Got the panel built. I made a few changes from the initally proposed layout, mostly for cosmetic reasons (and, speaking of cosmetics, I WILL be cleaning up some of those rough edges at some point!). I changed to illuminated rocker switches for the pumps and main power to simplify the panel. I changed the chiller output temperature display to a (mostly wasted) PID to reduce panel space usage and to match the PIDs that are actually being used as PIDs. The panel is reasonably uncluttered and should look OK once the lettering arrives and is applied. The bottom panel is a little busier than I had in mind but all of the inputs and outputs are required so it is what it is.


Here’s the front of the panel with a legend of device functions:

panel1 with legend

Now the holdup is the new stand. I expected it weeks ago but haven’t yet received a firm shipping date (just a series of “next week” predictions).

layout testlayout test WITH FUNCTIONS

Phase one is the construction of this control panel to operate the three burners, heat exchanger, and two pumps that will be installed. Three Mypin PID modules will operate the burners via Honeywell solenoid valves. The Inkbird at the bottom is being used only as a display device. I plan to have the panel cut, the devices mounted, and the wiring completed over the next two weekends


Note: I see that I set up the new URL as a redirect so the browser still displays the old blog name. I’ll switch it to a mirror so it shows the new domain name when I’m in a really good mood and time permits.

The great LX850 experiment is complete. I kept the mount significantly longer than usual, which should be interpreted as a hint that I liked it. It performed as expected every time I used it over a period of 2 1/2 years. I captured plenty of images. Now it’s time to move on. In this case, it is really time to move over.  I don’t want to commit to any particular astronomy activities. I’ll put one of the other mounts in the observatory and do some casual DSLR work as time and interest permit, but probably nothing worth writing about. Instead, I’ll be using this blog space to talk about homebrewing because that is what interests me now. I may preserve the astronomy posts in one blog and transfer the brewing posts into a separate blog, or I may leave them combined here. The new URL is but for now that just takes you here.



It’s time to begin the final stage of renovations to my home brewery. I’ll be switching to a one tier brewstand with all temperature-controlled burners and a stainless steel mash tun instead of the modified beverage cooler. I’ll be using the same stainless steel boil kettle and HLT/HERMS that I’ve been using. It won’t make better beer, and it won’t make beer faster, but the intent is to make the process more enjoyable and, perhaps, more consistent..  The plan is to do the first brew mid- or late November.



Brewed my standard American pale ale today (a tamer version of Sierra Nevada pale ale). I always keep some of this around but I was a little careless and ran out this week. Now I won’t have any available for a few weeks. I wanted to make a larger batch but since I was testing the new heat exchanger I decided it would be more prudent to keep it down to a 5 gallon batch in case there were any complications.  The new heat exchanger worked great – the 1/2″ tubing permitted much better flow and the system responds much more quickly.

I’ve been using only welded keg fittings until now but I installed these weldless fittings myself and they are perfectly sealed. I won’t hesitate to drill any needed future holes in the kegs. I’ll need at least two in the near future; one in the boil kettle for a whirlpool inlet and one in the hot liquor tank for a thermowell. Please ignore the soot on the keggle; I had tried to soup up the HLT burner and got the orifice too large. After a couple of brews the keg looked like this so I went back down to a smaller orifice. It provides more heat amd no more soot. I just haven’t cleaned the old soot off yet.


I ordered the ingredients for my next brew today. It will be a clone of Ballast Point’s grapefruit sculpin. I’m not an IPA fan generally, but that one is wonderful.


It isn’t pretty, but it made three batches this weekend. I wanted to see how it would do before drilling additional holes in the hot liquor tank to mount and connect to a better heat exchanger inside. The primary reason for HERMS is the temperature control it provides to the mash without the risk of scorching it by direct heating. I can’t point to any science that proves that recirculated wort is better in any way, but it certainly looks prettier – nice and clear. I enjoyed both features this weekend. An indirect effect is that since there is a pump already there, it makes sense to use it to transfer fluids between vessels. That means that there’s no need for a three tier gravity feed brewstand.

