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Video Linux is an Obvious Choice for Automating the Beer-Brewing Process (Video) 112

Linus Torvalds, Jon 'maddog' Hall, and many other names closely associated with Linux are also closely associated with beer. (Ed. note: I have personally watched them associate with beer, and may have even joined them.) It comes as no surprise, therefore, when Linux advocate and founder Kurt Forsberg talks about using Linux to control his beer brewing. Kurt is a strong believer in Linux Automation who talks about home thermostats, sprinklers, and many other application, "anything you can automate..." but, he adds, "we spend all our time brewing beer so we haven't explored many of those yet." He says this with a big smile, of course. And if you want to keep up with Linux Automation on Faceboook, go ahead; like everyone + dog they have a Facebook page.

Kurt: So the way I got started in the stuff Oh my name is Kurt Forsberg and I am the founder of Linux Automation. The way I got started on the stuff is I was at a common Linux user group meeting, and a gentleman by the name of Chris Negus was giving a presentation about his book “Linux Toys”, and he had these temperature sensors that one of the chapters in the book was about. And he said, “Unfortunately, these are no longer available.”

So I approached him after the presentation, and I said, “I work in electronics, I can probably reverse engineer that and maybe we can make those available again.” So we talked about it, I did a prototype, and we were talking about going into production; but that never happened. But I had these temperature sensors sitting around, and I have been a home brewer for about 12 years now (I don’t know, a few years at that point). So I decided temperature sensors I could use for monitoring my home brew. And monitoring turned into controlling.

It started out controlling the fermentation temperature and eventually went on to controlling the mash which is the unit we have behind us which is RoboHop 2. And we got a hot liquor tank at the top which is controlled by a module similar to this. This module controls four transistors for switching DC devices, 2 [Tray-x] for switching AC devices and takes two channels of input. So for the top burner on the hot liquor tank, it is using one channel for the gas valve, one channel to actually spark it to light the ignition, and then one channel to detect the flame. So this unit will control two burners and switch a pump on and off.

Starts with the hot liquor tank, heated up to 180 degrees, automated. From there we go into the mash tun which usually lives right here. The mash tun maintains mash temperature, automated, recirculating through the pump also automated. After the mash is completed, this thing will be full of hot water again, then we sparge through the boil kettle. The boil kettle turns on automatically at that point. And then once we are done boiling the beer with hops in it, we transfer it to our fermentation chamber which is also automated.

Tim: Now the beer tray behind you is made out of what?

Kurt: A server rack.

Tim: That is a craigslist finding?

Kurt: Yeah. Free stuff on craigslist.

Tim: Now the rest of your setup, which mean you’ve got the control over here, and you’ve got those things that they're controlling behind you....

Kurt: These controllers are simply I/O, so all the code execution takes place on a Linux computer. Right now it is a series of batch scripts. But we are looking for software developers who can help us build a web interface and a graphic interface to make it a little bit more user friendly.

Tim: Now you are using to control the making of beer. What are some other purposes that the same kind of controllers could be put to? Where do you see this going?

Kurt: We’ve considered doing greenhouse control, you can use it for home control, my colleague Ryan has it controlling the furnace so he can remotely monitor the temperature in his house and change it if he needs to. We’ve considered doing sprinkler system. Basically, I don’t know, anything you can automate, but we spend all our time brewing beer, so we haven’t explored many of those yet.

Tim: What kind of beer do you brew?

Kurt: We stick with mostly English style ales, but the west coast variety of English style ales. So pale ale, IPA, porter, with a northwest twist.

Tim: You’ve got the warm portions of the brewing process here, did you also automate the fermentation process?

Kurt: Yes, for fermentation, we have a water-cooled glycol chiller propylene glycol solution made out of a chest freezer (found on craigslist) and that uses pond pumps to recirculate the coolant to the fermenters. And each fermenter is individually cooled.

Tim: You brought up to this year’s Linux Fest the beer that you made last year?

