Quick Update

We posted a while back that we were going to start sales of the BrewNanny Base model at some point this summer before all of the Kickstarter Rewards were shipped. We have decided to pivot at this point and will not be offering units for sale at this time. We are committed to fulfilling the Kickstarter Rewards to backers and will continue to ship rewards before offering the product to the general public. Currently we are in talks with several parties to take equity stakes in the parent company Lyons Labs LLC. We feel that having a stronger financial base will allow us to expand our production facilities, staff and equipment and get product out at a faster rate. We are also very excited about several new products we will be introducing and feel that having new equity partners will allow us to move forward faster.

In general, we are still up and kicking, building BrewNannys and committed to fulfilling our Kickstarter Rewards to you who have been so kind and patient backing the project.

Gary Lyons CEO

Lyons Labs LLC

Tutorial Update – Dashboard Access

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I have received a lot of questions regarding how the dashboard can be accessed either locally when you are near the brewnanny or remotely when you are away. So I thought I would post a small tutorial on how the dashboard works locally and remotely. This tutorial applies equally to the base BrewNanny model and the BrewNanny Pro . For the most part access is the same. The Dashboard is the web browser based page that shows all of the BrewNanny data both current and historical. Similar but separate apps made for Apple® and Android® Products will be covered in a separate post but work about the same way.

Your device your data!

It is important to note that when you buy a BrewNanny you own your data and you don’t need to pay to access it. We do offer a cloud service, explained below, to view your data from anywhere in the world. To do this we store your data for free. Yes FREE. You do not need to use this cloud service to view your data but it is a nice feature. And there are no data limits. Store as much brewnanny data as you want. There has been a lot of confusion about this and we just want you to know what the deal is.

1. Where is the dashboard?

Each BrewNanny contains a Raspberry Pi® computer board that runs the Linux® operating system. This means that BrewNanny has a real computer, although small, that can run standard programs. While not the most powerful computer it is actually more powerful than the first PC’s introduced by IBM® back in the 80s. BrewNanny installs a web server on this computer that makes the BrewNanny appear as a web site. This web site is accessible with any device that contains a web browser. The access is through the BrewNanny Wi-Fi transmitter. When you set up BrewNanny for the first time you give it the information that it needs to connect to your home Wi-Fi router that you have connected to your internet router, usually from your cable TV wire or your phone wire if you have DSL. If you don’t have a home network you can still access the BrewNanny while you are in range of the Wi-Fi transmitter, but more about that special case later.

2. Local Access

So let’s assume that you have your Wi-Fi router info entered into the BrewNanny and you have made a fresh batch of brew and the BrewNanny is sitting atop the fermenter. You go to any device, PC, MAC, laptop, tablet, or smart phone and open the web browser like you normally do to connect to a web site. You just enter the URL (web address) that you received when you did your set up (something like https://192.168.1.14) and your dashboard is loaded into your browser and you instantly get data from the BrewNanny. It is as simple as that. Remember to bookmark the address and you won’t have to remember the weird name.

3. Remote Access

What about when you are out of range of your home Wi-Fi signal? Well there are two ways that you can keep in touch and you can choose one or both when you set up your BrewNanny for the first time. The first method is via email or text. If you have entered the email address or phone number of your internet connected device you will receive automatic updates about the status of your beer. You will always receive alerts and warnings if BrewNanny detects a problem, like a temperature problem, or stalled fermentation, but you can receive regular updates if you want. These regular updates can be configured to send as much or as little data as you want and you can also select the frequency of the updates, from every few minutes to every so many days and anything in between. All of these updates originate from your BrewNanny and require that your home internet connection is working. But just in case your connection goes down, our message sending network that relays the data to your device expects to receive data at a certain rate and will be alerted if the data stops coming. This would normally mean that your internet connection was down, or the power in your home went out etc. So in that case our server would send you an alert that the data was not coming and that you should look into it.

4. The Cloud

The other way that you can access your data remotely is to use our cloud service, which is entirely free. This service allows you to view the complete dashboard app from anywhere in the world where you have internet access and a connected device like a computer, laptop or phone. It works by sending data from your BrewNanny as it is collected up to our servers on the internet. The data is encrypted and none of your personal data, like your name, is sent. We keep track of whose data it is by sending an internal serial number unique to your BrewNanny along with the data. Then when you want to connect to your dashboard from where ever you are you just go to the BrewFile.com site and log in. Your dashboard is displayed to you just as if your BrewNanny was in the next room. Figure 1 gives a graphic depiction of how this works. Currently BrewFile.com will just relay the info to you, but in the future it will be a full-fledged social media site for brewers where you can share your data with others if you wish and get advice when you need it. And this last feature is the most valuable. Think about what you do when you ask someone for advice. They usually ask you what your last few gravity readings were to get an idea of what has been happening. Now you can replay the fermentation activity and all the other readings like temperature from the beginning of your batch until the present. Being able to replay your brews fermentation will be fantastic when you need advice. And you set this feature up from the dash board and uploads are done automatically, nothing else for you to do.

Figure 1. Dashboard Network
Figure 1. Dashboard Network

 

 

 

5. No Wi-Fi Network

If you do not have a Wi-Fi network where you are brewing you can still access the BrewNanny dashboard if your laptop, tablet or phone has a web browser and has  Wi-Fi capability. You just connect to the web address that you received during setup and connect directly. You will not be able to get updates outside of your home with any of the techniques described above because they rely on internet access. And most important, you won’t be able to get automatic software updates that contain improvements and new features. But if you are reading this then I guess it’s all just academic anyway. Right?

