Compact 3-Vessel system

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Kev888
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Compact 3-Vessel system

Post by Kev888 » Wed Oct 18, 2017 3:46 pm

Some of you may recall my last brewing system; it occupied a large part of the garage and a brew-shed. I'm now living in a flat with a narrow galley kitchen and little storage space... so am starting to build a more compact system, hopefully without making too many compromises in functionality and ease of use.

I trialled one-pot style systems recently, but the 3-Vessel approach is still my personal favourite. So the plan is a 3v system, plus an underback, that will both store compactly and function in a narrow kitchen. I've a glycol cooled & warmed fermenter with about 64L (14 gallon) working capacity, so that is roughly the maximum volume of wort to comfortably produce (in any normal, say <1.065, gravity beer).

Work has begun with the kettle. Allowing for evaporation and subsequent losses (dead-space, shrinkage, hop retention etc.) the pre-boil volume will be around 85L, a bit more with hoppy brews. I could top up to offset evaporation but don't really want to, and don't want to risk spills either, so a pot volume of around 100L or so would be needed. I chose a 110L Tabec pot from Brouwland, a tiny bit bigger than needed but, at about 450mm diameter, its relatively small footprint was perfect for my needs (and it isn't too tall for me to just reach the bottom):
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Although it looks nice, IMO it is a similar quality to the thin Bergland stock-pots, and the dust cover is unimpressive as a lid (it sort of perches on, not very securely). But it is the shape that led me to choose it over the cheaper Bergland alternatives.

The bottom was slightly (probably not intentionally) dished, so the bottom-centre is where I decided to put the drain. A pick-up tube could be used with the syphon effect, but for neatness and ease of rinsing out I preferred a bottom drain. An MDF tool was made (not unlike a q-max cutter, but to press rather than cut):
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Some bits of steel were used as big backing washers, and the tool was closed together with an M16 bolt and big spanners in order to dimple the (previously flat) base. A thru-hull fitting was then put in with little deadspace:
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The brass things are bulkheads for some rod elements. There will be two 2.5kw low watt-density elements which will run around the circumference of the base, partly to leave the centre free for large hop filters and partly to avoid interference with any whirlpooling.

To keep the footprint small, the pump, electrical boxes and water-resistant powercon mains connectors etc will be mounted under the pot. To allow easy mounting of these and the legs, a moisture-resistant grade of OSB was glued to the pot base, using white 'Sticks like' (an additional thickness of OSB was later built up under the legs). Some clearance was allowed around the element bulkheads, but the last two inches of the elements are unheated so overheating shouldn't be a problem unless run dry by mistake.
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This will not be seen when finished so the slightly crude aesthetics don't concern me.

It had some legs screwed on and the pump placed underneath. There will be a (grainfather style) riser tube leading directly up from the pump outlet; there won't be a valve to reach or clean (when in use in the narrow kitchen, the MT will likely be in front of the kettle). Here it is set up with some temporary insulation for testing.
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The pump (which I already had) is a good one but quite loud on the floorboards of the flat. So it was hung on four (blue) bits of silicone hose; the otherwise rigid pipework also had silicone links in to help isolate the noise and vibration. The results are quite a bit better.
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The headspace seemed sufficient, a little skimming of the foam needed, but not much:
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The boil was quite convincing. I (now) understand that one of the main reasons for a vigorous boil is to help particles to collide and clump together; lots of that going on here:
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Ultimately I intend a large mesh whole-hop filter, but currently have lots of pellets. So a kind of garden sieve was made with #40 mesh base to help contain the trub after whirlpooling it into the centre. You can't see it but there is a tee in the outlet beneath the sieve, effectively turning the centre outlet into two edge outlets. It worked fairly well, some trub settled around the edges, but the majority was in the middle and the sieve basket stopped it spreading out again when the wort was drawn off.
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The rod elements can also be seen running around the circumference. In retrospect I may have gone for shorter ones; 4 feet or so would have likely been enough to spread the heat and stop burning stuff on, these are twice that so a little more cramped. But at least they are very easy to clean with just a soft cloth.

