August 6, 2008

The HERMS and why I haven’t built it yet

Posted in Brewery at 10:41 am by silverlucebrewery

I get a lot of hits on this blog from people searching for HERMS systems and I feel bad that although I designed this brewery to have one, I have yet to build it. If you came here looking for one all I have is the design on an old post, back from when I was planning the system.

A HERMS (Heat Exchanged Recirculating Mash System) system recirculates the wort during the mash through a heat exchange, like a copper coil, suspended in a vessel filled with water. The water can be heated to different temperatures and the recirculating wort will adjust to that temperature thereby raising the temperature of the grain bed.

The benefit to this design is that there is no direct flame on the MT so there is no scorching. The vessel can be the HLT, as it is in my design, or a separate container altogether.

These days most of the grains used in brewing are fully modified and don’t need (according to most sources) to spend time mashing at the lower temperatures in order to convert. Most homebrewers simply do a single infusion mash at their desired temperature.

So why would someone want to build a HERMS system?

There are a couple of reasons why it may make sense. One really good reason would be if the MT insulation was not holding the proper mash temperature long enough. This occurs to some in the colder months and even my well insulated MT will drop a couple of degrees when it’s really cold out. The temp of the HERMS can be adjusted to insure a proper mash temp.

Another reason is that by recirculating constantly throughout the mash, the grain bed will set up as a great filter for itself and the runoff will be very clear. This is one of the biggest reasons I plan on building one. I use a False Bottom in my MT and it takes quite a lot of time before the runoff clears of small particles. Right now I always keep a hop bag tied to the end of the hose to the kettle to catch any that get through. Not the most effective of techniques.

One more reason is the ability to repeat subsequent mashes. Even a degree or two difference will produce a different beer so the ability to regulate the mash is highly desirable.

And one more reason that I certainly hope is true is that the constant recirculation should improve my brewhouse efficiency. In other words, I should get more sugars from the same amount of grain.

Now why haven’t I built the HERMS yet? Two main reasons come to mind. #1 is that I’ve had pump issues up until very recently. One of my pumps was not working well enough and constantly needed to be stopped and started. After a very nice guy donated a pump head from a blown pump, I think that problem is fixed and we can move on to the next reason. #2 is simply money. Copper is very expensive. As are all the additional valves and parts necessary. At this point I’ve got nearly everything except the copper coil. I need at least 25 feet of soft copper tubing. Next time you are in your hardware store, take a look at the cost of copper tubing and this reason will be very evident.

But just so you don’t have to go all the way back through my old posts let me pull up the orriginal design to give you an idea of what my plan is.

I will further modify this before constructing it. Not everything on this design is accurate to the way the rig was built. The main difference is that the plumbing will be simplified (if I can get my brain around it) and both the entrance and the exit for the HERMS will most likely be near the top of the HLT.


August 5, 2008

too busy living and brewing to post

Posted in beer, Brewery, brewing, Family at 6:34 pm by silverlucebrewery

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 7 months since I posted on this blog last. I’ve been busy with the two kids and a few backyard projects. Ooops! Did I say 2 kids? I meant 2.3 kids. Yup, it’s true, for those of you who don’t know, the wife is pregnant again and due to deliver the next one on my 40th birthday. So maybe I had one or two indoor projects to keep me busy too. Anyway it’s about time I updated the blog.

The brewery is operational and knocking out 10 gallons of beer every chance I get to fire it up.

Ever heard the joke about being a home brewer if you have 2 propane tanks but only use briquettes for your BBQ?

In addition to the Silver Luce, Lee and I have cobbled together a 5 gallon gravity system using my old 8 gallon kettle as a HLT, a cooler converted by Lee to a MT and Lee’s 8 gallon kettle. It has it’s own immersion chiller so we can run both systems simultaneously.

Having 2 rigs gives us a chance to maximize our time and brew 2 beers at once. Last weekend we brewed 5 gallons of a Kolsch style and 10 of an Alt Bier inspiration. It helps when we can figure out where all the hoses go.