Thanks for reading, hope to have another post up to you soon.

 

Gary Lyons CEO

Lyons Labs™, LLC

BrewNanny® to offer Products for Micro Brewers

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Currently Lyons Labs™ LLC. is working with several micro brewers, one startup and two established breweries, to beta test a new line of professional fermentation monitor systems. Installations are expected to be complete this summer. Based on the BrewNanny® Pro technology these products have been hardened to withstand the 24/7/365 use that microbreweries will demand. Improvements include all stainless steel construction, noise resistant networking and redundant processors to provide a fault tolerant system with no single points of failure. These products benefit from the research that went into the BrewNanny line of products and continued research for this professional line will also go back into the BrewNanny line making a relationship that benefits both lines of products.

 

Lyons Labs is currently looking for an additional location that will house manufacturing space for both lines of products. Talks are underway for real-estate and funding for the projects is being negotiated. The BrewNanny line of products will continue to be assembled in our North Adams MA location at the Mass MOCA museum complex and it is expected that the current location will be converted into administration, research and engineering facilities in the future.

Production Process

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Last week I gave you a look at our production facility and some of the work in process along with finished product going out the door. Today I would like to reveal to you what our business process is for manufacturing the BrewNanny and how it differs from traditional manufacturing. This process is similar to the one we used in development of both the hardware and software prototypes. When we moved from prototype to manufacturing we initially used a more traditional process to manufacture the BrewNanny which resulted in some major delays and decided to make a change. The new process is much more robust and is showing real promise as our numbers increase dramatically.

Traditional design and manufacturing processes follow a linear pattern and are referred to as “Waterfall Processes”. This means that things are developed one step at a time and at any time in the process the current step depends on the previous phase being completed. In most cases all of the steps will be planned ahead of time with a specific start and stop time. This type of manufacturing or design will come to a screeching halt the minute something is not completed as scheduled. The “Waterfall” processes have been increasingly replaced by a new philosophy called “Agile Development” or “Agile Manufacturing”. This process divides the project into several smaller sub projects that have a discrete amount of time for work to be done. This results in planning only for the next few weeks. The advantage is that if changes need to be made only the current work load of two weeks is affected. This process embraces change and it is for this reason that it works well with startup manufacturing and development.

Our current process uses a sub project interval of 2 weeks and within that 2 weeks we target a number of individual components to be made. At the end of the interval the final task is to take the completed components and subassemblies and finish as many product as possible. As this final task is started we move from making components and subassemblies and move to final assembly. This has tremendous advantages. For instance if we discover a new way to a make a part faster it affects all the parts that are  created moving  forward where the new process will be used. In the waterfall method we would have created all of the parts ahead of time and if there was a problem with the design all of them would need to be trashed and remade.  I’m not going to go into a deep description of Agile Manufacturing but for those interested there are a few links at the end of this post that go into more detail.

Currently we are working only on the base BrewNanny model. We find that concentrating on one model at a time increase productivity.  Initially we tried to deliver the BrewNannys in the sequence that they were committed to by backers. This would be the fairest way to do things but it is just not practical. We are concerned with quality first and manufacturing speed second. So the new process works best for all in the long run.

As we approach the final weeks of BrewNanny Base Model production it is time to outlay our strategy moving forward. Once the base model rewards are fulfilled we will be tooling up to produce the remaining Pro model rewards. At the same time we will be offering the base product to the public for sale. We will not be offering the Pro model for sale to the public until the rewards for that model have been fulfilled. This decision is basically a financial one. There has been no income other than a few pre-sales since the Kickstarter campaign payment became available last June. The company needs to make money to keep the lights on and I cannot personally continue to fund this out of pocket. So we will be selling the base model as soon as we are finished with the final base model phase. I’m sure that this move will be disturbing to some but it is a business decision that assures that the project moves forward and the company remains healthy.

 

Gary Lyons CEO

Lyons Labs LLC

 

 

Wikipedia article on Agile Software Development

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agile_software_development

Agile Manufacturing

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agile_manufacturing

Behind the Scenes

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I thought it would be a good idea to update our followers on the status of our manufacturing process. We have come a long way from our prototype and have spent the last year translating that prototype into a product, which is no easy task. We have had to take each part of the BrewNanny® and determine whether we would produce it in house or outsource it. In each case we had to create a set of specifications and quality assurance tests as well as a production method which includes getting machinery, tools, materials etc.  While I admit we do have a few things held together with rubber bands and duct tape, we have come a long way.

The one thing that has been at the core of all of these decisions has been quality. We do not let anything but the best go out the door. This has resulted in a few shut downs and has delayed orders. But we are now producing our product again and we expect that our speed will increase dramatically over the next month. Although demand for the products will stress our shop well into the future. We hope to have our back orders cleared up real soon and will be offering the BrewNanny® and BrewNanny® Pro to the public as soon as we do. I have posted a few photos below to show you what I can of our facility and people behind the product.

