Brew Stand Design Considerations
Building your own brew stand will offer significant savings over buying a stand. Looking through the homebrew stores and retail mags, they START at around $500 and quickly go up from there. What if I can tell you that you can build a stand with the following criteria:
Angle iron steel less than $50 (steel yards are real cheap, Lowes = more expensive)
Bolt, nuts and lock washers under $20
Metal saw blade
No welding needed…big bolts are strong!
Build it in a weekend
All of this is less than $100. There are a lot better things in your home brewery to spend the extra $400+ on (think 90 inch, 3 compartment, stainless steel sink). Face it, a brewery stand is going to go to crap real fast. You WILL have boilovers no matter how careful you are as a seasoned home brewer. Once that stuff drips and burns you are not cleaning it easily. Let the stand be black painted steel, let the stand take the abuse of burning wort. Let your stand wear your spills like a badge of honor.
Planning your stand is the most important aspect of your home brewery for down-the-road flexibility. Many stands are 3 tier to take advantage of gravity draining. Others stands are fully flat with all the kegs in a row relying on a pump for every step. Some are a two-tier system.
1, 2 or 3 Tier? How about a ‘compact’ 3 tier?
After much reflection, drinking and more reflection. I chose and designed the never-seen-before ‘compact’ 3-tiered system. Most 3 tiers (think brew tree and others) have the kegs fully separated. This makes you need a sizeable step stool. Ridiculous design. Just knowing the volumes of water and wort you will have in the pots for gravity draining and sparging, you CAN overlap the kegs saving you nearly a foot or two of space. Drain and sparge hoses can be drilled right below the curve of the keg…or they can just go through the handles…your max liquid line in the mashtun is about 4 inches below the very top handles of the keg. Sure, if you use actual kettles instead of kegs, you gain that 4 inches…but chances are you won’t have them filled-to-the-brim. You know that is asking for trouble.
1 Tier? No…
1 tier systems, in my opinion, are a waste of space. They require 2 pumps. The first pump to sparge, the second pump to pump the wort to the boil kettle during sparging. They are sprawled out horizontally. Waste of space. I have always been a proponent of ‘build up and not out’.
Not going 1 tier saves you $150 in pump costs and any associated plumbing.
2 Tier? Still No…
2 tier was a consideration, but still unnecessary as it is essentially still stretched out like a 1 tier. You do only need one pump as half of the process can be gravity drained.
Conventional 3 Tier…Never…
Here is a conventional 3-Tier. They start at $500. Conventional 3-tier ‘brew trees’ are even worse than a 2 tier system due to their height.
Conventional 3 tiers do not overlap kettles. The top of your topmost kettle can get to 7′-9′. That is insane. Plus a lot of 3 tier stands market the fact that “you don’t need a pump.” Face it. If you are going to spend over $500 on a beer stand, WHY would you not get a $150 pump and WHY would you want your top kettle sitting around 8’+ ? The mash-tun is even still high if placed in the middle requiring a stand. Some designs have the mash-tun at the very top. Baaaaadddd idea. I don’t want to be fool’in with grain 8-9′ up.
You also have to leave about 2′-3′ from the bottom of the bottom-most kettle to the floor so that you can gravity drain the BK into your fermentor. That is a lot of wasted space. Money on a pump is money well spent to rid yourself of the terrible inefficiencies of a traditional 3 tier. And lets face it, a $150 pump will be the least of your expenses if you buy these stands along with kettles and burners.
The Compact 3 Tier – A clear winner
My own personal design.
Benefits of this design:
1 – Requires no stool if you are of average height
2 – The mashtun is at the perfect, belly height for stirring grain
3 – You can easily remove the heavy spent-grain mash kettle to clean
4 – You still maintain a gravity drain of the mashtun to prevent bed compaction (instead of using a direct pump)
It’s only about 5′ 4″ to the top of the boil kettle. After brewing several batches, knowing flame and burner heights, knowing liquid heights in all the pots, I bet the height from floor to top of the boil kettle can be gotten down to 4′ 10′ tall. Really. Now THAT is COMPACT!
The Top Kettle:
The top kettle is the boil kettle and the sparge kettle.
The Middle Kettle:
The middle kettle is the mash/lauter tun. It’s belly-height with easy access to the grains for stirring. You can easily slide the keg off the stand to empty the spent grains. (difficult if it was on top).
The Bottom Kettle:
The bottom kettle is the combined hot liquor tank and grant. This was a careful design element -the placement – as it allows one to brew back-to-back batches. As your first batch is done sparging and pumped to the boil kettle, you fill the bottom HLT with 2nd batch mash-in water and fire-it-up to temp. Then you can empty and clean your mash-tun while your water heats. 90 minutes later your first batch will be pumped out of the top kettle. Your sparge water will be at temperature for your second batch in the HLT. After first batch pump out you pump your sparge water (at temp) to the empty boil kettle at the top and start sparrging. The only limit to your system is how fast you can cool your wort at pumpout when brewing back-to-back batches.
The compact 3 tier is the only way to go. * See the red ‘liquid lines’? These represent the ‘top’ of the keg before the curvature happens. Note that after many brews, my liquid is always lower than what’s pictured, ensuring that a siphon between the mash-tun and the grant is always maintained as there will be a height difference between the bottom of the upper draining kettle and the liquid line of the lower receiving kettle.