Brewing BIAB for Brad Smith at NHC 2012

I’ve been sitting on this post for over 6 months, time to post it I think 🙂

The 2012 National Homebrewer’s Conference (NHC) was held in the Seattle Area.  The local clubs were heavily involved.  At some point I was asked if I could help out at NHC by brewing a Brew in the Bag (BIAB) beer for a talk being given on BIAB.  Without hesitation, I said yes!  I can whip out 5 gallons without a problem.  I was already going to do a keg or two for club night.

Then I found out they wanted me to brew a BIAB beer, and…  this is where writing or talking about this get interesting, what do you call a non-BIAB beer?  “Normal” seems pejorative to BIAB and “other” seems wrong, so I will say non-BIAB which is accurate, but flawed (see next paragraph).

So now they’ve asked for me to brew a BIAB and a non-BIAB beer.  The did offer to have someone else brew the non-BIAB beer, but  I knew that to have a good side by side test, 1 brewer really ought to do both.  Of course, I did not mention I had never brewed a non-BIAB, All Grain batch before… (see even “non-BIAB” is flawed since it could be partial or extract…).  Never one to shy from over-commitment, I thought it was high time to see what I was missing, and use this as a forcing function to use a mash tun.

I chose to brew my standard All Cascade APA since I had a bunch of Cascade Hops and it was my default experiment brew.  Also it a clear beer which should help show that BIAB beers are not cloudy.  And, and this become more important later, if it was not up to par, I could always drink it myself.

I needed to borrow a cooler or other mash tun.  As my deadline was looming I was failing to locate the tun.  Finally, after asking for help,  Steve Antoch came through and lent me his igloo converted cooler.  Now I was all set to brew 5 gallons of BIAB and non-BIAB beers.  I had recently bought a second turkey fryer and I was set to go side by side.

That’s when the email came in with a “ok you going to brew 10 gallons of each,” message. Gulp!  Around now I suddenly made the connection that the “guy” was I brewing for was Brad Smith of Beersmith.  Double Gulp!  I should really think about this stuff before saying  yes…

I considered,  the cooler was big enough for a 10 gallon batch; I just needed to plan for a longer day.  I had 4 large carboys, and I should have 3 kegs, plus 1 that was full of barrel brew, so I needed to buy an extra one or two.

I planned out the day.  I bought rice hulls since i tend to grind to flour and i had never ground for cracked grains (see my setup ). This is when I had to make a call… Do i grind both batches the same  or different?  I chose “same” which meant lower efficiency for BIAB than normal for me.

So I started with the BIAB batches by laying out hops.  That’s when I discovered that I do not have enough cascade hops for 4 batches….  So I had to modify the hop schedule.  I decided to add 1 oz. of  Amarillo to the brews.  Originally I had planned on no dry hopping but then I forgot the 1 min addition on the first batch, so dry hop it was for all!

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Normally, I sparge/rinse my BIAB by pouring hot water as it sits in a strainer (see photo).  I basically heat water in a kettle until it is close to 170 and then pour it onto the bag and often get back many points of gravity.  To try to keep things simple, I did not do that.

I managed to hit both BIAB batches at 1040 (BTW here ‘s a hint, don’t start two batches at the same time, since I only have 1 chiller).

For the non-BIAB/cooler batch, I did an infusion mash while heating sparge water on the extra turkey fryer.  I dumped the wort in the main pot, added the 170 water  for 15 minutes, and then mixed the worts to get the OG the same.  I hit close to 1040 for both starts.  When I was done, one was 1042 and the other was 1047 so there was some boil off difference.

This means the cooler was more efficient than the BIAB which is unusual.  Normally I see 90% efficiency with the BIAB method (not 67%).  This is probably due to the coarser grind and lack of sparging/rinsing.

From there I added US-05 (hydrated) to each carboy and let them ferment.

After 2 days I got another email, turns out Brad Smith was giving two talks, and the conference was wondering if we had enough for both talks, which would be 20 gallons of each…  I had to say no finally.

