The DIY Brewery Temperature Logger Project

One of the most important things in brewing beer is temperature control. Matter of fact, one of my fellow club members is very fond of saying, “Come back and talk to me about brewing great beer after you have temperature control in place, because If you don’t have temperature control, there is no way you can brew great beer.” And I have to agree he is right, temperature control plays an important part of the entire brewing process. Not only do you need temperature control during the mashing process, you also need it during the fermentation, lagering and storage processes.

As part of building my Electric Brew System I’m going to need to control the temperature of my mash and I want to be able to program a mash profile and let the system notify me of significant steps in the process. To manage temperature you have to monitor it, so I started out building my controller with baby steps.

First I wrote the simple things like the control interface and services and then I broke the various parts of the automation control into separate circuits that could be built and tested by themselves.

I started off with the temperature monitoring circuit. What I wanted to be able to do, was set the interval that the microcontroller would read the temperature sensor and then log that to a file on a SD Card that I could then use to display a graph of the temperature over time. The DIY Brewery Temperature Logger project is the result of that first phase of development. It is a Netduino Plus Project that provides a web-based temperature monitor.

This project has several parts:

CodingSmackdown.ControlInterface – A jQuery based website that is hosted on the Netduino Plus’ SD Card and served using the NeonMika.NETMF.Webserver. It provides a self updating view of the temperature history as well as a settings tab that allows you to change the logger’s settings as well as the Netduino’s Network settings.

CodingSmackdown.Services – A C# .NETMF Library that contains the various threading libraries to handle the NETBIOS Name Resolution, NTP Time Client and Temperature Logging. It also includes classes to handle accessing the various GPIO and Analog pins on the Netduino and other various base and support classes used by the project.

CodingSmackdown.TemperatureMonitor – A C# .NETMF Application that is responsible for loading up the various services at start time and provides classes that are used by the NeonMika.NETMF.Webserver to process jQuery requests sent by the web client.

JSONLib – A C# .NETMF Library used to format the various responses in JSON format for use by the web client. The original code was written by Wouter Huysentruit and can be found over at http://code.tinyclr.com

NeonMika.NETMF.Webserver – A C# .NETMF Library that provides the entire web server for the project. The original code was taken from the NeonMika.NETMF.Webserver project here on codeplex over at http://neonmikawebserver.codeplex.com This version was paired down specifically for this project and to meet the memory constraints of the Netduino platform. For the latest version please reference the original project.

Below are pictures of the user interface and schematics of the temperature sensor circuit, so you can build it yourself.

The main page retrieved by navigating to http://netduinoplus/index.html

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The Settings Tab that can be used to change the Temperature Logger’s behavior and network settings

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The breadboard layout of the temperature sensor circuit

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The schematic of the temperature sensor circuit

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Images of the prototype Netduino Shield that holds the temperature sensor circuitry

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You can find the source code and updates to the project at http://diybrewerytemplogger.codeplex.com/

Till next time, stay sanitized and keep an eye on those fermentation temps and I’ll catch you for a pint around the keg.

Jim Lavin – Otaku Brewer

Mini-BIAB Electric Turkey Fryer Mod–Part 1

So, in my last couple of posts I was doing some research around coming up with the perfect Electric Counter-Top Brewing System. I found what I thought would be a perfect Mini-Brew-in-a-Bag Electric System with the Cajun Injector Electric Fryer, however the Temperature Controller that comes with it could not maintain the temperature accuracy nor the range needed to brew the variety of beers I wanted to make.

So as any industrious DIYer would do, I took apart the Temperature Controller to see if I could modify it. There are six screws in the back of the unit along with two under the face plate that hold the housing together, once removed the housing can be snapped apart to get to the components inside.

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As you can see in the diagram, there are several components that can be reused to drive the heating element from an external controller, all I needed to do is figure out what connects to what and build out a schematic that I can use to build a controller interface that I can drive with a Microcontroller.

The Safety Switch acts as a master switch for the incoming power, If the unit is not seated in the Cajun Injector slots for it, no power will flow to the unit. Now this is a pretty nice feature that cuts power to the heating element should you pull it out of the pot and set it to the side. You also don’t have to worry about dry firing the unit if it is not seated in the pot. However, you still have the dry fire issue when the unit is properly seated in the pot.

