Electric Brewing
in the AABG
April 2014
by Aron Butler, Sam Firke, and others
Electric Heating vs. Automation
“Electric brewing” typically refers to the heat source– elements
designed for electric water heaters (basically a big resistor inside
a SS sheath).
An electric element requires some level of electronic control,
and this can easily escalate to automating other processes (flow,
fill, etc.).
Motivated by the “geek factor” versus adding a practical tool to
save time and effort on particular steps?
Manual control. Has a basic switch (or
timer) that applies full power to
heater. Folks use bucket heaters like
Thermostat control. User sets
temperature, controller turns heater
fully on when temp is below setpoint,
then off when above. A Ranco
controller would work this way.
Power control. User sets the percent
power output of the element (pulsewidth modulation or phase control). A
PID controller combines thermostat
and power control functions.
Required Infrastructure & Investment
With 120V and ~$100... bucket heater with heavy-duty
timer can provide hot strike and sparge water if turned
on several hrs before dough-in.
With 120V and ~$500… RIMS system with element,
temp controller, pump, and fittings can provide mash
temp control (as well as hot strike water).
With 240V and $1000+... full electric mash and boil.
Best value for your brewing style?
Example: Brian Lagoe’s e-RIMS
10 gal BIAB with bucket heater for strike, 120V RIMS heater with Auber PID for mash,
and propane burner for boil
Example: Aron Butler’s e-BIAB
One-vessel BIAB keggle system, single 240V element for boil and mash (RIMS-like),
custom microprocessor controller
Example: Mark Z’s e-HERMS
15 gal 3-vessel system with 240V electric boil and HLT, mash heating via HERMS,
commercial PID & timer controls (similar to Kal Wallner’s setup)
Example: Sam Firke’s e-HERMS
20 gal 3-vessel system with 240V electric boil and HLT, mash heating via HERMS,
commercial PID & timer controls (similar to Kal Wallner’s setup)
Example: Matt Becker’s 50kW RIMS
Pilot-scale system with 120 gal [email protected], 55 gal [email protected] and 55 gal
[email protected] Controls include industrial PLCs and SCRs.
Will I Scorch My Wort?
Depends on power (or watt) density of heater,
meaning how much power must be transferred to
the wort per area (square inch).
Typical element power density ranges from 50
W/in2 (ultra-low) to 150+ (high). Ultra-low density
elements present similar (or lower) temperatures
to the wort as flame-fired kettles, and will not
scorch as long as they remain immersed.
Is Electric Heat More Expensive?
No… for two big reasons:
➢ All the electrical heat goes into the water, versus only about
⅓ for a typical propane burner.
➢ Retail propane is very expensive energy (about 5x more per
BTU than natural gas).
Rough numbers: A typical 5-gal brew session uses
~4 lbs propane, or about $5 worth. Electric
equivalent uses about 8 kWh, or about $1 worth.
(But per-batch savings are offset by higher equipment costs.)
That GFCI Seems Expensive…
It’s a clever device
that can save your
From Siemens website (GFCI vendor)
Summary (vs. Propane Burners)
➢ Precise mash control with
RIMS/HERMS for greater
➢ Brew indoors with full
➢ Many options for
➢ Won’t run out of gas
➢ Lower energy cost
➢ Educational process
➢ Quieter
➢ Equipment expense
➢ Complexity
➢ Time to build
➢ Nonzero risk of
electrocution (use GFCI!)
➢ System is less portable
➢ May require mods to your
home’s wiring (grounds,
240V/30A outlet) or
infrastructure (exhaust,
Lessons Learned
➢ Always use grounded cords and a GFCI upstream of brewery
➢ Don’t fire elements dry (or with bubbles in RIMS tubes)
➢ Use proper wire gauge, make tight connections
➢ Decide what you really want/need (brewday experience,
features) before starting the build
Inspiration: (Kal Wallner)
Aron’s build:
Aron Butler, Sam Firke, Mark Zadvinskis,
Brian Lagoe, Matt Becker, Mike O’Brien, others
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