October 23, 2018
Indoor, Small Space Induction Brewing
Brewing all grain, in a sub-600 Sq Ft apartment, without the use of a stove? Yes, it is possible, as I found out the other night.
I have a rather small apartment, and as such, I try to do all of my brewing outdoors on a propane burner. That leaves me limited to brewing on nice days, or watching wistfully from inside as my wort boils all alone in the elements.
Being the nerd that I am, I looked into getting an induction cooker. Induction cooking is an electromagnetic process which transfers heat energy directly to a ferromagnetic kettle, like Northern Brewer's Megapot kettles. Dropping all the fancy words, it means that it heats the kettle, not the air around it, not the surface underneath it, just the kettle. This means that in my tiny apartment, I don't need to stand around my burner in my underwear because it is so hot. It also runs quite efficiently.
Since this was a bit of an experiment on my part, I found the cheapest, highest wattage cooker that I could find. It is a portable 1800 watt model from DuxTop that I got for $68 with free shipping. I researched the return policy just in case things didn't work out and figured that at most I'd be out 20 or 30 bucks.
I started out just heating some water to see how quickly it would heat. If it seemed ok, I was just going to go ahead and mash in, after all, my propane burner wasn't very far away.
It was going well ... too well. I was suspicious, but charged on anyway.
My 5-gallon system is comprised of 3 8-gallon Megapots, two of them with ball valves and thermometers, one of those is also equipped with a false bottom and a Blichmann AutoSparge. Its a pretty painless, easy to use system.
I mashed in and noticed fairly quickly that the induction cooktop was pretty good at controlling mash temperatures. The ferromagnetic bottom combined with the aluminum layer meant that heat was pretty evenly distributed, so I felt comfortable using it at a low heat setting for the mash.
With my kettles and a decent amount of grain, it usually isn't necessary to heat the mash much to hold it steady, but its nice to have a very low heat setting to do so, I think I used it for a few minutes a couple times when I saw it dip down. The rest of the mash time, I moved the Mash tun off to the side to heat some sparge water.
The sparge went off without a hitch. I was initially concerned with having enough room in my kitchen for all three kettles at different height levels, and having room to maneuver. I ran off about 5.75 gallons, thinking if it barely boiled, I could still fit it in my carboy, and if it boiled more than I expected, I'd be a little under.
The boil was to be the decider. Was this setup going to work, with a dinky little induction cooker (the whole unit weighs about 5 pounds, by the way)? I put the boil kettle on, and set about bottling another batch, half expecting it to take a while.
In the end, it didn't take nearly as long as I thought, and I had a fairly decent boil off rate with the lid partially on. I ended up with about 4.5 gallons in the carboy, with minimal loss to trub.
That was far more boil off than I expected, I estimate just over a gallon. It was quite a bit cooler in my kitchen, compared to the last time I did a partial boil extract batch on my kitchen stove. That is definitely indicative of a more efficient process. I'll have to watch my power meter before and after, next time.
In the end, I think I may still brew outdoors in general, simply because I have more room to move around, and clean while I'm brewing, but it is still quite nice to be able to brew when the weather is bad, especially considering the minimal amount of heat it gave off, and the plentiful brewing aromas.
Indoor brewers: consider induction in the future, it was a blast!