Zymatic



Picobrew published the above checklist for the Zymatic. That got me thinking about three very common issues with the Zymatic. Here they are and how to solve them. 

If you’re getting overflow during mash:

1. Pause/Drain

2. Check Zymatic is level. It’s sensitive. 

3. Take out step filter and then remove, clean, reinsert the 4 black stoppers (wipe the area around it before you do). If you have high temp keg lube, that can help the seal.

4. Check the out pipe at the bottom of the step filter for blockages

5. Disassemble the grey ball lock and clean

6. Disassemble the black keg post and clean

7. When you put back in the step filter, make sure there’s a keg o-ring (I use 2 on top of each other) between the top grain filter and the top of the step filter. Make sure the o-ring is not situated around the lid’s holes. In particular there are 3 holes at the front of the step filter, one large and two small – make sure the large hole is not inside the o-ring otherwise you’ll get overflow out that hole. 

8. Either continue mash to exit brew and restart

If you’re getting foaming during mash (this will start to come out the hole in the step filter):

1. This can occur from too little water. Check you added the right amount of water (there are two figures in the recipe crafter – use the larger)

2. Even if you did add the right amount of water, the HE mash in particular can sometimes have the volume a little low. Add 500ml to the keg and see if that stops it. 

3. Make sure that you’re not using RO water without appropriate additions. 

4. Adding 1 drops of antifoam to the mash water per gallon may help. 

5. A 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon of Calcium Chloride added to the mash water can help.

Note that mash water gets right to the top of the step filter during the mash and there is some natural foaming – advise above applies if there are leaks or the foam starts to come out the top of the step filter. 

If you’re getting foaming after the mash in the keg during boil and chill:

1. If foam does start coming out the foam trap, make sure from that point to check the spindle isn’t stuck every 10m – otherwise you could have an explosion like I did in 604. 

2. Calcium Chloride added to the mash as above should reduce foam. 

3. Additional 1 drop per gallon of antifoam into the keg before the chill cycle can help. 

4. Make sure that you aren’t running a prolonged chill cycle (45m max is recommended in the advice above), because of the physical properties of the sugars at lower temps you’ll start getting a lot of foaming.


Here it is. 604. Baby Ruin. Maris Otter, Vienna, Carared base. Magnum bittering. Centennial flavour, aroma, whirlpool, dry hopping. 5.1% – sorry, I mean 0.51%. 55 IBU. Exploded over the ceiling while brewing. 

It’s not the best beer I’ve made, but it’s drinkable. There’s something missing which I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s missing a richness. It’s a Disney beer. Relatively shallow and inoffensive. But I want a Warner Brothers beer. A kick-ass Wile E Coyote & Roadrunner of a beer. A beer with a bit more edge. 

It could be that I’m finding the Centennial a bit one dimensional after so long blending multiple hops. 

It could also be that a higher and richer alcohol level would work better with the Centennial, giving some missing depth. 

It could also be that as 60+% of the bittering comes from the Centennial additions, it’s just not giving me the sharp bitterness or citrus bitterness I want. I remember having that experience with Centennial in the past. 

It could also be that the Z isn’t generating the promised IBU. 

I don’t know. But I won’t be making this exact recipe again. 


602 Pale Lager and 603 Pils are both lagering away in the kegerator. They both came out a lot drier and a lot “fruitier” than I expected. The Pale has also come out quite seems devoid of and “pale ale recipe” and dry-hop influence. 

I’m hoping all is not lost and some time lagering will clean up the fruitiness.  I had read that W34/70 is a clean fermenting yeast, but perhaps 15 degrees was a bit too high. On the plus side they have no diacetyl – fermenting 20-ish for the last few points cleaned that up. 

Next beer is currently on hold as I have no space for any more beer until I empty a keg! In the meantime I’ve been looking into the foaming and have come up with a few ideas to try on the next brew. More in a future post. 

