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:
The more complicated the design of your RIMS brewing setup, the more complicated the problems and solutions. I went with some pretty advanced design features on this RIMS build. Some items I incorporated are:
stainless steel with Swagelok compression fittings.
dual gas valves with intermittent pilot lights.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 $6000 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 on my recirculating infusion mash system the last time I used my brewed. 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 It works a lot better now.
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.