top of the mash.

For the element, I ordered a pre-built unit from High Gravity that includes the element, cabling, power plug and a really nice sealing job (read – lots of thick shrink wrap) on the element hookups to prevent shorting it out in case of a boil over or other spills.  A lot of people JB weld junction boxes to the side of their kettle but the High Gravity pre-built is very well made and the only downside I can see is element replacement may be a bit more work (knock on wood) so I went that route.  To go in the kettle, you need a 1 1/4″ hole so based on The Electric Brewery build, I bought Greenlee knockout punches to do the job.  Soooo easy.  You just use a step drill to make the initial ugly hole and then with a few turns of a wrench you have a beautiful, smooth, no dent hole.  I cleaned the holes up with a metal stone on a Dremel but not sure that is even necessary.  The one issue I ran into the with the element is the High Gravity element kit had a O-ring that had the right Inner Diameter (ID) but too big an Outer Diameter (OD) and I couldn’t get the element installed.  I measured the nut which has a recess for the O-ring and ordered the right size.  With that, installation was a breeze and leak free after some solid tightening down.

The other three parts are all 1/2″ NPT which is 7/8″ OD.  I used a Greenlee knockout punch for those as well.  They sell it as a 1/2″ Conduit (ie NPT) punch but it is actually 7/8″  – confusing for sure.  For the valve, I put a pickup arm on the inside so I pickup less trub after whirlpool.  The weldless bulkheads are a pain to clean but they are nice since you can rotate them.  So, I can rotate the racking are up and down and get a super clean run of wort into my fermenter without needed any sort of hop stopper, steel wool etc….   I installed both the valve bulkhead and pickup just as described in Bargain Fittings instructions online.  Same for the temperature probe bulkhead, except it went in in reverse so that the coupler was outside so I could screw the temperature probe into it.  On the lid, the bulkhead went in per the instructions and I added a nipple to the 45 degree turn so I can attach the return hose to it.

The last part of the build is getting the lid notched so I can have have my immersion chiller in and the lid on.  I have to take it by my local welder ( he who owns a plasma cutter) to get that done but certainly not required.

With the right tools and parts, putting the kettle together was a piece of cake.  It took maybe an hour.  Here are some pictures:

 IMG_3258 IMG_3257 IMG_3256 IMG_3255 IMG_3254 IMG_3253 IMG_3252 IMG_3251 IMG_3250 IMG_3249
RecirculationDefinitely the easiest part of the build.  I already had all the parts – a March pump,  a bunch of silicon hose (make sure to get the nice flexible kind, not the stiff opaque kind), valve, worm clamps and various quick connects.  You just need the pump to be below the level of the top of the liquid so putting it on right on the table next to kettle is fine although I have to mess with it a bit to get it primed.  Then just pretest before you cut to make sure you won’t have any weird kinks in your hose and that you have enough slack to move it around comfortably.  For my setup, I ran kettle valve with male quickdisconnect > female quickdisconnect w/ worm clamp > silicon hose > blichman npt quickconnect w/ worm clamp > pump > valve > male quickdisconnect > female quickdisconnect w/ worm clamp > silicon hose > blichman npt quickconnect w/ worm clamp > nipple on top of lid.  Then just plug the pump into the control box and you are ready to recirculate.  IMPORTANT: make sure to use worm clamps and properly tighten them.  A friend of my burned the crap out of his face when the hose on his immersion chiller flew off when he turned on the cooling water.  Don’t be my friend.  Errrrr…that didn’t come out right.  You get the idea.  Here is a picture of the recirculation setup:
 IMG_3259 IMG_3260 IMG_3261 IMG_3262
ElectronicsI have now done a bunch of different electronics builds for two other control boxes as well as some BrewPibuilds and various other DIY electronics projects which made this go quite smoothly.  The other big plus going into this build is someone (P-J) already had  a great schematic put together.  I followed it exactly except I didn’t use lighted switches and I added an LED after the contactor so I can see when the element is on.  Here is P-J’s schematic updated with my LED (top right):
pj_dpike

The basic idea is that you have 220V coming in and hooked into the terminal strips.  The terminal strips allow you to distribute the connections easily but you need to be careful since you can easily short connections out if you aren’t paying close attention.  Basically, the screws across from each other are connected by the metal plate and separated from the other rows by the plastic dividers.  You can interconnect the rows by using the bridges listed in partlist so you can create sections of your terminal blocks that are all interconnected.  With 220V, you have two 110V hot wires, a neutral and a ground.  The hots are black and red, neutral is white and ground is green.  To get 220V, load devices (in this case the heating element) combine the two hots and to get 110V they use one of the hots and the neutral.  Good write-up here with more details.  The controller has only three switches – 1) pump 2) PID 3) heater element.The pump is just an on/off switch and is there so you have one central place to control everything and so it is covered by a fuse and GFCI.  The pump is 110V so the neutral is run to the pump outlet and one of the 110V hot lines is run through a fuse and the switch.The PID switch turns the PID itself on/off which in turn controls when the SSR is open/closed which will relay one of the 110V hot lines to the element.  The PID runs on 110V so, similar to the pump, their is a connection to neutral and one of the hot 110V is run through a fuse and the switch to the PID.  The element won’t come on without both 110V hot lines powered so by controlling the one hot line the PID controls when the element is on/off.

