Designing a steam mashing, fermenting and stripping set up

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Designing a steam mashing, fermenting and stripping set up

Postby Shovelhead89 » Sat Jun 11, 2016 2:09 pm

I'm trying to design and build a complete set up to mash and strip cracked corn. I have a 55 gallon closed top stainless steel barrel with a threaded inlet with a major diameter of 2.30" that I plan to use as my steam boiler. I also have a open top 30 gallon stainless steel barrel that I plan to use as my mash tun, fermenter and still. I've also built a steam injection head very similar to Brutals. I have a 5500 watt element and switch for it (can only turn the element on and off, not control the amperage).

My plan is to add a 2" ferrule near the bottom of the closed top barrel and connect my element via a tri-clamp. I was thinking of then adding a 2" ferrule to the top and connecting a simple pot still style head that I would either connect to a wand that runs down to my injection head when I'm mashing or into the side of the 30 gallon barrel when distilling and I would pipe that down to the injection head when stripping. I was thinking of getting one of bubbas cone tops for the stripper and route that to a pot still head with a liebig condenser.
I was planning on adding a 15 psi pressure release valve to the steam boiler and a pressure/vacuum gauge.
I've never built a still before so any tips or advice would be very much appreciated and I've never used steam either.
I will do my spirit run on my 4" flute still with a 25 gallon boiler run on a variable controlled 5500 watt element.
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Re: Designing a steam mashing, fermenting and stripping set

Postby engunear » Sun Jun 19, 2016 5:54 am

15psi (half an atmosphere, 5.2 meters of water) seems like a very high pressure to me. This would be a good pressure for a steam jacket system where you want to push the heat conduction into the mash, but such a system and pressure is beyond my skill set. Steam is inherently dangerous, and the higher the pressure the more dangerous it is.
The pressure needed is explained by the picture showing a boiler, mash tun, and a manometer to the left. The water rises in the manometer to a level equal to the height by which the mash is depressed, plus the resistance from additional back pressure in the pipe, shown as “R”. R depends on the diameter of the connection pipe, and the injector design. I've not measured it in my rig, which uses 18mm pipe and a 1800W boiler but I'm guessing its around 2-5cm. (I'll give credit for that insight into pressure when I remember who made it ... shadylane?) My release valve is about 20cm above the top of the boiler put. A 15psi cutout is equivalent to a 5.2 meter manometer.

This diagram has another feature: if an additional length S (a safety margin) is added to the manometer, then it serves as a passive pressure release valve. I'd put a U in it so if it is every called upon you don't get a scalding shower! And yet another feature is that if a thermal cutout is placed at the top of this pipe, then if the water level gets below the manometer connection point, steam will come out this pipe and this can shut down your rig. This is like the cutout in an electric jug that switches off when it boils. This will protect your element, or you could add a temperature controlled valve to top up the water when this point is reached to top up the water. Now maybe this is too much at the start, but I run a passive pressure release valve and like it, and have a thermal cutout, added later, but not yet a top-up valve because I only just thought of it. This system is cheap, works in the right pressure range, and is extendable.

Just been reading Brutal's thread from 2014 again. There is mention of a store-bought 8psi pressure relief valve. Brutal also makes the point that with high pressure, water heats above its normal boiling point. At 15psi it goes to 225C. If pressure is suddenly released, then the water all boils at once, in a kind of eruption. Nasty.
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Re: Designing a steam mashing, fermenting and stripping set

Postby Shovelhead89 » Wed Jun 29, 2016 8:00 pm

I have my steam boiler figured out (going to copy Brutals design up to a certain point but use a 9 psi pressure release valve). I'm lost at how I use my mash tun as both a tun and a still. If I plumb my steam boiler to enter the tun down near the bottom after I mash, and ferment my open top tun. When I go to put my still top on and fire up the steam boiler again, won't my injection head be plugged from the grain bed and yeast that has fallen on it? And if I were to take the head out after mashing, not only would I contaminate the beer from reaching down through it but after the grain bed settles I could I even get my attachment back down far enough? Through the bed?
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Re: Designing a steam mashing, fermenting and stripping set

Postby Shovelhead89 » Wed Jun 29, 2016 8:02 pm

These pics illustrate how I'd like to build it by plumbing the steam down low but I'm worried about my injection head getting plugged from yeast and grain after fermentation.
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Re: Designing a steam mashing, fermenting and stripping set

Postby Yummyrum » Thu Jun 30, 2016 12:37 am

Nice idea shovelhead , I've got one of those still spirits boilers .....you gave me an idea :) ...been thinking about this business for a bit .