On a side note, I’ve been tuning up the old propane burners (changing regulators and orifices) in an effort to reduce heating time. It used to take a long time to heat up the mash strike water, and even longer to bring the end result to a boil. The good news is that I have substantially reduced heating times on both burners. The bad news is that propane usage is way up. I burned 19 pounds of propane this weekend doing three batches. I used to use about 4 pounds per batch.  The new burners should be much more efficient due to the greater surface area. Better yet, they can easily be rigged to run on natural gas (MUCH less expensive than propane – and no trips to the refillng station).





This is a bunch of unrelated stuff all connected together for initial cleaning/testing. That’s a March 809 pump at the bottom. It’s temporarily bolted to the three tier stand, though with the pump I won’t need that stand any more. Just wanted to test it and run some pbw through it. It is fed by the mash/lauter tun and is here running the “mash” (pbw) through my old immersion wort chiller, which is temporarily hanging inside the hot liquor tank.  It will be used as a HERMS hex until the new, dedicated SS HERMS coil gets mounted in there. Then the “wort” goes through the counterflow wort chiller, which doesn’t belong anywhere in that fluid chain but I figured I may as well clean it while I’m circulating pbw. Then back into the MLT  to be recirculated. The counterflow chiller will be removed but the rest will be used as a test bed tomorrow to see how effective the HERMS is at controlling mash temps while I brew a robust porter (and, if time permits,. also a holiday spice ale).  The plan is to combine this hardware with a new one or two tier stand with temperature-controlled burners. I’ll switch out that cooler MLT for a kettle MLT at that time. I’m just trying to keep this old rig operational as long as I can while working on the next gen rig.



I picked up enough parts and pieces to switch to low pressure, thermostat-controlled burners. That should reduce the babysitting required during brewing, and wiull permit me to go ahead with the HERMS project. I’ll probably stop brewing during the transition so I’ll try to get a couple of brews in this (long) weekend to stay ahead. I’m catching up on what’s been sitting in fermenters; got half of the steam beer and SNPA clone kegged, and the other half of the SNPA bottled. Still have half of the steam beer to bottle, plus the two batches of Oktoberfest to deal with. Dunno what to brew this weekend. I have ingredients for a moose drool clone that are getting old (grains are already crushed) so I had better get that done. The vanilla porter keg is getting light so I’ll need something to replace that. Maybe an oatmeal stout?



Wow. It’s been too hot (on the rare clear evenings) to do anything with astronomy so no activity to report there. The observatory remains set up and ready to go when I get to it. On the other hand, I’ve been doing 5 gallon all-grain homebrews most weekends. Last weekend was my first 10 gallon batch (California common) and that all went well. The latest boil burner revision was successful; brought 13 gallons to a boil very quickly and boiled it down to 11 gallons in just over an hour. I used to struggle to get a good boil with 7 gallons in there. The photo above shows the rig with the new boil kettle. I doubt that it has improved performance, but it looks nicer than the old keggle (converted beverage keg) and the laminated flat bottom helps to ensure even heat and eliminates the risk of wort scorching. The thermometer hadn’t arrived by brew day so there’s a plug above the ball valve where the thermometer should (will) be. Don’t much need a thermometer in the boil kettle; it is either boiling or it isn’t. It is still handy to watch the temperature as the wort cools, though.

Next for the brewery? HERMS (Heat Exchanger Recirculating Mash System), I believe. Unless I go with RIMS (Recirculating Infusion Mash System) . I know that I want to recirculate the mash for several reasons and I may as well add temperature control while I’m at it. I picked up a March pump and I have an extra wort chiller that could be used as a HERMS heat exchanger so that’s tempting. I’d need to convert the HLT burner to low pressure (or maybe natural gas) and add a furnace-style Honeywell valve/pilot/igniter, plus a temperature controller. Still less expensive (but slower) than adding an electric RIMS system, and I’d keep 120VAC (or worse, 240VAC) away from the brewstand and all the liquids to be found there. I’m still evaluating both options.


With the pump available, I could also modernize things a bit and switch from the old school three tier gravity brewstand to a two tier (or even one tier) rig. I’ve started work on a two tier stand. It is MUCH lighter than the wood stand I use now, and because it is only two tiers it is much lower. I could get rid of the stepstool and see into all three vessels. If I go with the HERMS I’ll probably do the gas valve modifications to that stand so I can keep brewing on this one while I fidlle around. Then, when everything works, switch it all over at once to the new stand.