Kurt: Correct. Our old technology Barleywine made it at last year’s Linux Fest aged it for a year.

Tim: You served that last night?

Kurt: We served that last night at the after party.

Tim: It went down pretty well?

Kurt: Well, there are a lot fewer people here today, so I think it went down pretty well.

Tim: All right.

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Linux is an Obvious Choice for Automating the Beer-Brewing Process (Video)

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  • good (Score:3, Informative)

    by andjeng ( 2799457 ) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @02:35PM (#43743463)
    because we love beer.
    • We do as well, that's why we started this project and spend so much time brewing :)
  • Yes I really do!

  • Not really (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 16, 2013 @02:40PM (#43743545)
    Arduino is a better choice. This guy is trying to put a 350 into a Vespa.
    • Re:Not really (Score:4, Informative)

      by Rhacman ( 1528815 ) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @02:49PM (#43743651)
      Or one of many microcontroller eval boards from Microchip. They have some great library support for doing simple web interfaces too.
    • Re:Not really (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @03:55PM (#43744315) Journal

      Does it matter? If it takes less time to hammer out "a series of batch scripts" that work, then Linux is the right choice. What would he get out of buying an arduino and learning wiring when he has a working solution today? And how are you going to provide a web interface and GUI with an arduino?

      • A serial over USB or some other USB device class interface to a host computer running in the microcontroller firmware. You're also not limited to just a single microcontroller and can chain them together through various bus interfaces and interrupt event signalling to get better concurrency from the system on a hardware level. Aside, there's nothing at all wrong with using larger systems to prototype out an idea before committing to the additional engineering time necessary to trim something down for a lo
      • If batch scripts are what you know, then that's a fine solution. I'm not familiar with Arduino but it is actually quite easy to create a system with a pretty web interface with the Microchip microcontroller eval boards and libraries. For me personally I'd probably select a microcontroller for other things as well like watchdog timers so that if my control logic goes off in the weeds I can detect the issue and potentially invoke a safe shutdown routine to turn off pumps, heaters, etc. The other thing I li
    • Yep, it's exactly like that. Fun in the doing and pretty awesome when done.
    • Putting a 350 into a Vespa would be awesome! The point of our project is to be able to be able to use that old PII 200Mhz PC collecting dust in your closet and turn that into the host for an automation system. We also will be working on developing an interface that will make it so anyone can build automation sequences through a web interface so they won't be required to know any programming at all. Of course we will have an advanced interface that would allow someone with programming knowledge to build m
    • Yeah, but you can't run bash scripts on an arduino...

      • Or Perl, Python, Java, C, C++ and a ton of other languages. By having the host controller being a linux box that you could pull out of your closet, dust off and slap linux onto it, you've just given yourself an incredibly flexible platform to build the automation on. That's exactly what we did and is one of our core philosophies. Not everyone can afford to go out and purchase an AVR (Arduino and the like) but I can guarantee you people can scrounge up a old computer and most likely for free. Last year a
  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @02:52PM (#43743673)

    The traditional Unix approach to computing, having a lot of small programs that do simple thing, combined with "Everything as a file" makes these systems very good at automating stuff. While systems like VMS or Windows was designed to run larger programs, and access libraries.

    This makes Linux/Unix very good at automation, as it makes it easy to combine a lot of simple steps and get them scheduled and run in order without having to do a lot of extra programming. To automate using other OS's it usually means you will need to write a program to do the work.

    • windows designed to run larger programs??!! I can tell you about large projects that have been put on windows servers and what they do. they fail and fall down, is what.

      what a joke, a GNU/Linux or BSD or Unix system can stay up for years......a windows server, not so long

      • When I say Large programs, I am talking in an early 1990's mind set. I don't mean things like SAS or Oracle. But things like FoxPro form programs, and VB programs, meant for a particular use.

        not a program that takes your text and filters line that contains that text.

        Having all these small self contained parts is part of Unix/Linux stability as there are less big parts to fail.

