My homebrewing setup is pretty damn cool. It’s a Brutus 10.
The Brutus 10 is a homebrewing system designed by NASA rocket scientist Lonnie Mac.
Why did I build one? Well look at it!
OK besides being a gorgeous brew system, the one area I struggled with the most in homebrewing was 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 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.
Do you want to build a Brutus 10?
My goal is to make this the best resource in the world for building your Brutus 10. Building it wasn’t easy. I learned a lot and want to share that knowledge with other brewers so you can have the same sense of pride I have when I fire up my burners.
The Brutus 10 Build Series:
There’s a ton of content so I split the Brutus 10 build instructions into separate sections. There is:
What Does a Brutus 10 Cost?
“How much does the Brutus 10 cost?” is one of the most common questions I get. Rightfully so! It is not a cheap piece of equipment. Here’s the cost for my build, your mileage may vary:
- Brutus 10 cost: $3,562
- Brutus 10 cost not including kettles: $2,358
Is it worth the cost? You bet your ass it is ; )
Full a detailed cost breakdown please refer to the posts in the series.
Common Questions about the Brutus 10
I know there will be questions. I had a million when I did the build and the people I reached out to were kind enough to respond. I will happily pay it forward by answering your questions. A few guidelines though to best help you:
- Please read the entire articles and all the comments (use Ctrl + F to search for keywords) before asking a question.
- Please leave a comment instead of emailing because there’s a great chance other people have the same question
- If you ask a question, try to comment on the relevant post. For example ask your electronics question on the electronics post.
Good luck with your build!
Brutus 10 Frame
The frame. The backbone of the Brutus. It all starts here.
I decided to make the stand out of stainless steel for its durability, rustproof-ness, and looks. After looking a handful of suppliers I found the best deal through Grainger. I used 1.5″ square stainless tubing with a 0.065″ wall. 42 feet (7 pieces of 6′) cost me $254.
[Click here for the frame dimensions which were adjusted to fit my 15 gallon Blichmann Boilermaker kettles.]
Welding the frame is the one part of the project that I outsourced. Given the fact that stainless steel should be TIG welded and that I’m using a gas beam which MUST be airtight, I deferred to a pro.
The cutting and welding was done by Chris Sulfrian at Generic Cycles. He’s no stranger to beer projects. We met through Nick Nunns of TRVE Brewing and Chris is the man behind of the fabrication of Reeb Cycles, an Oskar Blues project.
In short – Chris did an incredible job. The stand is as badass as it is because of him and his skill. I mean, look at these welds:
Even though I trusted Chris’s welding ability I had to pressure test the gas beam so I could get some sleep at night. Not surprisingly, it passed with flying colors:
I pressure tested the gas beam using a gas gauge and 3/4″ x 1/2″ reducer so the gauge would thread into the coupling. I plugged the other two couplings by attaching ball valves and putting them in the “off” position.
Then I hooked up my CO2 tank from the kegerator (don’t use propane kids) and cranked it up to about 14 psi which it held for five hours. Since I’ll be running propane at only 0.5 psi, we were in the clear.
The tricky thing about the BG12 burners is that there is a single mounting hole in the bottom. We could have run a single piece of metal the length of the stand, but to keep it a little cleaner and take advantage of the scrap tubing, we made “L” mounts by running a piece of tubing straight down from the top and then attached another piece at 90°.
This piece had a hole drilled into it for the burner and then I simply replaced the mounting screw with a longer one that would go through the 1.5″ tubing.
It worked great, and we didn’t even need to attach a vertical piece for the middle burner since it was part of the original stand design anyways in order to mount the pumps. More on the actual burner setup below.
We get some gusty days in Denver and since I have pilot lights on the stand I decided to add wind shields. I didn’t have much of an idea for how to attach them but knew that I’d need some sheet metal.
I found a commercial sheet metal fabricator near Denver and got 10 ft. for $30. It was just scraps for them but gold for me.
I let Chris handle the rest. He cut the metal and tack-welded it onto the stand.
Rather than forming a complete ring, we left the back open to vent the hot gasses. It also left more room for the propane burner and gas plumbing.