We fly sparge both rigs. This is the sparge arm on the cooler.

The main difference is that the Silver Luce is controlled by pumps. It’s taken me quite some time to get both pumps working correctly but now they make the sparge fairly easy once the flow rates are adjusted.

I’ve also adopted a new technique for many of the latest brews. It’s called First Wort Hopping or FWH, where a hop addition is made to the kettle as the wort is transfered over from the MT during the sparge. Apparently the hops are utilized differently while the temperature is lower (i.e.- not boiling) and supposedly give a more mellow flavor than the standard flavor addition. I’m not sure my pallet is that discerning but I like the beers we’ve been making so…

Nothing like hops in the kettle. If only I could add smells to this post.

We do love hops around here. If you don’t know there is a shortage of hops so like many other brewers I’ve taken to growing some here on the compound. We just harvested the first of the season off of a 1st year Brewer’s Gold plant.

It turned out to be almost 8 oz (before drying), which is pretty good for the 1st year. They really don’t start producing until the 2nd or 3d year. Harley is already a connoisseur and is instrumental in determining the proper time to harvest.

Dina, on the other hand just wants me to get to brewing so she can smell them in the kettle.

But before they are used in a brew or stored we dry them out for a couple of days on a screen with good airflow.

The other little gadget I just built is a 1 gallon setup that uses a 1 gallon cooler as the MT. I use it mainly for making a gallon of wort to be used for starters but my plan is to use it to try out test batches and ferment in one of the gallon jugs I have.

Initially I was batch sparging this setup but I never was able to get the amount of water right in my additions so it always came up short. Not anymore after I calibrated a mini-dipstick.

I also put a cheap shower head on the hose from the HLT and made it into a fly sparge setup.

Well now that I’ve begun updating the blog, I guess it’s about time I got serious and made a page for the keggerator (6-taps…nice) and a complete breakdown of the SIlver Luce. I should get that done is say…7 months? 😉

January 10, 2008

Loss of face on the Red

Posted in beer, Brewery, brewing at 11:36 pm by silverlucebrewery

OK, so the red was a disappointment on all account. So what? It’s still drinkable. Just not a great beer. Still it is better than most of what you can buy in the supermarket.

First off, as I mentioned, it’s not red, which means I should probably stop calling it that but what can you do?

Secondly it fermented out so low that it’s kind of bland. Drinkable but bland.

I was really trying to get a red color with this first attempt and used Pilsner malt as a base but didn’t hop it much. So think Pilsner Urquel without the hops. Maybe not that bad but still kind of bland. Did I mention it’s bland? Oh well. Another lesson learned.

Anyway, the CA common is in the keg, that at least should be tasty. The Mead is now technically a Melomel. At least most of it is, one gallon is still mead. I racked it onto about 15 lbs of plums and only had room for about 4 gallons of the stuff. The remainder went into a gallon fermenter and I bottled 34 oz (a 22 and a 12 oz bottle), just because I had to do something with the overflow. Then I racked it off of the plums into another carboy and, after draining the fruit, am back up to 5 gallons of what is now considered Melomel. I’m realizing that I won’t have the use of at least one of my carboys for the next season or two. If I’m going to make this stuff on a regular basis I think I need to invest in more carboys.

Oh! Since the Red, the brewery has also produced an American Pale/Amber and an IPA on and about X-Mas. I’ll post pictures and more details later. Right now they are in the fermentation closet.

Not a bad brew year for 2007, even though most of it was loaded up in the last couple of months since I got the rig operational. 2008 should be a really good brewing year. The rig works and improvements/upgrades should begin to come on a regular, if slow, basis. But we can brew!

December 21, 2007

Brownish Red

Posted in Brewery at 9:06 pm by silverlucebrewery

The American Red was brewed on the 12th.

I would have written about it earlier but after my last post the door was kicked in by a few of our city’s finest and I was dragged off in the middle of the night at gunpoint. It seems that the government has a problem with feeding one’s kids booze and making them work every waking hour. Who knew? Aahhhh well, we live and learn I guess.

