Brew Heat Source Comparison
Natural gas contains about 1028 BTUs per cubic foot in volume.
Pros: If you are lucky enough to have natural gas at your house, have a natural gas line run to your brew rig and never look back. Even with the inefficiencies of a gas fired setup, a natural gas fired brewery is the lowest cost setup you can operate. Also, many who start brewing on their gas cook stoves never move on to anything else because the solution works so well.
Cons: Can be very expensive to install if natural gas is not already run to your house. And natural gas may not be available in your neighborhood.
Propane contains about 91,690 BTUs per liquid gallon and one gallon weighs approximately 4.2 pounds. A typical exchanged 15 pound propane tank contains approximately 327,464 BTUs. These numbers are approximate because the propane you buy is never 100% propane. Your propane gas can contain as much as 5% propene, which affects the total BTU output of your propane gas.
Pros: Very portable and very accessible – you can carry your entire brew rig to just about anywhere and once you reach your destination, a 15 pound tank of propane is usually as far away as the closest convenience store. This makes brew club events easy to organize.
Cons: Of all commonly used home brewing energy sources, propane is the most costly. At the time this article was written, the exchange price for a 15# tank of propane was about $18.00 per tank. At this price & at gas brewing’s optimum heat transfer efficiency, your propane cost will be about $3.50 per 10 gallon batch of beer. Add a small cross wind or cold outside brewing conditions and your propane cost per 10 gallon batch of beer can easily be $7.00 or more.
Electric Stove Top
Most of us started brewing beer on an electric stove top. I know I did, and I learned the hard way to clean the top of my range hood before each brew session. Most electric stoves with open coils will boil 4 gallons and will eventually boil partly covered 6 gallons of wurt.
Pros: It’s right there in every kitchen that has an electric stove. And brewing with electric, even stove top electric, is cheaper than brewing with propane.
Cons: Stove top power limitations limits your boil to 6 gallons at most, and some electric stove tops will barely boil 5 gallons. Time to boil is always 50 minutes or longer. Because the heating element is outside of your brew pot and it sitting inside your stove top, about 20% of your energy is lost to outside radiation.
These days 120V electric means some sort of submerged heating element, usually a repurposed water heater element. 120V water heater elements come in 1500 watt, 1650 watt and 2000 watt ratings. The element is installed through the side of your brew pot or is dropped over the edge of your brew pot. A 120V setup can be used to bring up to 6 gallons of wurt to boil.
Pros: Other than brewing on your stove top, 120V electric is probably the cheapest way to go all electric. Size the element and brew pot correctly and your heating element can be plugged directly into your wall outlet without any additional controls.
Cons: Going 120V electric will take some investment but the total cost will be under $200.00. Also, if you decide to install the heating element through the side of your brew pot, you are faced with punching a 1-1/6” hole through the side of a perfectly good pot.
120V Electric + Electric Stove Top
This popular practice combines your electric stove top with a 120V heating element. The element plugs into the electric outlet near your stove and the two together can be used to brew 10 gallon batches of beer. But even of you are a 5 gallon brewer, this solution works great because your time to boil greatly reduced and adding a 120V element makes a barely capable stove top a great brewing solution.
Pros: This is a relatively inexpensive addition to stove top brewing.
Cons: Just like going 120V electric, this solution will take some investment but the total cost will be under $200.00. Also, if you decide to go the through the side route you are faced with punching a 1-1/6” hole through the side of a perfectly good pot.
120V Electric X 2
This is nothing more than using two 120V electric heating elements to overcome the wattage limits of using one 120V electric heating element. The two 120V elements are plugged into separate circuits, usually two circuits across from each other in the kitchen. One element is plugged straight in with no additional control and the second element is plugged into a controller designed to change your rate of boil.
Pros: This approach allows you to move into 10 gallon batches without going the full 240V route.
Cons: You need to be in a house built in the mid 1970’s or later. Houses built earlier usually have only one 15 Amp kitchen circuit, limiting your plug-in options for the second 120V element. Also, if you decide to go the through the side route you are faced with punching two 1-1/6” holes through the side of a perfectly good pot.
These days 240V electric means some sort of submerged heating element, usually a repurposed water heater element. 240V water heater elements come in 2000 watt, 3500 watt, 4500 watt and 6000 watt ratings but the 2000 watt and 6000 watt elements are rarely used.. The element is installed through the side of your brew pot or is dropped over the edge of your brew pot. A 240V setup can be used to bring 10 or 15 gallons of wurt to boil. Most 240V setups don’t stop at the brew pot. They often include a PID controlled mash tun that’s direct heated or heated through one of several mash recirculation systems.
Pros: These are the ultimate systems and with the proper controls, you can easily manage 10 or 15 gallon batches in the same time it would take to brew a 5 gallon batch of beer.
Cons: Unless you happen to have an open dryer or stove outlet that is also located in the right place, you are looking at installing a 240V, 30 Amp circuit. Also, if you decide to go the through the side route you are faced with punching a 1-1/6” hole through the side of a perfectly good pot.
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