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DIY Countertop Brewing System

I started brewing beer using kits back before I could purchase beer in the store and got pretty good at it.  I graduated beyond that to brew in a bag setups but about a year and a half ago decided that I wanted to go with a brewing system and my fancy fell to the brew in a conical systems… After a lot of cutting, geometry, and welding… well I still have leaks… obviously my stainless welding on thin sheet leaves a “bit” to be desired.

Nesting stock pots

Nesting stock pots

I was still working to get the holes patched when I saw some stainless steel stock pots on sale at one of our local grocery stores.  Now the cool thing was that the same lid fit all three sizes of pots (12, 16 and 20 quart) and the pots shared the same taper.  That meant the 16 quart pot would nest tightly inside the 20 quart one while leaving a gap at the base – perfect for a heating element.  So the 16 quart pot would make a perfect malt basket within the larger brewpot. For Canadians it was the Superstore where I picked up the pots so all of the Loblaws should have the same ones – no doubt they will be available stateside as well.

With the pots as the basis of the unit I decided that I wanted to be able to put together a functioning weldless automated brew system in a weekend.  Did I succeed, well nearly… I found that the silicon gaskets that came with the weldless fittings wasn’t quite up to snuff – so I ended up using them in conjunction with food grade silicon sealant which needed a few days to set.  But to do it again… well it would take a full day of work and then after waiting a week just to be on the safeside you’d be brewing next weekend. Oh, and apart from using an air powered nibbler with my compressor to create the hole for the element it didn’t take any fancy tools.

How’s the capacity… well I can brew just over 2.5 gallons which allows me to either do half batches or when I do a double run a full 5 gallons.  How does that net out in terms of time?  Well a double batch is roughly a whole day… but seeing as how things are pretty automated the time commitment from the brewer ends up being about one hour total.

Now how are we set in terms of cost… well, excluding the brew pump you’re looking at about $100.

Here’s what you’ll need in terms of components…

  1. STC 2000 temperature controller – available with either a 12 volt DC or 120 volt AC output – I used the latter because I had it but if you are buying one choose the former so that you can operate the relay without an adapter.  Price is about $10
  2.  Relay –
  3. (3) Electrical cords – just pulled some three prong (grounded) ones from my project materials pile
  4. GFI Outlet
  5. 120v 15 amp stainless steel water heating element
  6. Stainless Steel Nut for the water heating element
  7. (1) 1/2″ stainless steel bolt (X”long) and nut
  8. (1) 1/2″ weldless fitting
  9. (2) 1/2″ stainless steel ball valve
  10. (4) 1/2″ stainless steel hose barb
  11. ( X ft) Braided Silicon food grade tube for suction side into pump
  12. (X ft) Silicon food grade tube (pressure side return from pump)
  13. (1) 1/2″ stainless steel pipe cap
  14. (1) tube food grade silicon sealant
  15. (1) roll of teflon tape
  16. Conduit parts for the power boxes and end of the heating element.
  17. Project / electrical boxes for the electrical components

Tools

  1. Corded hand drill
  2. Step drill bits (up to 3/4″ diameter)
  3. Sheet metal nibbler and compressor if necessary
  4. Adjustable wrenches (including two large enough to handle the nuts on the heating element
  5. Screwdrivers, wire cutters, etc.

Installing the heating element

Electric Element and Nut

Your element and the associated nut will look something like this…

 

 

 

 

Marked out ID marked out on pot

 

Use the nut to trace out the inside dimensions of the hole you’ll need on the bottom of the bigger pot – you’ll see about how high up in the next picture.

 

 

 

Drill a pilot hole roughly at the center of the circle you’ve drawn.  Ideally center punch to make starting the drill easier.  Then switch to a step drill to enlarge the hole so that the nibbler can fit into the hole.