You need a way of attaching the casters (wheels) to the stand. You could weld a plate to the legs, but an easier way it so use a product from McMaster-Carr called threaded tube inserts. You tap them into the holes in the tubing and they lock into place. Then you simply screw the casters into the inserts. Two of the casters have brakes and two do not. You only need brakes on one end of the stand.
The key with buying the casters and tube inserts is to make sure the threads are the same sizes. I went with 3/8″- 16 threads. Make sure yours match up. Part numbers are below.
Below is a part summary for the frame with costs. Note that I included the diamond sheet metal as part of the frame which I use for pump and gas valve covers. You didn’t see it in this post but you will in upcoming ones.
- 42 ft. of 1.5″ stainless steel square tubing (Grainger part #4YUJ7) – $254
- 10 ft. stainless steel 20 gauge sheet metal for wind shields (sourced locally) – $30
- 12″x24″ diamond textured sheet for pump and valve shields (Grainger part #9077K123) – $50
- Caster with brake x 2 (McMaster-Carr part #2834T28) – $20
- Caster without brake x 2 (McMaster-Carr part #2834T13) – $10
- Threaded tube insert x 4 (McMaster-Carr part #60945K21) – $28
- Labor for cutting, TIG welding, and fabricating wind shields + pump shield – $400
- Total stand cost including labor: $788
Brutus 10 Liquid
Now it’s time for the liquid side of things. We’re talking water and wort and how it’s moved around the system and what equipment is used.
I’m using three identical 15 gallon Blichmann Boilermakers. The thing I like about Blichmann is that their kettles are made specifically for homebrewing.
Sure they are expensive, but when comparing to other options you need to factor in all of the bells and whistles they come with: 3-piece ball valve, hinged thermometer, stepped bottom, no-tools-needed removable pickup tube, heavy duty sight gauge (I’ve broken past ones), and of course their high quality construction.
They hold just 1/2 gallon less than my old keggles but are much easier to clean and are less bulky. I love them.
Still, for three of these plus a false bottom, if you are looking to save money on this build then this is the low hanging fruit. You could always build the stand, use cheaper kettles, then upgrade to Boilermakers eventually.
One thing to keep in mind with that strategy is that you’ll need to weld the frame to fit your kettles.
Tubing and Disconnects
A goal of the build was the keep everything moving quickly by using 1/2″ tubing. Just one bottle neck can really slow you down. 1/2″ silicone tubing is perfect for the job and can withstand temperatures up to 500°F. It also doesn’t kink like the clear vinyl tubing. I bought 30 feet of it but could have gotten away with 25′. It’s not terrible to have extra.
Originally I was going to use these stainless steel quick disconnects from MoreBeer, but they are $15 a piece! After some digging I saw that more and more people were starting to use camlock quick disconnects. They are also stainless steel but are only $4-$5 a piece. Easy decision.
I use three types of camlocks, all purchased from Bargain Fittings:
- Type B – Used on ends of tubing. 11 needed.
- Type F – Used on ball valves, SS Tee on mash tun, and lid returns. 10 needed.
- Type A – Used on Therminator. 2 needed.
You can see you need a lot of these suckers. Draw a diagram of your system to figure out how many you need. It was a miracle that my estimate was spot on.
One important thing about the Type B camlocks. You would think that I would use Type C to attach the tubing because it has a hose barb, but the problem is that hose barb tapers down to less than 1/2″ and restricts the flow. Instead, go with a Type B camlock. Dip the hose end in boiling water to loosen it up and then twist it onto the male threads on the camplock.
It’s won’t come off and you keep your 1/2″ diameter. I only had 2 small leaks, but a hose clamp on each solved that problem.
See the picture below from Bargain Fittings that shows what I’m talking about:
Next you can see my set up for the mash recirculation. By having a quick disconnect on the mash tun, I can easily remove the “Tee” set up to the boil kettle and monitor the wort temp while chilling through the Therminator.
The lid returns are one of the more ingenious parts of the Brutus 10 design. Instead of drilling holes in my precious Boilermakers, I just drilled holes in their lids. This also makes it super easy to drain the mash and sparge because all you need to do is move the lid from one kettle to another.
The hardware for the lid returns includes a Type F camlock, 90° SS elbow, rubber O-ring, and LocLine.
I’m so glad I heard about LocLine. You can bend it any direction and add or subtract length to it if you need to. It’s much more versatile than copper tubing.