The Unit also contains what looks to be a GFCI Breaker that is wired to a probe that runs along side the heating element.

There is also a 12VDC Relay that controls turning the heating element on and off based on the control signal from the control panel.

Finally to power the control panel there is what looks like a reduction transformer that should provide the 12V power needed to drive the relay.

The control panel has an LCD mounted on it and what looks like a microcontroller or Programmable Logic Array which is the brains of the Temperature Controller. From a quick inspection it really doesn’t look like it contains  anything of use.

There were three connections from the control panel to the components in the housing. These look to be an input voltage, the Thermistor input connections and the Relay control outputs. I should be able to extend these to an external controller and drive the heating element.

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I also performed a little research by hooking up the Thermistor to my Multi-meter and measured the resistance at several temperatures. What I got was a pretty broad range of resistance; 3.58 M ohms at 40 degrees F down to 80 K ohms at a rolling boil. Now without knowing the actual part number of the Thermistor I really didn’t think I could come up with a temperature curve that I could use to figure out the temperature based on the resistance. Luckily after a little searching on the Internets I came up with a program that would generate a set of temperature coefficients based on a couple of readings at known temperatures. With this, I plan on reverse engineering the temperature coefficients of the Thermistor so I can come up with a resistance curve that I can use to determine the temperature by using the Thermistor in a voltage divider and then calculating the temperature value based on a known voltage.

So my next steps are to do a little more poking around the components and determine the transformer’s output voltage is and start coming up with a plan to build out a controller board that I can use with a Netduino to drive the unit.

So stay sanitized and keep an eye on those fermentation temps and I’ll catch you for a pint around the keg.

Jim Lavin – Otaku Brewer

The Search for a Counter-Top Electric Brewing System – Part Two

In my last post, I talked about my goals to find a nice Counter-Top Electric Brewing System that I could do small 1 – 2 Gallon batches for competitions, while I finish out my big Electric Brew System. I also, talked about using a Coffee Urn and how it would be good for both a Hot Liquor Tank and Mash Tun, but really needed work for a Boil Kettle. This post covers my research into using an Electric Turkey Fryer to build a mini Brew-in-a-Bag system.

After coming across a couple of posts on the HomeBrewTalk Forums, I ordered a Cajun Injector Electric Turkey Fryer from Wal-Mart for $99. It looked pretty promising, 7 Gallon Capacity, All-In-One Heating Element with Temperature Controller and a metal straining basket.

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My water tests showed that I could bring 4 Gallons of water to a temperature of 150 degrees F in just under 20 minutes, which is perfect for small batches. However, there were two fatal flaws.

First, I really was hoping I could set the Temperature Controller to a lower temperature, a lot of the more classic style mash regimes start the mash around 113 – 122 degrees F and then move up to 178 degrees F in various temperature steps. The controller comes with a minimum temperature of 150 degrees and the next temperature is 175 degrees F. Not really great if you want to be able to precisely control your mash temperatures.

Second, the temperature differential for the controller is around 5 – 10 degrees loss before the unit turns back on. This is way too wide of a differential to support an exact mash temperature. You really want to set a temperature and have the heating element kick back on when the temperature drops more than a degree.

As for bringing 4 gallons of water to a boil, I have no problem with it being able to do that. The 1650 Watt heating element can easily bring 4 Gallons of water to a boil in a reasonable amount of time.

So, this unit seems to have everything in what I want in a Counter-Top Electric Brewing System except for the tight temperature control. To gain that I think I’ll need to hack the Temperature Controller or replace it all together.

This makes for a perfect platform to experiment with temperature control and work out all the kinks of my temperature controller’s design before I try to apply it to a 10 Gallon system pushing 210 VAC around at 30 Amps.

So, I’ll keep everybody up to date as I start to hack the Temperature Controller on the Cajun Injector Electric Fryer.

The Search for a Counter-Top Electric Brewing System

While I’m busy working on my full-scale all-electric brewing system, I figured it be nice to have a small counter-top electric brew system that I could use to continue brewing. I also thought it would be a good proto-type for the larger system I’m building.