Sorry can't help with the issue you are concerned about from any personal experience other than maybe flip the steam injector upside down . That way crap wouldn't settle into it and the steam would still be able to get out . Some folk use braided Staino off flexible water hoses as filters .Maybe this might help . I use it to drain my barley grain bed . Not sure how effective it might be on corn .

I see you have a valve on top of the steam boiler ....Cheers , guess its important to brake the syphon when you shut of the steam so the cooling boiler doesn't suck all the fermenter liquid back into the boiler. :thumbup:....like on a Thumper

I guess the liquid in the steam pipe will back flow to equal the height of the fermenter level once the steam flow stops .
You could maybe put a tap on the capped off tee . Turn on the tap , if you can freely drain liquid from fermenter prior to distilling , (after draining the amount in the steam pipe) , the injector isn't blocked and your good to go . And pour the drained test draw back in the top ....waste not want not . LOL
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Re: Designing a steam mashing, fermenting and stripping set

Postby Shovelhead89 » Thu Jun 30, 2016 6:54 am

Yummyrum wrote:Nice idea shovelhead , I've got one of those still spirits boilers .....you gave me an idea :) ...been thinking about this business for a bit .

Sorry can't help with the issue you are concerned about from any personal experience other than maybe flip the steam injector upside down . That way crap wouldn't settle into it and the steam would still be able to get out . Some folk use braided Staino off flexible water hoses as filters .Maybe this might help . I use it to drain my barley grain bed . Not sure how effective it might be on corn .

I see you have a valve on top of the steam boiler ....Cheers , guess its important to brake the syphon when you shut of the steam so the cooling boiler doesn't suck all the fermenter liquid back into the boiler. :thumbup:....like on a Thumper

I guess the liquid in the steam pipe will back flow to equal the height of the fermenter level once the steam flow stops .
You could maybe put a tap on the capped off tee . Turn on the tap , if you can freely drain liquid from fermenter prior to distilling , (after draining the amount in the steam pipe) , the injector isn't blocked and your good to go . And pour the drained test draw back in the top ....waste not want not . LOL


The picture is not my setup. I'm using a 55 gallon ss drum and a 30 gallon ss drum. My injection head is 4 in line ss braided hoses (see Brutals setup) so flipping it wouldn't work.
I could transfer the mash after fermentation but I feel like the grain bed would still be covering my injection head. Draining it would even be a huge pain in the ass due to the grain bed blocking the drain.
I know there's other people that run this setup on here, what are you guys doing?
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Re: Designing a steam mashing, fermenting and stripping set

Postby shadylane » Thu Jun 30, 2016 8:54 am

I only have the injector in the mash while it's blowing steam.
If it's left in, it will plug up for sure.
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Re: Designing a steam mashing, fermenting and stripping set

Postby engunear » Thu Jun 30, 2016 12:15 pm

It seems that we we started this caper, we used injectors with spreaders to get even heat distribution, not wanting cold pockets etc. and the smearing that Shady noticed. Times have changed.

Shady's hybrid design with the bain marie achieves much better heat distribution by a different means. Does it still need a spreader on the injector? If you dispense with the injector then you will end up with a parallel-sided pipe that will fill with some junk, but it will be easy to blow out.

If you take the still-spirits-based design and use a false bottom, the injector lives in liquid rather than grain. And because it is below the false bottom the liquid is free to move, the heating should be quite even. So again, can the injector just be a piece of pipe with no holes?. It will thump, but who cares?

And if you have a boiler with an overpressure valve at 0.5atm or close, thats 3-4 pounds (guessing) pressure on that dinky little plug of sloppy ferment. Can't see that being a bother.
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Re: Designing a steam mashing, fermenting and stripping set

Postby Shovelhead89 » Thu Jun 30, 2016 1:33 pm

engunear wrote:It seems that we we started this caper, we used injectors with spreaders to get even heat distribution, not wanting cold pockets etc. and the smearing that Shady noticed. Times have changed.

