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Circulating in Boil Kettle

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  • Circulating in Boil Kettle

    So I've been doing something I find weird at my job, and don't know if it is common or even necessary.

    My previous brewpub experience was on a 4bbl German system with steam jackets as the heat source. It also had a built-in mash paddle in the primary mash/boil kettle.
    Flash forward to my current job and I'm working on a 3bbl English system that is directly fired. It has no paddles, and I'm mashing manually into a mash/lautertun.

    In the brew kettle on my new system I keep a long heat-resistant hose clipped up onto the exhaust hood, and opened to the tank, on the bottom-most port of the kettle during mash-out while I'm heating the wort. (There is also a second port on the bottom for after the whirlpool, and a side jacket where I add the collected wort, and create the whirlpool after the boil.) It was explained to me by the owner (who knows about brewing and was a homebrewer, but has never been the primary brewer at the brewpub) that that hose was to ensure the ability of the wort in the very bottom of the tank, and under the direct flame, to circulate and not scorch. Satisfactory answer to me since I've never worked on a system like this until I started here.

    Apparently the previous brewer had had a lot of burning issues, still, so once all the wort was collected, he had been removing the hose, and attaching a pump between the bottom-most port and the side jacket, and ran it at something like 15-20% during the whole boil to ensure that the wort at the bottom didn't scorch.

    When I started this was SOP, and because there had been issues with a lot of loss before I started, I didn't want to risk anything. Well, I've been here for almost five months now, and I'm wondering if this is necessary, or if I should take a risk with a day's wort and see if I can cut out this step. It isn't for laziness' sake, but rather because I'm worried about constantly recirculating so much of the trub so vigorously back through the beer. From all I've read, it seems like the hot break should be insoluble, but might this re-circulation break up the trub so small that I end up transferring more than I need to into the fermenter? Might it make the cone that forms in the whirlpool less tight? My IPAs in particular have very loose cones, and I'd like to figure out a way to tighten them up more successfully.

    Basically, this comes down to "anything to make the beer better," and I'm not sure if this process is doing that, or if it could have some negative effects that I'm not seeing right now. I'm nervous to chage the process that is working for me, but a lot of it seems more like superstition than good practice.

    Thanks for the help!

  • #2
    27 years in the industry and I have never seen anyone do anything remotely like that. Some kettles have internal calandrias that circulate the wort, but that is for the purpose of moving the wort over the heating surface, not to prevent scorching. I have worked on one kettle that had odd geometry and needed an agitator to prevent flash boil overs, but that was a different thing. Currently I am working on a direct fired 10bbl and have a direct fired 1bbl pilot. In neither case is it necessary to circulate to prevent scorching. Even on the 1bbl that has to be totally manually regulated, it will boil over long before it will scorch.


    • #3
      It's possible that the burner is concentrating too much heat on the tube for the bottom port. We had some issues with this and solved it by insulating the tube with high temp exhaust wrap.
      Eric Brandjes
      Cole Street Brewery
      Enumclaw, WA


      • #4
        Originally posted by Brandjes View Post
        It's possible that the burner is concentrating too much heat on the tube for the bottom port. We had some issues with this and solved it by insulating the tube with high temp exhaust wrap.
        That could be it. It would make sense if the outflow tube extended from a central point in the kettle and the piping was getting hit by direct flame.