While discussing the idea with a couple of folks from the North Texas Homebrewers Association, I came up with a couple of ideas:

  1. Use a couple of Electric Coffee Urns for the brewing vessels.
  2. Use an Electric Turkey Fryer for a simple Brew-in-a-Bag system.
  3. Scavenge the parts from an old commercial Coffee Maker I just have setting around.

I have a couple of goals that I want to meet:

  1. Keep the system small enough to fit on a counter top or kitchen table.
  2. Everything has to run off of a single 120 Volt AC Outlet.
  3. Has Temperature Control, so I can do step mashes.
  4. Big enough to brew at least a 2 Gallon batch at a time.
  5. Keep it as cheap as possible.

Using Electric Coffee Urns for the Brew System

To experiment with the first concept, I picked up a 40 Cup Electric Coffee Pot from my local Wal-Mart. This has just enough capacity to brew a 2 Gallon batch if I plan on making a three vessel system.

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The coffee pot will hold a little over 7 quarts of water, which is just enough strike water to mash around 5 pounds of grain. However, I think this is pushing it a little, the 7 quarts of water only leaves about an inch of head space without adding the grains. So my feeling is to really do a full 2 Gallon batch a 50 Cup or larger Electric Coffee Pot is a must.

I also did a couple of tests to see how hot I could make the water and It pretty much tops out at around 175 Degrees F in a little under 30 minutes. Now this is not bad for a Hot Liquor Tank or Heated Mash Tun, but it will never be good enough for a boil kettle.  I pulled the bottom off the Coffee Pot and found what looks like a thermistor or temperature limiting resistor that cuts the power to the heating element. If I could find a way to bypass the thermistor, I’d probably be able to bring 2 Gallons of water to a boil. The 40 Cup unit has a 1000 Watt heating element, but I’ve looked at a couple of larger units that have 1500 Watt heating elements which should probably be more than enough power to bring 2 Gallons of wort of a boil.

Another issue I have with the Coffee Pot is that I still have to come up with a temperature control system that would allow me to control the temperature of all the vessels by interrupting the power to the heating element as the target temperature is reached. Now this is not a big issue, since this is one of the main components of my larger system that I want to build out and perfect before I spend a lot of money and find out that my design won’t work.

My last issue with the Coffee Pot is that I’ll need some sort of pump system or gravity feed structure to move the water from the Hot Liquor Tank to the Mash Tun to the Boil Kettle. This will add expense to the overall system which kind of goes against my last goal to keep things as cheap as possible.

The nice thing about the construction was that the spigot is attached to the pot using a metal nut around a half-inch in diameter which would make replacing the spigot with a more acceptable ball valve or bulk head fitting pretty easy.

Right now I’m estimating that the entire system will cost about $500 to build out fully with all the temperature control and miscellaneous components. So, until I’m fully convinced this is the way to go, I’m going to put the Electric Coffee Urn Brew System on hold and check out some of my other options.

Till then, keep an eye on those temps!

Bohemian Brewery and Grill–Midvale Utah

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Located at 94 East 7200 South (Fort Union Blvd.) in Midvale, UT 84047 the quaint log cabin is nestled among a series of strip malls and provides a relaxing atmosphere to enjoy a pint or two as you watch a game, chat with friends or want to unwind from a grueling day.

The Bohemian Brewery brews by the German Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot) and only brews lagered beer. They have four year round beers on tap with seasonals available through out the year and with several of their beers available in cans, you can enjoy them just about anywhere.

The Bohemian Brewery’s house beers provide a nice selection for the avid Craft Beer Lover, with a nice selection for just about any taste.

  • Czech Pilsener – Light crisp full bodied, well aged lager made from Pilsen malt, and real Czech yeast from Prague, Czech Republic.
  • Viennese Lager – Full bodied Vienna Style Lager – A result of combining fine Pilsener and dark roasted malt. Slightly more hoppy than our other beers.
  • Cherny Bock – The word Cherny litteraly means ‘black‘ in Czech referring to the color of the rather surprising dark Schwartzbeir with gentle bitterness to appeal your palette.  A true gem to be discovered by specialty beer lovers.  2008 GABF Silver medal winner in the Schwarzbier category.
  • Bavarian Weiß (Weiss) – Wheat Beer, fermented with Pilsener yeast served unfiltered with either a slice of lemon or orage (if desired) for a wonderfully refreshing summertime lager.

