Beer Machine Brew Day

A Brew day with my R.I.M.S

Step 1. Get some Grains

I like to support small business so I head over to the Auckland Brewers Co-op . Over the last two years I have been constructing really basic beers to try work out kinks in my process and find improvements to my machine but today I decided to go with something a little more regular, my favorite style; Amber Ale. My grain bill for today was rather haphazardly googled on my way to the brew shop and converted on the fly with the (very patient) gentleman working the grain room at the time.

I adapted Max’s last call  to fit a NZ grain and hop bill.

Particularly important with R.I.M.S is avoiding a  ‘Stuck’ mash, when this happens in R.I.M.S. it ruins the whole system. “Stuck” means that there has been too much pressure or you have put too much volume into your mash so it forces the mash down and drastically reduces wort / liquor flow.  So I bought 600 grams of Oak Hulls. I have never seen these before but there was a bag for sale so I thought I’d try it. Now I never want to brew without them! I mixed them into my grain bill and I was very impressed.

Ingredients in hand, it’s time to get the machine out.

Beer brewing machine in storage

Step 2. Sanitize

Once the machine is out I want to make sure it’s all still cleaned and sanitized. Technically you don’t need to sanitize your mash setup but I like to for good measure.

Step 3. Get Liquor up to strike temp

I lift the inner pot out of the bigger pot and start heating up a bunch of water using the 3 ring burner. I’m normally aiming for 76- 80 degrees Celsius for my strike temperature or so as I want to try bounce between 60 and 70 degrees for my mash.

Using a STC1000 with a thermowell and the manual thermometer I was happy to see they aligned in their temperature. Thanks to Sadu on the homebrewtalk forums for his suggestion that putting the probes into the wort would affect the probe, I installed a thermowell and replaced my probe with a replacement from RS components which was a fucking pain in the arse to get . Honestly, these guys send me the biggest fucking cardboard pamphlets advertisements every other month, but can’t send me 10 grams of temperature probe for less than $50 USD. Come on, guys 🙁

Once the Liquor is up to temperature I lower the mash tun into the boil pot and top up with additional water if required. Then manage the temperature and wort flow with the STC1000 and playing around with the valves respectively.

Step 4. Mash

I have a stainless steel mesh lid on top of the grain bed to help distribute the hot liquor and avoid wells. This and the oat hulls really helped avoiding a stuck mash, I am very pleased with this result.

Step 5. Vorlauf and Sparge

I use the winch (because a 40L pot of Grains and Wort is remarkably heavy!) to raise the grain slowly out of the boil pot and let the pump run for a bit longer to keep everything fluid then I turn that off and use the Quick Disconnects to remove the pump and hoses and set those aside for cleaning. A quick note on Quick Disconnects: I love them. I was on the fence for a while because of the cost but I found some for under $10 each and I am so happy with them. They really make any brew system 10x easier to manage.

Near the end of Sparging, the grains are raised out of the pot and the pump is removed

Then I boil my kettle and slowly sparge with that as many times as I feel necessary. I would really like to get a second hand Zip style 10L water boiler mounted above the current system but I haven’t found one at the right price yet, so household kettle does it for now.

With the grains sufficiently rinsed it’s reasonably easy to remove from the winch hook and dispose of appropriately. Time to boil.

Step 6. Boil

The easiest part. Just wack the burner back on.

Boiling the Wort

I have removed the STC1000 probe, the element cable and the pump to avoid any heat damage to any of those components. I was a little concerned about the thermometer but it didn’t have any issue. In this particular recipe I added 5G of hops at 5, 15, 25, 35 minutes and 35g at 45 and 55 minutes. This is just my particular taste, I am no longer keen on ridiculous amounts of hops and bitterness. I am using Taiheke Hops which is basically New Zealand Cascade hops. Initial taste tests (1 week in fermenter ) seem positive. Always improving though 🙂


Time to Finish the boil.

Step 7. Cooling

5-10 minutes before the end of the boil I dunk my cleaned copper immersion chiller into the boiler. This way if there is any residue on the coil it will boil off and remain nice and sanitary. I use garden hose at full speed for about 10-15 minutes then drop the pressure down and start using the coil itself to agitate the wort to help cool it faster. I usually aim to get it down to about 30 -40 degrees before putting it in the fermenter, I seem to get quite drastic diminishing returns using immersion chillers and it takes a long time to get to fermentation temperature like this.

Important note, always test your wort chiller before using! A kink or blocked hose will literally spray boiling water all over you and your house, I have done this, it is bad.

Step 8. Into the Fermenter

OK maybe this is the easiest part. I just rotate the boiler around and open the tap and admire the glorious wort.