The test was pretty successful, the only issue was relatively minor and encountered when cleaning rather than in use. With shallow volumes, a vortex is prone to form, which then lets the pump suck air through the central drain. This won't be a problem in normal use with hop or pellet filters/sieves in the way, but I may make a cover or elbow for the outlet for when cleaning.
Last edited by Kev888 on Thu Oct 19, 2017 11:59 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Compact 3-Vessel system

Post by FutureBrewer » Thu Oct 19, 2017 11:15 am

Hey Kev - that’s some impressive work. A thing of beauty!

Cheers,
FB.
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Kev888
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Re: Compact 3-Vessel system

Post by Kev888 » Thu Oct 19, 2017 12:09 pm

Thanks FB. I've spent some time testing compact one-pot designs and brewing somewhat chaotically on lash-ups, but this now feels like the right move so am quite pleased. Hopefully before long I'll be back brewing properly :D

Though there will now be a pause whilst parts arrive for the next vessels, so no holding of breath!
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Re: Compact 3-Vessel system

Post by DethApostle » Thu Oct 19, 2017 1:07 pm

Love the 'dimple' tool... great idea!

DA
Serving: AG43: Banoffe Gose, AG44: Jaipur Clone
Bottled: AG3: The GPSE, AG14: Plum Porter, AG 25: Russian Imperial Stout
Conditioning: AG45: Irish Red Ale
Fermenting: Nowt!
Planning: AG46: Simcoe & Chilli DIPA, AG47: Spiced Christmas Ale
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Re: Compact 3-Vessel system

Post by jaroporter » Thu Oct 19, 2017 2:46 pm

that's a hell of a build (and brewlength :lol:) for a flat kev! very impressed with the tooling and general build quality.
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Kev888
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Re: Compact 3-Vessel system

Post by Kev888 » Thu Oct 19, 2017 4:49 pm

Thanks! Yes, the next fermenter down was a bit too small (and not all that much cheaper or narrower) so I ended up with more capacity than anticipated. It has actually worked out well, taking 10-gallon batches normally, but if stocks are low or parties are coming up then an extra 20L keg's worth can be fitted in, provided a blow-off tube is used. So I'd now like the brewing rig to be up to the job too.

Of course the challenge is to do so whilst still storing compactly for its size. The intention is for the kettle to fit inside the other two pots, a bit like a clam-shell:
Image
With underback, CFC and all the other odds and ends stored inside the kettle.
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Re: Compact 3-Vessel system

Post by Kev888 » Sat Nov 25, 2017 4:17 pm

Slow progress lately; I've been making, sanding and varnishing the timber pieces for kettle insulation and HLT + MT enclosures. The polyurethane varnish takes ages between coats at this time of year. But they're done now, and the first to receive them has been the Boil Kettle, more or less completing it.

I used 44x12mm slats, which are just about light enough and slim enough to permit easy lifting of the kettle into the HLT's pot for storage. At the mo, the slats are simply glued on with copious amounts of evo-stick 'sticks like'.. Hopefully the bond will hold, if not I'll have to put some bands around too:
Image

The tank's standard tap bulkhead is just plugged for now; I may possibly use it for a thermowell or something in the future. I've also got a stainless chugger pump head to replace my old march-may's polysulphone one, as its impeller bearings are getting worn, but for now it is still going.

Next up will be the HLT and its enclosure. Though there will be another delay as I need to cobble some temporary kit together and have a brew-day first.
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Re: Compact 3-Vessel system

Post by MTW » Sat Nov 25, 2017 5:10 pm

Blimey. That's one nice looking piece of kit. Nice work!
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Re: Compact 3-Vessel system

Post by FermentedCulture » Sat Nov 25, 2017 11:39 pm

Very cool. The wood reminds me of this listing I saw on ebay, it started at £600...click view original listing for photos
https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Microbrewery ... 2441796822

Looks like they used some type of screws and metal banding for the wood.

I read that sometimes fermentation tanks are insulated with a chlorine based urethane and that can cause cracking over time if it gets wet, do you have any information on this or think it'll matter?

Great thread, watching with interest!

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Re: Compact 3-Vessel system

Post by Kev888 » Sun Nov 26, 2017 11:25 am

Thanks both. Yeah the wood slats are quite a traditional way to insulate brewing tanks, usually held on by bands, so quite common really - certainly no invention of mine. I admire the commitment of whoever in that ebay listing made curved ones to fit the blue barrel though! In my case then armaflex or similar would probably have been a more practical choice but I like wood, and the MT and HLT will be in timber enclosures so it should be reasonably harmonious.

