Planning a Brutus 10 Build

It’s time – I’m building a Brutus 10.

The Brutus 10 a homebrewing system designed by NASA rocket scientist Lonnie Mac.

Why am I building one you ask? Well look at it!

OK besides being a gorgeous brew system, the one area I struggle with the most in homebrewing is repeatability.

People wonder why I would want to brew the same beer more than once, and something I’ve learned is that if you really want to improve a recipe then you need to brew it over and over again. With each rebrew you make a small adjustment and keep everything else the same.

It’s that “keep everything else the same” part that I’ve struggled with. That’s where the Brutus 10 comes in.

It will allow me to brew consistent batches and eliminate (or drastically reduce) those days where nothing goes as planned and I don’t have a clue as to how the beer will turn out.

There are other reasons too.

As the business side of the Academy grows, I will be bringing more off-line events into the mix with demonstrations and live training, which the Brutus is perfect for, so there is a method to my madness.

Oh and if you want to build a Brutus 10, you can purchase the plans at Brew Your Own’s website for $3.

This will be a series of posts chronicling the build. Listed below are some of the main components of the Brutus and a brain dump on how I plan on tackling them.

The Stand

The stand design itself is pretty straightforward. It’s 28″ high, 48″ long, and 12″ deep. The original plans call for stainless steel but homebrewers have built them out of other materials.

For me it was between mild steel with powder coating and stainless. I decided to go with stainless. Even with high temperature powder coating there are plenty of reports of it burning off. I could use stainless only for the areas around the burners, but rather than mixing metals I’m going to keep it simple and do the whole thing in stainless.

One way I’ll save money is by using smaller pipe than Lonnie. He used 2″ x 2″ x 0.120″ pipe, which he’s admitted is overkill but he got it cheap. I’m going to go with 1.5″ x 1.5″ x 0.065″ which will be cheaper and make the stand lighter. I’m sure it will support the weight of the kettles no problem.

I’ve MIG welded before but for something like this you want it TIG welded and that’s not something I’m prepared to do, especially on my special baby Brutus.

Instead I’m hiring Chris of Generic Cycles here in Denver. Multiple people have told me about his welding skills and I figure if he can weld a performance bicycle then the Brutus will be cake. We’ve been talking about the project and he’s pumped as well.

Since I have a great welder I have the confidence to use Lonnie’s “gas beam” idea where the lower horizontal beam acts as a pipe for the propane to the burners. This makes the design much cleaner and is a pretty ingenious idea by Lonnie.

Kettles

I’ll be going with three 15 gallon Blichmann Boilermakers which will allow me to brew high OG 5 gallon batches and also 10 gallon batches from time to time.

It will be tough to say goodbye to my keggles because we have so much history together, but as time’s gone on I’ve liked them less and less. They’re big, bulky, and hard to clean.

The Boilermakers on the other hand were designed for brewing. Sure they are pricey, but when you factor in their quality and all of their features (thermometer, heavy duty sight gauge, three piece ball valve, pick up tube, stepped bottom), they’re worth it. Plus their louver false bottom is known for being one of the best in the business which will be important for the direct fire + recirculation set up I’ll have.

Because the Boilermakers have a smaller diameter than the pots Lonnie used, I’ll have to make some slight modifications to the stand dimensions. Instead of the 12″ spacing between cross beams, I’ll use 10″. The overall length of the stand will be the same, I’ll just have more space between the pots.

Burners

The original plans call for 12 tip jet burners. From what I’ve read, jet burners can be very finicky and a lot of people end up plugging some of the jets because they put out too much heat.

Other options are the banjo and hurricane burners. Things to consider are whether you want high pressure or low pressure, natural gas or propane (propane for me), how the burners are mounted, and the type of regulator to use.

I’m looking for input in this area if anyone can give advice.

Automation

Lonnie uses a combination of Love controllers, ASCO solenoid valves, pumps, and temperature sensors to automate the temperature control on the Brutus.

To summarize how it works with an example, say you want to keep your mash at 150°F. You set the Love to that temp and a sensor inserted in the kettle monitors it. When the wort drops to 149°F, the ASCO valve will open which releases the propane to the burners. Because a pilot light is on the entire time, the burners fire up. To keep the wort from scorching, a pump turns on and pumps the wort from the bottom of the mash tun and returns it through a hole in the lid at the top.

Pretty cool.

Finding the same ASCO valves Lonnie uses is tough and when I have seen them they are 2-3x the cost of what he paid. As of now I’m planning on going with this Honeywell Gas Valve which is available for a reasonable $68, unless someone can recommend a better option.

For the controller I could go wild and use something like the BCS-460, but that’s overkill for me so I’m sticking with the Love.

Misc.

CoolingTherminator baby!

Fermentation – Lonnie uses his mash tun as his fermenter but I’m going to keep using my carboys.

Pumps – Most likely the March High Flow.

ConnectionsQuick disconnects will make for easy connection/disconnection of tubing.

Cost

Since this will be a series I’m going to hold off on publishing those until the end, just so you know they are actual and not estimated. It will be an expensive build but selling my old equipment will help cushion the blow, as will all of the homebrewing gift cards I asked for on Christmas ; )

I’ll post again when I have updates. I’m collecting the equipment now and plan on starting the build in March.

Wish me luck.