All of our PCB’s are manufactured and assembled in house by hand. This is exacting, time-consuming work that requires deft hands and a high degree of patience. We don’t live in an area where there are an abundance of out-of-work electronic assembly technicians so we train our own.
All of our PCB’s are manufactured and assembled in house by hand. This is exacting, time-consuming work that requires deft hands and a high degree of patience. We don’t live in an area where there are an abundance of out-of-work electronic assembly technicians so we train our own.
Once the PCB’s are assembled they have to be individually tested and software has to be installed and then the whole deal is tested again. Our boards are made so that they can update their own software to allow future releases to be downloaded and installed with little or no user involvement.
Once the PCB’s are assembled they have to be individually tested and software has to be installed and then the whole deal is tested again. Our boards are made so that they can update their own software to allow future releases to be downloaded and installed with little or no user involvement.
We could not find a temperature probe that met our requirements so we designed and manufactured our own. We assemble our probes in house and each one is custom designed based on the customer requirements for length
We could not find a temperature probe that met our requirements so we designed and manufactured our own. We assemble our probes in house and each one is custom designed based on the customer requirements for length
All manufactured components are then hand fitted and assembled into subassemblies and then quality tested.
All manufactured components are then hand fitted and assembled into subassemblies and then quality tested.
Finished Product ready for packaging and shipping.
Finished Product ready for packaging and shipping.

Advanced Temperature Control with BrewNanny™ Pro – Part II

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Last time we discussed some of the ways that we can use temperature control to alter the flavor of beer. We touched on some of the advanced techniques that control temperature based on some reading or calculation that is derived from brewing data. Specifically we talked about how the advanced sensor technology found in BrewNanny Pro could be used in conjunction withe the Temperature Controller add-on to do a lot of creative brewing. This post will go into this in a little more detail and show how we set up the hardware and configure BrewNanny Pro to make the temperature changes happen when we want them to.

 

Equipment Setup

 

Ambient temperature is neither standard nor stable. If you want to be sure about the temperature your beer brews at then you will need to control the temperature around the fermenter, or from within. Usually we opt to control the temperature around the fermenter because all that air at the proper temperature acts as a buffer and helps keep the temperature constant. Generally the larger the area the harder and more expensive it is to control. All we really need is a space big enough to fit the fermenter in and this is easy to accomplish by putting the fermenter in a refrigerator or freezer. The refrigerator has a temperature temperature controller that  is not accurate enough for brewing so we add our own. The usual temperature control unit we use has a sensor probe connected and turns the power on and off to keep the temperature constant.  A heating pad can also be used to provide finer control or keep the fermenter constant when the temp outside the fridge gets too cold. These techniques work well for plastic pail fermenters or glass or plastic carboys. But for stainless steel conicals a more advanced setup is needed and we won’t be discussing that here.

 

Technical Issues

 

As simple as it seems there are some issues that have to be addressed to do this properly. The big issues are that we need to measure the temperature of the beer, not just the air inside the refrigerator. Here is a scenario that will explain why. Lets say that the temperature outside the fridge gets really hot. The fridge has to  pump away to keep things cool and may not be able to keep up and the beer temperature rises. This is bad because we are in danger of killing the yeast. When the fridge finally catches up and starts cooling the air temperature will return to normal much quicker that the beer temperature. So because we are measuring the air temperature the Controller thinks all is well and shuts off and on to keep the air temperature constant again. But the beer is still too hot. The controller just keeps the air temp constant and as a result it could take well over an hour for the beer temp to catch up. Which may be too long and the beer is dead. But if the controller measures the beer temperature then the fridge will not shut off until the beer temperature gets back to normal and the cooling will be much quicker.

 

The next big issue is that when the controller senses the temperature is in the normal range it shuts the fridge off. But the fridge keeps on cooling for a while, because of thermal inertia. The components in the cooling unit are still very cold even though they are shut off and they just keep on cooling for a while. So instead of a nice tightly controlled temperature there is a range of +/- 2 to 5 degrees. The same occurs if you are also using a heating pad to heat the beer if it gets to cold. This is mostly an issue with old analog controllers that were very simple relays that had no compensation for this effect. Newer digital controllers have built in compensation control and can predict when to shut the fridge down ahead of time to reduce the over cooling. These controllers use a mathematical technique called PID or proportional-integral-derivative. This technique is a self-compensating mathematical formula that can correct this overshot and keep the temperature very close to nominal. The more sophisticated of these types of controllers can learn how much they need to compensate even if the overshoot changes due to outside temp or some other effect.

 

These issues are important if you are trying to keep the temperature constant. But it gets even more complicated if you want to be able to change the temperature during fermentation. On older style analog controllers there is a dial that you turn to adjust the temperature. This dial is not really calibrated very accurately so when you want to say go from 68 to 72 you have to turn it a bit, wait and see what the temperature settles on and then turn it up or down to compensate if it is high or low. This has to be repeated over and over until you get the temp you want. In the mean time your temp is all over the place. So making a abrupt change is not possible with this type of controller. The new digital ones are much better. But do not believe the displayed temperature, this has not been calibrated for your specific application and can vary. You really need to set it at a series of temps through the entire range and check the actual temp you get with an accurate thermometer. You can then create a chart that has the display temp and the real temp so you know what to set the controller at for each desired temp.

 

What it you want to gradually decrease the temperature 2 degrees per hour for four hours. Well you may be able to do this manually but you will need to physically be there for four hours. Drag! You can do it but this gets old real quick.