      • Funny, I can crash our CentOS servers by making some minor changes to our firewall...

        The point being that I've seen Windows servers that were up for years (especially back in the Windows 2000 days) and *nix boxes that crash all the time. I've also seen the reverse.

        • Centos is just the Red Shat, there's your problem right there.

          Having worked with hundreds of systems, I've found Windows is by far the shakiest OS out there. IBM and Burroughs mainframes, NonStop and openvms clusters the most stable.

          If your Unix boxes "crash all the time", unless it's in-house code that's very bad that's abnormal and somebody isn't doing their job either with compatibility matrixes for drivers & OS, or patch levels. just not the way things are.

          • Well, you haven't used Irix, SunOS/Solaris, HP-Unix/UX, or several other distros of Linux - as these also exhibit various levels of instability from crashing several times a day to just daily.
            Have an OSX box that has crashed several times in the past few months, an OpenSUSE box where the window managers (more than one) crash periodically, and a Windows 7 box that has never crashed.

            I also have boxes that exhibit strengths the other way. I have CentOS boxes in the QA cloud thathave never been down,

            • I most certainly have used and been sysadmin on all of those plus AIX and SCO Unix, I'm older than Unix.

              funny you mention OSX crashing, that I'll agree with as I have a Macbook Pro at work. NeXTStep was so much more stable. But if you were having trouble with your SunOS or Solaris, or HP/UX or IRIX, maybe the trouble was you for that is not normal

              • You've got to be joking. Irix is the Windows ME of *nix operating systems. It was a running joke with everyone I ever met that was using an SGI box. We used to get os/tool distributions every couple of weeks, ostensibly 'updates to increase the productivity of the system' - but in fact emergency crash patches.

                Ignoring the fact that I've seen SunOS/Solaris core dump its own utilities and X windows implementation HUNDREDS of times, Irix 5.x and 6.x crashed all the time during the whole of the 90's (I haven

    • #cat /dev/beer/tap > /dev/mouth
  • by gmuslera ( 3436 ) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @02:55PM (#43743711) Homepage Journal
    Using to produce it an operating system that have tatooed "Free as in beer" at the chest?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    even running Linux is a bit heavy handed. To be honest, a microkernel OS, like QNX or similar, would probably be a better choice. It's a lot more streamlined and lightweight and is more than capable of doing everything required in home brewing.

    • Except that they'd have to buy it from QNX/RIM. As opposed to just taking Linux for free. But if one wants a microkernel OS that's free, Minix 3.x would have done this job just as well.
  • linux ladder logic (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    as a controls engineer, l would love to try some linux automation, is there a IDE for ladder logic?.... I just couldnt bear writing so many case statements.

  • by fredrated ( 639554 ) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @03:13PM (#43743907) Journal

    and can't for the life of me figure out how a computer would have helped.

    • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @03:27PM (#43744053) Homepage

      You just aren't creative enough: Why not take that really overheating machine that you're using to mine Bitcoins and have it act as an electric heater for your boiling?

      But seriously, I'd think this would matter most for people who are trying to move from homebrewing for friends and family to opening up a small-scale commercial brewery or a small commercial brewery trying to scale up to a larger commercial brewery. In those kind of cases, the right computer-controlled equipment could reduce the workload.

      • I went to a homebrew teaching event one time that was held behind a small brewery. A homebrewer was showing off his incredibly advanced brewing system he had built from scavenged parts. It was a thing of beauty; had its own electric and plumbing system, small outrigger-like feet to stabilize it on un-level ground, etc. It even had a timer and thermostat based system where you could start warming up the hot liquor tank before you even woke up so it would be ready by morning. As I was wishing that I'd cha
    • by nblender ( 741424 ) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @03:27PM (#43744057)

      Consistancy is really the hard part of brewing beer. It's pretty easy to brew a great beer. It's hard to brew the same great beer a second time and have it wind up the same as the first time.

      over 10 years ago, I was doing full-grain brewing using NetBSD (because it's what I had, along with a re-purposed ISA gpio card)... Controlling temperature during the mash and sparge was critical... If you keep your temperatures constant, you can stay within the optimal range for whatever amylase you're going for... I've always been able to brew a good beer... It wasn't until I was able to brew the same good beer a second time that I felt I had achieved my goal...

