My Nano-Brewery

Last update - Feb 01, 2009.
Redesigned most everything.
Using this for a club brewing system, so it is being made easier to use.
New false bottom, all 1/2" or 5/8" plumbing, Boil Kettle Sceen, sight glasses.

Updated Photos:.

Click here to see pictures of the updates..

A Little History.

brew1.jpg I came across a three tiered brewing system back in 1991 when I started brewing. I liked it so much, that I have wanted one ever since. I have mulled ideas around in my head trying to design one. Last fall, I built a wooden model of what I thought one would look like. I made a couple of batches with it doing the heating on my burner as usual and then lifting the kettles onto it. I found it to work well, except for the burn marks that showed up when I put a hot kettle on it! Then, a couple of months ago, Marty Tippin created a html document with his two tiered brewery. I was so impressed with it, that it inspired me to actually do what I had in my head. I found his plans to be so close, that I will not duplicate them here. I really recommend that you go to his page and see what he has.

My wooden model was a two tiered thing that was 4' tall at the top, and 2' at the lower level. It was 16" deep for the 15.5" kettle to sit on it. I chose this height, because the kettles are a little under 24" tall. My primary is an 11 gallon SS milk can. It is also just under 24" tall. It fits just under the boiling kettle when draining it. The poor thing is being recycled into a grain mill. (the wood, not the milk can) I have a Malt Mill, but I want to make a larger hopper for it and motorize it. That is a future project though.

Differences From Other Similar Systems.

I did a few things differentlly from Marty Tippin's model.
The Frame.
First, I went to my local scrap yard, and bought enough linear footage of angle iron to finish the project. I wanted 1" angle iron, but could only find 1.5". It weighed in at 220 pounds. I thought this to be OK. It wasn't until after I started going over the details that I realized it would be difficult to move at that weight. The 1" stuff is only 1/8" thick, while the 1.5" stuff is 1/4" thick. That doubled thickness adds only double weight since 1/8" is strong enough! I decided to make it in two pieces. The sparge water tower comes apart from the rest via 4 carriage bolts and wing nuts. With the angle iron, it was easy to drill holes and put short bolts through. That added to the weight because it now has two sets of "legs" on that part, but it would not have stopped the over all weight problem without it. I also have to disconnect one of the propane fittings on the t-fittings to do this. It is still work to take apart, but worth it when I need to haul it to a brew in. Since the iron is so thick, I was able to tap threads into the bottom bars. I screwed 4 feet into each piece. I can use the threads to level the brewery.

support1.jpg I chose to make mine a little smaller in width and depth, but it is still the same height. I did this since my frame that the burners sat upon was different. Marty used a few square patterns to make the burner, and had inside support for his kettles. I chose to go with a stop sign (eight sided) pattern, and use the edge as part of the kettle support. The inside of the "stop sign" is 13" between any two opposite sides. The outside of each "square" is 16". There is about 1.5" between the two lower level platforms. That means it is about 2" less in depth, and 2.5" less in width. It would be 16" x 4'1.5" x 4' vs. 18" x 4'4" x 4'. I would say that is close enough not to repeat any drawings here.
As far as the tubing goes, I opted for hot water line plastic type. It is rated at 180 deg, and since I use an immersion style chiller, that temperature rating is well within mash/sparge temperatures. It is 3/8" tubing and I used a compression fitting to connect it. The short piece is a stock plumbing piece that is used in your house to go from your sink cut off valve to your faucet. It has 1/2" threads on one end, and 3/8 on the other end. That is perfect. The pump uses 1/2" and my kettle has 3/8"! On the longer piece, I added a 1/2" thread to 3/8 compression fitting to one end. The other end is just open and sprays into the chosen vessel. I used a 24" piece from the mash-tun to the pump, and a 5' piece from the output on the pump and up back to the mash tun or boiling kettle. Since the tubing is very flexible, I just put it into the kettle and let it run. This works great with either the recirculation of the mash, or moving wort to the boiling kettle. I still haven't come up with a good way to secure the return tube while running. For now, I just tuck it in through the handles on the kettles.

The Pump and Propane Fittings.
pump1.jpg I have a Brinkmann stove with the same burner as the Metal Fusion ones. I called Brinkmann (1-800-HOT-5252) and they sent me three burners at $11.95 each including S/H! What a deal. I still have my stove to use for small batches or what ever else. Who knows, maybe it will be used for a fish fry as it was intended. I did not plan out the mounts for the t-fittings and the needle valves. Hence, I used a couple of pieces of wood to tie them too. I used two wood screws per piece to hold them to the frame. I just ripped a 2x4 into two 2x2 pieces. Since it is really 1.5" x 3.5", it made one side of each the same as the angle iron. I then used conduit clamps to nail the t-fittings to the wood. Kind of sloppy, but it will work until I get around to welding some brackets.

flame1.jpg This is a picture of the flame under the sparge tank. I put my burner an inch further away than Marty did on his. I figure I can always shim it up. I think it looks good the way it is. What do you think? I used another piece of angle iron as the arm that the burner is mounted to. Since the angle iron is at an "angle", it was just a matter of cutting a piece and welding it to it.

I also looked at pumps, and found the March pump to be best. See Marty's page for information on which one this is. I used the same pump. WWGraingers had the Teal pump that would work for me since I am not using it to pump boiling wort. Only, I do not have an account with them. My local plumber wanted almost the same price as the March pump after their markup. A local supplier had the March pump in stock, so I bought it. I should mention that it is not oriented correctlly out of the box. I removed the wrong screws on my first try to turn the head. There are four screws near the motor that allow you to turn the whole pump portion. Use them instead of trying to rotate just the cover.