 

What if you want to change the temp when the beer meets a particular gravity reading? Do you sit there and take hydrometer readings over and over until you get the desired reading and then make your temp change.  All of these readings could easily introduce bacteria into the system, or if you take enough readings you wont have any beer left to drink! Again you could do this manually but not a good idea. So what we need is some automation, similar to the kind the major brewers use.

 

Automation

 

Last week we discussed the need for automation to make these types of controls and adjustments a bit more palatable and do so with a high degree of accuracy and repeatability.  You need some heavy-duty equipment and computing resources to do this right. You can do this your self if you are so inclined and if you’re that kind of person (I am) go for it. It will take a long time but the fulfillment you get is great. If you are not so inclined you need an off the shelf product to do this. At then moment I don’t know of any product that bundles all of the necessary components with an easy to use interface except for the BrewNanny Pro. I think we will see some others appear over the next year or so and I think it will be great when it happens. This will happen because it is a great idea, brewing like this, and there is plenty of room for competition. The BrewNanny Developers Program is in existence to help people do things like this and I expect a lot of innovation to come out of the program. (http://www.brewnanny.com/developers/). So until this happens, and it may take some time to put a product like this out, BrewNanny Pro is a great way to go.

 

BrewNanny Pro has a number of technical capabilities that solve all of the issues listed above and then some.  It is built on an open platform so you have the ability to extend the hardware and software if you choose to do so. Here is the list of features:

  1. Temperature probe that is immersed in the beer- You can accurately measure the beer temperature so that your controller is controlling beer temp not air temp.
  2. Air temperature probe – Even though you want to measure the beer temp and control it, you need to know the air temp outside the fermenter to get ahead of the process. The air temp will change much quicker than the beer temp, If the beer temp is where you want it and the air temp is too high or too low, the system will adjust it back before it begins to affect the beer temp. This is an extremely important feature and will keep temp constant much better than liquid temp sensing along. So measuring air temp only is bad, measuring beer temp only is good, and measuring air and beer temp together is great.
  3. Intelligent digital controller – Implements a custom PID controller described above with extra intelligence built in to use both air and liquid temp together. Also important is the ability to change the controller software to anything you want. Even if you don’t have the technical ability to do this it will only be a matter or time before third parties make it available for others to use, hopefully as open source for free.
  4. Database storage and retrieval –  A lot of data can be stored and used to determine trends and such. For instance if you brew the same recipe a lot you will have all of the data for each batch and you can compare in real time or in analysis off line to fine tune your temp control parameters. We also believe that sharing this data with other brewers will result in an extremely powerful data set that can be used for research.
  5. Temperature Controller add on – The hardware accessory makes using advanced temperature control very easy and reliable. Simply plug it in to the BrewNanny pro box, plug in the fridge and heat pad and use the control panel to set up your parameters.
  6. Easy to use control panel widgets – You can just drag and drop the widgets that you need on to the control panel and enter your settings as needed. Use simple controls to just keep the temp constant or use the advanced controls to change temp based on some measurement.
 

Getting Started

 

So lets just jump in and set things up. First you need a fridge. It should be in reasonably good shape, a freezer would work too. You are not using any of the temp control that the appliance has. You are going to set the dial to coldest so that it is on all the time and the temp unit is going to turn the whole things on and off as heeded. Because you are gong to cycle this on and off a lot you want to make sure that you have a good grounded outlet nearby, don’t run 50 feet of extension cord somewhere, if you must make sure the cord is the right gauge to handle the current, 12 or 14 gauge may work but you need to either understand what you are doing or get someone that does. Preferably a licensed electrician. Don’t know one, hire one. Money well spent for safety and reliability. Your fermenter will go in the fridge the BrewNanny Pro sensor module will go in the fermenter and the cable to the BrewNanny pro external chassis will go through the door seal. The chassis is designed to go outside the fridge because that is where the Wi-Fi antenna is and we don’t what to make that signal travel through the fridge walls. It was designed specifically for this purpose so take advantage of it and get a nice strong signal. The temp controller also plugs into the external chassis. Connect the fridge power cable to one of the outlets and if you are using a heating pad you connect that to the other outlet. You may need an extension cord from the outlet to the pad if the pad cable isn’t long enough. Once again make sure the cable is thick enough to handle the current needed for the heading pad. Plug the temp controller unit into an outlet and you are all set.

 

Setup

 

Lets start out with a simple example. Lets say we just want to brew the entire batch at 68F. Right click anywhere on the dashboard background and a pop up menu appears. Scroll down to temperature and a new control appears on the background. The drop-down on the new control lists the type of control that you want to make, scroll down to liquid temperature and select it. The control now displays some new inputs as seem in Figure 1. Select simple from the temp type and then enter 68 in the temperature text box and click the create button. The inputs disappear and the current temperature is displayed.  You are done! Now the temp controller will do everything possible to make sure that the temperature is a constant 68F until the end of the batch.

Form4

Figure 1.

Now lets try something a little harder. Lets start out at 60F when we pitch and gradually raise the temp to 68F over 12 hours. Then when the alcohol content hits 4% we are going to raise the temp for 24 hours to 72F and then back to 68F.  When the beer is finished at 5.5% ABV we want to chill down to 55F.  I’m just pulling #s out of the air here but you may actually want to do this. So here is what we do. Right click on the dashboard background to get a menu and select liquid temperature sequence. A new control pops up and presents a drop-down for sequence # we select 1. The next drop-down appears so we can select ramp up from the list. Three more inputs appear and we enter 60 F in the start temp area, 68 F in the end temp area and 12 in the ramp time area. (See Figure 2.) . Click Create and the first part of the process is done.

