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Almost electric…finally!

Six years ago I started collecting the bits and pieces to build an all-electric brewery in my basement.

Once I had collected enough parts I assembled a control box using wiring diagrams I found online. It was to plug into a “spa panel”, a box designed to be the ground fault interrupter for a hot tub, and it would be powered by a 220-volt line from my fuse box. So, I bought the spa panel and fifty feet of 10/3 wire to make that line because my house didn’t have any 220-volt lines at all.

I welded up a stand, bolted on a butcher block top I made from a table I had picked up, made the boil kettle, the HLT, even the mash tun….and then I chickened out.

My house had an old electric service and I got nervous about overloading it with a new 30-amp line for the brewery so I stalled. Then I heard that if there even was a problem that caused a fire my homeowner’s insurance wouldn’t pay if I had done the wiring myself. So, for six years my parts just sat there.

Well, the hesitation is over! Last year I moved to a house with a detached two-car garage and it has 200-amp service. There’s no overloading this breaker panel! Now there’s a new 30-amp circuit that runs to that six-year-old spa panel, which is wired with four wires as it was intended to be, but which it never could have been in the old house. The GFI works perfectly so I’m feeling safe too!

Yesterday I plugged the control box in for the first time and it mostly works. I say mostly because there is an outlet inside it that is where the 12-volt “wall wart” plugs in… but when I plug it in the GFI trips (I told you it worked, and this is how I know). I plugged the wall wart into an extension cord in order to have the 12 volts I needed for the relays to work and checked that electricity was everywhere it was supposed to be, and nowhere that it wasn’t. Then it was time for the big test!

My boil kettle is a 15-gallon stainless steel olive oil container that could be overkill for a man who does 5-gallon brews, but I got two of them for free from a friend way back when I was collecting parts so…. here I am with a 15 gallon boil kettle and another 15 gallon hot liquor tank (fancy term for water heater). As it turned out, they are perfect for my use! Yesterday was the first time the heating element has ever had electricity flowing through it, I filled the kettle with cold water to the 10-gallon mark and turned the power on to the 5500 watt element.

Yesterday was the first time the heating element has ever had electricity flowing through it, I filled the kettle with cold water to the 10-gallon mark and turned the power on to the 5500 watt element. I checked for voltage leaks to the surface of the kettle and was happy to find no voltage at all. Then I waited. I wanted to see how long it took to get to a rolling boil, such as I would need if I were actually brewing a batch of beer. I got distracted shortly after that because I discovered that my end goal of making a batch of beer with this kettle wasn’t going to happen yesterday. Not because it wouldn’t boil it, but because I was making a batch that called for a small 2-gallon boil and I couldn’t do that quantity in the electric kettle because I can’t turn down the heating element. That 5500-watt burner would have boiled two gallons so vigorously that the evaporation losses would have been too extreme. So, I left the boil kettle on and went in the house to make beer on the stove. When I could I went back outside and was happy to see a rolling boil with ten gallons of water. I checked the clock and discovered the kettle had been powered up for one hour at that point.

So, it’s safe to say that at least the electric boil kettle works as it should… next step is to finish the HLT portion of the control box and test that. Then it’s on to make electric beer.