      When you go to a brew pub and order the bitter, you expect it to taste the same as the last time you ordered a bitter...

      there's nothing special about Linux specifically about doing this. It's just process control. The process here is fairly simple you could do just as well with an AVR or a 6502...

      • I guess doing the mash in a cooler and sparging with a shower head isn't going to be consistent?

        • by nblender ( 741424 ) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @04:11PM (#43744455)

          I was in a beer club at the time. We did tours where you'd bring the club into your brewing setup and brew some beer... One guys' garage we went to, he used a tiger torch to boil the wort... He used styrofoam fish-packaging coolers for the sparge, draining into a bucket and pouring back over top ... Lots of window screen and garden hose... Plus it was february and there was snow on the ground outside... It reminded me of Blade Runner... "I just do eyes!" ... We were after a bitter, but we got to drinking a bit much and during the initial mash, he'd sort of burned the grain with the tiger torch so it was like a bitter with a charcoal after taste... He called it a "RauchBier"... It was damn good but we knew we'd never drink it anything exactly like it ever again...

          • Some of the best beers I've ever brewed, or sampled from others, have come from fuck ups during the process. Relax, don't worry, have a homebrew!
        • Sure it is. So long as you keep your temperatures consistent, use identical grain bills, identical mash times and processes etc.

          Or you're the type of brewer that says "fuck it", because usually great beer comes out of the process, even if it's not identical to the last time you made that recipe.

      • I have a fairly universal AVR firmware that I use for electric brewing. It's not fully automatic, just a way to do simple temperature and boil control. My brew setup is very KISS and this is the sweet spot for me.

        GPL of course
      • by Anonymous Coward

        It's hard to brew the same great beer a second time and have it wind up the same as the first time.

        I understand why many would desire this. Although for me, I don't think I've ever wanted to brew the same exact brew twice. It is not that they were bad, but that I had more ideas for tweaking and changing the recipe than I had time to tryout with different batches. Unless someone has a stronger interest in the hardware hacking than the beer brewing, most people can do pretty well with just a stove and thermometer, or take up a step with a cheap regulated heater that can keep it within a degree of desire

    • For the brew we did today the automation simply held the temperature of the mash at a constant by turning on the burner and circulation pump any time the temp dropped below the set point. We don't have to worry about the temp of the mash as the system takes care of that for us. We're able to sit back and drink beer or more accurately, clean more equipment while drinking. The real beauty of the automation system is for doing step a step mash. We plug in a mash profile and let it do it's thing without hav
    • Fermentation temperature control, get an old fridge put a thermometer probe inside your bucket so you know the internal temp of your wort and have the computer adjust the fridge temp to keep your wort at the proper temp.
      • What if your fermenters do not fit inside of a fridge or you have multiple fermentation vessels? We have four 1bbl conical fermenters and they do not fit inside of a fridge so we glycol jacketed them. That was accomplished by wrapped tubing around the fermenters then wrapped insulation over the top of the tubing. We pump glycol through the tubing to keep them at a constant temp according to that recipes fermentation profile. The glycol tank is a converted chest freezer that we simply filled full of glyc
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This got me into brewing, in the first place:

  • As valid as the question is, it does not really make so much sense.

    Beer brewing is pretty simple. There is no real challange in the programming of a computer to comtrol the process.

    However building a brewing device IS. The point is: you need a pot with heater and theromstat, the pot should be hygenic. Stainless steel is likely the choice. You need a way to measure the fill level (to replace evaporing water), you need to stirr the liquid. Finally you want to be able to seperate the waste from the beer.