The menu is a mix between classic pub food and traditional German classics sprinkled with little tidbits of garlic innovation. Yes, you heard me right garlic innovation. The chef has several dishes and sides that feature garlic, you can find it in dishes like the Roasted Garlic Bulbs and Garlic Burger. You might even be surprised to find it sprinkled in you fresh veggies as well.

Prices range from about $9 ranging updwards of $24 per entrée, but the value far out weighs the cost and well worth it. What I loved is that the menu has little icons next to most of their dishes indicating which of the house beers pairs best with the dish, which to me is always a hard thing to figure out.

I stopped in after a 10 hour road trip and I have to say that it was the perfect place to go and unwind from a long day of driving. I started off with a pint of their Cherny Bock, since I’m a big fan of dark beers it caught my eye right off the bat and I have to say I was very impressed. Very crisp and smooth with a light hint of roast malt and a subtle bitterness.

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For dinner I ordered the Bohemian Schnitzel and paired it with their Czech Pilsener. The Schnitzel was juicy and fork tender with a crispy breading. The garlic mashed potatoes were a bit bland and actually lacked garlic flavor, which surprised me since the menu featured so many dishes that incorporated garlic. The fresh vegetables were cooked perfectly and had a strong hint of garlic through out. The Pilsener was a great compliment to the entire meal and the malty backbone really paired well with the Schnitzel.

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Overall, I enjoyed the visit and next time I’m in the Midvale, Utah area I’ll be coming back to enjoy more of their beer and try out the Roasted Garlic Bulbs. If you happen to pass through the area, stop in and grab a pint and relax, you’ll be happy you did.

You can find out more at their website at http://www.bohemianbrewery.com

Brew Haul 2011–Day Two

I thought it was the movie ground hogs day. Up at 6:30 AM, showered, breakfast and on the road by 8:00 AM but as I took I-25 north out of town, I could see several balloons hovering over the city, I just wish I could have found some place to pull off and take some pictures, because they put a whole new light on the morning.

Soon as I got farther away from Albuquerque, NM my Google Navigator had me tacking the back roads in to unfamiliar territory.

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The roads were wide open and all I could see were rolling plateaus as I drove. Soon, I was guided off the beaten path to a two lane road that was even more desolate making wonder what would happen if I broken down out here.

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Before I knew it I had passed through Colorado and was entering in to the Canyonlands National Park in Utah. What beautiful scenery! It made the six hours go by so fast!

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About half way through I stopped at the rest area next to Hole in Rock, how cool it was to see these old formations, just setting there waiting for the wind and rain to pound on them again, like it had done for years.

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A couple of hours later I hit Moab, Utah which looks to be the most happening place in the Canyonlands National Park for all of the active outdoorsy type of people. I saw folks on bikes, I saw folks on horses, it made me want to pull over at the Moab Brewery and have a few pints, but I knew once that started I would never make Salt Lake City. So I, headed through the pass towards Provo, just to be treated with yet another beautiful site as I drove down through the canyon.

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After winding down from Soldier Summit at 7000+ feet, I took a break to stretch at the Tie Fork Rest Area. What a nice little place to take a break.

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As I drove that last 25 miles out of the mountains I found another wind mill farm nestled in the canyon slowly turning in the breeze.

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From there on it was back into the hustle and bustle of the big city as I got closer and closer to Salt Lake City. I-15 was under construction for pretty much my whole way, but luckily I think I was headed against the traffic, because it sure seemed a lot lighter that what we have in Dallas at rush hour.

I finally made it to my hotel, got settled and headed over to the Bohemian Brewery and Grill in Midvale, Utah. If you ever get a chance, stop in, they have great beer and great food with a nice rustic atmosphere. Well worth the stop.

Brew Haul 2011–Day One

The morning started early, up at 6:00 AM, showered, a quick breakfast, some last-minute packing and I hit the road at 8:00 AM. By 9:30 AM I was far enough away from civilization to be treated to a beautiful blue sky, wide open rolling fields of scrub brush and an empty road.