I then chuck the fermenter straight into the fridge to get down to a reasonable fermenting temperature.

Step 9. Clean up

I have been cleaning things as I go so this last part is a cinch, I just hose off all the remaining parts trying to remove any visible leftovers and then scrub down with a kitchen sponge. Then put it away for next time.

All done



Special Thanks

Thanks to jekeaneacidrainSadua and Nokie from the HomebrewTalk Forums for ideas to help get this machine working better. 

I am always looking for improvements so please feel free to drop a comment if you have any ideas 🙂

Low Temperature Low Cost Circular Film Light

With any project I do it is important to have nice photo’s that are in focus and well lit. I occasionally dabble in stop motion and other film as well as just the projects you see on this site. Lighting is something I have always had difficulty with and never spent any time trying to resolve. Occasionally I use a work light but I find them annoying to set up and they get very hot and difficult to work with.

Total Cost $28
New CFL Bulbs (8): $16
New Bulb Holders (6): $12
Glue: Already had a bottle.
Mylar: Already had a roll.
Wood (1 30cm x 30cm square and 1  2M x 2cm x 6cm plank: All recycled from old furniture.
Electrical Cabling (1 Mains power lead, 1M of extra blue/brown for individual bulbs): All recycled from old appliances.
Hobbyist Wire (about 2M): Already had a roll.
Polyfill Wood Filler (200ml): Already had a bag, also this is not completely necessary.
Screws (30? ish): Already had.
Painting Tape (3M): Already had

Tools Needed: Ruler, 90 degree edge ruler, Saw (Jig or Hand is fine), Drill, Various Screwdrivers.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I show you how to do some mains electrical wiring. Please exercise extreme caution and seek advice if you are unsure about anything! If you test this before its finished being wired you MUST make sure any live wires are appropriately secured, tape the ends or leave them screwed into a socket.

I watched the indy mogul video here (It is worth watching if your interested in this topic)

But It seems I wasn’t paying enough attention and when I got around to building mine, I built my own rendition of his first version which wasn’t that great. Regardless I will show you everything so you can make your own decisions and see what I learned.

I started out with a blank board of MDF and ruled out some lines for a grid of where I wanted the bulbs to go.

Click any of the pictures to enlarge

Then I drilled holes for the cable and wired them up in parallel. In this photo it is the first socket so the mains comes in via a white cable. It is wired properly only mains side cable is hard to see.

The second socket. You can see the two wires per socket. Because I am using a reasonably heavy grade of wire (suitable for mains power) It is quite thick and can be difficult to get into the socket. If it was particularly difficult (notably with older battens with narrower holes) I would spray the ends out of the cable little then cut a few of the copper strands off, this means that the wire is thinner making it easier to twist around another piece of wire.

It sort of looks like series wiring due to the wires going in and out of each bulb but if you imagine where the electricity flows, since there is two wires in an out of each side of each socket its like an entire ‘hot’ line all over the back of the board.

IMPORTANT REMINDER AGAIN: If you don’t feel confident doing this please seek appropriate advice. Make sure any live wires are safe.

After finishing the wiring I put the bulbs in and tested it.

Note how dark everything else is in comparison to the previous photo. It is the same time but the camera adjusts to suit the additional light. I played around with it a bit and took a couple test shots. I realised pretty quickly that it wasn’t as effective as it could be. I re-watched the YouTube film above and realised what they did; and that I could do it better.

A lot of the light was going sideways but in this configuration only the top of the bulb was in use. With these particular bulbs they are quite short so the height is only slightly longer than the diameter but still: the side outputs more light than the top. If I upgrade the bulbs to larger/longer ones this would be more noticeable. I started to sketch up some designs to convert my board into a sideways design and eventually I decided if I was going to do it I might as well cut the whole thing up and make a completely new shape. Here we go:

I cut up all of the socket holder squares as small as possible. In hindsight I wish I had been more accurate. I did purchase a jigsaw for this but it would of been a good idea to do some more practice cuts first. You will see what I mean here:

I placed them into the expected layout. You might notice they don’t fit particularly well (see the last paragraph). This cleans up a little better later. I then glued them to some cardboard and wrapped it in some painting tape. I mixed up some poly-filler and filled in the gaps to try and smooth out the layout to make it a little cleaner looking and also to increase the strength since its just cardboard holding it together at the moment.

The next day the I removed the tape and sanded it down a little. It came out feeling really strong and ready for the next steps.

I wired up the sockets again

and tested it out

So far so good! Although I did not realise how large it would be. One upside to this is that the further away the lights are from each other the softer the shadows. Imagine the opposite of the sun which is very far away and very small (relatively) it casts very sharp/well-defined shadows which you generally don’t want.