Right before the NHC I had to kill and clean my kegs (one of those is “work” 🙂 ).   As I only had three, I was going to have to scramble to borrow one (kegs get scarce right before the conference).  That’s when I remembered the spare from Tom Schmidlin from when we kegged the club barrel brew…  This was also one of my mistakes…

I brought all four kegs to the hotel, scrambled to find them right before the talk, and then tapped one of each type.  Except now one of them was just not the same.  So I tapped another one from the same type, and shared it during Brad’s talk.

There were differences between the beers, but they can be attributed to the efficiency issue.

We had enough beer for both talks and I took the weird keg home.  That’s when I remembered I had previously used that keg for barrel beer and planned on filling with more barrel brew, so I didn’t need to clean it, I had just purged it…  Lesson learned.  And while different, the blend was awesome, another lesson learned…

Overall we proved that brew in the bag made the same beer.  Brad gave a great talk, people enjoyed the beers, and I learned I have no need to invest in the mash tun.

And if people think I’m slack for taking a year to get this post up, Steve just picked as mash tun up last week… 🙂


Heat Stick #1 #homebrew


The heat stick is an easy concept.  Think of it like a wizards staff of heat, or light saber!  Simply put, take an electric heating element from a water heater, attached a power cord, place the element at the end of a pipe, epoxy the connections, and add a few fittings.

The sticks are then added to the water or wort, plugged in, and heat happens.  You can heat all sorts of things with it, including Sous Vide pots, water buckets, hot tubs, etc.  You can use this to boost heating  for stove tops, or even use it to boil, though you might want more than 1, or a bigger one.

 Some notes of caution

  • This is electricity, it can kill you,  This is a lot of electricity
  • This thing gets hot, oddly not as hot when in the liquid as you might think (the heat dissipates into the liquid quickly, but the element is still hot
  • If you run the element dry, for any length of time, it will fry (literally it overheats in seconds)

DYI or buy

You can build your own, or buy one from Amazon as a "water bucket heater."  The ones form Amazon are around $40, a fellow homebrewer reports that it requires a deeper pot to maintain immersion than he wanted, but it works.

Water heating elements range in power.  It is tempting to go for the biggest one possible but over 1500 watts will require a 20 amp circuit, and you likely only have 15 Amp circuits around the house.  They pull a lot of steady power, so it needs to have a heavy duty, and preferably short cord, on a circuit with little else on it.  If you are building an electric homebrew system, where you can dedicate power outlets, you can go 240 and serious wattage.  I would never plug 2 into the same circuit (note, not just same outlet, but same circuit!).

I was able to buy all of the parts in 1 Home Depot run, building takes 30 minutes.  It does take a few days to build since you have to let the JB Weld cure for 24 hours.  Note, JB weld is rated to 600 deg F, and is food safe once cured.  Some of the other products in Home Depot did not meet both criteria.  The aquarium sealant I used for other projects is not rated for high temps and one of the example project  links  below had to rebuild because of that.  Total costs was under $30, and if you ignore the JB Weld, probably under $20.  I did not need a power cord as I have many heavy duty server cords to cut up.

Here are a few sites with instructions for building:

I was not sure what I wanted for the top end, so I did everything else first.  This means I could not run the power cord through a cap (with a hole drilled).  My choices:

  • Put  the element at a right angle so it does not touch the bottom, this also means it might touch my BIAB bag
  • Use a J fitting so I can hang it over the edge of the pot
  • Went with a 16 inch sink fitting for more room, this was a bad idea as it is too tall to use the J fitting in my pots, next time I will do 12 inch fitting
    Testing, and more Testing

I put it together and JB Welded it.  After a day I set it in a pot.  No leaks!  Then I ran a heat test.  It seemed to do a degree a minute from 60F to 100F.  I got to 140F when I had to stop.  I left it in there.  A few days later when I pulled it out, to my surprise water came out the tube .  I retested to see if water poured in the top (since I had not added the J fitting yet).  It leaked, very slowly.  I think the JB Weld had cured away from the threads.  I reapplied JB Weld and it worked.  Lesson:  Test leaks for days, after heating.


I will have to control this via a relay.  I could potentially use the STC-1000 box, but at 1500W continuous, it seems a bit much to push through there.

What’s it doing now

Helping heat my hot tub of course!



Temp Controllers: Smokers, Fermenters, and Mashes, OH MY! #homebrew

I’ve been playing with temperature controller ideas for a while.  But the need really came to me this spring.