    All th

    • Running a heater for 55 minutes to keep the brew on 65 degrees centigrade is a joke for a programmer.

      I don't know much about beer brewing but I'm starting to get into sous vide cooking. It turns out keeping a body of water at 65C is a lot more complicated than you'd expect!

      I'm not sure what the tolerances are in beer brewing, but in sous vide cooking it depends. For meat, you can be off by about 1 degree C and never be the wiser. But if you're cooking eggs soft-cooked, you really want to be accurate to the tenth of a degree (63.5C) for consistent results. Also, there is another complication: uniformity. An

      • You brew beer in quantities of at least 20 liters.
        That is roughly 5 gallons. So the brew is circulating itself.
        My point basically is: you read a thermometer and decide to either switch on the heater or switch it off or keep it as it is. Not a hard programming thing :D

        Your points are valid though, but again this has nothing to do with programming or linux, but with your problem.

        • Your points are valid though, but again this has nothing to do with programming or linux, but with your problem.

          Well, it kind of does have to do with programming. I guess I just didn't summarize it at the end to bring it into one coherent thought, so I can see why it wouldn't have gone through.

          My point was that if beer brewing is as sensitive as sous vide cooking can be, then the obvious, simple programming solution is insufficient. In other words, plunking a temperature probe into the liquid and firing off a bash script that checks the temp every minute, operating an electric stove accordingly, is not going to keep

  • FTFS

    ...Linux advocate and founder Kurt Forsberg...

    Working as an engineer in automation, I thought, "Hey, maybe I'll check out this site!"

    The entire website consists of a few paragraphs about how great it is to use open source for automation, plus it has a few links to, a link to their Facebook page, and an email link.

    That's it.

    What exactly did he 'found'?

    • Unfortunately we haven't had a lot of time to devote to building a web page and other necessary documentation because we spend the majority of our time brewing beer and working on starting a commercial brewery. In fact, as I am typing this Kurt is starting to mash in on another batch of beer. We are recruiting technical writers and developers to help us with the website and GUI for the automation. Have a little patients and things will come around on the site.
  • Because it's free, as in beer?

  • Thank you Roblimo for posting this video! It has shot our facebook likes up a lot today and generated a lot of interest. We have been very slow in writing documentation and building the website because we spend so much time brewing beer in preparation in launching a commercial brewery hopefully this year. We also spent a lot of time brewing batches of beer that were served at after party for LinuxFest Northwest where the interview took place. If we didn't spend so much time brewing and working on starti
  • If you want to hack together some automation around a linux PC then go nuts..... but to then make a website and video about how awesome it is? Really??

    PLC's have a been around for years and many are dirt cheap - $100 CPU's and less than $10 per I/O. You wont hit memory limits in them (not in a brewery anyway) and they will run all day everyday doing one thing only, but doing it really well. The modules are easily replaceable which minimises downtime, and most of them use a standardised language (ladder logi

  • Put your back into it and do it by hand you lazy sods. It will taste better knowing you actually worked for something.
    • Are you able to reproduce consistant tasting batches time and time again? We can with our automation. It's more than just the brewing process we're automating. We have glycol jacketed fermenters, glycol tank, brite tank in a commercial refrigerator and a lot more all being controlled and alerting us if there are any problems. It's not about being lazy, it's about making consistently great beer without all the worry to make sure everything is at the optimal temperature or if something goes wrong.
    • Near as I can tell, it doesn't do the cleaning for you. That's always the most labor intensive part! Well, that and the drinking...
      • Give it some time. We many many plans for the system. One of which is to add CIP (Clean In Place) functionality to the system as well so the vast majority of the work will be handled by the CIP. It will even dump the spent grain out of the mash pot before cleaning. ;)
  • Just for your information, the Guinness, Carlsberg, Budweiser and a few others (all belong to the same owner) automation is controlled using Windows.
    Actually, I am posting this from Guinness factory in Dublin.

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