Pumps and chilling
There are two pumps used on the system and they are both the Chugger Pumps. They work great but take some practice to get the hang of priming them.
You could get by with one pump unless you want to 1)Fly sparge or 2)Recirculate ice water while chilling. I do #2 to save water and chill faster so I need two pumps.
For chilling, I use the Blichmann Therminator. Going from a 50′ immersion chiller to this saves a ton of space. It’s amazing how compact it is and how fast it can chill. The downside is that cleaning it is tougher and you can’t take it apart so you never really know what’s lurking in there. So far though, it’s been great.
So that’s it for the build posts, but there is plenty more to come on actually using this thing. With any new system there will be kinks to work out and it takes time to refine your process. That’s where I’m at right now about 5 batches into it, but let me just say that this thing rocks!
- 15 gallon Blichmann Boilermaker Kettle x 3 – $1, 124
- Blichmann Boilermaker false bottom – $80
- Blichmann Therminator – $200
- March Pump x 2 – $300 (H315GF)
- 30′ Silicone tubing, 1/2″ – $60
- Camlocks, SS elbows, SS Tee, o-rings, clamps – $140
- 2″ Heat shielded thermowell – $21 (Brewers Hardware part TWHS2)
- 1/2″ Loc-line sample kit x 2 – $18
- Total: $1,943
Total build cost with kettles: $3,562
Total build cost without kettles: $2,358
Brutus 10 Gas System
Now we’re going to talk gas.
This was actually the most challenging (and frustrating) part of the entire build. There are so many little parts that must work together and the inclusion of the solenoid valves threw another wrench into things. Not to mention that every connection point is a source for a leak and the consequences of spewing propane everywhere are not to be taken lightly.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s start with an overview of how this thing works.
Propane comes out of the tank and into a low pressure regulator which brings the pressure down to 0.5 psi. Low pressure is needed for the Honeywells. If you’re not doing gas automation, you can run the whole thing at high pressure.
Some people have trouble with the gas beam because the propane tank thinks it’s not connected to anything. It responds by dialing back the flow, which reduces the power of your burners. The solution is to use a POL fitting instead of a QCC nut. The QCC has the safety valve which will lock up your system.
Propane enters the gas beam through a stainless steel flex line.
Burners and Orifice
I decided to go with the BG12 burners mainly for their size – they are about 6 inches in diameter. Many people use the larger BG14 burners which deliver more BTUs but they’re very big at 10″ across. If I were doing 15 gallon batches I may have gone with them but for my 6 gallon batches the BG12s are plenty.
Another reason for not using larger burners is that the Blichmann kettles have a stepped bottom, meaning the bottom is a smaller diameter than the rest of the kettle. To fit them, I had to bring the burner supports in to 10″ apart, meaning the BG14 flames would hit the frame which is not something I want.
The burners themselves are pretty simple – just a piece of metal with holes in it. It’s the orifice which is more complicated and what gave me some trouble.
The orifice is the tiny hole that shoots propane into the burner. Really, the only difference between high and low pressure burners is the orifice. Low pressure propane burners have larger orifices, and high pressure burners have smaller ones.
I am running on low pressure and there is a handy chart which lets you determine the orifice size from the BTU rating of your burner.
Since my burners at 50,000 BTU and I’m running at 0.5 psi (or 11″ WC) I determined that I needed a #45 drill size for the orifices. When I ordered the orifices from Tejas Smokers, I asked them to drill to a #45.
It turns out a #45 was slightly too large. The flame was weak and yellow, not blue with yellow tips like it should be.
It’s easier to make the orifice larger than smaller, but luckily I found a propane shop in Denver where the guy was extremely helpful with the entire gas portion of my build. He’s even built homebrew systems for friends.
He hooked up my burner and redrilled the orifice until the flame was perfect. He did all three orifices for only $20. You can see the difference below.
The lesson here is to start with a smaller orifice and then drill it out until you get the burner where you want it. The chart is only a guideline – it takes trial and error and the exact size will be different for every system.
The main feature of the Brutus 10 is the way it automatically regulates temperatures. It does this through a combination of a solenoid valve (the Honeywell) , pilot burner, digital controller (the Love), and thermistor (sensor). Here’s an example of how it works:
- The pilot burner is lit.
