From talking to other homebrewers, I sense many of us went through the same and somewhat predictable progression when it came to getting our wort to a boil.
Most of us started out on our kitchen stoves and realized bringing 3.5 gallons (or more!) of wort to a boil was a lengthy task. We quickly learned that we needed more power.
In fact, I was ordering my Bayou propane burner within hours of pitching yeast into my first batch!
After we toughed-out a few batches with the propane burner, battling the extremes mother nature threw at us, we started to wonder how we could get back in the house to make our beer. These thoughts lead us into the realm of electric brewing.
Induction Brewing: A Different Type of Electric Brewing
Electric brewing used to be a rather scary idea. Fearful of the unknown, homebrewers would assume liquid and electricity are bound to result in electrocution. Or an even worse assumption, high-voltage heating elements will scorch the wort! A few pioneers emerged and theelectricbrewery.com was formed to enlighten all homebrewers on the benefits and how-to’s of brewing with electricity. Some of us who are less electrically inclined, were still left out in the cold, literally and figuratively.
But thankfully there was some new technology emerging to solve our dilemma – induction cooktops.
Induction cooktops differ from other electric hotplates or stoves that we are accustomed to since the induction cooktop itself generates no heat.
Induction cooktops generate eddy currents which react with ferromagnetic (iron) in the cooking vessel. This reaction directly heats up the cooking vessel. By design, induction heating is a more efficient transfer of electricity to heat compared to a typical heating coil in a stove or hotplate.
Think about it: a traditional stove goes Electricity → Heats Coil → Cooking Vessel.
Induction takes Electric Current → Heats Cooking vessel.
Induction cuts out the ‘middle man.’ The downside is that your brewing vessel must be ferromagnetic, or contain iron, and have a flat bottom. An easy way to test for this is to see if a magnet will stick to your brewpot. If it does then you are good to go.
What's better about induction?
Initially the problem with induction technology was that it was very expensive and cost prohibitive for brewing. Many induction cooktops powerful enough to heat up 6-11 gallons of wort cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. These high energy units were only marketed and used by restaurants.
That was until recently, when a new model came on the market significantly cheaper than the others. Enter the Mai Cook Stainless Steel 3500W Electric Induction Cooktop which is priced under just under $300 dollars!
This unit runs off of a 20 amp 240 volt circuit and with patience and some brewpot insulation, is capable of brewing 10-gallon batches. If you only brew five gallons at a time, you have more than enough power with this unit.
Advantages of Induction Cooktops
- No Control Panel – The control panel on an induction burner is built-in.
- Brew Indoors – This is an advantage compared to traditional propane burners which generally require you to be outside in the elements.
- Repeatability – On my propane burner, I am constantly fiddling with the gas valve to adjust gas output and control my boil. These units can be set to watt increments and after a couple of uses you can dial in what you need to maintain a rolling boil. This should also help you achieve a more consistent boil-off rate.
- Cost of Use – Electricity is significantly cheaper than propane. I normally get four 5-gallon brews out of a tank of propane ($20) so that is $5/brew. Electric with this induction unit comes out to about $.60/brew based on my electric rate of 6.6 cents/kWh.
Disadvantages of Induction Cooktops
- Temp Control – These units cannot be controlled by a P.I.D. or other temperature sensor so you won’t be able to utilize an induction cooker in a HERMS or RIMS system – those components would be separate.
- Power – This cooker is 3500 watts which is more than enough for five gallon batches, but really pushing the time limits for a 10-gallon batch, though it is doable with patience.
- Use of Existing Equipment – If you don’t have magnetic flat bottom brewpot already, you may need to upgrade before utilizing induction
- Initial Cost – This unit at ~$200 costs three to four times more than a propane burner.
So now that you are aware of what an induction burner is, and how it might be useful in your brewery, you want to know how well it works, right? Here is how long it takes for me to heat things up:
- 4.5 gallons of strike water can be raised from 119℉ to 175℉ in 14 minutes. About 4℉ per minute increase
- 7.5 gallons from mash 152℉ to boiling in 33 minutes. Right under 2℉ per minute increase.
This is pretty good considering I start to heat while I am sparging, so much of this time is occurring while collect wort into the kettle anyways. I also measure these numbers without any insulation on my brewpot, which can be really useful, especially when boiling 11+ gallons.
So if you are looking for a relatively economically way to get back to brewing indoors, induction may be the route for you!