Building an electric brewery in my basement is something I sought out to do this year. It’s an absolute luxury to have in comparison to brewing outdoors or in your garage with propane. That being said, building a basement brewery requires a lot of thought and planning if you want to do it safely and properly. It took me about 6 months to get fully up and running and at times I thought “I JUST WANT TO BREW BEER.” But I had to wait for proper plumbing, electric, parts, you name it. In the end, it was all worth the wait.
My setup is nowhere near the Rolls Royce of home breweries—it’s simple, efficient, and effective. Kal over at theelectricbrewery.com has created the gold standard of building an elaborate home brewery with all the bells and whistles. His site is loaded with information and a phenomenal resource for getting started. It’s a dream setup but also a major investment. The good news is, building an electric brewery is surprisingly affordable all things considered.
My goal was to build an electric brewery on a reasonable budget without cutting corners or totally hacking it. At the end of the day, it’s a brewery, not a meth lab. Here are some things you should consider if you are looking to create a brewery in your home on a budget.
Moving From Propane to Electric
One of the major advantages of electric brewing is you can brew inside. I highly, highly DO NOT recommend attempting to burn propane in an enclosed space. The risk of carbon monoxide is dangerous and can cause serious harm. There are two popular options when building an electric brewery. A heating element inside the brew kettle controlled by a control panel or a powerful induction burner.
Most ebrewing heating sources will need to be powered by a 240-volt outlet (similar to a dryer or oven outlet). There are a few 120-volt heating sources on the homebrew market but they may not always provide enough power for heating water and maintaining a vigorous boil, depending on the scale you’re looking for.
For induction, a lot of homebrewers are finding success with a 240-volt Avantco Induction Burner. The advantage is no drilling holes in your kettle and an overall simpler and more affordable setup. The downside is they lack the control you’ll need for mashing at specific temps unless you get creative with different temp control options. They are also only suited for about 10-gallon kettles for both weight limit and burner size. Eric over at ericbrews.com has some good info on using the Avantco for electric brewing.
ULWD (Ultra Low Watt Density) Heating Element
A heating element powered by a control panel (Brew Commander in my case) is the route I went. It’s a more expensive option altogether but will ultimately give you tremendous control and power in your brewery. My setup is a kettle rims (horizontal Breweasy) so I only needed one heat source to power everything. There are much more elaborate control panels out there that can be connected to multiple heat sources and temperature probes.
My element installs through 1.5 inch TC and is easy to remove for cleaning etc. Plus plugging it into the Brew Commander is a snap….literally.
GFCI protection is an absolute must when it comes to combining electricity with water. GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. In short, if the current changes due to water, it will immediately trip the breaker and cut the power to your power source. This type of protection could end up saving your life.
For the basement outlets, I had an electrician install standard GFCI outlets for pumps etc. and a 30 amp GFCI protected circuit breaker for my Brew Commander. GFCI breakers are much more expensive than a standard breaker but you need to determine the value of your life (mine’s worth the $100 price tag to me). Always have a licensed electrician install electric work and do not attempt on your own.
Ventilation or Steam Removal
This is a big one and one of the most important things to consider. Boiling wort for 60-90 minutes is going to generate a lot of steam. Potentially gallon(s) worth of water is evaporating off the kettle into your brewing environment. Without a ventilation system, you could run into serious mold/mildew build-up in your home. There are two options. A steam condenser or kitchen range hood or condensate hood.
A range hood requires the installation of a vent fan that is externally vented outside your home. The problem is even a large and powerful range hood can still lead to condensation build-up. You will need at least a 400 CFM fan for the smallest home breweries and even that may not be enough depending on your setup and requirements. Condensate hoods are the gold standard for professional commercial kitchen venting however they are very pricy options. Most vent fans will also require some form of return air through a separate vent or window. This is to make up for the air that is being pumped outside and removed from the brewery.
A steam condenser on the other hand is a relatively new addition to the homebrew world. Steam condensers are relevantly affordable (starting around $130) and eliminate the need for any other form of ventilation. I went with the Steam Slayer from Brew Hardware. This unit can be mounted to the kettle lid or through the sidewall of the kettle. It’s attached with a 1.5-inch TC connection. More details and full review here.
A steam condenser is equipped with a fine mist sprayer that fits inside the unit and is fed with cold tap water. Steam will enter the tee and encounter the spray turning the steam back into water. The wastewater runs out the bottom and into a bucket or a sink in my case.
The only downside to steam condensing is more water usage (about 6 gallons per hour boil) and the need to have a covered brew kettle during boiling. The good news is you will save a lot of time, money, and aggravation from trying to exhaust steam. After chatting with some homebrewers that have experience with both vents and steam condensers, I decided to go the Steam Slayer route and could not be happier with my choice. It’s really easy to use and there is zero steam escaping from my kettle. The other benefit is less boiloff (about .60 gallons an hour) and the ability to maintain a more intense boil with less power.
Sink and Water Access
A large 24×24 stainless sink was a must-have for me for a few reasons. I was so sick of lugging equipment around and trying to clean brew pots and fermenters outside or in my always-messy-and-full-of-crap, kitchen sink. The sink also doubles as a drain for my Stream Slayer so I don’t have to monitor and dump heavy buckets of hot water.
I also had a plumber install hot and cold garden hose access next to the sink so I could easily fill kettles and also give the Steam Slayer easy cold water access. The plumbing, sink, and faucet was certainly the most expensive element in the brewery but it’s been so clutch to have.
Won’t spend a lot of time on this one but I wanted to make sure I could see what the heck I was doing. My basement was a little dark so I found a plug-in track lighting kit that was really easy to install on my own in a few minutes. Check out Hampton Bay’s track, adapter, and heads at Home Depot. I had an outlet on my existing basement light so I could plug right in.
So does any of this stuff actually make my beer taste better? NO, but it does make the whole process a hell of a lot easier on brew day and a lot more enjoyable. Set up and breakdown of equipment on brew day is a thing of the past and I’m no longer running back and forth from my garage to my kitchen with equipment and ingredients. I’m so pumped this project is finally done.
There are so many sweet brew setups out there that I pulled inspiration from. I really hope this was helpful and provided a little inspiration for you as well.