 

 

form1

Figure 2.

When the batch is started the controller will immediately adjust the temp to start temp and then ramp up to 68 F over 8 hours.  So lets finish our setup. Right click on the background again select liquid temperature sequence, select 2 for the sequence number and select reading target for the type.  (See Figure 3)A second drop-down appears and you select ABV. A new data entry box appears and you enter 4.00, done. Now we only need to set the chill-down for when the beer is finished.

 

form2

Figure 3

 

Right click background, select liquid temp sequence again, # 3 and finish temp. for type. Since the finish gravity is already in the batch info  it knows to change temp when beer is finished. Enter 55 F into the temp input and click start. (See Figure 4)That is it. When the beer is in the fermenter and the fermenter is in the fridge we click the start batch button on the dash and these temperature sequences happen automatically. We get a message sent to our phone when each sequence is started and finished for a little peace of mind and we get alerts if something goes wrong and the temps are not achievable, there is a power outage, or someone tries to steal your beer.

 

 

 

form3

Fiigure 4

 

 

As I mentioned in our last article there is a lot of info out on the web and in books to show how and why you would manipulate temp for flavor control, I’m not going to get into that here, Maybe once I’m done with the basic posts I want to do to get you familiar with the ways that we can brew with BrewNanny I’ll come back and do a live demo on line. Until then happy brewing.

 

 

 

Advanced Temperature Control with BrewNanny™ Pro – Part I

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In a perfect world, there would be a quiet place in your home. It would be off the beaten path, and hold a constant temperature that was just right for you to ferment the beer that you want to brew. Actually, you might want two spaces, one for lager, and one for ale. In the real world, you may have a spot that actually does this. Most ales like 68⁰F, and so do people, which just happens to be room temperature in most places. Lagers on the other hand, prefer a brisk 50⁰F (or so), which is much harder to come by naturally. As a result, to accommodate the necessary temperature, home brewers have learned to control the temperature of a small space just large enough to accommodate a fermenter. They use some basic equipment available at their local brew shop or hardware store, by getting an old refrigerator, putting it in the basement, and buying a Johnson® Controller. Then they put their fermenter in the fridge and forget about temperature control. The controller turns the fridge on and off to keep the temperature constant. A more advanced version would wrap the fermenter in a heating pad to supply heat to the fermenter if the fridge went too far in cooling, or if the temperature outside the fridge got too cold. For basic home brewing, this is a workable, affordable solution, and many people use it.

…but, what if you want to change the temperature at some point during the fermentation process? You could just walk over and twist a knob on the controller, and then you could be in business…well, sort of. Of course, you have to be there at that exact moment. Which is fine most of the time, but many of us home brewers have other things on our minds, like a job that pays the rent or mortgage and those other people in your home that need to be clothed and fed. Yet, there is more. With many controllers, you actually have to fuss with the setting, because while it does somewhat of a good job of keeping a temperature constant, it is difficult to change the settings to a new exact temperature. You have to be present to observe the temperature after you make a change, then see if it is too hot or too cold, and then make another adjustment. This process continues until you get the temperature that you want. That means that this simple change is not always so simple. Most importantly, you have to remember to do it, and if you do not do it at exactly the right time, there is no undo button to push! If you want to change the temperature while the beer is fermenting, it can be done, but not with a lot of guaranteed precision, meaning that some sort of automation would be nice.

So why would you want to change the temperature anyway? Well there are some great reasons, and they all have to do with making better beer. I will cover a few here to get you started and you can find all kinds of interesting discussions at your favorite brew forums. First, there are the critical moments after pitching yeast. This is where many things can go wrong. We want the yeast to have a healthy environment, so we do what we can to make sure they have a fighting chance. The most common technique used to promote healthy fermentation startup is wort aeration. Getting oxygen into the wort is critical at this stage, and we can do things like vigorous agitation when filling the fermenter all the way up to pumping pure oxygen into the liquid via a diffusion stone. However, when it comes to temperature control we are usually only concerned with making sure the temperature is low enough to not to kill the yeast, and high enough to promote active yeast growth. There is a lot more that can be done at this highly critical stage, and it is as simple as tweaking the temperature a bit. There is more than one school of thought here, but there are two major treatments. One method is to pitch a bit higher than the desired temperature and then gradually lower it over a course of several hours so you arrive at the final fermentation temperature. The other way is just the opposite, by starting with a lower temperature, and then gradually getting the final fermentation temperature. You can use these methods for both lagers and ales. There are some guidelines as to which technique to use based on some simple parameters, but you are not going to do this manually unless you can stay with your fermenter for the first day (or two), and you have a lot of experience manipulating your temperature control setup. There are a number of reasons for using a pitching temperature technique like this, but the result is better flavor. It would be nice if this process could be automated and make it more accurate and repeatable.