So no more beer as food for the kids. Too bad though they really liked it. We have to find other things for them to eat (or at least that what the nice officer said…). Harley’s still on a hunger strike but at least Dina found another food source.

Dina’s hungry

Personally I didn’t even know that blue tinsel was edible.

Anyway the American Red didn’t really turn out as red as I had wanted, but it was only a first attempt. It’s more of a brown with red aspirations. It should taste fine though.

In the pursuit of a real red color, unmarred by the dull coloring of my usual base malt, I opted to use Pilsner Malt instead of 2-Row. Other than that it was a fairly straightforward recipe.

  • 18 lbs German Pilsner
  • 2 lbs Vienna
  • .5 lbs American Crystal 60L
  • .5 lbs Roasted Barley
  • 1 oz Northern Brewer (pellets) 8.2AA 60 min
  • 2 oz Fuggles 4 AA 20 min
  • 1 oz Fuggles 4 AA 1 min
  • WLP001 American Ale Yeast

I had originally planned on conducting a fairly thick mash somewhere around 152F but due to incompetence of the head brewer (read: me), who forgot to take into account that the grain had been sitting out in a cold garage, the mash only got up to the low 140s. So the HLT was fired up again and near boiling water was added which loosened up the mash considerably and only managed to bring the temp up to 146F. So in the end I had a rather wet mash with a rather low temp.

What does that mean? Basically two things will happen with a low mash temp. First it will make the wort more fermentable and bring the final gravity lower than would the same grain bill mashed 10 degrees higher. Second it will end up tasting a little drier. Obviously the second is due to the first but thought I’d explain it. Since this is my first time brewing this recipe it might be a good thing.

The yeast seemed to really like it. Lee brewed with me again and we put his half into a carboy. He had a bit of trouble and had to switch to a blow off tube. Mine stayed in the bucket but did make an unsuccessful escape attempt. I’m still getting a bubble now and again so I haven’t checked the gravity. It should finish in the next day or two. I’ll probably rack mine to a secondary for a couple of days to finish before putting this one in a keg.

Speaking of which, I have NOT started the keggerator project yet. Why? Because I haven’t so stop asking! It will get done at some point, just like at some point the kitchen will be finished. Maybe this coming week I can get a few hours to work on it.

Though not tomorrow, as Lee and I will be starting Round 1 of the California Common experiment, in which we will brew at least 4 different versions, maybe 6, hopefully finding one we like. Tomorrow Lee will be pitching one yeast into his half while I pitch a completely different one. How exciting!

December 9, 2007

The downside of Homebrewing

Posted in beer, Brewery, brewing, Family at 9:50 pm by silverlucebrewery

As much as I love making my own beer, there is a downside to it. Basically having all this beer laying around the house can lead to a little temptation for the kids. It would seem that Harley really likes “Berg’s Homebrew”. Can’t say as I blame him but still.

It all started when Lisa, being the great marketer that she is, decided to surprise us with new T-shirts, which have the logo on them. We got Harley into his and plopped him on the couch to show it off. In the middle of the photo shoot he suggested that it might be more of an artistic statement if he had a bottle showing the logo on the label to hold up beside the shirt. We agreed that it would be a nice shot so we gave him one.

Harley in his shirt

Great shirts aren’t they! Send a check for $20 to get yours before they run out.

After a few shots we became a little uncomfortable with the way he was snuggling the bottle and calling it “My Precious” so we tried to take it away from him before Child Protective Services showed up. He didn’t want to let it go and started to throw a fit.

Fight for the bottle

Lisa just couldn’t wrestle it away from him. Eventually, after a long struggle where some things were said that shouldn’t have been (I’m sure he didn’t mean to call his mother that), Harley just took the bottle, stormed out of the room and locked himself in his bedroom.

bottle as a crutch

All we could hear through the door was the hiss of the carbonation as he opened the bottle with a bottle opener he had hidden in his toy chest. It’s sad but on the lighter side he did sleep in the next morning.