I've heard of stress corrosion and cracking in brewery vessels, but not at homebrew scales so hadn't really given it much thought. I've avoided introducing galvanic corrosion by only using wetted metals at similar points on the anodic scale, and haven't used adhesives etc in contact with the stainless that are known to particularly attack it, but not much beyond that. These tanks will only see low pressures and relatively low frequency of use, and don't normally get wet outside either, so I wouldn't have thought it a significant issue. But that is just an assumption, which may be wrong.

Things like the double-walled thermopots are very thin walled and insulated with (presumably) polyurethane foam, but they are sealed against wetness getting to the insulation, so not really a green light. Stainless hot water cylinders can be insulated with similar foam too, but again they don't normally become wet on the outside. Not sure TBH.
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Re: Compact 3-Vessel system

Post by FermentedCulture » Sun Nov 26, 2017 4:14 pm

Thanks for the answers, that makes sense cheers.

Hope you make a video once it's all finished! :)

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Re: Compact 3-Vessel system

Post by Kev888 » Mon Dec 18, 2017 5:54 pm

The HLT is largely finished now, too. As with the kettle, the output pump is built under to reduce floor space. I added an existing solar-project pump to agitate the contents, and a washing machine pressure/level switch to cut element power (in case I forget) when emptying. And a small thermowell and a sight gauge.

The wooden enclosure protects the soft foam insulation, forms a kind of wheeled table which will support the MT when in use on brew day, and will also form the bottom half of my 'clam-shell' packing case when stored away. The square shape lets the castors be wider apart (on the diagonals) for stability, yet adds very little to width or depth. It is also intended not to look too strange or industrial, just a nondescript packing crate, as it will need to be stored in the corner of the bedroom. The sides and back are plain, here is the front (which would be faced towards the wall when not in use):
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The tall slit is obviously the sight gauge, the switch top-right is to switch off the agitation pump (for quietness if heating in the wee hours) and the two circles bottom right are red and green LEDs to indicate if the liquor level is okay or if it has dropped to the point where the elements and agitation pump have been turned off.

The underside (the layout is somewhat awkward, due to the location of existing holes in the re-purposed pot):
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Very wooden, but it is all sealed should there be any drips. The sides also extend a bit lower than the workings, so drips shouldn't make it underneath.

Being leak tested:
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There is a short bit of LED strip to rear-light the sight gauge, which would otherwise be a bit dark in its recess. The pumped outlet is a GrainFather style riser tube, hidden in the case.

The inside, agitation pump running:
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The numerous small screw-heads around some outlets are just due to some of the old holes being too big, so reducing disks/washers were fastened over them with the screws.

The Kettle being stored inside the HLT:
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The IC and hoses etc are inside the kettle (as will be the control box and underback once they exist).

I've not made the MT as yet, but have the pot and its enclosure sorted. This can be up-ended over the kettle to form a taller crate:
Image
In storage it has a similar footprint to that of a 50L Braumeister, though is somewhat taller. I'm happy with that for its capacity, which is nominally about 80L (or a half-barrel) in the keg, but with a ~114L kettle it could probably deliver a bit more if ever needed.

The principle seems to work, anyway. So I'll continue to finish the cases (need to add handles and clasps) and also make the MT, underback, control box etc.
Kev

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Re: Compact 3-Vessel system

Post by LeeH » Mon Dec 18, 2017 7:30 pm

I can appreciate the time, effort and brain storming that has gone into this. It’s very cleverly done to keep that capacity system compact.

Super job.


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Re: Compact 3-Vessel system

Post by Kev888 » Mon Dec 18, 2017 8:05 pm

Thanks! You are right, it is proving more fiddly than normal for a 3v system, and in fact a bit more fiddly than I expected too. But at least it still looks like it will work out as intended, so should be worth it in the end. There aren't too many untested things in its actual workings, so I'm daring to be hopeful anyway!
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Re: Compact 3-Vessel system

Post by FermentedCulture » Mon Dec 18, 2017 8:17 pm

Brilliant progress!

Any plans on using the pumps for step mashing? Do you think you'll use a lid on the kettle?

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