Brew Day Musings, Part 1: The Pump

I am going to talk about the successes and failures of my latest brew day in a few sessions, so that I can talk about in more manageable, focused, chunks. First, about my first day using a pump.

I used a March 809-HS that I got for Christmas (the new variant, as sold at MoreBeer) from my wife (isn’t it great having someone who supports (or some might say, enables) your hobbies!). This pump is food safe even at boiling temperatures, and with a magnetic impeller, so that the motor does not touch the beer.  I ran a short length of silicone tubing (safe to 500°F) out from the brew kettle to the pump, and attached a 1/2″ stainless ball valve on the outlet of the pump. From here, I had a clover sanitary fitting that I could attach to a hopback or directly to more tubing.

You place the valve on the outlet of the pump to safely control the speed of the beer, without running the pump dry. The liquid is used as the bearing, if you will, in this design of pump, and you don’t want to run it dry, which you might if you were to restrict the inlet. By restricting the output, the magnetic impeller will just spin freely, with no danger of running the pump dry.

The pump made transferring hot water from the stove near the ground up to the mash tun 4 feet up, and to the hot liquor tank 7 feet up much safer, with no risky lifting of hot water. I was able to pump at least a gallon or two per minute up 7′ of gravity, and much faster at lower heights.

I attempted to use the pump to recirculate the runoff from the mash tun to clear it up, and it seemed to have no issue with the grain. However, it was hard to slow the pump down enough so that it did not kick up the grain bed. I think I need some sort of defuser to reduce the turbulence.

I wanted to use the pump to drain the brew kettle to the fermenter. To do this, it is considered safest to run the pump in a loop while the wort is boiling, to sanitize the pump and all of the tubing. I did this, and then took advantage of this recirculation to try out my Blichmann Hop Rocket hop back. I had some troubles there, which I will detail in a later post. I also used the recirculation to help chill the beer (per Zainasheff at Mr. Malty). I need to do some good A-B comparisons there. I think doing this reduces settling of cold break and hops, and could use some time to just sit after chilling.

Using the pump to transfer to from the kettle to the fermenter is so much easier. No more lifting the pot full of wort (60+ lbs) onto the table to slowly let gravity flow into the fermenter. But I needed to keep the rate under control to not suck up all the debris.

The major problem I had several times, was needing to purge the pump of air. If there was air in the tubing, the pump seemed to suck it right up. It required pulsing the pump on and off, and lifting the pump and twisting the tubing around to get the bubbles out. I plan to try and add a purge valve to the pump, but placing a T-fitting between the pump and ball valve, with another valve coming out the top, just to get rid of air.

Another issue, although more minor (Except when dealing with the hopback, see later posts), was switching what was connected to the pump, without leaking wort everywhere. I think I will just work over a bucket, when I need to.

In addition, I wish it were easier to turn the pump on and off in my setup. Although I intend to computer control it, I would like to get a foot switch override or some such, so that I can turn it off quickly when it runs dry. I had to flick the switch on the powerstrip, or more importantly, yell for one the folk who were giving me a great hand to shut it off. Adjusting the flow via the ball valve, and the on-off, all by myself, would have been challenging.

Well, that one topic ended up being longer than I expected. I guess I have plenty to talk about with homebrewing!

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  1. Good description, Nick. I agree re: the need for adjacent on-off switch, and for purge valve, as well as a more precise turn-down control. Overall I think the pump worked very well.

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