The element switch controls a contactor which is basically just a big relay for both hot 110V lines that are used to power the element.  Unlike a SSR, a contactor is a switch that literally physically opens and closes and is controlled, in this case, by a 110V line.  When power is applied the circuit closes and power can flow through.  The first time I heard it it scares the crap out of me since I thought something bad had happened.  It is a loud clank that sounds out of place in an electronics box.

So why the SSR _and_ the Contactor?  SSRs are great because they can very rapidly open and close a relay and they have a very long life doing this.  There are a couple side issues with this capability.  One is they generate a good amount of heat and hence the big heatsink.  Another is that they do leak some current.  Not much but a little.  This is because of the SS in SSR – solid state.  To add a layer of security, the contactor is there to allow you to completely open the connection and prevent any current from going to the element on both hot lines.  That said, the leakage isn’t enough to turn on the element but it is enough to light up my LED.  So, the effect is when the element switch is on but the SSR open (not passing power), the LED will be on at a lower glow due to SSR leakage.

When the PID powers on the SSR and closes the relay (turns on the element) the LED will get brighter due to the higher current.  So basically, if the element switch is off, the LED is off.  If the element switch is on but the PID has the SSR open the LED will be a low glow and if the element switch is on and the PID has the SSR closed then the LED will be full glow.  Some people may not like this setup but I like to know when the contactor is closed so I know to be careful of the element since the PID could turn it on at any time but I also get a brighter glow when the element is actually on.  Of course the better solution is two LEDS, one for when the contactor is closed and one for when the element is powered.  Maybe in the future but the PID also has a light showing when the element should be on so I may leave it the way it is.

As far as the build goes, to make the holes in the casing I used mostly standard drill bits and spade bits.  For larger holes (PID, power outlets and SSR/heatsink) I use a Dremel with the router attachment.  It takes some practice but you can make very nice clean cuts with it.  Hole saws and Jigs might be better but I don’t have those so….  It is a solderless build so everything is crimped.  For the larger 10 gauge wires, you need a serious crimp tool (or in my case pliers) to make sure your crimp is very solid.  Give them a good tug to make sure they won’t come undone and short out on you.  For the resistors, I strung them between posts on the terminals (like a bridge) to force them to connect serially.  You can just see them out on the fully wired up picture below.

The PID (Auber SYL-2352) did require a bit of programming.  The setting I use are:

Sn = 21 (RTD)
AM = 1 (allows you to switch between auto and manual mode)
t = 2

The PID didn’t work all that well out of the box.  It was overshooting by 5-10 degrees F.  It definitely required auto-tuning.  You do this by going into settings mode and changing At to 1.  I just filled the kettle with 4 gallons of water and turned on recirculation and heated it to 140F then set it to Autotune mode.  It ran for about 15 mins and from then on it has nailed temperatures.  After running autotune, I had to set AM to 1 again – it seems that running autotune set it back to default.  You don’t want to boil in Auto mode since it would just sit there at 100% and spew hot wort everywhere.  To boil, you switch to manual mode and then set the percentage for how hot you want the elements to run.  In reality, it tells the element for what percentage of time “t” is the element on.  So if “t” is 10 (10 secs) and your manual power is set to 50% the element will be on for 5 seconds then off for 5 seconds.  With boiling liquid this tends to give you a weird pulsing of the boil – especially with smaller volumes.  So, you want a shorter “t” so that the pulse is not noticeable and the shortest you can go without turning off the fancy PID mode on Auber is 2 sec.  For me it works works with just a barely noticeable pulsing but the boil doesn’t stop.

IMG_3165 IMG_3166 IMG_3167 IMG_3168 IMG_3169 IMG_3170 IMG_3174 IMG_3175 IMG_3176 IMG_3177 IMG_3178 IMG_3179 IMG_3180 IMG_3243 IMG_3246 IMG_3247 IMG_3248
Here is a partlist for the complete project.  As I mentioned, I already had a lot of this stuff but wanted to provide a complete document.  Of course, as with all things I’m sure you can find things for cheaper with some searching.

8 thoughts on “Electric Brew in a Bag (eBIAB) Build”

  1. Very cool. I found this in a google search because I am considering doing something like this (in the not to near future).
    Are you still happy with it?
    Any changes you have made or things you would have done differently?

    1. i’m a totally tinkerer so i have moved two systems down the road now 🙂 i brewed about 10-15 beers on this system and it worked very well. i brewed a 1st and 2nd place first round nhc beers on it. i have a long laundry list of things i liked about it. i have a few issues with single vessel beers that caused me to go back to 3 vessel. the main one is for any intensive step mashing where you are below sacchrification temps (<140ish F) i was having serious scorched element issues. in particular on my hefeweizen i scorched two elements. less important was the wort was quite a bit hazier and would take much longer to drop clear so i was having to gelatin every beer to get it to good clarity. so if you aren't doing crazy step mashes and you don't mind beer with a little haze or using gelatin the system was awesome.

  2. Great build. Thank you for posting it. I will be using a lot of your information on my upcoming EBIAB build.

    My question is – Do you have a spray nozzle or a sparge arm attached to your lid for recirculating the wort or is it just free flow back into the kettle?

  3. I love this build and would like to try it but im slightly confused on your 220v input. In the UK we have 230v consisting of Live, Neutral and Earth so I’m not sure how to get the extra live you have

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