Backwoods Brewery

Michael Mitchem is the Vice President of the Beer and Ale Research Foundation (BARF) in Sulfolk, VA. He has been brewing for almost four years and is in his “rookie” membership year here at the AHA. Mitchem enjoys brewing based on regions, and right now he is in a German phase. See what Michael has to say about his recent brew system build:

When I moved into my new home in Suffolk, Va., I made constructing a brew stand a priority. Being in the rural countryside a good distance from civilization, consistency, repeatability and boredom were the driving factors for this build. I found that a few members of our brew club, Beer & Ale Research Foundation (B.A.R.F.), were already well versed in this area and were more than glad to help with the planning and the actual building.

For the design of the frame, I collaborated with B.A.R.F. member Royal Damuth, who is a skilled and talented welder. Royal also makes some pretty mean brew. For the subsystems of the rig, I worked with another B.A.R.F. member, Adam Shifflett. He was there at the drop of a hat to offer up suggestions and knowledge. Both were very instrumental in the design and build of my rig and I am grateful to have such friends.

The main idea for the frame is based loosely on the Sabco Brew-Magic frame with some modifications to fit my brewing style and budget (mostly budget). The frame is constructed of both 1.5” and 2” angle iron that was locally acquired. Casters were attached for mobility and the frame was painted with grill paint that can withstand temperatures of 1,200°, assuring that sleek black finish will last a long time. I picked up the 12”x12”x6” control panel from Ebay for around $30, leaving plenty of interior space for everything I wanted to accomplish.

The gas system is run off of standard LP gas which is converted to 0.5 PSI low pressure via a two-stage low pressure regulator that attaches directly to the gas tank. Gas runs through 1/2” black steel along the lower tier of the frame. The upper tier 6” burners are controlled by two inline solenoid valves which include standing pilot lights. Both burners have inline ball valves attached to their respective gas lines for quick gas shut-off. The bottom tier 10” burner is controlled by an inline ball valve with no solenoid valve control.

The electrical system is geared to be user friendly and very simple to operate. All components were purchased from Auber Instruments. The control panel consists of two PID controllers—one to control the hot liquor tank solenoid valve and one for the mash lauter tun solenoid valve. Either valve can be operated as on, off, or auto (PID controlled). Temperatures are read through thermocouples that are inline of the recirculating liquid in each vessel. When in auto, the PID’s will open the solenoid valves if the liquid is below the set temperature and cut off once that temperature has been reached. In the on position, the PID is bypassed and the solenoid valve stays open, allowing for an uninterrupted flame. The control panel also includes a pump switch, a master switch and a timer to help keep me on track during a brew session.

My system features two kegs which were acquired for this build as well as a 15 gallon brew kettle that I owned previously. The kegs are equipped with stainless steel three-piece 1/2” ball valves and tees. The thermocouple attaches to the top of the tee and a 1/2” male quick disconnect on the front. My HLT has a sight glass for liquid levels also.

I have brewed around six batches on this rig so far and it has made a great impact on my brewing. One of the best parts is that I do not have to lift anything until it is time to clean the mash tun. I can repeat brewing procedures accurately or change those procedures with the same degree of accuracy. All of this for around $800 bucks total—a fraction of the cost of other rigs out there. The entire rig is a testament to the ingenuity of homebrewers and the passion we have to see other home brewers succeed in making better beer.

Homebrewers Association
Homebrewers Association

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