One of the many advantages of living in the Pacific Northwest and brewing beer is that we basically have ale fermentation temps year round.  Bit cool in the winter, move the carboy inside.  Bit hot in the summer?  Find a cellar room, or wait a day for summer to pass.  So unless you are lagering, the pressing need most homebrewers have for temp control doesn’t hit until  you want to dial a beer in, or you are a gadget freak…

Last spring my wife decided to go look at smokers.  I was thrilled!  Paleo diets for spouses are awesome to induce this kind of behavior (previously she did not like BBQ, let alone smoked meats and veggies).  The only problem was I knew this would invoke a 5-6 hour research project for me, and it did.  I spent the time reading reviews on sites like Amazon and I found a simple hierarchy to smokers:

  1. Gas/charcoal — Better for chicken since it can go higher temps, worse for fish
  2. Electric — Better for fish, harder for chicken, but easier to control the temp.
Both had issues with access: how many doors you opened to put in more wood or water, as well as cleaning.  Metal cabinets do not hold heat as well as ceramic..
I liked the idea of smoking for long periods of time, but not leaving an open flame near the house. So I looked into Electric and the order seemed to be:
  1. Temp Control
  2. Time Control
  3. Remote sensing
  4. Multiple Thermometers
  5. Temperature Range
  6. Alarms
  7. Weatherproofing
As you add each of those items in, the price goes up.  And weatherproofing was probably the most important issue.  If you read 1-2 star reviews of the products you will almost always see the review is for a purchase over a year, and things started breaking, especially the controls, even more so when the author lived in the PNW.  The more electric controls and sensors and displays, the more things broke.  This explained why so many people I know, round here, with smokers, do it on their front porch:  it is the only truly covered area for many of the houses!  So this meant paying a lot of money for a smoker, or getting a year out of it (bringing inside after done is just not going to happen).

That’s when it hit me, I have need for temperature control for brewing (Mash temps, natural Lacto souring, Saisons), as well I wanted to start cooking sous vide, and I already made a remote temperature sensor for the hot tub.  So clearly I just needed to make a temperature controller that would meet all of these needs and then make it remote accessible! Well 6-7 months later, I’ve succeeded 🙂 More in future blogs.

GIAB so I can BIAB then I can FIAB #homebrew

After watching Ebay for a while I finally got a Corona Style Grinder for $25 shipped from Discount Tommy.

Here is an example pic:

The mill works pretty well, but there are some problems:

  1. It is hard to mount on our counters:  The counter have a bottom lip and that makes it hard to lock, but even then you have to leave room for the handle.
  2. It send stuff up as well as down.  This creates quit the mess.
  3. The Minions got tired grinding by hand, time for a motor.


The Solution for #1 was tricky.  For #2 I came up with a really ghetto box configuration:



I tried some pizza boxes and other ideas, but then I found the box.  The box was a random box.  I cut a whole in the end the shape of the grinding mill.  Then closed the lid.  It worked really well, but it did not solved the mounting issue, or the power.

When I went to find the right bolt to power it with my drill, I searched the net.  Good thing I did since the bolt is metric (.125 thread pitch, 13mm head bring your bolt into the hardware store.)


More importantly, II found this thread:

I went to Home Depot, grabbed the bold and some dryer duct to create a channel out.

But before I built anything I continued to read the 3 year long thread and saw this:

And I liked how contained it was.  This solved the spraying grain issues, allowed for motorizing and came with handles!  Problem 1-3 solved!

So I had freebie bucket from craigslist and started drilling.  In keeping with the ghetto theme, the buckets are permanently stuck.


So now I have Grind in the Bucket (GIAB).  Because I Brew in a Bag (BIAB which is really Mash in a Bag), I grind very fine.  This seems to be two much for either of my drills, but I have an air compressor so I just use air tools.  The biggest problem is keeping the tools slow enough.

Once done I have taken to using Bucket for primary fermentation, mostly because it is easier to dry hop large amount, thus I have FIAB.


So far the biggest problem with GIAB and BIAB has been wildly swinging efficiencies, such as when I brewed the Blackberry Wit (60%) and next week did my Accidental Imperial Stout (94%).  I am sure that will just take time to get it smoother.

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