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Myths About Electric Brewing Dispelled

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

Personally, it has been eight batches since the upgrade to electric. The electric brewery is just awesome. There have been zero leaks on my weld-less fittings and no problems with operation.

electric brew kettle

 

Going into the upgrade, there were a few myths I was concerned about. Let me tell you the facts:

 

You can only do dark beers with electric brewing because the element will scorch the wort.

This is completely untrue given the right equipment. My first batch was a 3.2% Hefewiezen came out perfect. Subsequent batches, including an American Lager (arguably the lightest beer in the world) also had no scorching. In essence, expect ZERO scorching using the HighGravityBrew elements. If you build your own controller, or use a different element, this could be a problem.

 

The electricity is expensive.

According to our calculations electricity reduces the energy cost by 70%!

Equation for electricity consumption in home brewing:
hours * (watts / 1000) * price/kWh = total cost
For an example, let’s say the the price is $0.12 / kWh, and a typical batch is brewed:

  • 1 hour * (5500 / 1000) * $0.12 = $0.66 (hot liquor tank 5500 watt element)
  • 1 hour * (4500 / 1000) * $0.12 = $0.54 (boil kettle 4500 watt element)

Total electricity cost for a standard batch of beer: $1.20

A 5 gallon tank of propane is around $20 to fill, and you get at best 4 batches out of it. That puts the cost around $4/batch with propane.

 

It requires an expensive computer controller.

Yes and no. You can ‘build your own’ controller out of parts for under $100. That would also require knowledge of electronics. The one from HighGravityBrew is a turn key solution. Most electric brew rigs also have fancy controllers to automate valves and pumps in addition to controlling the electric element. This goes way beyond the issue of switching from gas to electric for a heat source. Besides, at that point it becomes a labor of love. As long as you are having fun and your wife is okay with the project, go for it!

My submersion chiller won’t work.

This is true. I had to adopt my chiller to look like this so it would straddle the heating element. Cools faster and looks interesting. One online reviewer said it looked like the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

wort chiller

 

I was against upgrading to a plate or counter flow chiller. That style of chiller leaves a lot of hot wort sitting in your kettle while they are draining. This is not good. Plate chillers are also a bear to clean without using caustic solutions.

 

An electrician is needed:

Actually, this is true. Pay for a licensed electrician and get the permits to make sure your brewing area is safe. Don’t electrocute yourself or burn the house down! All you need is a dryer outlet on a GCFI’d breaker.

  1. 7 Responses to “Myths About Electric Brewing Dispelled”

  2. I would disagree with the wort chiller issue. I still use the same wort chiller and have just rigged it so that most of the weight of the chiller is not resting on the element. It has never been a problem.

    By Joshua on Apr 14, 2012

  3. Yeah, putting too much weight on the element would be a bad thing.

    By Larry on Apr 14, 2012

  4. i disagree with a lot of stuff here..

    you really don’t require any kind of controller unless you are building a RIMS or HERMS.

    you say “Most electric brew rigs also have fancy controllers to automate valves and pumps in addition to controlling the electric element.” – not true! most setups are very basic with just an element built into a plastic or metal kettle. i rarely see anyone with automated valves, solonoid valves are very expensive so the next step up from a basic setup is to go for a RIMS or HERMS setup.

    I’d say it’s better to have an electrician inspect everything but I disagree that you NEED an electrician to make a really basic setup. for the most part it’s just down to common sense… ground the kettle if it’s metal and keep water away from the socket and wiring and any electrics, and try to keep as much as possible waterproof.

    any plate chiller designed for homebrewing can be taken apart.

    immersion chillers are most efficient nearer the top of the kettle… heat rises! so your chiller won’t just “not work” like you say if it’s over the element in the kettle. most home made setups have small type kettle elements rather than the long type one you used anyway but you can easily modify the chiller so it rests the piping on the top of the chiller on the rim of the kettle rather than have the bottom of the chiller rest on the bottom of the pot or on the kettle element if it gets in the way.

    By ryan on Apr 17, 2012

  5. bit of a correction…

    an electrician would be best to check if the socket and house wiring can take the kind of amperage you’re going to be using otherwise you can start fires if you’re just trialing things without really knowing what you’re doing.

    By ryan on Apr 17, 2012

  6. We appreciate the comments and the healthy debate! Google image “electric brewery” or search for it in HBT and for the most part you will find fairly elaborate systems. The results are biased to what people are sharing on the web (and understandably proud of themselves).

    I like the idea about hanging the chiller off the edge of the pot. Mine is so heavy now that is not an option. I’m sure the soft copper tubing is not strong enough to hold the weight. I’m sure something could be rigged to hang it at just the right height. The trick would be still allow a lid on the kettle during the cool down.

    The main reason for the design of my wort chiller is so it would not bang into the element, potentially bending or breaking it. Plus I’m not comfortable having copper tubing in contact with a live element inside the kettle for the last 10 minutes of the boil! Copper is conductive.

    I do recall an old German made plastic brew kettle with an element, but it is not on the market anymore, and probably for good reason. Plastic and boiling temperatures don’t mix in my opinion, no matter how advanced/food safe the plastic is. A stainless steel kettle is a long term investment and I wouldn’t brew on anything else.

    Regarding plate chillers, the models I have seen do not come apart and require caustic chemical cleaners. We’d appreciate links to examples.

    By Larry on Apr 19, 2012

  7. I’m moving up from 5 gallon gas stove top brewing to 10 gallon electric brewing. In doing so, I’m also moving from an immersion chiller to a counter flow chiller.

    In my 5 gallon brewing days, It’d take roughly 10-15 minutes to chill the wort from boiling to 80 degrees.

    In my 10 gallon test, it took 8 minutes to chill the wort from boiling to 77 degrees.

    I’m curious how long it takes for you to chill your 10 gallon batches with your mega-infusion chiller. Also, does 8 minutes sound like too long of time to have an ever decreasing amount of hot wort in the boil kettle?

    By Jeff on May 14, 2012

  8. It takes about 10-15 minutes with my immersion chiller. I make sure the wort is good and cool before draining to the fermentor, probably a couple minutes more than I need to. Lifting the chiller and rocking it a bit gets a current going inside the wort and that speeds up the cooling process.

    Counter flow chillers are better than plate chillers in my opinion because you can clean them a lot easier. I’m not sure if 8 minutes is too long to have the boiling wort sit there while it is being drained through the counter flow chiller. Sounds reasonably fast to me.

    By Larry on May 15, 2012

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