I've been brewing all grain for almost two years. I currently use a 10 gallon Rubbermaid cooler with a false bottom as a mash tun and a five gallon cooler as a hot liquor tank (HLT). I also built a brew stand and mounted my Blichmann burner to it. It works well and I've brewed some great beer with it, so why would I consider building out an electric brewery? Turns out there are a few reasons:

  1. Currently, I'm limited to five gallon batches, mainly due to my kettle (8 gallon). I find an eight gallon kettle to be too slightly too small and really wish I would have gone with a ten gallon kettle orignally. I'd like to make the jump to ten gallon batches, so I need to buy a new kettle. It also means I need a bigger mash tun and hot liquor tank.
  2. When I brew a large beer like a Russian imperial stout or barleywine, I max out the capacity of my mash tun, my efficiency drops to around 60% and I only end up with about a 1.090 beer.
  3. I'd like to recirculate my mash for both clearer beer and higher efficiency. I currently hit an efficiency of 72% almost every time I brew, but I'd like to see that go up.
  4. Southern California has a fairly mild climate and the temperature of my mash doesn't drop more than a degree or two over the course of an hour, but it would be great to be able to hold a stable mash temperature, perform step mashes, and be able to mash out.

I'm not going to go 100% electric. I'm going to keep my kettle fired with natural gas. The main reason for this is that I want to be able to do back-to-back batches and I don't have a 50 Amp circuit available (only a 30 Amp circuit, so I can only run one heating element at a given time).

The question now becomes RIMS (Recirculating Infusion Mash System) or HERMS (Heat Exchange Recirculating Mash System)? I'm going for a HERMS system because I don't like the idea of wort in direct contact with a powerful heating element inside a RIMS tube. Also, if I went with a RIMS system, I'd still have to find a way to heat water in my HLT by adding an electric element or another burner to my brew stand.

What are the components of a HERMS system? I'm looking at the following:

  • 20 gallon HTL with 50' x 1/2" stainless steel HERMS coil and 5500W heating element installed via a 1.5" Tri-Clover fitting
  • 20 gallon mash tun with false bottom
  • 20 gallon boil kettle fired with natural gas
  • Control Panel
  • Two pumps
  • Assorted hoses
  • GFCI power cord

Aside from the kettles, the most expensive aspect of the build will be the control panel and there are lots of options across a range of prices. If money didn't matter, I'd order one of the kits from theelectricbrewery.com, but they are designed for running both a HLT and a Kettle (either one at a time for the 30A model or both concurrently with the 50A model) and have a lot of nice to have but unnecessary features that drive the cost up to around $1500 for a panel.

Another option is the kits at ebrewsupply.com. They have both a complete 30A kit and also a 30A BIAB kit that appear to be up my alley. At $950 or so, the complete kit is a savings compared to the kit from theelectricbrewery.com, but lacks the ammeter, voltmeter, startup interlock, etc. The 30A BIAB kit is a barebones kit and doesn't include everything you need to assemble a working panel. By the time I was done adding everything to make a complete panel, I was in the neighborhood of $750 or so.

There are some pre-built panels on Amazon that could work for my needs, but they aren't expandable should my needs change, and it appears everything is hard-wired to the panel. The price is certainly attractive at around $400 or so depending on the model.

You could also go the budget route and follow something like this instructable.

What am I going to do? I like the panel from theelectricbrewery.com, but I can't justify $1500+ to get it up and running. It's also more panel than I need currently since I really only need a single PID. Studying the design of theelectricbrewery.com panel, the wiring diagrams posted on ebrewsupply.com, and some of the other panel diagrams floating around the internet, I've decided to build my own.

My panel will be a scaled down version of theelectricbrewery.com's panel. I'm going to only install two PIDs, skip the timer, volt meter and ammeter. It will be installed in a slightly smaller NEMA enclosure, but will leave room to expand and add an additional PID, timer, volt meter and ammeter at a later date should I decide I need them.

Based on my current parts list, I think I can build my panel for about $500. As my plans solidify I'll post my parts list and pictures as I start assembling the panel.