Long Day with a New Bulldog Brewer

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Laurentic
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Long Day with a New Bulldog Brewer

Post by Laurentic » Tue May 16, 2017 9:48 pm

Hi, have just had a long brewing day with a couple of firsts for me - first brew with my new Bulldog Brewer and a first total brew - start to finish - in my shed, which from now on doubles as both a brewery and a machine shop. Thought I would note down my experience, maybe of interest to someone I hope, plus another feedback on the Bulldog Brewer. To put you in the picture, I have a stone shed which I normally use as a home machine shop, but I also keep my brewing kit in there and have an insulated cupboard where I ferment my beer - I have rigged up a roomstat with a 40w light bulb in the cupboard to maintain a constant temperature. I have two small sinks in the shed too - one as a hand wash and one intended for brewing. Later this year I will have another workbench with storage under devoted to the brewing side, but at the moment it's quite cramped in there as also some of the garden shed stuff is in there while we await a new garden shed being built.

Up to now I have brewed up in the kitchen and transported - carried by hand! - the fermentation bin with 23 litres in it to the shed fermentation cupboard. Heavy awkward work! Plus my boil pan was only 10 litres capacity and to cool quickly I had to make a load of ice in freezer bags first while making up to the 23 litres final volume. That is why I wanted to do the whole lot in my shed, as the sink, which is next to the shelf for the BB (which is about 2 foot off the deck) and the fermentation cupboard are all together in one area, plus the BB comes with a wort chiller, so hopefully quicker stress free wort cooling, and today was the day to try it for the first time. Not wanting moist air from the brewing to impact on my machinery I have a ceiling mounted fan gently wafting the air down and an extract fan near the door to whip the air out - all worked very well. The whole brewing operation in the shed worked well in fact, but it did point out a few improvements needed, like more workbench space and better organisation for the cleaning, especially as the sink is very small - think caravan size!

Now the Bulldog Brewer. Got this from the excellent Hop Shop in Plymouth a week ago. For a relatively small shop, the Hop Shop has an extensive range of both brewing kit and ingredients for brewing both beer and wine, and the owner Peter and his colleagues are always ready and willing to give advice and help when required, so cannot recommend this shop enough, both to visit and to buy from via the internet. Good home brew shops, in fact any home brew shops, seem thin on the ground these days. No connection other than satisfied customer, of course. One of the reasons it was a long brew day was because it was the first time I had used the BB, so was getting my head around what was what, and also it first needed a detergent clean to take off any oil or soil left over from manufacture. Then I sterilised everything with Bruclean - I like Bruclean because I have found it an excellent cleaner and steriliser - and rinsed off. At this point I wondered about the no-rise sterilisers, but part of the point of using Bruclean was to use it's cleaning capabilities.

This being, in effect, a trial run and not having done a full grain brew before, I decided to use a Brupak Craftsman pack of Yorkshire Bitter, to cheat a little. For those who are unfamiliar with this pack, it comes with a small bag of crushed grains, a bag of hops and a packet of yeast. It also needs 3kg of malt extract. The malt should be a pale extract - I have an amber malt instead and since I am the one to be drinking this I felt I could please myself, so no worries! It takes 3.5 litres of water to cover the mesh in the bottom of the mash pipe in the BB, so obviously I was going to use more water than Brupak states for mashing this little pack of grains, in the end right or wrong I used about 10 litres instead of the 3 litres they say. They also only instruct to mash for 30 mins, but as I was trying out the system I mashed for 60 mins. Setting the temp and then the time when up to temp was easy. I set a temp of 67 *C (for between 65-70) and later increased this to 68*C as the control seemed to come out as 65-66*C. The BB raises the water temp to set point on full power 2500W, once you set the power it's away, and then when set point has been reached and time set, you can set the power to control at the power you think, and subsequently find, is correct to maintain the temp, in this case, about 600W or so, and the BB maintained the temp very well. The power is adjustable from min to max in 100W steps, which I found good, quick and easy. The temp and time was very easy to set too, in fact, nothing was tricky really, once you seen how one parameter was set the rest followed suite! The pump was set up with jubilee clips on the suction and discharge side of the pump, and on the connector to the tap outlet but not on the stainless steel elbow at the top (discharge) end, and set to recirculate at a moderate rate over the supplied sparge plate. All worked really well.