I did not plumb any thermometers into it. I am looking at the thermal probe by Ken Schwartz. It was htmlized by Marty. What I did was use an old racking cane, and mount the probe to it. Then I won't have to get that close to the "hot stuff" while checking the temperature. I bought a box and display from an electronics supplier and made the one Ken had diagrams for. The only thing I found was that It seemed to calabrate backwards from his description. Other than that, It works great. I had a dial type guage get loose and cause me to mash in at 170 deg F. Ever since then, I have been a supporter of the digital revolution! I am working on building one of these with the panel meter built in. I guess that I could build three probes, and use a switch to select between them. That way there would only be one meter, and I could plumb a diode into the return line.

The Brewing Kettles.

I should mention the kettles themselves. The sparge tank is a 40 quart (10 gallon) aluminum pot I bought at a used restaurant supply store. For sparge water, it works great. I also used it as my primary boiling vessel for a couple of years before getting the half barrels. I have mounted a ball valve into it with a piece of copper tube that draws the liquid from the center of the kettle. The Mash tun is a converted half barrel. I drilled a hole in the side of the bottom and used a thick brass and neophrene washer to make the seal with. These two kettles have the same valve and seal. I have an Easy Masher screen on the inside as my filter on the mash tun.

(UPDATE) I have replaced the EM with a pizza plate upside down. I had heard of these, but hadn't been able to find one. I found a couple of candidates at Kmart and bought them. One is too big, but was much hardier than the other. It also had enough holes in it to begin with. The other was the right size, so I added more 1/8" holes. I tried not to weaken it to much, so it does not have the number of holes that is considered ideal. But, it works great! Much better than the EM even. I started to get stuck mashes when doing oatmeal and flaked barley mashes. I know it is not suppose to happen, but my theory is this: Since I use flame instead of electric, the grains get a little burnt at the bottom near the flame. The EM is also at that same location. This causes the burnt stuff to clog up the EM. Now with the Pizza pan drilled and put upside down, I have about 1" of clearance to the heat source. The liquid there does not even scorch that I can tell. With the recuriculation pump running, I get a great conversion and the temps stay quite stable.

The sparge and mash vessels have insulated blankets. I went to Menards and bought hot water heater insulation. It is like bubble pack with foil on the inside and outside. It works great, and is very thin. It does melt a little. I hot glued three pieces of velcro on each to hold them in place. Then I used foil duct tape to keep them from tearing out. I put a plastic tube sight glass on the sparge tank. It melted on the second brew! I will have to rethink that one a little. Of course, I left out the aluminum tubing around it. I'll bet that acts as a heat sink as well as holding the tubings shape. The boiling kettle is a Sabco. I love the way they set the kettles up. I only have one spigot welded in, but it was worth it.

The First Brew.

On National Homebrew day 1996, the Nano-Brewery made it's inagural brew. It was a Cream Stout, my house brand. This was a club function with the Brewcity Brewzers. I have made a few minor changes already. Like, I did not have the hot water plastic tubing yet, and used a large plastic hose instead. I also did not have the ball valve on the out going side of the pump. These pieces have been added now.

The next day, I brewed with another club at my house. The Great Lakes Homebrewers Association. I took some videos of these two events, and that is where the following pictures come from.

jeff1.jpg My Brewery at the BrewCity Brewzers Brew in. This would be the inaugural brew for it. The wort chiller is inside the boiling kettle. The sparge and mash kettles have their "jackets" on.

Other Brewing Systems.

There were two other breweries set up at one of the brew-ins. I am putting their pictures here in case others like their setups. One was by Tim Fatla, and the other is by Terry Secora. The two are very similar. They have the brew kettle and the sparge water on the upper level. The mash tun is on the lower level. Tim uses a three gallon bucket to hand carry the runoff into the boiling vessel, while Terry uses a peristaltic pump. They both used a counter flow chiller. Each system has only one burner that can be moved onto trays under each vessel. This eliminates the need for valves and extra plumbing. Terry's burner is the 160k Brinkman/Metal Fusion type. Tim's is the 35-60k (actual rating is unknown) type that is made of cast iron with the burner holes being small bumps in the cast. Sorry, no good pictures of it. It is about 10 inches square I think. It only took about 5 minutes longer to get the sparge water up to temp. I guess these two systems are a compromise between hands off and over all cost. I found the brew kettles on the upper level to be a little inconvenient. You had to stand on your tippy toes to see into them. I like to see what is happening in my boil.
tim1.jpg Tim's system in use.

terry1.jpg Terry's system in use.

chill1.jpg Terry's chiller on Tim's system.

Cost of Items.

The major cost of this system is the Brew Kettles. To get 3 Sabco's would set you back over $450 in US dollars! That is without any mash screen or thermometers. And only one hole welded in. If you, like me, already have the kettles, you only need the frame, burners and pump. The frame only cost $40 and some welding rods. (plus some electricty) The burners and plumbing cost about $75. The pump cost me $133. And maybe $10 for the tubing and fittings. The wire and switch for the pump was close to $15. With recycled metal, there is some work with a wire brush, or in my case, an angle grinder with a wire cup. Other than that, a little paint and your current propane tank will make it work. That is under $275 for the frame itself. $450 for kettles plus $25 for an Easy Masher screen is $750 for a complete system. When I started this, I couldn't beleive those ads in the back of brewing magazines. Now I realize that if I add the over 40 hours of labor I put into this beast, Their prices are not so unreasonable.


I am very satisfied with my Nano-Brewery so far. I have only made the two batches, and they turned out OK. I suppose it was quite an investment, but I like the hands off part. I know that a "real" hands off would be a RIMS with the temperature controlled by itself, but I don't need that part ... YET!

Good beer to you .... If you have any comments, ideas, or links to be added, let me know.
You can find other beer related things in my bookmarks by looking in the "HomeBrew" section.
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