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Ryan Pierce's CNC Beer Brewing Station Project

Gareth Halfacree

Ryan Pierce's CNC Brewing Station

Poet John Godfrey Saxe was once quoted as saying that "laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made." While tubular meat products and the legal system may be off-limits for those who like to sleep at night the same can't be said of alcoholic beverages. There should be little surprise to find that the exacting science of brewing beer attracts many makers, and for those who are interested in the topic there's a rare treat on offer: Ryan Pierce is running a series walking through the creation of a computer-controlled brewing system for his local hackspace.

While Pumping Station: One, the Chicago hackspace Ryan frequents, had been running a home brewing group for sometime, Ryan had his sights on something a little more elaborate: the equivalent of a CNC mill for beer brewing. "It’s not about eliminating humans. The goal isn't automation to the level of 'push button, get beer,'" Ryan explains in his write up of the project. "Humans will still need to load the ingredients and monitor the process. We don’t want a hose breaking, resulting in 12 gallons of beer wort on the floor and a propane burner melting the bottom of the resulting empty stainless steel keg."

The real reasons behind Ryan's desire for a computer controlled brewing system are threefold: repeatability, to "eliminate human error" and ensure batches can be replicated easily; predictability, with the desire to be able to make use of beer design software currently available to reduce trial and error; and capacity, doubling the batch size the brewing club would be able to produce.

"And, well, there are plenty of secondary reasons that can best be described as 'because hackerspace,'" Ryan jokes. "I’ve wanted to learn more about industrial control electronics and the EPICS software environment. It was a great excuse to learn to weld. I had acquired authentic cold war indicator lights from actual nuclear missile systems that needed to be put to an awesome new use. And I could do all that while brewing beer!"

The first part of Ryan's write-up covers an overview of all-grain brewing and the theory behind his design. The second part delves into more practical matters relating to the build in great detail, with more to be published on Ryan's website in the near future. Even if you're not particularly interested in the brewing arts, it's a great look at how hackspace users can approach a fairly large-scale and complex project.

A bit over a year ago, I began a project to build a computer-controlled beer brewing system that Beer Church (Pumping Station: One’s homebrew club) could use to brew all-grain beer. I had no idea when I started this project that it would lead to visiting people from multiple countries, two synchrotron radiation sources, and a nuclear research reactor, or that control systems engineers from international labs would provide assistance.

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