I brewed my first extract batch with a friend, Dan Jatnieks, in June 1992. We borrowed a 5 gallon stainless steel pot, a propane stove and an immersion wort chiller. I think these three pieces of equipment were key to a good brewing experience. I think many a home brewer is "lost" cleaning up boil-overs on his (her) wife's (husband's) stove, skipping a shower while the wort cools in the bathtub overnight. As I recall, the beer was drinkable and I was "hooked". By August, I had my own 7.5 gallon stainless steel pot, propane stove and immersion chiller. I brewed approximately 10 extract batches between June 1992 and January 1993.
In January 1993, I ordered a 10 gallon stainless steel Vollrath pot with a 3/8" bottom drain, 3/8" thermometer weld, thermometer and a mash screen. I brewed my first all-grain batch in March. I used my extract pot and a second propane stove to heat sparge water. I collected the sparge run-off in a 6.5 gallon plastic pail. The process went relatively well, but the resulting beer was terrible! And it just wasn't one batch. Batch after batch, a pronounced astringent flavor. I came very close to giving up my hobby altogether.
I solicited advice on the HBD (Home Brew Digest). Jim Busch, among others, came to my rescue. PH? Sparge water (too much)? Mash temperature (too high)? Grain crush (too fine)? Thermometer calibration? What finally fixed the problem? A pump! I introduced a March MDX-3 pump to recirculate the wort during mashout and the astringency went away. I believe that I wasn't adequately recirculating the wort prior to sparging. Too much grain was finding its way into the boil vessel.
In September 1994, I started work on designing a computer-controlled brewing system. I studied Rodney Morris' RIMS (Recirculating Infusion Mash System) articles within Zymurgy (see Credits). I solicited feedback from the HBD. In December 1994, the prototype was complete. The prototype sat on my workbench. It was built around my 10 gallon mash vessel. I purchased two 15 gallon stainless steel Vollrath pots. One pot had a ½" bottom drain, a ½" F.P.T. fitting (to accept a thermowell), a 1" N.P.S.M. fitting (to accept an electric water heater element) and served as a sparge vessel. A second pot had a ½" bottom drain and served as a boil vessel.
The brewing system was controlled by an IBM PC-AT (80286) with an IBM DACA (Data Acquisition and Control Adapter) ADIO (Analog / Digital, Input / Output) board. I used a single plastic solenoid valve (which was reportedly taken from a dishwasher) to control the flow of water into the sparge vessel. The computer used a "float" level indicator to measure the level of water in the sparge vessel and a float switch to monitor the level of water/wort above the grain bed in the mash vessel.
A series of ball valves were used to allow a single pump to transfer dough-in and sparge water from the sparge vessel to the mash vessel, to recirculate wort to the mash vessel and to drain wort to the boil vessel. Most of the plumbing was copper pipe and fittings. I used an electric water heater element in the sparge vessel to increase and maintain the temperature of sparge and dough-in water. I used a Morris style RIMS tube and electric heater element to increase and maintain the temperature of the mash. The pump, solenoid valve and electric water heater elements were controlled via SSRs (solid state relays). I continued to use an immersion wort chiller. I brewed approximately 25 batches between December 1994 and November 1995.
In December 1995, I started designing "phase II". I wanted my workbench back, so I designed a brewing rack. I wanted to further automate the brewing process, so I introduced three more solenoid valves and a second pump. I replaced the IBM PC-AT with an IBM Industrial 19" rack-mount, PC-AT (80286) and packaged the SSRs into a 19" rack-mount electronics drawer. The keyboard sits in a 19" rack-mount retractable drawer. The computer monitor is suspended from the rack by an adjustable arm. I purchased a third 15 gallon stainless steel Vollrath pot with two ½" bottom drains and a Stoelting mash screen to replace my 10 gallon mash vessel. All of the copper plumbing was replaced with stainless steel. I introduced a pressure transducer to monitor the level of wort within the boil vessel. Phase II was complete in September 1996. I brewed approximately 25 batches between September 1996 and December 1997.