Brew in a Bag in an Electric Fryer
I got all of my equipment for my indoor brew-in-a-bag experiment this week. My plan was to wait until Saturday to brew, but the wife wanted to go geocaching so I decided to rush it and brew Friday night. Rushing and failing to check for required equipment lead to one of the worst brew days ever, but I’ll recount some details of the experiment for those of you who are interested.
The main piece of equipment I bought for this experiment was a 30 quart (7.5 gallon) electric fryer with heating element. I insulated the interior pot with Reflectix to improve the boil, which proved a bit difficult because it has a drain valve and snag-inducing screws on the inside. The motivation for this purchase was the desire to move back to full boils. Since I currently live in a third floor apartment with a wood-decked balcony, propane is not an option.
That was really only the first half of my experiment. The second half was trying brew-in-a-bag for the first time (BIAB details here). This essentially requires a large bag with a very fine mesh. The motivation here was to see if I could be lazier on brew day by using one main vessel and just to experiment with the new(er) technique.
The electric fryer has a handy basket to put on top of the element and to put the bag inside. I also used the basket later to put the wort chiller inside so it didn’t touch the heating element. This lent itself well to brewing in a bag–I was able to use the hook on the basket to lift the bag out and let it drip. Next time I try this, I’m rigging something up to make it so the basket can rest on top of the kettle rather than hanging above it.
Let’s walk through the fateful brew day that will probably entertain you, and possibly educate you on what not to do. The first tip: Don’t brew before you’re ready. I usually like to check the day before I brew for all required equipment and ingredients so I can hit my LHBS before I brew if necessary. I didn’t do this since I was rushed, and was missing some things I needed.
Let’s start with the water. I pulled a “smooth” move with my brewing salts. I rushed to get the salts put together and ended up adding the calcium carbonate to the brewing water before the mash, which resulted in undissolved chalk. Note to self, for the third time: Only add calcium carbonate during the mash so the acidity will allow it to dissolve.
As for the mash itself, I got terrible efficiency–my bag was inadequate, to say the least. It didn’t cover the entire kettle (which had a greater circumference than anticipated). I only mashed for 60 minutes because I started so late, and failed to get more Iodine prior to brew session to test for starch conversion. I also suspect that my mash pH was low because of the undissolved chalk, even though my pH strips (yep, economy strips, not the good ones) told me it was right around 5.2. That said, the fryer was nice for applying heat when it failed to hold mash temperature (since the grains were in a bag in the basket that was on top of the heating element, it was safe to use).
Even though I had already essentially failed at brewing the Belgian Pale I set out to brew, I went ahead with it for the sake of experimentation and the wonderful story that I get to tell you.
Moving on to the boil… The electric fryer did not produce a vigorous boil with 5+ gallons of wort. It reached 208-210 F. The wort was turning over inside, so it was truthfully probably enough, but I’ll still see if I can improve the insulation a bit. I put the lid on for a few minutes 3 or 4 times to get the boil going vigorously (first to help precipitate the hot break before adding hops). The significant surface area of the wort in the kettle lead to high evaporation rate–I needed about 7 gallons of distilled water for a 9.00lb (grist) batch @ 90 minutes.
After the boil time was complete, I used my fancy new efficient wort chiller. I put it in my wort like any other chiller, attached it to the sink, and turned it on at the end of the boil. It seemed to be going so I dove into a section of How to Brew for the umpteenth time. I checked the temperature after 5 minutes and it had dropped about 20 degrees, which seemed a bit slow for how cold my water is, but went back to reading. 10 minutes later, I checked again, and it had gone down about another 20. This seemed slow again, so I tilted my pot lid up and found something very distressing…
The chiller was spraying unfiltered, cold tap water into my wort and likely had been for quite some time. Needless to say, MoreBeer got an email from me and I’m planning on getting a replacement from them. If nothing else ruined the batch, this could well have done it.
But, hey, I learned some stuff.
In short, the electric fryer is a little questionable as a complete BIAB vessel. At 30 quarts (and with the need to put the grains in the basket), I suspect once I get over 12 pounds of grain or so, it will be too much to mash. The vigor of the boil was lower than I’d like, so I’m going to have to try to improve that somehow. Maybe I’ll surround the Reflectix with some aluminum tape to make it slightly better.
It was fun in retrospect, though quite stressful and frustrating at the time. But, again, it was a great experiment. Any thoughts for improving BIAB in an Electric Fryer are more than welcome. Or, if you have questions, I might be able to answer them.