The second category of control techniques for fermentation temperature is all about the flavoring, and can happen at any point in the fermentation profile. Yeast cells are finicky little creatures. They are sensitive to changes in their environment, and react very effectively to these changes as a matter of survival. Ambient temperature is no exception. As the temperature varies, yeast can change their physical structure to defend against the changes that threaten their ability to exist and reproduce. Yeast will actually alter the protein makeup of their cell walls to deal with a temperature that threatens them. These threats affect the production or inhibition of the certain chemical compounds that affect the flavor. If you can carefully control the fermentation temperature, you can urge the yeast into some of these defensive maneuvers and therefore modify the taste of the beer. This type of manipulation is not easy, and nearly impossible without some technological help. Because different times in the fermentation cycle produce certain flavor compounds, you need to identify these times. It could be as simple as waiting for a stretch of time to arrive, or as complex as some formula derived from the fermentation activity, alcohol content or any number of other factors. Accurately forcing yeast to react by changing temperature is something that requires some serious planning, it also requires accurate measuring, vigilance, and then of course you have to know what you are doing. In addition, it would be nice if you could do these things in a repeatable fashion, just in case you like what you did.

There is also the ability to use advanced temperature control as a defensive maneuver if you are brewing in conditions where you are on the edge of safe brewing parameters. How would you control your fermentation temperature to stay on the low end to inhibit the forming of a particular compound? Trying to keep this control, you are in danger of setting up a fermentation stall if things get even slightly out of hand. You could monitor this critical period by checking the fermentation rate, and if it starts to slow down you could jack up your temperature a bit to get things going again. Once fermentation is back to nominal, you could then ease the temperature down a little at a time. There are many ways that you can apply this defensive technique. This gives us the flexibility to try brewing parameters that we would not otherwise entertain, but doing this manually would only be possible if you were actually present to monitor how things were going, so again some automation would be nice.

The possibilities are endless. Search for “Fermentation Temperature” on the web and you will get tons of references. Many professional brewers use temperature to control the flavor of their beer. They have the advantage of having industrial process control instrumentation at their fingertips, and can do this with a high degree of accuracy and repeatability. For home brewers to do this effectively, they too need to be able to measure and control temperature and other factors with a high degree of precision. We are talking about things like lowering temperature a few degrees per hour over an extended time in order to get a desired effect. This rate may also need to change according to some other factors. This is very tricky stuff, but home brewers are doing it, and have been doing it, for some time. These folks are not your average brewers though. Their fermentation vessels have a lot of wires and tubes coming out of them. Some of them have PC’s hooked up to their vessels. …but things are changing. A handful of companies (that are forward thinking) are starting to put this advanced control into the hands of everyday brewers. Hardware like sensors and controllers keep getting cheaper and easier to use. This stuff is starting to turn up on brew forums, and ads about them are starting to appear in the media.

Those of you who read my post last week surely know where this is going. Yes I am going to tell you about the advanced temperature control functionality of BrewNanny™ Pro. BrewNanny Pro accurately measures temperature, both of the wort and the air temperature around the fermenter. It measures it more frequently and accurately than could possibly be needed to minimize any “noise” or errors from the measuring electronics. It accurately measures the exact amount of CO2 released, and can calculate the amount of alcohol currently present and predict where in the fermentation profile the batch is at any time. …and there is a Temperature Control add-on that uses the BrewNanny Pro probes, data and calculations for inputs to the controller logic, and has the two outlets necessary to implement the standard refrigerator heating pad setup. So all of the precision technical help you need to start manipulating fermentation temperature control is right here and available out of the box. If you happen to be an advanced software engineer, hardware hacker, and understand industrial process control, you could probably rig this up yourself, or already have. For most brewers who enjoy the brewing process and results more than equipment design and engineering, BrewNanny Pro is a fantastic solution that lets you concentrate on the brewing and gets you up and running in no time flat. You want to introduce the ability to control what is going on with a high degree of accuracy. Doing this with homemade equipment is hard. If you want to make things simple, you should seriously consider an off the shelf solution like BrewNanny Pro.

If you want to get into advanced brewing processes by manipulating fermentation temperatures, you have to be prepared to do a lot of work, or use available technology like BrewNanny Pro. For a great description of the underlying science, along with a lot of other great information you will need to get started,  check out “Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation”,  (White & Zainasheff, 2010) , by who else but Chris White from White Labs Inc., along with Jamil Zainasheff. This book is necessary read, a real revelation if you want to start brewing at this level. Read Chapter 4 of this book to find out more details about what I covered so far.

Part II of this post will start getting into some of the specifics and give real world examples. We will go through the setup of a temperature-controlled fermenter, using the refrigerator and heat pad scheme, and how to setup BrewNanny Pro to do some precision temperature control. For those of you who are hard-core experimenters I am considering a third post dealing with setting up experiments using DOX (Design of Experiments). DOX is a combination of techniques based on Statistics and Experimental Processes. Use this technique to take a small number of factors as inputs, like temperature, time, gravity etc., and you will get the best possible combination to produce some measurable outcome, like the level of chemical compounds affecting the flavor produced. This technique has hundreds of variations, and is regularly used by research scientists and manufacturing engineers in just about any area of expertise. If you are interested in this third post let me know, and if there is enough interest, I will put it on the schedule.

I hope you found this little description of arcane brewing technology helpful, or at least interesting. I want to provide you with this level of information, so please feel free to subscribe to this site to get announcements when new posts are available. If you would like to see a particular subject covered here, please let me know by commenting directly on this blog.

 

Until next time…

Happy Brewing

 

Gary Lyons CEO

Lyons Labs LLC

 

Works Cited

White, C., & Zainasheff, J. (2010). Yeast – The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation. Boulder: Brewers Publications.