Edit: After sampling another beer I made, I’m convinced it’s the lack of other hops to complement the Centennial at this alcohol level. 

  

My 4th Zymatic brew was a reworking of one of the best beers I ever made and one of my early beers – Hops of Mass Destructions – which was a Ruination IIPA clone. “Baby Ruin,” I named it – being a more sessionable version of HOMD/Ruination – and by geeze did it live up to its name.


It was almost a completely successful brew – but then in the last minute of the chill cycle the Zymatic foam trap exploded shooting the middle spindle into the air (narrowly missing my face) and hot wort onto the ceiling.

Of my brand new house.

The photo above is of the ceiling. The photo below is of the foam trap minus the flying spindle.


I, of course, reached out to Picobrew.

The only thing that I can think of is something was preventing it from venting.

Make sure that you aren’t running a prolonged chill cycle, because of the physical properties of the sugars at lower temps you’ll start getting a lot of foaming.
Something had to have been causing the spindle to stick to the disc and sealing it off there’s no way that enough force should have built up for this to happen, but the keg seal should have popped before it was able to launch it far enough to hit the ceiling.
Unless you’re brewing with dynamite, are you brewing with dynamite?

And:

In my 3 years with the company and hundreds of brews on a Zymatic I’ve never seen, nor even heard about this happening.

So I’m unique. Sometimes it’s good to be unique. Other times. I’d rather pass.

I have a query back to Pico on suggestions to prevent this in the future, but haven’t had a reply back for the last 4 days (which does include the weekend). While their reply is reasonable, I’m amazed such force could build up. The keg seals I have (which the foam trap goes into, like an airlock) are an extremely tight fit so definitely won’t pop to relieve pressure.

I was running a 30m whirlpool through cage and keg hops (the hops being in a 300 micron container) before the ice bath chill – but then plenty of others do that too, so it shouldn’t be an issue.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the chill cycle through the machine is a bad idea – it just creates too much foam. In this brew I actually reduced the duration of the chill cycle by setting target to 30C rather than 19C (the default). So I need to work out what I’m going to do about that. Overnight chill isn’t really an option for an IPA.

In the meantime:

1. Use tap water straight from the tap rather than the water filter to see whether that helps with foam. Apparently the wrong type of water (which is water without minerals) can cause the Z to foam. Our water filter is so weak and needs replacing that I doubt it’s having an affect anyway but worth a try, as is looking more into water chemistry.

2. Add a few drops antifoam to the keg – though I did add to the mash in this case so I don’t see that will help.

3. Check the spindle every 10 minutes during whirlpool and chill – you have to be at the machine anyway during that timeout.

4. Change the way I do whirlpooling. One option would be to do a smaller circulate through the hop cages and then a hop stand with hops in the keg. This would reduce circulation time and may give foam time to settle.

The good news is that the brew seems to be bubbling along nicely and a midweek sample was very promising. I’m monitoring its progress on one of my Tilt Bluetooth hydrometers which makes monitoring the whole fermentation process very addicting indeed!

It’s a rather frustrating period right now as I don’t yet know how any of the beer I’ve made with the Zymatic has turned out! 601 – the first brew – is in bottles carbonating, but is more likely to resemble hopped Buckfast than any beer thanks to my screw up of water additions and barley wine level high FG. 602 and 603 were fermented with lager yeast and after fermenting at 15, are now going through yeast cleanup at room temp before being dryhopped and then layered.

Even though I’m not able to calibrate taste, effectiveness of hop utilisation, or anything about the beers I’ve made – I’m itching to brew another.

And here it is. Based on my old Hops of Mass Destructions (the first beer I made which was really awesome), which was based on Ruination, it will be the first Zymatic brew where I use the “High Efficiency” mash cycle and tinker with the Advanced Editor.


In the Advanced Editor I have upped the mashout from 10m to 20m and slightly increased the drain period. The resulting mash schedule is supposed to get around 73% efficiency – and that’s reflected in the Vital Stats in the pic. Experience of others seems to be closer to 65%.