About Billy Broas


He is the founder of The Homebrew Academy, a BJCP beer judge, and the homebrewing expert on the Rocky Mountain PBS television show Colorado Brews. He lives in the fine beer town of Denver, Colorado.

Comments

  1. Good luck! I just got my plans a couple weeks ago and plan on piecing one together as money and time permits.

  2. looks good and I agree you.

    some advice:
    pumps:
    -go with chugger head which is SS

    QD’s:
    -I have those QD’s, I think I would go tri-clamp or the cam style which I have seen lately. The rings get a bit sticky with time and work best when hot and wet. Of course this isn’t great when working with bare hands. I believe the cams that I speak of can be found at NorthernBrewer. I have spent plenty of $$ at both shops and recommend them both.

    Frame:
    -I went with 1-1/8″ SS and don’t see any issue with it. Still an overcompensating structure.

    Burners:
    -Big Banjo is great for your HLT, I think it does the job nicely, but fine tuning the heat for your Boil kettle may be more difficult. I use the smaller 5″(?) burner for my burner it suits me just fine. I work with a HERMS so I don’t currently have a burner for my Mash.

    Good luck! Looking forward to your updates.

  3. I just had to wipe the drool away. That’s going to be some impressive equipment. Good luck on the project and I can’t wait to see the completed project.

  4. Robert French says:

    I can’t wait to see how is goes. I’m currently talking to a few welders, but I’m not going stainless. I have heard some comments regarding the gas beam. I need to check out what Lonnie did, but a few people I have talked to have had gas flow problems.

    • Cool Robert. Yea I figured I’d give the gas beam a try and if it doesn’t work out I can go a different route. You know I was reading a post about flow problems the other day and someone had a tip that completely solved the problem. I should find that in case I run into the same thing.

      • Robert French says:

        Billy,

        The potential problem with the gas beam is that propane tanks have a built in “valve” the shuts down in case of a line break, kind of a safety valve. Because the gas beam has such a large capacity, when filling the tank may think is has a break. There may be a way around this valve, but I’m not sure. One builder locally in just hiding the gas line within the beam. Still looks clean but without the flow problems.

        • Hm I didn’t know they had an internal valve like that. My plan as of now is to hook up a low pressure system like Lonnie’s. The good thing is it’s pretty easy to go high pressure if it’s needed just be switching out the regulator and orifices. I may even go high pressure on the BK, but I doubt I’ll need it on my system.

  5. Billy Ellison says:

    Major build Billy! Looking forward to seeing your progress. Made some very big steps forward in my build last night over a few pints. I’m getting an HVAC structure from a contact that is about the right dimensions. I need to put a few more supports in, but for free it was a great find!

    Also, lined out all the fittings I need. Should be getting all of that in the next couple of weeks. Sounds like everyone at the Academy is in the process of building. We need to get Ryan and Vanessa in on the action!

    • Actually Ryan told me he was in the midst of building a Brutus. Now we just need to get on board and we’ll have a nice fleet of systems among us.

      • Billy Ellison says:

        Righteous!

        I faltered for a sec, thinking I should switch over to building a Brutus 10, but I’ve made up my mind. I’m making an Ellison. I need to rent an artists/architect and brain dump on him so that he can draw this out for me. If I do it, it’ll end up being in crayon.

  6. Hey, how did the build go? Did you finish your build?

    I am actually thinking of doing it too, how much did it cost you from start to finish?

    • Hey Val, I did finish the build in the sense that I’m brewing beer on it. There are still some mods I want to make, but it’s 95% there. I haven’t done a detailed cost breakdown yet, but it’s going to come out to about $3,400 which includes $1,200 for the boilermaker kettles and $200 for the therminator. Those are areas you could save money.

      I’m slowly posting the build series by topic. The next one is the electronics. You can see the past ones here: http://homebrewacademy.com/category/diy

  7. So what burners did you go with. I’m in the middle of making mine and I can’t decide. and how are the March High temp, high flow working out for you?

  8. Have you had any problems with the frame being able to support the weight using the smaller 1.5″ tubing and thinner wall thickness. I am starting to gather parts for my build and am also considering the 1.5″ tube….its much cheaper!

    • Billy Broas says:

      No problems at all. I’m pretty sure the stand could support a tank. Good luck!

      • Thanks! And thanks for posting your process building this, it has really helped me process my own build.

        • I use 3/4 and have never had a problem.

          • That’s good to know, it seems 2″ is major overkill. My biggest concern was wall thickness going from 0.120″ to 0.065″ and then putting high amounts of heat into the system. However since I work with metallurgists and Engineers I have easy access to technical data on metal and yield strength. 304 stainless does not lose its strength and ductility until it reaches temps over 900F, and then its on curve dependent on time and heat input. If the 0.065″ wall can hold 3 pots full cold then it should be able to do this at hot brewing temps below 900F.

  9. What gas valves did you use? Also did you decide on the BCS? Last question for now :) How did you handle the pilot light aspect?

    Thanks! Would love to see some pictures of the completed system….

    • Billy Broas says:

      Hey Brian. I went with Honeywell valves and no BCS. I covered everything in detail in followup posts but I really need to organize them all onto a single page because they’re sort of hard to find. In the meantime though if you go here you will see them all: http://homebrewacademy.com/category/diy

      If you have any more questions feel free to leave a comment. Cheers.

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