Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mini-Masher

Last year I got in a bunch of small test batch ales. Some ideas that were too risky to brew a whole 5 gallons. They were all DME base beers with steeped specialty grains. After a number of these 1to2 gallon batches, I noticed the same "fruity" taste and aroma present in almost all of them. I pretty much assumed it was the brand of malt extract, and didn't want anything to do with the stuff anymore. So I started brainstorming ways to brew these experimental batches using a compact all-grain system.

I guess my brain's wheels were spinning ever since I read about how to use a coffee machine for all-grain brewing. I'm sure you all have seen that article at allaboutbeer...right? So I went out to find some used coffee machines, but the capacity was rediculously low.

I went around looking for smaller Rubbermaid coolers, but nobody was carrying them in November. I also had ideas for converting a coffee pump-carafe. After looking up the price for one of these, I nearly choked. I figured I pop my head into a local dusty/dingy resale shop. Luckily I found one. It's a 2.2 liter pump carafe with a small dent on the side. It was all dusty, but the inside glass lining was clean and in great shape. I took it for 6 bucks.

The next step was to attatch some kind of filter to keep the grains from getting sucked up the downtube during the sparge. I thought a pipe cleaner stuffed into the tube would work, but might not have a large enough surface area/diameter to allow good drainage. After a few more designs, I ended up using a copper pipe coupler with the .75 inch end attatched to the downtube and the 1.25 inch end falling in between the very end of the downtube and the bottom of the glass lining (literally about 1/8th inch from the bottom).

The first filter was a 4-ply cheese cloth tightly tied onto the end. It was fairly difficult to push the pump lever down to get liquid out. I slowly pumped out about 1-2 cups, and then filled the carafe with more hot sparge water...and kept repeating this process until the final volume was obtained.

The second filter was from a stainless screen bent and tied around the end of the coupler. I also drilled 8 small holes into the coupler for more flow. I also got a continual sparge by raising the carafe and attatching a drain tube ending below the intake of the downtube. This time sparging was continuous. Pumping was only used to get the "syphon" going.

These carafes are designed to hold hot temperatures for a long time, and it rested perfectly never dropping a degree. I simply mash in like I would with full batches. The downtube is not inside during the mash process so as to stir the grains, check temperature, and pull ph and conversion samples. The downtube is inserted right before sparging.

The capacity of this 2.2 liter carafe is about 1-1.25 lbs of grain. Not a whole lot, but it makes for a fairly simple experimental batch system.

My first use for this thing was for an all-grain yeast starter for a double-decoction Munich Dunkel brewed in December 2006. The gravity of the starter (I believe it was 2.5 liters) came out right about 1.040. It fermented very well. The whole starter (yeast + liquid) was added to the Dunkel wort.

The Munich Dunkel is finished and quite drinkable now. It has a subtle and enjoyable "grainy" taste to it, that is completely unique to any other beer I've made. It was the first time I did a double decoction mash, so I'm not sure if it was the decoction procedure or the starter. But, the slight grainy quality blends well with the slight sweetness and low bitterness. Overall it is a well balanced lager.
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1. Downtube & coupler fitted with plastic tube spacers

2. Coupler with stainless screen bent & tied on

3. Carafe & drain tube positioned above collection vessel

4. Complete system

9 comments:

Travis said...

Wow, I am totally impressed. I had been trying to figure out a way to do small batches myself for things like Barley wine or mead. This is pretty cool stuff you came up with here.

Eli said...

Thanks for the write-up. That is really creative.

At first I was wondering why you pumping into the fermenter but then I realized those pics were set up for a starter, right?

I'm still quite the rookie.

Jonathan said...

That... is awesome. I'm totally going to get the guys I brew with to pitch in for the supplies.

Ted Danyluk said...

Thanks a lot for your comments.

So it seems that many of us are interested in running test batches with the more ambitious ideas going on in our heads?

Let me remind you that the capacity of this 2.2 liter carafe is about 1.5 lbs of grain. With an approximate efficiency of say 75%, it would yield a 1 gallon batch at an OG of 1.043. It would yield a 3 liter batch (3L bottle shown) at an OG of 1.052.

Eli, I included the 3 liter bottle as an example of any wort collection vessel. I suppose I could simply run it directly into the brew pot. Hmmm? Hadn't thought of that. But yeah, it does sortof show how much beer you'd have in the end.

jonathan, I would recommend finding a larger carafe. I'm already looking at the greater possibilities of having a 1-2 gallon cooler mashtun resulting in multiple primary & secondary tests...fruit, dry hops/herbs, honey, wild yeast, effects of different temps...it's endless.

Anonymous said...

Great read Ted. I might give this a shot as I just brewed my first partial mash batch this past weekend using a Rubbermaid 3 gallon cooler (Sports Authority on Clark has them in stock now if your still looking).
Brian

Ted Danyluk said...

Thanks Brian,

Sounds good. Yeah you can definitely get a number of 3-4 liter all-grain batches from a 3 gallon mashtun. All kinds experimentation can be done at that level. Using 2 pots, you can have two different hop schedules. Seperate fermenters can have different temperatures or fruit/hop additions. Just make sure you add enough priming sugar, and label your bottlecaps!

I'll be looking around for coolers soon. Thanks.

Bruce said...

Gee, Ted;

I've had one of those coffee pumpers in the closet for years and haven't used it all that much. Now I know why I got it in the first place (lol). I also have a 5-gallon round cooler for small batches (works well for batches as small as 2-gallons), but the vacuum pot would size it down to a whole new level.

I tried the mashing in a coffee maker thing and ended up with a real mess. In the article it was mentioned that a coffee maker would hold the temperature at about 155 degrees, but that isn't really true since optimum brewing temps for coffee are between 190 and 195. I have a couple of coffee makers and they both maintain about 195 in the pots. It's hard to do any meaningful mashing at that temp, so you spend your time turning the thing on and off while watching the mash temp (in my case I used a Fluke #52 temp meter with thermocouple). In the end it was a lot of effort and the results were hardly worth it. Thanks for putting up such a nice site and making it available to everyone. Cheers....!!!!!

Ted Danyluk said...

Bruce,

I'm happy to hear someone has tried the coffee pot approach. I looked around resale shops for large coffee machines, but I realized they were really too small, so I never tried it.

This coffee pump carafe is ok, and probably worth a try. But I think a 2-3 gallon cooler mashtun is probably the best way to go for 1-2 gallon batches. Much more control and manageability. I'm still too cheap to go out and get one. Since I'm getting more serious with these tiny batches, I'll have to get one as the weather warms up and they return to the shelves for sale.

Bruce said...

Ted,

I have recently seen 2 gallon coolers at Wal-Mart for about $8.00, but haven't bought one yet. It isn't the money that's stopping me (heck, I just bought a Sabco Brew-Magic and another 8 dollars wouldn't amount to much), but I am presently in an apartment and space is limited! You're absolutely right, Ted...a 2 gallon cooler would take up lots less space than a RIMS. Well, it sounded like a good excuse until I saw it in print! I guess it's time to get a small cooler....