Lifting up the mash tube at the end of the mashing stage, I sparged the mash with 8 litres of water at about 70*C, overkill on litres perhaps, but I was going through the hoops to learn the process. With an ex-kitchen kettle in the shed, the sparge water was raised to temp via kettle and tap and adjusted in a 12 litre pot over a little gas camping stove. Sparging with the sparge plate in place using a small jug was no problem, then it was adding the malt with the power off to ensure it didn't burn on the hot element before dissolving it into the wort and then onto topping up the water level - yes I know I should be saying liquor but I am engineer at heart and more at home saying water at the moment! - to 28 litres to allow for evaporation (or so I hoped) before boiling up. The mash tube was cleaned of grains and refitted to be used with the hops. Again, taking her up to the boil was at 2500W power, taking about 40 mins or thereabouts to raise from 45*C to 100*C. I set the temp set point to 102*C but when it reached 100*C on the display it went no further than 100*C and seemed to want to drift back - not a rolling boil - so I upped the set point to 104*C and it seemed happier at that, but still only showed 100*C. By the time it had reached just below 100*C, about at 98*C, there was a huge head of foam (I'd had the lid on whilst raising temp) so I employed a hand water sprayer bought especially for the purpose of reducing foam. When a rolling boil was reached I set the time for 90 mins (again overkill on the original instructions) and added the hops. I also reduced the power down, first to 1600W, then back up to 2000W in stages, to try and maintain the rolling boil without it all going loopy. In fact, throughout the 90 min boil, I was in constant attendance to play down the boil, and it seemed to like a power setting of 1800-2000W to maintain the rolling boil, more 1800W towards the end. However, the one sour note, there were frequent boil 'surges' that resulted in the liquor surging up the gap between boiler and mash tube. Fortunately most of the surges just rolled over the top of the mash tube but some did come just over the top of the boiler, ever so slightly. I have a plastic paddle not a stainless steel one, but it was put to good use stirring the boil to reduce the surges and seemed to survive intact and was reasonably successful in controlling the surges. During this time I was constantly adjusting the power between 1800W and 2000W, one setting seemed too low, the next up too high, and so on. 10 mins before the end I added a small handful of hops kept back, and around this time I also started rehydrating the yeast in 100ml or so of previously boiled and allowed to cool to 30*C water. 15 mins before the end of the boil I put the stainless steel cooling coil into the boiler to sterilise the coils.

Once the 90 mins boil was up I left it a minute and then started the pump on recirc again to sterilise the pump and pipework . I had especially looked at the nameplate on the pump and it had stated a max operating or pumping temp of 100*C, which pleased me, so I felt OK to recirc at that temp. At 94*C I started the water flow through the cooling coil, throttled the cooling water flow through the coil back to ensure that the water extracted wort temperature without a too high a flow through the coil, left the pump on recirc and watched the temp come down. Disappointingly it took about 30 mins to get the temp from 94 to 24*C, I thought that a little slow. When the temp got down to about 34*C, I opened the pump flow up to maximum to aerate the wort - it certainly did that, by the time it got to 24*C there was a huge head on the wort! I lifted the mash tube and drained it off, then lifted it out completely to see what liquor was left - just a tad under 24 litres so the 28 litres original volume was not a bad guess, opened the tap with the pump disconnected via the quick connect fitting and drained down the wort into the fermentation bin adding to the aeration. By the time I had drained it all out leaving about 1/2 pint of mostly liquidy sludge behind, I had just a midges over the 23 litres - a good guess! Then pitched the yeast mix and into the fermentation cupboard with it!

OK, long day it was but was it worth it? Yes, most definitely! Was the Bulldog Brewer worth it? Again, Yes, most definitely. I think it is an excellent bit of kit, so pleased I have it, once you get your head and mindset around the operation, it really is simples! Knowing what the operation would be like if I had brewed the "old fashioned" way, for want of a better expression, with different bits of kit for every operation, to have just one bit of kit that can do it all is to me wonderful and makes things so easy, straightforward and uncomplicated plus occupying such a small footprint, really seems to take up no space at all. The problems I had today, apart from the boil surges which I must think about but not sure how to eradicate, given that the original volume of 28 litres worked out to be so accurate for hitting the final volume target, all the other problems were all to do with constrictions within my working environment, most of which I had already anticipated, the rest became so obvious, and not to do with the BB, which has more than lived up to my expectations, so tired yes, but pleased, very!

Hope this tale helps and illustrates that the Bulldog Brewer is well worth the investment in my eyes. That said, I still have to taste the brew!

Chris

Manngold
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Re: Long Day with a New Bulldog Brewer

Post by Manngold » Wed May 17, 2017 10:15 am

Hi Chris,

Thanks for the very detailed write up of this. I am also very interested in this model, or the Grainfather or the Brewster, but having trouble deciding if I can justify the extra couple of hundred pounds for the Grainfather at the moment.

