Recirculating Infusion Mash System

Final shots of my re-designed RIMS

My recirculating infusion mash system has been re-worked, re-plumbed, and refined so that it is now ready to brew. I've learned a lot since I started the RIMS build. Here are some of my new lessons learned:

  1. The more complicated the design of your recirculating infusion mash system, the more complicated the problems and solutions. I went with some pretty advanced design features on this RIMS build. Some items I incorporated are:
    • All stainless steel with Swagelok compression fittings.
    • Honeywell dual gas valves with intermittent pilot lights.
    • The Blichmann AutoSparge.
    • The Blichmann HopBlocker.
    • Inline carbon water filtration.
    • Stainless steel pump heads.
    • Clean in place (once the MT and Kettle have been dumped).Blichmann Therminator for chilling.
    • Vinyl stick-on volume indicators for the sight-glass tubes on MT and HLT.
    • Glass see-through lids to monitor inside the MT and HLT.
    • Plumbing designed with stainless full-port valves to transfer fluids anywhere I want within my recirculating infusion mash system.
    • Fully automatic temperature control on MT and HLT.
    • Re-cycle cooling water through HLT. When ice is added, should be able to get to lager pitching temps with the Blichmann Therminator. Saves water.
    • Whirlpool to concentrate hop particles in center of Kettle, making it easier for the Blichmann HopBlocker to filter wort.
    • Upgradeable to MoreBeer.com's 26 gallon MT and HLT.
    • You need to have the lines on your brew stand large enough that you don't cause the pumps to cavitate. This happens when the pump gets starved for fluid. It sounds like a growling, metal-on-metal noise and is not pleasant. If the pump has a 1/2" connection on the suction side, it's there for a reason. You need your suction lines to be the same size as the suction connections designed by the pump manufacturer.
    • The Honeywell gas valves are great for safety, but are not designed to put out a lot of pressure. You may have to settle for safety over a shorter brew-day. It may take some time to heat strike water, sparge water, and to boil your wort due to the low pressure requirements of the gas valves. I like the hurricane burners though. They distribute the heat over a larger area and reduce the chances of scorching your wort.Even though there are sanitation requirements and some people have issues with the plate chillers, I found that the immersion chiller did not do the job in my design. On the day I brewed on my system, I used 4 bags of ice in the HLT, and ended up stirring the wort by hand to accelerate the cooling. The Blichmann Therminator has proven to be a reliable solution and should get me down to pitching temps quickly.
    • Before you drill holes in your kettles, think through your processes. I placed my HLT temperature probe too high on my HLT. When the strike water was transferred to the MT, on a 5 gallon batch, the temperature sensor was above the water line for the sparge water left in the HLT. Placing it lower should solve the problem, but since I didn't plan on recirculating the sparge water while heating, may cause a problem of layering (ie. the water will show up as hotter near the bottom and will be cooler at the top.) Stirring by hand may be a simple solution.
    • If you are lucky enough to get your recirculating infusion mash system up and running without any problems, great. But the rest of us should expect leaks (if the keggle fittings are not welded), bad design consequences (ie. the immersion chiller just wasn't up the the task), mechanical problems (my regulator stepped down the propane too much at the source), etc. Be prepared to re-think your setup and have it flexible enough so that you can make changes quickly without any major problems.
    • Be prepared for an all stainless recirculating infusion mash system to be extremely expensive. After it's all said and done, my system will have cost me around $5000 and the figure may go up once I add all the trips to town and all the small fittings. I even bought most of my Swagelok fittings in bulk on ebay and got some really great deals. If I'd paid full retail for everything, the system probably would have topped out at $9000. Don't forget, I got the stand pre-made along with the hurricane burners and control panel (with everything ready except the wiring). To get the stand made by a competent welder with the quality of the materials in my stand would have cost roughly $2000 or more. It cost me $750 plus a trip from Lafayette, La to Pensacola, FL to pick it up.
    • UPDATE: I was having some priming problems with my pumps the last time I used my system. I was only pumping 1-Step Cleaner/Sanitizer through my lines so the problems would have been multiplied with higher gravity wort. I checked on my favorite forum, HomeBrewTalk.com. about solutions to the priming problems that others were having. On the link above, Walter and Hans from the March Pump Factory answered a lot of questions relating to their pumps. I noticed several comments about having the discharge of the pump at the highest point of the pump housing to prevent air from getting trapped in the top of the housing and causing problems with priming. I'd never heard of this before, but after thinking about it, it all makes sense. The trapped air wants to rise but the incoming fluid from a top mounted suction keeps it trapped in the housing. When a discharge is placed on the top side of the pump, however, the trapped air can then flow out with the discharging fluid and the pump gets primed much more quickly. I called the factory and talked to Walter, in the engineering dept (very nice people and glad to talk to homebrewers). He told me that a purge valve on the line will not help with the trapped air inside the housing and thus will not help get your pump primed when you have your pumps mounted this way.

      So, I spent the better part of a day replumbing my pumps so that the suction was at the bottom and the discharge was at the top. I have yet to try it out, but will update here when I do. So for all those that haven't mounted your pumps yet, keep this in mind. It would have saved me a lot of work and trouble if I'd known about it sooner.

All these lessons may seem negative to some, but when it's all said and done, my recirculating infusion mash system is exactly what I envisioned in my head and will be a showpiece brewery that I'm proud of. I can do a brewing demonstration where prospective new homebrewers can see a beautiful high-end system in action. I'll admit, it's not for everyone, but it is what I wanted and I worked for almost a year to make it happen.

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