What I’m saying here is that Homebrewing is a wonderful hobby but make sure that if you have young, impressionable kids around the house only exposed them to something like broccoli flavored beer or there could be problems.

Anyway the next brews up are going to be a California Common and an American Red Ale. And maybe starting the keggerator project…

December 1, 2007

3 batches and a mead

Posted in beer, Brewery, brewing at 11:41 pm by silverlucebrewery

So no new posts in a while but at least the brewery is producing.

I talked about the American Brown in the last post but since then Lee and I brewed up the Robust Porter on the 3rd and I followed it up with the Oatmeal Stout a few days later. Then having an extra fermenter laying around I whipped up 5 gallons of mead.

The Brown ended up fermenting out to 1.014. Half got bottled and Harley racked the other half into the keg.

Harley kegging

I’ll hold off on the my assessment until I break into the bottles. While still a very young beer I’m a little disappointed with the results. It’s OK but I had higher hopes for this recipe. Some time in the bottle should help bring it together.

Lee’s Porter is going to be great. The recipe was fairly simple and the sample smelled and tasted great. Really looking forward to this beer coming of age.

  • 20 lbs American 2-row
  • 1 lb American Crystal 60L
  • 1 lb American Chocolate
  • .5 lb American Black Patent
  • .5 oz Chinook 12.8AA 60 min
  • 1.25 oz Centennial 9.AA 30 min
  • 2 oz Santium 5.8AA 10 min
  • WL005 British Ale Yeast

We split the batch and he fermented half at his place and I put mine into the fermentation closet here at the homestead, which was modified to hold 35 gallons worth of fermenters. Mine fermented out to 1.011 while I think that Lee got to 1.010 or maybe a little below. We bottled his first, not sure exactly when but mine were bottled later on the 17th.

I’m fighting the urge to open one early to “check the carbonation” and such. With only half the batch in my possession I should miser this one. It’s going to be a great beer.

The Oatmeal Stout went off on the 8th. It’s only a mild experiment since this was a simple, great tasting Stout recipe that I added some flaked oats to.

  • 20 lbs American 2-row
  • 3 lbs American Roasted Barley
  • 3 lbs Flaked Barley
  • 2 lbs Flaked Oats
  • 2 oz Chinook 13.1AA 60 min
  • .5 oz Chinook 12.8AA 60 min
  • 1 oz Nugget 11.AA 60 min
  • WLP060 American Ale Yeast Blend

This stout recipe takes 4-6 months before it really mellows and comes together so I’m not in a hurry to get this one into bottles. I also fermented this one in a new 10 gallon vessel as a primary fermentation, which seemed to work out well. On the 27th it got racked into 2 glass carboys for a secondary. It seemed to be done when I racked it. The SG was 1.012 and I don’t expect it to come down any further so I’ll probably get it into bottles sometime in the next week or so and stick it away in a closet till late spring.

One thing that was a bit of a disappointment on all three of these first batches was that I missed my target gravity by 7-10 points across the board. Not the end of the world but it does bring my brewhouse efficiency down to around 65%, which is not acceptable. The problem is most likely a combination of my return manifold creating channels and the cavitation problems I’ve had with the pump from the HLT on the last two batches. I’ll try something new on the next batch and see if I can’t bump that percentage up.

I also made two mead experiments in the last month or so.

The first involved the leftover runoff from the American Brown. After filling the boil kettle on that batch I drained the MT into a bucket and ended up with nearly 4 gallons of a nice smelling and tasting runoff with a SG of around 1.012. I boiled it down for a while, threw some hops in and then added 3 lbs of a really dark Buckwheat Honey. It ended up as 2.5 gallons of something with a OG of 1.051. I skimmed some of the yeast off of the Brown and it fermented out to a FG of 1.001. The end result was fairly nasty to smell and taste. The hops and the Honey did not combine well. I bottled it anyway and plan to check back on it in 6 months or so. It may be the first “brew” that I pour down the drain.