I’ll try to be better about updates in the coming months.




I’ve explored the three simplest levels of homebrewing so far. All have used extract rather than mashed grains (mashing is the process of converting the starch in the grains to sugars). “Extract” is wort (unfermented beer) from grain that has already been mashed by a brewery and then condensed into either a syrup or a powder. Extract brewing is very suitable for stovetop homebrewing, generally using only one kettle and burner, and a limited water volume to boil. The simplest method uses hopped extract. That’s what Mr. Beer is. There’s no boil and no hop additions. Just heat water, dissolve the extract, cool, and stick in the fermenter. The amount in the kettle is usually smaller than the desired batch size so makeup water is added. This is planned for in the recipe so the result isn’t diluted. In the fermenter, yeast consumes the sugars in the wort and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. The CO2 isn’t used and is vented (after fermentation is complete, CO2 is added for carbonation). The alcohol is the point of the exercise.  A more complicated method of using extract is simply referred to as extract brewing. In this case,the brewer didn’t add hops before condensing the wort. To use this, you heat water, dissolve the liquid and/or syrup extract, and then bring to a boil, usually for one hour. During the boil,  hops are added at various intervals to cancel out the sweetness that is a characteristic of wort, and to add flavor and aroma. Then it goes into the fermenter and any needed makeup water is added. Partial extract brewing is similar but before dissolving the extract one steeps specialty grains in the heated water, usually for twenty minutes or so. These don’t add any fermentables to the wort but do add color and more compexity to the taste. From that point, the process is the same as extract brewing. I’ve done those three so far, and have found that increased effort brings rewards; the partial extracts have been my best beers.

The next level of complexity is called partial mash (or, sometimes, mini-mash). In this process, some (usually about half) of the extract is replaced by actual grains. These are “mashed” (soaked at a controlled temperture for an hour or so) and do contribute fermentable sugars to the wort. Then the extract is added to make up the remaining fermentable sugars. The result is then boiled and hops added as required. After the boil  makeup water is added if needed, and it goes into the fermenter.

The next level of complexity is all grain brewing. In this, extract is generally not used and, when used, provides only a small portion of the fermentable sugars. Usually, all of the fermentable sugars in the wort come from conversion of starch in the grains. All of the wort volume for the entire batch is present in the boil; no makeup water is added. These characteristics require a more complex setup and the greater (full batch) boil volumes generally dictate a larger heat source than a stovetop. Propane is the most common fuel, though a number of electric brew systems are in use as well.  I’ll write about all grain brewing after I gain some experience at it. There’s a stovetop variant known as Brew in a Bag, but most all grain brewers use two or three (usually three) vessels on a brewstand with multiple burners and multiple levels so that gravity can be used to transfer liquids from one container to another. That’s the system I’ll be using. The modern trend is toward single level brewstands incorporating one or more pumps to manage liquid transfers. A number of newer setups also include temperature-controlled burners (either gas or electric), for varying degrees of automation.

I’ve been pushing “production” because there’s a gathering of local astronomers coming up at my place and I want to be able to offer some variety of homebrew samples. I’ll be kegging batches 4 and 5 tomorrow night. batches 6 and 7 are in the fermenters and won’t be ready for this sesson – but there’ll be another soon enough. I figure I’m sufficiently ahead to relax a bit and work on infrastructure. It’s been a learning experience, for sure. Fortunately, none of the lessons have been particularly expensive or disastrous. This is fun.

The photos at the top of this post show some of the changes I’ve made. At the left are the two kegerators. They will permit me to keep 6 kegs cooled and under CO2. In the middle is a project that has not yet reached the stage of producing anything. It will permit me to go to all grain brewing, and to increase my batch size from 5 gallons to 10 gallons (or a little more). The trial run of that rig is planned for June 13 so watch this spot. At the right is a tap handle that is currently installed on one of the kegerators, though it wasn’t yet there when the kegerators  photo was taken.