 

C6H12O6 => 2CO2 + 2C2H5OH

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With this equation, BrewNanny™ takes advantage of the fact that when yeast gets hungry it breaks down one sugar molecule into one carbon dioxide and one alcohol molecule. It is the law of chemistry, and there is no way around it. Simply put, if you know how much carbon dioxide your fermenter releases, you can calculate how much alcohol you have in your beer. There are people who say that it is just not that simple, and they are right. However, it does not matter. Other factors can affect the outcome of this simple equation, but the truth is — ignoring them, along with the hype, does not have a significant effect on the results.

That said; let us just move on with our simple equation. Measure the carbon dioxide (CO2) and you know how much alcohol you have in your fermenter. Measure it accurately, and often enough, and you will know a lot about the health of your beer, and you can predict when things will happen and know when you need to intervene. BrewNanny does a lot of things, but the thing that it does best is measure CO2 output very accurately and very often — several hundred times per minute, 24 hours a day, seven days a week  — until your beer is finished!

Measuring CO2 output to calculate gravity is not a new concept. On December 10, 2002 a patent (US6490965 B1) was granted to Robert Moreland for an invention that calculates the output of CO2 by measuring the up and down movement of the plastic dome in the standard air trap. The underlying technology was relatively simple; the top of the dome included an attached magnet, with the placement of a sensor on the top of the air trap casing. As the dome moved up and down, an electronics package received signals that evaluated the movement and calculated the amount of CO2 released. It was an interesting idea but not very accurate. However, it was certainly accurate enough to provide a rough guesstimate of when it was time to rack the beer, and when the beer was finished — without ever opening the fermenter to take a hydrometer reading.

…But, that was then. Since that time, there has been a development of highly accurate pressure sensors for the Medical and Aerospace Industries. The production of these sensors in high volume made their price very reasonable. Add to that high-powered microprocessors, Wi-Fi, and mobile technology, and you have a very different environment that is just screaming for someone to implement a highly accurate fermentation-monitoring device by measuring CO2 output. Lyons Labs stepped up to the plate and voila! …. BrewNanny is here.

The big breakthroughs came during the Kickstarter Campaign that we used to market test the product that we had developed. It became apparent that many brewers wanted a device like this, but with concerns. First, was the thing going to clog up if blow off occurs. Second could it be modified to control temperature?  Over this past summer, the BrewNanny crew developed a new extension product for controlling temperature. With this change, another question came up. If this device were inside a refrigerator, would the Wi-Fi be strong enough to penetrate? The solution to this issue was with the creation of an external box, for the electronics and Wi-Fi antenna to exist outside of the refrigerator. This solved this problem.

So how was did the crew accomplish these solutions so quickly? First, at BrewNanny we embrace several product and software development practices that tolerate change. Eric Ries in his book “The Lean Startup”, (http://theleanstartup.com/) outlines practices that test new ideas, eliminate waste, and allow a product to go to market faster with features that the users want. These techniques were instrumental in our development process. We also embraced Agile Software Development with a particular emphasis on “Extreme Programming” and “Refactoring” based on practices promoted by Martin Fowler (http://martinfowler.com). These frameworks were instrumental in getting an elegant solution to market. However, the most powerful component of our design process was the people who rooted for us – the Kickstarter Campaign backers. We have been in contact with our backers since April, and have so much insight into their needs that they are practically designing the product themselves. We listen, evaluate, engineer and prototype in a tightly compressed period. The valve, which is the heart of the device, has undergone close to 100 different versions over the summer. The result is breathtaking. A stainless steel precision ground bullet that punches through just about anything. We no longer worry about clogging.

The new temperature controller sparked some very interesting conversations. With the temperature controller as an attachment to the BrewNanny monitor, it became apparent that you could use this to do a lot more than just keep a constant temperature. You could use it to change the temperature based on a time schedule, and you could use it to change the temperature based on a point or zone in the fermentation curve of the brewing process, and, you could use it to change the temperature based on how active the fermentation was! We have developed widgets for the BrewNanny Dashboard that allows you to specify how to control temperature based on any reading or combination of readings. This opens up many interesting ways to brew beer. These ideas keep coming in and we have a team working solely on the fermentation modeling software that makes all of these marvels possible. …And, it gets even better. The BrewNanny Pro can download these software enhancements automatically, if you choose. No user involvement is necessary. The product just keeps getting better and better with new features added as they are developed. We get user feedback on these modifications and decide if we want to keep them, modify them, or dump them.

I have given you an inside look at our development process, and some of the underlying principles, that make this product possible. Check out Eric and Martin, they have great sites with fantastic resources. Next time I want to start talking about the technology behind BrewNanny, it will span several posts.

Until then, Happy Brewing

Gary Lyons CEO

Lyons Labs LLC

 

Feeling Lost

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You ever get that lost feeling. Like when you decide to fix something and you start taking it apart and it just gets to be a bigger and bigger job. And at some point you realize that you went too far, but taking it to someone who can actually fix it is out of the question because 1. It will cost too much and 2. You will look like an idiot. This isn’t as bad as it used to be because of the Internet. You can usually get advice on just about everything.