Next I built a mount for the light. quite basic as you can see. A little glue, screws and scrap wood.

While waiting for the glue to dry I measured and then cut up some old thick poster card for a rear reflective board.

Using some double sided tape and glue I attached some mylar (like reflective tin foil only better)

I then took some hobby wire and twisted two strands together for extra rigidity. Taped them to either side and I could adjust the angles and they would stick really well.

A single strand of this gauge wire would not be strong enough, I have heard of using electrical wire although I did not think it would stay in the right shape. The paint tape seems to be strong enough though.

I cut holes in the card for the bracket and the power.

The bracket attaches quite simply and then slots  into the rear reflector. Below is the light with bracket before being slotted in.

Then inserted and tested. The sides hold their position quite well, the card is thick enough and the slot is tight enough that it doesn’t need to be glued or screwed into place.

Time to make some test shots!

With the light bulb in the roof only (150W)

With an indirect work light only (100W)

And the new lamp by itself

Obviously the new lamp beats anything else I have in the workshop.

I built a floor stand which is pretty basic. It stands 2M ish tall and holds the setup pretty well. This way I can adjust the angle and height.

Test shot using camera on auto settings with just the ceiling light

and with the light

Home Brew – Temperature managed fermenting cabinet

When home brewing beer, it is important to keep a constant and cool temperature. I like to aim for around 19 degrees C (66F) for ales (references) and 4 degrees C for lagers but in New Zealand the general yeasts sold or packaged with kits for lagers are really ‘lager style’ top fermenting (ale) yeasts; also I don’t have the budget or equipment to go for a lager style ferment anyway.

So I wanted to build something that would smooth out daily temperature variations and could potentially have some temperature management (eg peltiers in the summer, incandescent light bulbs in the winter) to assist in smooth and appropriate temperature management.

Total Cost: $2
Tallboy: Recycled
Scrap Wood: Recycled
Polystyrene: Recycled (Sometimes you can find large sheets on the roadside in industrial areas)
Masking Tape: Already had a roll.
Screws: Already had
Adhesive Insulating Foam Tape: $2 a roll
Hinges: Already had

Tools Needed: Screwdrivers, Drill, Hammer, Torch or other light source


I had a tallboy waiting to be junked so I removed all the drawers, stripped the front panel off them and attached them together to form a solid pseudo wall/door. I also drilled a 8cm hole and installed a fan although currently I am not using it.

After creating the front ‘door’ I removed the drawer sliders, mounted it on hinges, and placed a small block on the bottom of the door so it would fit into the cabinet and stay closed. Then I glued polystyrene to the sides, floor, roof and back panel. The back panel sheet is on the rear of the cabinet otherwise there would not have been enough room for the fermenter.

I did the torch test (put a light inside and close the door, if you see light there is a leak) and found quite a few flaws. I also thought that there might be some problems with gaps between the sheets in the corners etc so used duct tape to try and seal it up a bit. I also got some door seal padding strips and lined the door where it was appropriate.

The twisted pair cable you see in those pictures is the temperature probe to test the effectiveness which I graphed and will explain here.

This is the raw temperature data for 20 days from 4 probes. (The second graph is of the same data but only 4 days so you can get a better idea of what happens on a day to day basis)

One is on a shelf to the side of the the cool-box, one is inside the cool-box, another one is on the floor just outside the cool-box and one is outside.

Some obvious things to note is

  • Purple (outside) has a very large variation and has some quite significant drops as you might expect. The probe is subject to direct sun, wind and any other environmental factors.
  • Blue (shelf) is basically right next to the computer recording the data, although the exhaust fan is on the other side and blowing the other way. It currently can get direct sun for a few hours though, and as it is higher I would believe that it is subject to generally higher temperatures as heat rises.
  • Green (floor outside cool-box) is, except for the cool-box, the least affected by direct sun. and being on the floor should generally be the lowest of them all, although there is still some large variations
  • Red (Cool-box) is the smoothest of them all, although it is noticeably but only by a little bit, higher in temperature than some other probes most of the time.

This graph shows how much time is spent in the optimal temperature zone (16-21 degrees c) and how much time is in the extremes. Outside and garage probe 1 are in the red quite a bit as you would expect. Surprisingly, garage probe 2 spends the most time in the optimal temperature, and almost no time in the extremes. This is good as this is about where I plan to have an air intake to cool the box should its internal temperature be higher than the external temperature.

So far the project is a success, but I need to install either an internal cooling system, either by peltiers & light bulbs or possibly using mains water to cool the box. Over winter I may use a relay switched heating pad to maintain an even more constant temperature. Although this assumes it’s going to be too cold in there of course.