 

Step bit on Element hole
Use the nibbler to expand the hole to roughly the correct diameter

 

 

 

Element hole expanded with air nibbler

  

You can either file or use an air die grinder with a grinding stone to finish up the hole to dimension.  Trial fit until the element threads through the hole you’ve just created.

 

 

Air die grinder finishing up the hole

Element installed in the pot – nut on the inside

Here we are with the element and gasket threaded into the pot for test fitting.  When you do the final fit you’ll want to apply food grade silicon sealant on both sides of the fitting

 

 

 

 

Installing weldless fitting – pot outlet

Marking out diameter for weldless fitting hole

You’ll need to go through the same procedure to install the weldless fitting that you used for the element.

 

 

 

 

 

View inside the lower pot – element and exit port installed

 

Here’s the view of the inside pot with the element and the drain installed.

 

 

 

 

In the next installment I’ll cover the steps necessary to wire up (and cover up) the element leads and the rest of the fittings on the boil pot, as well as the steps needed to modify the inner pot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Simple Hop Basket for Brewing

I love the diversity and control that all grain homebrewing gives me, and the fact that it moves me a bit further towards producer on the producer – consumer continuum.  Part of producer component comes from growing much of the hops that I use in my brewing on lines up the side of my two story house.

Construction of the hop ball from two stainless steel strainers.

Now in brewing there are a number of options on how to handle your hops – some of which are pretty pricey.  One method I’ve found to be quick, cheap and effective is using all stainless steel strainers from the dollar store.  I use two strainers and some stainless steel wire from the hardware store to effectively build a big hop ball (like a tea ball only bigger).  The far side of the handle part of the strainers is permanently wired together while the short section of wire keeping the handles together is removed to fill and empty the ball.

Fast, simple, cheap and useful – a pretty sound project endorsement.

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DIY Conical Build Pt 1 The Materials

The foundation material for the conical needs to be stainless steel in order to keep the vessel from rusting.  Now for grade of stainless – something like 304 or 18/8 which is used for stainless pots and buckets should be just fine and is fairly common.  With that determined what options exist for us to get that material at reasonable cost.  Well, free is obviously best, but since I used up much of my pile of salvaged stainless steel sheets (mainly BBQs) building the wood fired pizza oven I don’t have much of that left.

Then there’s the buy option, and actually as I am going forward I find myself buying some stainless material for the legs – but now that I consider it I could have gotten away without making that purchase, but more on that once we get to that stage of the build…

Materials with which to build the DIY Conical

Materials with which to build the DIY Conical

Anyway back to the fundamental parts of the conical – the vertical segment and the cone.  Well since the top is basically like a pot without a base I thought I might as well go that route and build it out of stainless steel pots which are readily available and low cost.  As an added bonus the top segment is already nicely rolled and sealed.

Now some folks I’ve seen building conicals use a cone made from spun stainless funnels – but since I couldn’t find one easily and at low cost I figured I would just form one up from some more stainless steel sheet (or pot bits).  It’s more welding but I kinda want the practice to improve my skills so really not all that bad.  Plus as indicated before – by brewing in the conical with the associated 90 minute boil I would be able to achieve excellent sanitation even where weld imperfections might otherwise thwart chemical cleaning.

Now for the disadvantages… well these pots are pretty thin – definitely thick enough to do the job without problem but thinner material is often more difficult to weld effectively. Still cost and availability prompted me to consider this my best option – especially since I was reasonably sure that I would be able to handle the welding of the think stainless with the Henrob OA torch based on my experience with the stainless pizza oven.

The price – well a pot set from Harbor Freight where the largest pot is 4 gallons cost me $20 and and a 5 gallon pot at the local homestore cost me another $20.  Now some folks I’ve seen building conicals use a cone made from spun stainless funnels – but since

Now for the cool part right – the triclamp fittings that make the conical so versatile.  Well, these are available at low cost off ebay or amazon from manufacturers in China.  How low cost is low cost?  Well a 1.5″ weld-on tricalmp fitting runs $1.99 with free shipping!  So I purchased a bunch of 1.5″ fittings, gaskets, caps, threaded fittings, valves and the like along with a few 2″ fittings to allow me to pass the electrical heating element into the conical.

