Homebrewing Systems

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Dedicated Equipment

New homebrewers, experienced homebrewers switching to gluten free, and conventional brewers looking to brew occasional gluten free batches for family or friends need to be attentive to the risk of cross contact for those with medical reasons to avoid gluten. While some surfaces (the sides of stainless steel kettles for example) are relatively easy to clean with low risk of gluten exposure, other equipment and parts that have been used for barley, wheat or rye can be extremely problematic (i.e. grain mills).

  • New, dedicated equipment is the best case scenario for gluten free brewing.
  • If buying (or converting) used equipment for dedicated use, pay particular attention to places that are harder to clean:
    • Ball locks, springs, kegging and tap equipment, etc
    • Tubing (consider replacing with new)
    • Grain mills (ideally consider replacing with new, but it may be possible to strip down to do a very thorough clean)
  • Shared equipment (i.e. brewing gluten free batches for family/friends) is higher risk
    • Consider separate dedicated tubing and grain mill if brewing all or partial grain

Basic extract brewing

Suggested Equipment

  • Boil Kettle - Various sizes of boil kettles can be purchased depending on the batch size that you're brewing. The most common batch size is 5 gallons(19L). For this batch size we recommend a kettle 8 gallons or larger to allow for a full volume boil. If a smaller kettle is you're only option then you can always brew a concentrated wort and dilute with pre-boiled water to reach your batch size.
  • Burner or heat source - The most common burner home brewers use is a propane gas burner. There are also electric options such as the Grainfather or fancy electric brewing systems. Small batches can even be done using a pot on your stove.
  • Stirring Instrument - You'll need a metal spoon or something long enough to reach the bottom of the boil kettle. Don't let that extract scorch the bottom of the kettle!
  • Fermenter - 5 gallon carboy, plastic fermenter, food grade bucket, etc. There are many options for fermenters and they'll all make wort into beer.
  • Airlock - Keeps oxygen and spoilage OUT and lets CO2 release.
  • Cleaning and sanitation - When the brewing is over you'll find that you've never done more cleaning in your life. Cleaning is the process of getting all of the major hop debris, yeast cake, etc off of your equipment. After the cleaning step you'll be ready to sanitize to get equipment ready for your next brew. Common examples of cleansers and sanitizers are PBW and Star-San.
  • Thermometer - You'll need one of these as temperature tests are an essential part of determining when to pitch your yeast among other things.
  • Hydrometer - Checks the "gravity" of your solution. Use this to check gravity at various stages of fermenting to determine ABV and also know when your beer is ready to be packaged.
  • Bottles or Kegs - Once your beer is done fermenting you'll want to package it in either bottles or kegs. For the beginning home brewer the most common choice is bottles with caps purchased from your LHBS.

Much of the equipment above can be found in your kitchen and with a trip to the LHBS. If you want something with everything you'll need for your first brew most online brewing websites have various home-brew kits.

All grain systems

All grain brewing systems can encompass 1, 2, or 3 vessel systems and incorporate a wide range of possible equipment. These systems allow the brewer to extract fermentable sugars from malted and milled grains via the mashing process. All grain brewing typically requires more brewing experience as there are many additional steps in the brewing process that are avoided when extract brewing. All grain systems add a couple of additional vessels in the common 3 vessel systems with the addition of a mash tun and hot liquor tank. Techniques such as BIAB and equipment such as the Grainfather allow all grain brewing to be done in a single vessel. When using an all grain system with gluten free malts it's important to consider that standard systems have been built to suit barley brewers and many components such as false bottoms will need customization due to the size difference of gluten free malts.

Insulated cooler

Insulated coolers are perfect for taking something many people have on hand and turning it from a beer holder to a beer maker. Common examples are 10 gallon round water coolers or larger rectangular coolers. These coolers can be modified in a variety of ways including bulkhead additions, manifolds, false bottoms, sparging systems, etc. Coolers are a great way to get started all grain brewing without breaking the bank.

Brew In A Bag (BIAB)

BIAB can be a good entry-point for all-grain brewing as it requires less equipment than other all-grain set-ups, and generally strives for a "don't overthink the details" approach to mash regimes (e.g. a single temperature infusion mash). Equipment requirements include a large mash and boil vessel, a heat source, a thin weave bag, and some way of hoisting a heavy bag of hot grain out of the mash to drain (e.g. a hook and pulley system). The mash/brew kettle must be big enough to accommodate all the water that will be needed pre-boil -- factoring in grain absorption -- and the volume displaced by the grain during the mash.

  • Pros: Less equipment. Less clean-up. Simplified all-grain brewing process.
  • Cons: Larger kettle volume required for the additional volume of water and grain. Less control over mash temperatures.

The method is described in a number of places on the Internet.[1][2]

Gluten free homebrewers should note that given the greater water to grain ratio, different enzyme dosages may be required.

3 Vessel

Three vessel systems are perhaps a little more traditional than some of the other options listed (i.e. BIAB and electric all-in-one). They mirror what many commercial breweries use on a much smaller scale. Three vessel systems generally require a gas or electric heat source for the different tanks, and frequently employ a pump to move hot liquid from one vessel to another. (Some 3 vessel systems place the three vessels at different levels of a brewing structure and use gravity to move liquid from one tank to the next.

  • Hot liquor tank (HLT)
  • Mash tun
  • Boil kettle

Electric All-in-one

Electric all-in-one systems allow brewers to mash, boil and cool wort in the same vessel before transferring to a fermenter. The electric component allows brewers to be fairly specific about mash temperatures, sometimes providing a means to set mash schedule steps in advance. This works well for rising step mashes and with some adaptation (adding cool water or using a wort chiller) can be used for falling mash temperature steps as well.

Well known systems include:

Grainfather

  • Tips:
    • GFHB sells a 1000 micron stainless steel screen that fits on top of the Grainfather bottom screen and prevents the smaller gluten free grains from slipping through and clogging the pump.
    • Spraying the inside of the grainbasket and the rubber gasket with Starsan makes it much easier to fit the screens at the bottom of the basket without the gasket popping off.
    • If you don't have the 1000 micron mesh screen, you can enclose the entire assembled grain basket inside of a mesh BIAB bag (pulled taught) to avoid small grain particles getting stuck in the pump.
  • See also, List of GFHB Blog Posts and the Grainfather Users Group on Facebook for more detailed Grainfather discussion.

Robobrew

Anvil Foundry

Fermentation

Temperature Control

Temperature control during fermentation can have a very positive impact on yeast health and the end product of your beer. Temperature control solutions can range from making the most of your current environment (using a basement to ferment cool temperature beers), to sophisticated and expensive automated temperature systems. Ideally the solution should be stable (within a degree or two Fahrenheit) and adjustable (able to slowly raise the temperature of the fermenting beer over the course of fermentation). Some common solutions include:

  • Fermenting in a naturally cool room.
  • A temperature controller coupled with heating and/or cooling options. For instance:
    • Place fermenter in a spare fridge connected to the cooling control.
    • Use a low wattage fermenter heater wrap connected to the heating control.
  • Using a small tub of cool water or an insulated carboy bag that can be cooled with ice packs, frozen water bottles, etc.

More expensive options include:

References