- The mash tun is set for 152°F on the Love and the sensor is placed in the mash tun.
- When the temperature drops to 151°F, the Love tells the Honewell to open which sends gas to the burner. The burner ignites because of the pilot.
- When the sensor reads 152F°F, the Love tells the Honeywell to close.
Here is a video of me testing out the automation with water. Pretty sweet.
Obviously a big part of this is the Honeywell valves.
There are really three parts to the valves:
- The valve itself (big square thing)
- The pilot burner
- The thermocouple
The pilot burner and thermocouple plug into the Honeywell as a safety device. If the pilot goes out, the thermocouple tells the Honeywell and the valve won’t open. It’s so you don’t shoot gas everywhere. The original Brutus 10 didn’t have this feature.
When you get the Honeywells you need to convert them from natural gas to propane by changing out a little spring. Then you attach them with 1/2″ MPT pipe. Since the orifice has a flare connection, you need to convert NPT to flare. I do this with the 90° fitting coming out of the Honeywell which is 1/2″ MPT to 3/8″ flare. A 3/8″ stainless steel tube then connects the elbow to the orifice.
The pilots were one of the bigger pains in the ass in the build. I mounted them to the burner support using corner braces and self drilling sheet metal screws. I was really happy with how well they mounted.
The annoying part was that they kept leaking. I attached the pilots to the Honeywell with 1/4″ aluminum pilot tubing and compression fittings. When I fired them up I got a flame around the base of the pilots, meaning I had a leak. It took a few tries to get it right, but every time you undo the compression fitting you need to cut the tube and attach a new one. I almost ran out of tubing, but they finally worked leak-free.
The thermocouple is an easy threaded fitting into the Honeywell.
It’s a little tight
If there is one thing I wish I did differently with this build it’s that I should have adjusted the overall stand dimensions to make it a little larger. The problem is that it’s a really tight fit between the Honeywells and the burner.
In Lonnie’s original Brutus 10 plans, he uses a small jet burner which doesn’t have the long tail on it like the BG12. You can see how I had to put the burner at an angle so it wouldn’t stick so far out the back.
Also, Lonnie used ASCO valves which are smaller than the enormous Honeywells. The Honeywells are too close to the burner for comfort, which is why I added the heat shield.
It’s not a huge deal, but if someone is copying this build I would advice them to make the stand a few inches deeper and lower the gas beam to give the Honeywells more room. The stand is pretty small overall, so it wouldn’t make it be a problem.
Parts summary for the gas system with costs.
- BG12 cast iron burners x 3 (Amazon.com)
- Honeywell 24VAC standing pilot gas valve x2 (PexSupply.com; SKU: VR8200A2132) – $120
- Honeywell pilot burner x 2 (PexSupply.com, SKU: Q314A4586) – $36
- Honeywell 24″ thermocouple x 2 (Pexsupply.com, SKU: Q390A1046) – $7
- BrassCraft 1/2″ x 24″ stainless steel flex line (Home Depot, SKU: 344497) – $12
- Marshall 2-stage low pressure regulator (Sourced locally) $30
- Needle valve/orifice for burners x 3 (tejassmokers.com, item #CVo125) – $60
- x 3 Stainless steel gas flex line 3/8″ x 12″ (plumbingsupply.com) – $30
- x 2 brass 90 degree elbow 1/2″ x 3/8″ (plumbingsupply.com) – $7
- Aluminum pilot tubing (Grainger part #5AU59) – $22
- POL fitting (Sourced locally) – $8
- 3/8″ x 1/2″ NPT adapter (Sourced locally) – $3
- Various 1/2″ black pipe – $4
- Corner braces and self drilling sheet metal screws for pilot mounts – $5
- Labor for drilling orifices – $20
- Total cost: $412
Brutus 10: The Wiring and Electronics
Speaking as someone who is really not an electronics guy, this part was fairly straightforward. I say this because people see the control panel and think that I just built an R2-D2.
I actually followed the original Brutus 10 wiring plans very closely, so be sure to pick those up in you haven’t already. Here are the major changes I made:
- Used Honeywell solenoid valves that run on 24V instead of the ASCO valves that run on 120V. This means I had to use a transformer to get the right voltage.
