Category: Beer Brewing

DigiBoil Saga – Conclusion, more or less

We’ve had a horrible time using the DigiBoil we ordered some four or five months ago. The temperature is way off. The manufacturer says there’s no calibration on the unit — and, if we want to be able to calibrate the unit, we should pay the money for a Brewzilla. A quote from their latest e-mail:

“The Digiboil is primarily designed (and marketed) for other purposes – we sell a great many for use with stills or as HLTs, typically. To that end, the granularity of temperature control of the Brewzilla is not typically needed for the Digiboil.”

In my opinion, that’s a little disingenuous. We ordered a DigiMash — a package to turn the DigiBoil into an all-in-one electric brewing system.

We were considering the iteration with a pump included

I’d totally believe it was originally designed as a HLT, accessories packages were put together to make it a brewing system but those accessories were discontinued because the thing doesn’t work well enough to be a brewing system. But my opinion is that it was certainly was marketed as something fully functional. And the extra couple hundred bucks for the Brewzilla got you more advanced features like step mashing.

The strangest thing is that the problem seems to be the controller — building up a NodeMCU-based controller would make something better than a Brewzilla (you can flash your own firmware if you want the logic to change — we got put off the Brewzilla because v3.1.1 units weren’t available in the US when we were looking to purchase something. The v3.1 logic started the timer when the elements kicked in. You’d have to buy an upgraded 3.1.1 board to get the new logic that starts the timer when the target temp is reached (and sixty minutes at 155 isn’t the same as sixty minutes spent going from 135 to 155 then holding at 155).

DigiBoil Saga

We ordered a DigiBoil (well, we really ordered a DigiMash, but it turns out that’s a DigiBoil with the mashing kit) in November. We’ve still not managed to brew beer. Our first unit looked like it got mangled in manufacture. I rather question KegLand’s quality control process — the two fermenters we purchased had the butterfly valve handles installed backwards. Easy enough to take a wrench and turn them around, but it’s an odd oversight. And upside down doesn’t work since the handle would turn up into the fermenter plastic and stop before being fully turned.

We got a replacement DigiBoil, We washed the unit, then dumped in a few gallons of water to test it out. No leaks – great. Turn on elements — all three work, also great. Water boiling … awesome, except the temp readout was 203 degrees F. I know the temp at which water boils, so the temp  reading was obviously wrong. We measured the resistance on both thermistors and found the original one read lower than the one on the replacement. And the resistance went down as the temperature warmed up … so possibly the original one was better. We swapped the thermistor from the dented up unit — and water boiled at 206 degrees. Scott tried contacting KegLand to see if there’s some calibration on the controller (sealed behind the big sticker with a logo … not something we’d want to pull apart on a whim), but it seemed like they blew him off. We got a third DigiBoil and it, too, either has a bad thermistor or a miscalibrated controller. This is getting silly. They cannot/will not send us a thermistor or provide details about calibrating the controller. That would be a lot less effort for everyone involved. Three out of three thermistors report different, significantly wrong, temperatures at boil.

Rübæus Clone Recipe

We picked up a six-pack of Rübæus this evening and both love it. It smells like raspberries, it tastes like a nice cream ale blended well with a lot of raspberry flavor (reading that they use 3,000 lbs of raspberries in a batch … even without knowing the size of “a batch”, I think there are a LOT of raspberries per ounce of beer produced). So I’m working on synthesizing a clone recipe from a few clone recipes out there. This is sized for a 5 gallon batch

Grain Bill:

Quantity Grain Color
7 lbs Marris Otter 3°L
1 lb Honey Malt 25°L
1 lbs Wheat 2°L
1 lbs CaraMunich 50°L

Brew: Mash at 153°F for 60 minutes. 0.5 oz Magnum at 60 minutes. 1 lb whole raspberries at flame-out.

Yeast: WLP060 American Ale Yeast Blend

Secondary:

Quantity Ingredient Addition Time
3 lbs Whole raspberries (crushed?) Secondary 2 weeks

Xocoveza Clone Recipe

Work in progress recipe — original source https://www.homebrewtalk.com/threads/stone-xocoveza-mocha-stout.492778/. This is sized for a 10 gallon batch

Grain Bill:

Quantity Grain Color
20 lbs Pale 2-row 2°L
2 lb Roasted Barley 550°L
2 lbs Caramel 60°L
2 lbs Chocolate 350°L
2 lbs Munich Light 10°L
20 oz Flaked Barley
1 lbs Flaked Oats

Brew: Mash at 151°F with 40.6 quarts of water for 60 minutes. Sparge 5.53 gal water at 168°F. 90 minute boil with the following additions:
2 oz Challenger hops @ 60 minutes(bittering)
2 lbs lactose @ 10 minutes
2 oz East Kent Golding @ 10 minutes (aroma)

Yeast: 2 pgk SafAle OS-05

Secondary:

Quantity Ingredient Addition Time
4 Pasilla Chili Peppers Secondary 1-2 weeks
2 tsp Nutmeg Secondary 1-2 weeks
5 Cinnamon Sticks Secondary 1-2 weeks
6 Vanilla Beans (cut into 1″ pieces) Secondary 1-2 weeks
8 oz Cocoa Nibs Secondary 1-2 weeks
small amount Coffee Beans Secondary 2-3 days