I’ve also changed the chill cycle to add hopstand/whirlpool and get closer to how I was brewing stove-top.

With a stove-top boil, hops don’t get removed immediately the boil finishes. They remain in contact with the wort – with potentially other hops added for whirlpool.

As standard, after the boil, the Zymatic drains the hop cages. Because of this, Pico recommend one minute/flameout additions are moved to 5 or 7 minutes otherwise they don’t get much contact with wort. Despite that recommendation I still read posts that flavour and aroma isn’t the same with IPA’s.

My modified schedule is designed to address that.

1. Immediately the boil finishes, the hop cages will be drained as usual. The machine will then pause.

2. I’ll take off the keg cosy and foam trap. Inside the keg I’ll put additional hops in a mesh filter. I’ll then put the keg in iced water and start the machine.

3. The machine will recirculate the wort through the keg until temp gets to 170F (76.7C). During this time it’ll be in contact with the hops in the keg.

4. When it gets to 170, I’ll take the keg out the ice water and run a whirlpool for 30m circulating hops through the keg and also the Zymatic hop cages. This will mean that the whirlpool hops and the hops used for the boil will get wort exposure at the ideal temp of 170.

5. After the whirlpool, the keg will go on ice water again and the Z will circulate until temp gets down to 30C. For this step I’ve chosen to circulate through the keg hops only, not the whirlpool hops.

The theory is that this will better simulate a stove-top boil.

Many assume the Zymatic is 100% automatic and that there’s no skill needed. As you can see, that’s not the case – like any setup, you need to know the quirks of the system and adapt to them, and for techniques like getting maximum hop aroma and flavour, it’s all hands on deck.

One thing the Z does do is free up a lot of time in the process. And for me, it’s given me a love of brewing and experimenting again that I haven’t had since I first discovered brewing. I’ve literally got a firework up my ass.

So 604 brew day is pending.

Edit after brewday: If you’re thinking to follow this schedule then read the next post. That’ll probably stop you thinking of following this schedule straightaway! However, for the record, step 13 was completely skipped by the Z. The drain in step 11 bypasses the area which detects temperature so by the time the Z gets to step 13, the temp is already below 76.7 and the Z skips to step 14. Once at step 14, it discovers the true temp of the wort but it’s too late by there. So if I was going to run this again (which I’m not) I’d remove the drain from the end of step 11 and be damn quick restarting after the pause – or something like that.

Woke up and crafted a recipe online over coffee. Got out the grain mill and drill and ground the grain. Weighed the hops at breakfast. Run a quick rinse cycle through the Zymatic. Then attached the keg and started the recipe.

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Then in the shower and out for a ride on the bike.  Nice basket, huh?

Back home I had the MacBook Pro pointed at the Z with PhotoBooth over the brew progress webpage.

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As the boil progressed I sat in a local soba restaurant and enjoyed Green Tea Soba with Vegetable Tempura while watching the Z move through the hop additions on my phone.

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Just after 1 I returned home to start the chill cycle. Whirlpool (which I didn’t do for this Pils), chill, transfer to fermentation vessel, and cleaning are the areas where it’s back to hands on deck.

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This time I finished at 4, which was 2 hours 45 minutes. And that time sucks. But at the moment I’m primitive-chilling in iced water – which not only takes forever but extends the cleanup. I’ll work out a way to speed that up. Today I also had to build a blow-off tube to allow me to ferment in keg. And cleaning – well, is there a magic pill for that apart from just being more efficient at it?

Putting things in perspective: I made a beer with less than 3 hours hands on time. And I made two beers in one weekend – I can’t remember the last time when I could have been bothered to do that! It was just too much work. So pretty pleased today!

 

 

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Zymatic Brew 2. I clean, I checked, and I almost brewed the house down. But dammit I missed something.