The second experiment was a straightforward Mead that I will add some Plums from our tree to and make into a Melomel. So far it’s still a Mead with just Honey and water with dry Lavalin D-47 yeast and nutrient. I had an OG of 1.105. As of the other day it was down to 1.046 and still chugging along. Being a Mead it will take a while and I don’t plan on racking it onto the fruit in a secondary for at least a few weeks. I’m not sure how long I will bulk age it before bottling but I expect to have one of my carboys tied up for the near future at least.

November 2, 2007

Inaugural Brew!

Posted in beer, brew sites, Brewery, brewing at 9:30 pm by silverlucebrewery

After a long period of not brewing while this little brewery was being slowly designed and built, last week the sweet wort flowed again in our little slice of heaven. We kicked off the inaugural run of the Silver Luce Brewery on 10/27/07. There are still additions and modifications that need to be made to the brewery but it’s functional enough to make beer.

I was fairly busy during most of the brew keeping everything operational and didn’t get a lot of pictures but in the end we brewed 10 gallons of American Brown Ale:

  • 18 lbs American Two-row Pale
  • 4.25 lbs of Crystal 40 L
  • .5 lbs Chocolate
  • 1.25 lbs American Wheat
  • 1.1 oz Chinook (60 Min)
  • .5 oz Northern Brewer (60 Min)
  • .5 oz East Kent Goldings (30 Min)
  • 1 oz Fuggles (30 Min)
  • 2 oz Fuggles (1 Min)
  • 2-3 tsp Irish Moss (10 Min)
  • WLP060 American Ale Yeast Blend
  • Mashed @ 154 F for 60 Min, 175 F Sparge water, hit a slightly lower OG than expected 1.057.

I made a starter for the yeast a few days before and used two 2000 ml flasks, which I alternated on my home made stir plate:


On brewday there was still a lot to be done. All the valves and connections had to be taped and tubing connected, the final pieces bolted (and duct-taped) on and everything had to be washed. Luckily I had some help:

Hard worker

Notice the cast on Harley’s arm. What a trooper, he worked through the pain:

Broken Arm

The Silver Luce brewery as it stood just before the connections were made for the first run:

SilverLuce Brewery

Flame on:


The insulated MT held this temp for 60 minutes without any movement! I’ve never had a mash not drop at least one degree before. I’m so happy with the insulation results. Say hello to 154 F:


Oh how beautiful the sight of a clear runoff can be:


Not to mention a full boil at sunset:

fading light

10 gallons equals a lot of spent grain. The plants are going to love the compost:

spent grain

Starters are the way to go. We pitched and within an hour I had activity. Happy yeast are productive yeast:


The first brew on the new brewery went amazingly well. There are a few modifications to make and I’m still working out the details of a few new additions to make this thing really amazing but for now I’m going to get some brews under my belt while the rig keeps evolving.

Next up is a Robust Porter tomorrow night that I’m brewing with a neighborhood friend. Coincidentally it happens to be “Teach a Friend to Homebrew Day” so that will be cool. After that is a Oatmeal Stout that will be bottled and aged for a while. Then I’m thinking about making a Red but I still have to work out the recipe. Oh yeah, I also have to build the keggerator!

pictures of the insulated mash tun

Posted in beer, brew sites, Brewery, brewing at 8:12 pm by silverlucebrewery

Once again it’s been a while since I posted but work has continued on this little project despite the lack of reporting. In fact the brewery was put through it’s paces last week with a 10 gallon run of an American Brown Ale. More on that in another post. This post is to show the newly insulated MT.

I got hold of some sheets of Armaflex insulation and proceeded to glue it on to my MT. Worked like a charm. After a 60 minute mash not a single degree was lost. I could have done 90 minutes without any loss I think.

So here it is:

MT with insulation

Since this brewery will eventually be a HERMS system I have no need for a burner under the MT and so I insulated it with the leftover scraps of Armaflex.