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My first stop was at the Rest Area at Quanah, TX where I was greeted with a “Watch for Rattle Snakes” sign as I walked into the rest rooms. This made me wonder if I should have worn boots instead of flip-flops. But, fortunately I was able to take a break and never saw a single snake. Lucky me!

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All along my route I came across these Safety Rest Areas, which are meant to not only be a place to take a break along the way, but to also serve as a tornado shelter in the event of severe weather. These looked like some pretty stout buildings, but I’d be surprised if they withstand a head on tornado, maybe there’s some sort of basement to keep everyone safe.

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As I ventured further in to the middle of west Texas I came across the windmill farms west of Amarillo. It’s great to see that someone has enough faith in alternative power to dedicate acres and acres to the farm. It made me wonder if T. Boone Pickens had any windmills out there.

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After about 7 hours of driving I was greeted with the Welcome to New Mexico sign as I drove across the state line.

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And if the large sign spanning across the road wasn’t good enough to greet you to the state, the first couple of miles were littered with smaller signs on the side of the road. I think the state is just really happy to see anyone pass through the state and spend some money.

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After another 3 hours of driving I hit Albuquerque, NM and found out the true meaning of La Quinta really is “Next to Denny’s” as was apparent as I looked out the door to my room and saw the top of the Denny’s sign peeking through the trees.

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An Aux Jack and A Cigarette Lighter

I found out today that all I need is an Aux Jack and a Cigarette Lighter socket to give my Brew Hauls a whole new twist.

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This year was the first year I traveled with my Samsung Galaxy Tab and I gotta tell you it sure did make driving for 10 hours a lot less of a boring chore.

First I kicked off Google Navigation and dialed in my destination and hit Navigate and all along the drive, the little mechanical voice would pause what ever was playing and give me directions as needed. I just wished it would have given me a heads up when I was getting near road construction. That would have made the drive a heck of a lot easier.

Second, I started up Pandora and selected one of my favorite mix channels and cranked up the volume and enjoyed a rocking journey the entire time. When I lost my data connection, which happens often in the middle of nowhere between major cities, I switched between Audible, Google Listen and local music files, keeping me surrounded in interesting topics and never-ending music all the way.

The only shortcoming I came across, besides the lack of a decent data signal along portions of my route was the poorly written Bluetooth Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) driver. My Volkswagen Tiguan’s Stereo system supports (A2DP) and at first, I tried using it, however it seems the little tablet couldn’t keep streaming while running Google Navigation and Playing a MP3 file. Audio would start and stop and change volume levels making using A2DP unbearable to use. So I fell back to the old standard and plugged my Galaxy Tab into the Aux Jack and never had an issue the rest time.

All in all, using a Galaxy Tab for travel is a great experience, just make sure you have plenty of media stored on your device for those times when the cellular providers skimp on coverage on their digital data networks.

The 2011 Beer Run

This week I’m headed to Portland, OR to delivery two cases of homebrew for my daughter’s 21st Birthday. These are not just any beers, these are beers that we have brewed together for this special occasion. What a great way to celebrate your coming of age!

The first beer is a Blood Orange Hefeweizen that was her first all-grain beer. It has a light sweet body with a strong citrus flavor.

The second beer is a Raspberry Stout that we brewed together. It has a strong Raspberry aroma and flavor since we went a little overboard with the Raspberry puree.

Then we finish off the Birthday beers with two Lambics we brewed last year during the summer. We then split them into two 2.5 gallon batches and added Raspberries to one batch and Blood Oranges to other. These had a great sour and tart taste when I bottled them and I can hardly wait to try them on her birthday.

Iron Brewer Championship Round Tasting

This coming Friday April 1st, 2011 the Iron Brewer Championship Round Tasting will be broadcast live starting at 8 PM EST. I’ll be setting down with Peter Kennedy the creator of the Iron Brewer Competition and my five competitors as we evaluate each other’s beers and pick out the first ever Iron Brewer Champion.

To find out more and listen live go to Blog Talk Radio

Good Luck to all everyone who has made it to the Championship Round!