Making alcohol-making easy

A collection of our favorite automated brewing and winemaking setups.
A beer tap with a Sparkfun handle.
A Sparkfun kegerator tap. Sparkfun

The last time I tried making beer, we were up until 3 a.m. standing in a kitchen that looked like tornado had struck. My last wine-making attempts ended in grape-flavored vinegar. Even PopSci staff photographer John Carnett (or rather, his wife) endured a wort explosion the first time he tested his prototype DIY all-in-one brewing machine. Clearly, adult-beverage-making benefits from precise control and automation. Check out a couple of my favorite electronic brewing projects below.

SparkFun

An infrared photointerrupter counting bubbles.
The infrared photointerrupter in Sparkfun’s setup counting bubbles. Sparkfun

Nobody has put as many sensors and data logging into their beer drinking as Sparkfun Electronics. Their kegerator alone features:

  • A temperature sensor (a given)
  • Four pressure sensors (to estimate when the keg is empty)
  • A Twitter feed
  • A pull counter on the tap

Not to leave the winos out of it, Sparkfun even has a wine tutorial. It features a bubble counter made with an $2 IR photointerrupter that saves the bubble data to a serial data logger so you can graph the fermentation process later. Once the bubble formation slows down enough, the wine can be “racked,” or poured into another container and sealed to age.

Halfluck

A beer brewing station made up of one large black keg in the center, a smaller silver one on the right, and a white electronics box on the left.
Halfluck’s tidy, fully unattended brewing setup. Halfluck

Halfluck has mastered the unattended brewing process. Heating, pumping, stirring, cleaning, monitoring and data-logging are all built around a freeduino. His thorough documentation is inspiring for those that want to make all-grain beer while at work!

My favorite features of the Halfluck design are:

  • Screen emulation: Whether you’re in front of the brewing equipment or at work, the screen emulation allows you to view and change the brewing temperature.
  • Cleaning in Place (CIP) Mode: My limited experience tells me that cleaning up after brewing can be a disaster, especially when we’re talking about an all-grain setup, which is typically done in a 10-gallon container. Halfluck’s system can be flushed as-is.
  • Peristaltic pumps: Brand new, these pumps will cost you a few hundred dollars, but there are lots of advantages to using them. They pull rather than push, self-prime, and are easy to sterilize (simply flush the tubing with your sterilization fluid).
  • Nintendo game controller?: I don’t think this made it into the final version, but there is indeed a Nintendo game controller used in the v0x02 and earlier. Nothing says l33t like a circuit bending brewer.

I suppose everyone brings their own background to the world of fermentation. I was experimenting electronics long before trying to make alcohol, so it only took me a few hours to whip together the basic components. Temperature control (hot/cold), LCD, and wireless data-logging is easy enough. Taking this pile of wires to the next step of actually producing gallons of brew will be a lot more work and makes me appreciate these projects all the more.

An LCD screen, circuit boards, and wires on some grid paper.
AVR-based hardware development. Mikey Sklar