Bottom view:

Bottom of MT insulated

Of course I insulated the top too. The insulation sits on a wooden lid that I made out of 5/8 in plywood. I attached a stainless steel sheet to the bottom and put a hole through the center for the tubing of the manifold to go through. Note that the plastic ties are temporary until I finalize the design and mount it more permanently.



Doesn’t the label look great on the black?!

Berg’s Homebrew

September 27, 2007

Return manifold re-design.

Posted in beer, brew sites, Brewery, brewing at 10:21 pm by silverlucebrewery

I knew there was a reason why I had not finished building the return manifold for the mash/lauter tun up till now. I was never fully satisfied with the flexibility of my initial designs, given the variations in grain bed height for various recipes and switching between 5 and 10 gallon batches (if I were to do that). I think now I’ve hit upon a design that will be adaptable enough for any mash I conduct. OK, I did have a little help working out the design:

little helper

The biggest question I had was how best to adapt the length of the return pipe so that the manifold would be at the right height for each and every mash without the intake portion sometimes being way up in the air and other times right next to the lid.

I had originally planned on building various segments that I could screw together or be taken apart to get me to the right length pipe. Today I hit on the idea of using a length of tubing instead of the pipe. this way I could raise or lower to any length by attaching a simple hose clamp above the lid. The excess tubing could lie on top of the lid or be replaced entirely with a different length when the situation called for it.

I also incorporated a thermometer into the intake portion to give me another way to monitor the wort and/or H2O coming through the manifold. Used in conjunction with the temperature readings I’ll get from the MT and the HLT directly, this should give me a fairly good idea of what is happening inside my MT.

So it will work like this. The strike H2O and/or the recirculated wort will be pumped up to the intake manifold and enter in through their respective nipples (not shown). This design should allow me to keep both lines hooked up throughout the process when I finish putting the HERMS coil into the HLT (not the first batch):

intake manifold

The liquid will then travel down the hose, past the clamp and stop (a threaded fitting the hose will pass through, which will go through the yet to be built lid):

tubing to manifold

Finally it will travel through the “H” type manifold which will be suspended at the perfect height (as determined by the clamp placement) and gently distributed onto the grain bed:

suspended manifold

If I need to, I will cut or drill additional holes or slats into the top of the manifold to better distribute the return. That will be a determination to be made later after some testing and usage determine the efficiancy of this design.

A look at the whole system. Don’t mind the tape, I haven’t connected the various parts yet:

manifold system

The only question is how to mount it to the MT so that it’s positioned correctly. I need to think about that a bit. I’ll probably cut a hole around the top skirt somewhere so it sits something like this:

where to mount this?

Overall I think this should work well for the system I’ve designed.

September 25, 2007

Brewery is wired!

Posted in beer, brew sites, Brewery, brewing at 12:45 pm by silverlucebrewery

At last one of the aspects of this brewery build is behind me. The wiring is done!

I must take a moment to once again than my good friend Andy for talking me down from the edge when the first check of the wiring revealed that it was screwed up. He figured out that I had “zagged when I should have zigged”, as he put it. Basically I just wired the plug wrong and was running the power backward through the system. Have I mentioned that I hate electrical work? And plumbing. And roofing. And laying floor, in case any one was wondering.

Anyway after talking to him, the plug is rewired, the system is functional and I’m one step closer to brewing again. Wanna see it?

Proof that I’m no electrician:


The top boxes are the switches and the bottom an outlet individually controlled by the left top box switches. The right side is the master power and the light switch. The piping in the back houses the wiring up to the light:

wet boxes

A shot of the boxes and light housing. I’ll get better lights, those were just to test the power:

above board electrical

Nifty little bend in the wiring casing that was a pain in the ass to run the wiring through and get through the wood correctly:


The brewery mocked up:

mocked up

A look underneath:

pumps and burner

Still need to mount the brackets for the burner, hook up the water filter system, make tops for the kegs and finish putting the manifold together. Then it’s a full system test with H2O only and if everything works right, brew time!

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