In this case what I missed was taking out and cleaning 4 rubber stoppers that I thought were quite happy where they were, not bothering anyone. But attention seekers that they are, they went on a huffy fit and overflowed.

I learnt/realised three things about the Zymatic today.

Firstly, it’s a finicky little bugger. The slightest micromillinanometer gap in a rubber stopper can cause trouble way above its’ pay grade. There needs to be a routine before every brew where you open every nook and close every crevice and smack every cliche. Get a piece of grain stuck in a non-Zymatic system and you slow things down. Get a piece of grain stuck in the Zymatic and you screw a brew.

Secondly, it’s back end heavy. When (if) it works as planned, it’ll do the mash and boil – but whirlpooling, cooling, transferring (I would never brew in the keg used for a Zymatic brew, it has so much crusty gunk), cleaning – that all remains, and it’s still a lot of work. Still, better than the pre-Z time.

Thirdly, I’m on learning curve of a whole new process here. It still needs to be made efficient.

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In this brew, I decided to keg whirlpool. I’ve read that the Z isn’t great at hoppy beers, and whether true or not, I didn’t want this beer coming out “meh”. This will be my first real Z beer and it better be good.

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The way to get hop aroma, I’ve read, is to whirlpool. In a non-Z brew, the hop additions keep contact with the wort even after flameout. But in the Z they don’t – because the Z no longer passes wort through them. Hence the way to get hop aroma is to whirlpool in the keg – either when cooling or to cool to a specific temp, then whirlpool

So into the keg went this ebay contraption. For double safety – not wanting to clog anything as the gaps at the top are quite large – leap hops went in hop socks before being placed inside.

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Hi-tech cooling  followed.

I wanted to ferment this with US05.  However I stupidly repurposed the fermentation chamber as a hop freezer to free the family freezer and now I’m not allowed to reverse the decision. And it’s getting too hot to ferment without temperature control.

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So I decided to embark on a first. I decided to ferment in a keg, in the keezer. To do so I’ve upped the temp to “UK levels” of luke-warm 12-15 decrees.

I don’t particularly like fermenting in the keg – I’ve absolutely no idea how much I collected; getting sample is a pain; and at this temp it’ll be longer before I fermentation completes and I get to taste my first Z beer. I need to get my fermentation chamber back.

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An exciting day yesterday – my Picobrew Zymatic finally arrived! My grand plan to “Make Brewing Fun Again (TM)”

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It didn’t all quite go according to plan day 1, however.  First the initial deep clean using the supplied dishwasher tablet left massive amounts of residue which took ages to get rid of.

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Then I cut the plastic keg seal that goes on the keg during brewing – not a big deal but annoying.

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But the repeated kick in balls came when I started brewing and the machines started foaming at the mouth.  I went around about 5 cycles of Drain -> Exit Brew -> Wipe clean -> Check and tighten everything -> Restart Mash -> Watch the foam come out again 10minutes later -> Drain …

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Eventually I figured that I’d probably mashed enough to get some conversion and I skipped to the boil. The ingredients for this first brew came with the machine and I supplemented the 10 and 5 minute additions with Citra pellets.

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While the boil proceeded trouble free, I bottled up the Coconut Stout I’d been “dry hopping” with coconut, and tracked the Facebook post about my foaming issues on the Pico User group on Facebook. Given it was around midnight on a Saturday night / Sunday morning during an Easter holiday, I wasn’t getting any reply back from Picobrew. To be expected when you’re living in Asia, I guess.

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From the Facebook group and from the amount I eventually collected, I’m guessing I didn’t add enough water. If that’s the issue then fantastic, because it’s easy to solve.

A number of people also said that they experienced foaming first time but not after that. Again, if that’s my experience, great.

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By the time the brew was finished and I was onto cooling and cleaning, I was knackered and I just wanted to get to bed.

So not a successful first brew, but I’m hopeful – and a little nervous – that the second will be better and the machine will live up to its promise of making my brew days easier and not more hassle!