Total cost for the bits and bobs… slightly over a hundred bucks.  Not bad for a prototype.

 

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If you are brewing you probably should be kegging

If you brew beer you should probably be kegging since the increased efficiency makes life so much easier, making it more likely for you to actually take the time to brew your own.

When I first started brewing beer I was in high school.  I don’t imagine that there were many other high school students who instead of being net consumers from their parents liquor cabinets saw the roles reversed.  That suited me fine since while I like a drink or two, getting drunk has never been my style and I needed the beer consumed so I could try another batch.

At that point I was putting my beer in plastic PET beer bottles.  That made sense since I was a poor student and I don’t imagine my parents would have been into having another fridge or freezer to keep kegs chilled with the bottles could easily go into the fridge door.

Ball lock (L) and Pin lock (R) kegs

Ball lock (L) and Pin lock (R) kegs

After getting my own place it wasn’t long before I took up kegging.  Used 5 gallon soda kegs – particularly the seconds that I purchased were cheap.  At $20 they were about the same price as 5 gallons worth of bottles.  Sure I needed to add the CO2 tank, regulator, hoses and fittings but those added only slightly more than a hundred dollars more to the total.   Toss in a used chest freezer and a temperature controller and I added another $100 to the cost.

So for a total cost of about $300 I secured a start-up for four kegs.  What I got was a whole lot of efficiency.

My cleaning routine with the kegs is much simpler than with the bottles, and I can clean a bunch of kegs at once, close them up and have them ready to fill when it is time to rack the beer in.

Kegs - L to R, 5 gallon ball lock, 5 gal pin lock and 3 gal pin lock

Kegs – L to R, 5 gallon ball lock, 5 gal pin lock and 3 gal pin lock – Note the height and diameter differences

The rest of the process is simply one of racking the beer from the carboy into the keg and pressurizing with CO2.  Fast, simple and none of the mess associated with trying to get beer into the bottles, which all ways saw me spill beer no mater what fancy gadgets on the siphon I tried.

By making the brewing process so much more efficient I find myself continuing to brew in spite of having a lot more on the go.  In fact, I still face the same challenge that I did in high school – getting the beer consumed quickly enough so that I can try the next couple of batches on my list.

So if you happen to be in the neighborhood maybe you can stop by to help me make room in my kegs for the next brew.

As a side note, the best place I’ve found for used kegs and the associated kit is Adventures in Homebrewing.  Their offerings are great, service spotless and their prices are awesome.  All of my kegs have been in sound condition and I’ve chosen the ones that they advertise as being the most dented and dinged!  The good news… they still have used soda kegs – they will probably dry up sometime but if you drink beer and either brew now or want to then now is the time to pick them up.

 

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Brewing beer from a kit – as easy as making soup from a can

So last year on a visit to my local brew store – Defalco’s – to pick up yeast for my brewing.  Front and center when I  entered were a pile of beer kits on sale.   Now the price for kits have been going up to the point they aren’t really competitive.  These ones were regularly $20.59 but marked down to $13.59 – even considering I’d likely need to buy fresh yeast which is the only thing I consider perishable about these kit – they were a good buy.  Granted they don’t give you the flexibility that brewing from grain does – but are they ever convenient.  So I snatched up a bunch.

If you haven’t given brewing at home a try; or have put your gear away for a piece of time, maybe it’s time you picked up a kit and the carboys and brew a batch or two in preparation for summer.

The kit you need is limited and low cost so why not give it a try if you can make soup from a can you can brew beer, so stop saying someday and make someday today.

Mixing a beer kit

See just like making soup, only with way more malt and hops and a lot less chicken and noodles

 

 

Beer in carboy

Ready to add the yeast and let them do the rest of the work