DigiMash Unboxing

Our beer-brewing equipment arrived today! The packaging was not robust — every box had some fairly substantial damage. There’s a dent inside the kettle and one of the fermenters has a pushed in section (supposedly this will pop right out when we fill it). My first surprise was that we got a DigiBoil in a box and the mash upgrade kit in another box. The kettle is even branded as DigiBoil. Which … from a manufacturing / material standpoint makes sense. Why would they have two different sets of packaging and product labels? And three different SKU’s — DigiBoil, DigiMash kit, DigiBoil Mash Upgrade. It was a better deal buying the DigiBoil package — the DigiMash 65L was $259.99 and the mash upgrade $89.99, so we saved ten bucks ordering

Electric Brewing Research

We saw a DigiBoil at the local homebrew shop when we stopped by to pick up yeast. Scott had been pricing out a three-kettle system with pumps (along with some sort of table) and it wasn’t cheap. The DigiBoil was about 200 bucks. I took a quick picture of it to research later. Quickly discounted it as an option because it’s just a big pot with electric elements to boil water. We needed something for mashing too.

At which point we decided to shop around and see what other options were available. There’s the Grainfather — super expensive and, if I wanted to walk away while it cooked, I’d want to go farther than Bluetooth range. We came across Brewzilla — the software controls of a Grainfather minus connectivity, but 650 bucks is a lot more reasonable for a 65L brewing platform. Unfortunately, the 3.1 version starts the timer when the elements kick in to reach that temperature. Version 3.1.1 systems change this logic so the timer starts once the temperature is reached. The control board can be swapped out, but I really don’t want to blow fifty bucks upgrading something I bought this week. And, while there were some 65L 3.1.1 Brewzilla’s hit the US at the start of 2020, suppliers are all awaiting delivery “late summer 2020”, “late September 2020”, or “Autumn 2020” … which I took to mean “we don’t know when”. Understandable, but pretty much put the Brewzilla out of the running.

I came across a Mash & Boil — a 35L system with re-circulation pump is about 350. Decent price, but there’s no 65L system. Same with the Anvil Foundry — where a 6.5 and 10.5 system are available.

In looking at the Brewzilla, I found a mash upgrade kit for the DigiBoil. And a kit which includes both the mash upgrade and DigiBoil called a DigiMash. Both a 120V and a 240V 35L DigiMash are available, as well as a 240V 65L system. At around 240 bucks for the 240V 35L system, it’s a great deal compared to a three-kettle system. Because we frequently do double batches and potentially recipes with larger grainbills, the 18 pound capacity was limiting. At 340 bucks for the 65L DigiMash, it sounded like a great deal. No re-circulation pump, but it’s easy enough to hook a pump up to the output valve. Brewzilla has a port in the bottom of the vessel that goes down to a pump under the unit — a short silicone tube connects to the pot and another short silicone tube that connects to the metal fitting through the side-wall of the vessel. On the video we found, that tube was pretty cruddy looking … which isn’t exactly a selling point.

DigiMash doesn’t have the software-control of Brewzilla — you can set a 158F mash temp and come back and hour later, but you cannot perform step mashing. Which … not something we’ve done. And, really, you could. You’d just have to change the temps manually. It sounds like an interesting experiment to put together an ESP12e and a few relays to control the elements. Potentially, we could turn the DigiMash into an open source customizable controllable (and WiFi connected) brewing system.

 

Indoor hops?

Not really — but we’ve had a random week of nightly freezes since the hop plants arrived. Instead of planting them outside and keeping them covered, I’ve got them in the pots I use for seed starting and we’ll get them planted in the middle of this coming week. It was also a bit of an experiment — can you keep hop plants in little pots for a week?

Hops + 2 days

Hops + 5 days

They’re not growing anything like the hops out in the ground that we’re covering at night … but they appear to be doing well. And they should be happy enough until Wednesday when it looks like the cold snap ends.

Hops!

I ordered some hop plants from Great Lakes Hops — these are awesome. They ship actual plants, which are much more robust looking than the rhizomes I ordered years ago when we started growing hops. They came packed in what looks like wheat chaff – I assume it was moistened when they shipped the plants, but it was quite dry by the time I opened the box. The plants were a little wilted, but they perked right up when I got them into temporary pots with some more dirt and watered them. I love that the packing material can all be composted!

The best part? A free plant 🙂

We’ve added Triumph, a multiheaded Neomexicana that I knew as Medusa from a beer kit, and our freebie Sterling.

Mead Tasting!!

We siphoned our mead with the 47b yeast into a new container and pulled some out for Christmas dinner. It is really good – a slightly sweet young tasting white wine. We’ve got a gallon left that we’re going to let age. I’m hoping the 71b batches are this good.

Mead Experimentation

We are experimenting with different honey concentrations and different yeasts to make mead. We’ve got 71b to make a dry mead (with different concentrations of honey) and then 47b to make a slightly sweeter mead.

Researching the process, we decided on three nutrient additions – a blend of 50% Go Ferm and 50% Fermenaid K. Added 1/4 teaspoon of nutrients shortly after the yeast was pitched. Added another a couple of days later … and then couldn’t figure out when the almost-done state was and failed to add the third addition.

Now we’re just waiting for it to ferment.