Madship Brewing

Designing your own home brewery

Vessel volumes

I find that polyethylene vessels are cheap, light, easy to clean, easy to connect, and come in a wide range of sizes.  My recommendations for vessel sizes are as follows, assuming that your brew length is 1 volume unit:

Hot liquor tank:    2 volumes

Mash tun:            0.8 volumes

Kettle:                1.5 volumes

Fermenter:           1.2 volumes

I wanted a conical fermenter, and the smallest I could find in polyethylene was 80 liters; this determined the sizes of my other vessels.  The Wort Hog Homebrewers club invested in a mould for a 50-liter fermenter, so now homebrewers have the option of a more reasonably sized brewery for homebrewing purposes.

Now we have a quote for this Sinvac system (Download a .pdf quote for the 4 vessels).

Pumps and tiers

After trying a two-tier system, I realised the value of having easy access to all of my vessels at the same level.  Magnetically-coupled washing machine pumps are rated to pump very hot water, are cheap and reliable.  I recommend a single-tier system with a pump for each of the hot vessels.  This gives a very flexible system that allows the pumping of liquid in virtually brewing situation you may find yourself in!  See the pic below:
From left to right: HLT, mash, kettle pumps
The three pumps are shown.  From left to right, is the hot liquor tank pump, the mash/lauter tun pump, and closest is the kettle pump.  The 2 taps provide hot water and wort samples respectively.  The red connector on the far end is a recycle back to the hot liquor tank, allowing mixing of acid additions, etc. and improving the heat transfer on the HERMS.  The vertical connector goeas to HERMS and/or mash tun recycle.  The light switch switches the pumps on.  Note the brass quick-coupled garden hose connectors.  The plastic connectors tend to deform with the hot fluids.

Plumbing system

I would not use the same valves if I were to redo my plumbing system. By using stopcock valves, you get a male and female thread, which reduces the number of adapters needed.  It also makes the whole plumbing system more compact.  Here is a pic of the re-designed system:
Assembled plumbing 

The vertical bit of piping is the mash tun recirculation, and also used for the water during sparging.  The three brass elbows are connected to the 3 washing machine pump outlets. The inlets of these pumps are connected to the brewing vessels.  From left to right, they will be the hot liquor tank, the mash tun and the kettle.  The quick-connect on the left goes back to the hot liquor tank, where the recirculation helps to mix acids and salt additions, and improve heat exchange on the herms pipes immersed in the hot liquor tank.  The right hand disconnect goes to the counterflow chiller.  There are two sample valves.  The left hand valve alllows withdrawal of hot liquor, and the right hand sample valve allows withdrawal of wort.

Electrical heating elements

For the hot liquor tank, a geyser element with a thermostat (I set mine for 78°C) is sufficient.  You need to fill the hot liquor tank the night before brewing, and have hot liquor for mashing in the next morning.

For the kettle, use an electrical element made of Incoloy.  This expensive austenitic stainless steel is commonly used for elements, but it is necessary to minimise surface fouling, and eventually element failure on your kettle.  I always thought low energy density (kW/m2) on a kettle element was important, but some colleagues with high energy density Incoloy elements have enjoyed a long life on their elements and make good beer that does not seem overly caramelised.

More on homebrewery design

Here is a Powerpoint presentation (734 kb) I made to Worthog Brewers on homebrewery design in February 2003.