- Instead of hardwiring the control panel to the stand, I use plugs so I can easily disconnect the control panel. Right now, the control box sits on a utility cart next to the stand during brew day.
- I ran the wires along the outside of the stand using clips instead of drilling holes and running them through the stand.
The Love controllers really run the show. You program your desired temperature into them and then they control the gas. The pumps are also controlled on the panel, but they are not automated. I simply flip their switches when I want them to turn on and off.
The rest is best explained with pictures and the video at the top. I’ve never been much for wiring diagrams, probably because I’m terrible at reading them.
Here is the front of the control panel.
This next picture is good because it shows the holes that are in bottom of the control panel for the different components. Each cord ends in a plug because like I said, the control panel plugs into the stand. The main power plugs into a wall outlet.
Below you can see the plugs at the end of the cords for the Honeywell valves. These come out of the black, ribbed cord above which just keeps everything nice and tidy. They are coming out the transformers at 24V, and because of the lower voltage I went with these compact audio plugs. They work great.
These are the ends of the cords that power the pumps. They run on 120V and are the standard 3-prong variety.
Update: I wound up switching the plugs for safety reasons and suggest you do the same. Now, the cords coming out of the control panel have female ends on them. The outlets on the stand have male ends (i.e. the prongs). This way, if you accidentally touch the end of the cord coming out of the control panel while it’s live (although highly unlikely), you won’t be zapped.
And below you can see where everything plugs into the stand. I got some electrical boxes and the appropriate face plates and then just attached them to the stand with zip ties. The zip ties were meant to be a temporary solution, but I really like them and am not fond of the idea of drilling holes in the stand.
The wires from the pumps and gas valves enter the electrical boxes through the back. My March pumps came with 6′ cords. I cut their plugs off and wired them to the receptacle in the box.
These are the thermocouples coming out of the top of the control box. One runs to the hot liquor tank and the other to the mash tun to read their temperatures.
Finally, here is a shot of the transformers because this part is different from the original plans. They take the 120V coming into the control box (which is needed for the Love controllers, switches, and pumps) and step it down to 24V which is required for the Honeywell gas valves.
I’ve seen some configurations where people were able to use one transformer and fancy switches. Like I said, I’m not an electronics guy and I’d rather spend a few extra bucks on another transformer than try to figure all of that out. Using one transformer for each valve just made sense in my head – the K.I.S.S. philosophy.
And one more for good measure in case someone wants to see the inside of the front panel. It’s pretty difficult to make sense of things though without having your hands on it.
Writing Diagram from an Academy Reader
An awesome reader of ours named Steve created a wiring diagram for the Brutus 10. I’ll share it below with his note. Thanks, Steve!
I have finished my wiring and tested everything. It works perfect. I made a few changes to your design. Instead of having chords running from the box, I wired mine where everything plugs into the box. Please feel free to post this on your site as it might cut down on questions you are asked. Just a few references T1 and T2 stands for temperature H1 and H2 stands for heat. I use the term heat for activation of the gas valve. P1 and P2 are the pumps. I hope this helps. – Steve
- Love controller x 2 (Davis.com; part # DO-93520-00) – $190
- Control panel box (Home Depot; SKU 693878) – $34
- 24VAC Transformers x 2 (PexSupply.com; SKU AT175A1008) – $56
- Phone plug x 2 (Radio Shack; part # 274-1539) – $8
- Audio jack x 2 (Radio Shack; part # 274-255) – $8
- Heat shrink tubing (Radio Shack; part # 278-1627) – $7
- Wall plate x 2 (Ace Hardware) – $10
- Receptacle (Ace Hardware) – $12
- Electrical box x 2 (Ace Hardware) – $14
- 25′ Extension cord (Lowe’s) – $10
- Dual-row barrier strips x 3 (Radio Shack; part # 274-659) – $9
- Kwik clips x x (Home Depot SKU 853838) – $6
- 16 gauge wire x 3 (Home Depot SKU 710914) – $15
- Fudge factor for various wires, connectors, switches, and all the other little things I didn’t keep good track of – $40
- Total cost: $419
As I mentioned, there is a ton of little “stuff” involved in this part of the build.
And that’s all there is to it! 🙂