Shady's hybrid design with the bain marie achieves much better heat distribution by a different means. Does it still need a spreader on the injector? If you dispense with the injector then you will end up with a parallel-sided pipe that will fill with some junk, but it will be easy to blow out.

If you take the still-spirits-based design and use a false bottom, the injector lives in liquid rather than grain. And because it is below the false bottom the liquid is free to move, the heating should be quite even. So again, can the injector just be a piece of pipe with no holes?. It will thump, but who cares?

And if you have a boiler with an overpressure valve at 0.5atm or close, thats 3-4 pounds (guessing) pressure on that dinky little plug of sloppy ferment. Can't see that being a bother.


I already have my injection head built so I might aswell use it. But your saying my best bet is to pipe my steam through the side of my still near the bottom and hook up my injection head inside and then put a false bottom over top of that?
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Re: Designing a steam mashing, fermenting and stripping set

Postby BoomTown » Thu Jun 30, 2016 2:14 pm

Shovelhead89 wrote:
I already have my injection head built so I might aswell use it. But your saying my best bet is to pipe my steam through the side of my still near the bottom and hook up my injection head inside and then put a false bottom over top of that?


We have a similar setup on our mash tun here in our shop. Our Mash Tun is 100SS barrel, with an internal injection manifold. That is not the way to go! Your idea to port in from the side, below a false bottom is the best way I believe. We have an agitator which stirs our stuff, but that's a big added cost. The designer of this unit gave no consideration to cleaning it, and while the cooked mash drains out the bottom, it's a flat bottom and the steam manifold acts as a sort of dam, causing the grains to pile up to the top of the 2" manifold. We deal with it by doing serial mashes, one per day for week, and letting the mash sit at 180F overnight, then drain it to fermenters, and immediately recharge it and run it again. On Saturday's we break down and clean it. The 2" steam inject is fed down the side of the barrel inside the tank, and it gets starches caked to the sides all the way down, but the horse shoe shaped injection (also 2" SS) stays pretty shiny, probably because the agitator works right above it and the turmoil for the turning probably moves the grains rapidly enough so the don't bake on like the column does.

If I had the money for a do over, I'd port the steam in from the outside, below a false bottom. Meantime, we've built ourselves a ¼ days work just to clean it every 5 cycles. And, while I was at it, I'd build a dual heated system. I'd reshape the bottom to be a dome, and I'd slip a gas burner under there. The heating up time for the freshly loaded Mash Tun is about 8 hours, and I believe we either need more steam, or more direct fire heat to shorten the cooking time.
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Re: Designing a steam mashing, fermenting and stripping set

Postby shadylane » Thu Jun 30, 2016 2:19 pm

I brought the steam through the side of the still near the top and connected the injector with a union.
That way I could remove the injector, when it wasn't needed or to clean it mid-run.

Not to sound like a broken record, but every boiler needs a manometer to measure and relieve any over pressure.
I once left the injector in during the ferment, and it plugged up as soon as the steam hit it.
I set it aside and used a different injector. The next day 90 psi of air pressure wouldn't clear the blockage :shock:
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Re: Designing a steam mashing, fermenting and stripping set

Postby BoomTown » Thu Jun 30, 2016 2:27 pm

shadylane wrote:I brought the steam through the side of the still near the top and connected the injector with a union.
That way I could remove the injector, when it wasn't needed or to clean it mid-run.

Not to sound like a broken record, but every boiler needs a manometer to measure and relieve any over pressure.
I once left the injector in during the ferment, and it plugged up as soon as the steam hit it.
I set it aside and used a different injector. The next day 90 psi of air pressure wouldn't clear the blockage :shock:
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You are 'dead on' about the pressure release valve, and it should be a 5lb valve, not a 15 nor a 150. We had someone not open a gate valve and the boiler distorted from the built up pressure, before we put in a pressure release valve. I've been living on borrowed time for nearly 50 years, so I went over and shut off the heat to it, and opened the valve, and we all went home while I cooled off. Next day, we replaced the boiler tank, installed the pop off valves, pressure and vacuum, but that was a near miss for us! Don't screw around with steam,,,it's a cagy critter, and it will boom you ass to a different galaxy! Steam heat is good, it is clean, and pure, but is not for the faint of heart! Caution, and good sense may safe your life.
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