It happens in home brewing too. But it is different in a couple of ways. You only have a few tools at your disposal to find out what is happening inside your fermenter. You can watch the CO2 bubble up from the air lock and you can measure the gravity. But the “bubble rate” isn’t exactly scientific and you can only take so many gravity readings. Every time you open the fermenter to take one, you risk making things worse by introducing some nice hungry bacteria to the mix. And let’s face it the gravity doesn’t change that much from day to day so it isn’t always obvious right away what is wrong.

So even though there are plenty of people on the web that might be able to help you, it is really hard to tell them what they need to know to give you the right advice. So you’re lost. And it isn’t just beginners that get lost. I’ve been at it for years and sometimes I just don’t know what is up.

This is exactly why I created BrewNanny. You get plenty of data and can watch things change as they are happening. BrewNanny takes several hundred readings per minute. These readings are interpreted and displayed in a way that anyone can understand. And you don’t have to risk making things worse by opening up your fermenter, because BrewNanny works in place of the air trap. And even if you can’t figure things out, you certainly have a lot of data to share with someone who can. But there is one feature here that you cannot duplicate with a hydrometer and this  is one of the things that makes BrewNanny so valuable. You don’t have to be there to take the measurements. You have a complete second by second history of everything your beer was doing from the moment you put the lid on the fermenter. These readings go on whether you are there or not. And they are consistent. No more squinting to read the hydrometer, no waiting for the bobbing to stop, no temperature compensation calculations etc. Heck you don’t even have to write them down. Think of it as the “black box”, the brewing  flight data recorder.

But it is just as valuable when things are working perfectly. Make a perfect batch and you now have baseline data for that particular recipe. That gets stored and when you make the same beer again, or even something similar, BrewNanny will be comparing  the readings between the new batch and the old. If the readings start deviating from the perfect batch, then something is up. BrewNanny has the analytical ability to determine some basic root causes and can suggest what action to take in many instances. Or you just post the data on BrewFile.com, our brewers social media site, and get some great advice. This is like having thousands of brewers right there in the room with you helping you along when you are “lost”. Of course if you are never lost and have things down to a consistent quality level, then you are the guy who can help someone else out.

Some people have expressed the idea that this type of device takes the brewer out of the picture and that you are brewing on autopilot. Not true! BrewNanny does not make beer. BrewNanny gives you a clear picture of what your beer is doing so you can make informed decisions. BrewNanny combined with BrewFile.com brings brewers together that normally would never be able to meet. BrewNanny brings the benefits of social media to home brewing and home brewing will be better for it.

Over the next few months we will be enhancing the site, which is a bit minimal right now, to include detailed information on how this all works. Our forums are up and while it will take some time to get people posting and responding, they will be a great source of information. And the BrewNanny Developer Program is very close to launch, so if you are interested in enhancing the hardware or software or building your own peripherals be sure to check that out.

We are just getting started here, so check back frequently or better yet register to receive notifications of new info.

Happy Brewing

Gary Lyons CEO

Lyons Labs LLC

We’re Back!

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Welcome Back

 

Well…. BrewNanny™ is a product. The Kickstarter campaign sent the message that we have a product that fills a need, solves some problems and is just really really cool. So we went into production over the summer and have been working to make the product even better at the same time. We missed some deadlines, but the Kickstarter folks understood. We needed to get it right the first time. And we have. Over the summer we grew from an army of two, myself and my good friend Maria Poulos our creative director, to a company that employs 3 software engineers, a technical writer, an operations manager, a sales manager and a growing staff of assembly technicians. We also built a nice prototyping model shop complete with CNC machine tools and an electronics lab so that we could develop the custom parts and fully test them before putting them out to bid. We have been able to stick to our commitment to assemble the BrewNanny product in our North Adams, MA facility and have sourced 95% of or raw materials and assemblies to US companies.

BrewNanny goes on sale today from our web site for domestic and international orders. We have released a manufacturing schedule that includes firm delivery dates. All BrewNanny products are made to order. The precision and complexity of our products requires hand assembly and we offer customization options that don’t lend themselves to having stock. So we have no warehouse, we build and ship daily. We have a huge wait list and anticipate that our capacity will be sold out to the end of the year over the next few weeks. So if you are thinking you can’t live without one, now is the time.

But there’s more. In about 2 to 3 weeks we will be launching BrewFile.com. This site will be the social media gathering place for home brewers. You will be able to have your own profile page, your own recipe database that you can share or keep to yourself and your closest friends, a cloud based storage area for your BrewNanny data and the ability to share your dashboard with others when you just need to show off, or you need help. Yes when you are stuck you can put your data up live on the site and get some great advice on what to do. This is going to be great. If you have a brew club you can put up a brew club site and have a private area for members and a public area for the rest of the world to see. Within a few days we should have a registration page to get notified when BrewFile.com goes live so check back in a few and sign up.

And of course there is the BrewNanny Developer Program, also just a few weeks off from launch. You can connect with other brewers that like to tinker and code. There will be plenty of forums with topics to help you extend your BrewNanny, export the data, replace the original code, whatever. And anything brew related with a high tech twist will be welcome here.

 

So glad you could drop by. Now that things are hopping I expect to post one or two times a week, the site is minimal in functionality right now but we wanted to launch today. We will be adding and improving over the next few months. Please comment! We need your help to stay on course and innovate. Hope to see you back here soon. And one more thing. Come back for the info, we are committed to home brewing, not selling a product. BrewFile.com will be our main sharing site, but until then we will be putting it up here.

 

Thanks

Gary Lyons CEO

Lyons Labs LLC