HLT and MLT Upgrade

>> Thursday, March 21, 2013

Earlier this month I posted my redesigned Heat Exchanger. Not long after that I upgraded my Hot Liquor Tank (HLT) and Mash/Lauter Tun (MLT) from cooler-based to stainless vessels. I was able to reuse a lot of the parts from my cooler-based HLT and MLT which saved me a little bit of money. Both use the same Kal/Blichmann style weldless fittings for the valve assembly and the HLT uses the same style of element mount (except that it's mounted through the side).

As for the pots themselves, both stainless steel pots are from my local Asian market where they sell for $69.99 each. The reason I mention this is I almost ordered the economy welded pots from Morebeer.com or Homebrewing.org. Both sites offer economy kettles with two welded 1/2" fittings and they're a pretty good deal at around $80-$90 each. The only drawback was they maxed out at around 8.5 gallons, and that was a bit smaller than I wanted, especially for the MLT. The stainless pots I'm using measure 16"H x 15"D, so the total volume is 12.24 gallons. The quality of these pots seems pretty good but I don't know that I'd recommend them for a Boil Kettle over a gas burner as they're a little thin and not triple clad, so there's a better chance of scorching. Also, I don't think I'd trust lifting them by the handles when they're full.

I was a little concerned about using my existing false bottom (12" in diameter) with the wider vessel but I didn't see much difference in efficiency in my last brew session (83-84% is typical). One thing I did change up was the element; the original used a 1500 watt element just like the HEX, but this one uses a 2000 watt element. This should heat the water a little quicker. One more mod I'm still planning on is a sight glass for the HLT so I can tell how much water I've transferred for the mash and make sure I have enough left for the sparge. I'm also trying to decide where to install the HLT temp probe fitting. I'm kind of leaning towards installing it through the side of the HLT. Here are a few pics of the shiny new vessels.

HLT interior

Sparge assembly through lid of MLT
HLT element enclosure
MLT interior
Update 3/30/2013
I ordered a couple more parts for my HLT. I decided on going through the wall of the pot for my temp probe, so I ordered a thermowell from Brewers Hardware. It will utilize the same type of bulkhead fitting as the others (Kal/Blichmann style). I haven't decided where to mount it yet, but it will most likely be fairly low in the HLT so that I can read the temp even when the water level is low. I'll post an updated pic once I have it installed.

I also ordered a 1/4" compression x 1/2" MPT stainless fitting to replace the brass fitting currently installed in the HEX. 

For the HLT sight gauge, I think I've settled on this one by Fermentap available through MoreBeer. I like that it's glass and that it has a protective sheath. I'm only planning on installing one in my HLT. I'd considered installing one on my BK, but I'm afraid I'd bang it around too much. I haven't ordered it yet but I think I'll start dropping some Father's Day hints.

Update 4/10/2013
Here are a couple pics of the compression fitting on the HEX and the HLT thermowell. The thermowell is mounted at the same height as the ball valve (2 1/4" on center from the bottom). I also had to arrange the Kal/Blichmann style bulkhead slightly different because of the small diameter of the thermowell's hex head. You can see in the one pic that it uses two washers on the outside in order to hold the silicone o-ring in the correct position. The standard BCS temp probes easily fit in the thermowell. I'm planning on trying this out this coming weekend when I brew another Saison.
HEX fitting for temp probe 
HLT thermowell outside
HLT thermowell inside
Update 4/20/2013
I was a little disappointed with the thermowell performance. It worked great when heating the initial strike water for the mash, but then after topping off the HLT to heat the water for the sparge I noticed the element seemed to be firing too frequently and for too long. I grabbed a digital thermometer and checked the temp and it was 10+ degrees over my target temp. Seems I wasn't getting good contact between the thermowell and temp probe unless I held it in place...not good. I could have used some thermal paste in the thermowell, but that seems to defeat the purpose of having a thermowell and being able to easily remove the probe. Instead, I ordered another 1/2" male NPT x 1/4" compression fitting (same as on the HEX). I did some tests last night and it seems to be working much better.