Just out of interest, how accurate did you find the thermostat to be overall, I know you mentioned that it was slightly off during the mash, did it correct itself?

Thanks

John

Laurentic
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Re: Long Day with a New Bulldog Brewer

Post by Laurentic » Thu May 18, 2017 11:01 pm

Hi John, yes the thermostat did settle down on the mash and ended up controlling at the set point quite acceptably. I think part of the problem was that it was my first go with the BB and so I had no experience to guide me on power settings. I was under the impression prior to setting off that the power was delivered by just switching between 3 settings but on my machine it was a variable in 100W stages from I think about 500W up to 2500W. So I was learning what power setting would work at what set point on the day in question. On another day maybe the ambient temperature would require a different power setting. It's very much a learning curve you're one with a new bit of kit.

I was surprised in one sense that although the setpoint for the boil was 104*C it only made 100*C, until I thought for a moment and realised that at atmospheric pressure it could never go above 100*C but that it needed 104*C setpoint to hold it at 100*C. In point of fact the instructions said to dial in only 102*C not 104*C. It may be the problems I had in boil surges was in over estimating the 'rolling boil' and that a (very) slightly lower setpoint of 102 or 103*C may have produced a steadier boil - I will try next time, which won't be for a couple of weeks or more as I haven't the capacity to handle it! But again, it's that learning curve and getting to know how your bit of kit works.

Relative to the Grainfather I think probably the controller on the Grainfather can do more - like possibly set multi-stage mash temps and times in one go rather than setting each one after the previous one had completed, I don't know. It probably is the better bit of kit all round, I would hope so given the near doubling in cost, but in many ways very similar; but I certainly could not have justified the extra £300 or so, it was trouble enough getting Senior Management Approval for the BB Capex Spend! I am very happy with the BB and am looking forward to doing a load more good brews with it; for me it was money well spent that I can justify, it does what I want it to.

Chris

Tomp
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Re: Long Day with a New Bulldog Brewer

Post by Tomp » Sat May 27, 2017 11:11 pm

Hi Chris. I'm new to the forum and just came across this post.

Great write up - thanks.

Can I just check if I read your post right though? Did you recirculate the wort after the boil was complete, while it was chilling, using the pump? Not something I had thought of doing. Can I ask if you think this helped aerate the wort? I'm concerned about blocking the pump with crud so haven't done this as yet.

Midlife
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Location: Essex

Re: Long Day with a New Bulldog Brewer

Post by Midlife » Thu Aug 17, 2017 11:20 pm

Tomp wrote:
Sat May 27, 2017 11:11 pm
Hi Chris. I'm new to the forum and just came across this post.

Great write up - thanks.

Can I just check if I read your post right though? Did you recirculate the wort after the boil was complete, while it was chilling, using the pump? Not something I had thought of doing. Can I ask if you think this helped aerate the wort? I'm concerned about blocking the pump with crud so haven't done this as yet.
Hello, yes this is what I do with my BB.

A couple of minutes from the end I turn the pump on and start circulating the wort, I then get the flow how I want, heat off and cooler on, and keep the wort circulating while it cools.

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Brewedout
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Re: Long Day with a New Bulldog Brewer

Post by Brewedout » Fri Aug 18, 2017 6:53 am

A really thorough write up, a few pics of the kit in action would be even better

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Fil
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Re: Long Day with a New Bulldog Brewer

Post by Fil » Sun Aug 20, 2017 1:47 pm

Great write up, Im not familiar with the kit you used but if the grains supplied didnt contain any base malt and only contained specialty grains and crystal, the 'mash' that took place wouldnt have done much in the way of converting and will have added little sugar to the brew(The base malt provides most of the enzymes employed in the conversion..) . Not that you did anything wrong, just that the mash could have been more of a steeping than a mash ;) and its the malt extract thats supplying the fermentables for the brew.

While im on a pedantic roll, boil temps can easily exceed 100c your post mash liquor is a more concentrated solution (higher gravity) than plain water and this will increase the boil temp. :=P

But you have gotten your #1 brew over n done with, its always the most nerve wrecking brew of your life =D>

Now to fill up that grain tube with malt :)
ist update for months n months..
Fermnting: not a lot..
Conditioning: nowt
Maturing: Challenger smash, and a kit lager
Drinking: dry one minikeg left in the store
Coming Soon Lots planned for the near future nowt for the immediate :(

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