The Brew Cart!

Well I couldn’t wait so it’s time to reveal one of several of my projects nearing completion. I have been working on these projects for many months and this one is close enough to being completed to share it with you.

This started as necessity as I’ll soon be moving and not really knowing where I’ll be living or how big of place it’ll be. I wanted to have the majority of my brew day stuff in one small moveable unit but didn’t want to have to feel like I was sacrificing anything just because I was going small. It needed to be small enough to fit in any environment and look good, it needed to be sturdy, it needed to be functional and hold the necessities for my typical brew day, it needed to be moveable so I could roll it to where I was going to brew, it needed to be adaptable to different needs down the road, it needed to be easy to assemble with minimal tools and it needed to be reasonably priced. I think this demonstrates that home brewing at any level is possible anywhere you are if you get creative and take your time to plan.

I looked at different options and a cart of some type seemed to be the best choice and really fulfilled all I needed in a compact brewing unit. After some searching online I found that wire shelving carts were readily available in different sizes, expandable, easy to assemble and relatively inexpensive. That being said my BrewKart was born.

I started with individual wire shelving pieces from shelving.com although there are many pre-configured wire utility carts available from many sources including Amazon, Costco and Sam’s Club. The whole basic cart was less than $140 since an online sale was going on when I ordered. Many of the pre-configured carts are similarly priced so isn’t terribly expensive. My cart is approximately 31” wide x 18” deep x 38” tall overall taking up less than 4 square feet of floor space. Its height places my kettle at a comfortable position for brewing and almost matches kitchen countertop height so that is convenient on brew day when I roll it into the kitchen in front of the sink for easy access to water and it’s right in front of the window for ventilation.

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Out of the box it features locking swivel casters, a handle, a pullout second shelf and a basket style third shelf. All the shelves are standard size 18″ x 24″ wire shelves. The shelves will easily support 150+ pounds each so no worries if I wanted to do a 10 gallon batch. Assembly was easy and only required a rubber mallet to seat the shelves onto their clips. Here is where some planning is needed, take the time to figure out where you want each shelf. They are easily adjustable in one inch increments but it’s just easier if you get them where you want them the first time.

The first things I added were a black plastic shelf liner for the bottom shelf (ordered with cart) and a thick piece of HDPE cutting board material, it was found destine for the dumpster at work, to sit my electric brewing controller on the pullout shelf. I then needed something heat resistant for the top where my kettle would sit and chose a 1/4″ thick piece of black Richlite which I cut the corners out, using the shelf liner as a template, so it fit nicely on the top wire shelf. The top was totally optional, kettle can just sit on the wire shelf, but I like how it turned out.

The next obstacle was some place for taller items like my stainless mesh hop basket/strainer. I was walking through a home improvement store and noticed these pullout wire baskets that are used in kitchen cabinets and thought that would be nice since I wouldn’t have to move things to get at something in the back and stuff would be contained in the basket so nothing falls off the shelf while rolling the cart. Did a little online shopping and found a used one for $20 on eBay. I attached it to the bottom shelf, bolting it through the shelf liner and using fender washers under the shelf to span across the wires and provide support for the nuts.

Now I started thinking “what else do I want?”. How about a place to hang stuff like hoses, a spoon, power cords for the controller? Hooks! Found chrome plated hooks for wire shelves at Target for a few dollars but also available online and they just clip over the edge of the shelf. While rolling the cart through the house one day I noticed the pullout shelf wanted to roll out on its own…easy fix, I drilled a hole in the track for the shelf and used a push-to-release pin to secure the shelf in the closed position.

Now came the hardest, but still actually not that difficult, addition. I like to use a small plate chiller to cool the wort, a pump to recirculate during the mash and adding oxygen to the wort before pitching the yeast is very beneficial but how to incorporate all that in a compact fashion on the cart? While working on a commercial A/C unit at work I noticed all the major electrical components were mounted to a sub panel inside the unit, why not do something similar on my brew cart? I picked up a piece of sheet stainless steel from a local metal shop and had them bend a 90 in it creating something of a shelf. I measured the cart shelf spacing and drilled holes to match in the sheet of stainless. Using bolts, fender washers and nuts I was able to secure it to the side of the cart and it doesn’t extend past the cart handle so the cart is still the same size overall. I was already in the process of building an inline wort oxygenation assembly out of surplus triclamp pieces from eBay so I took two of the clamps that hold the pieces together and had threaded studs welded to them and attached the whole assembly to the side panel. My plate chiller had mounting studs on its back some I attached it below the oxygenation assembly. Finally was the pump and that fit perfectly on the shelf that I had bent in the side panel. So when it was all assembled it was all neatly contained on the side of the cart. To hold the disposable oxygen cylinder I reused a water bottle cage from a bicycle and screwed it to the cart pole.

For storing additional brew day items, like StarSan and PBW I added a wire basket below the side panel. I also had some small plastic storage totes and four storage bins that I added to the basket-style shelf to hold brew day items such as hydrometer, pH meter, thermometer, refractometer, carboy stoppers and airlocks, spare triclamp gaskets and clamps etc. There is still room on the bottom shelf, next to the pullout basket, for storing another small kettle, sanitizing bucket or possibly a grain mill.

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I had a surplus 3-way ball valve laying around that I never knew how I was going to use but being a nice piece of stainless plumbing I could never bring myself to get rid of it. One day while watching a home brewing video on YouTube I saw a brewer using a 3-way ball valve to redirect flow from his pump without changing hoses. Would I need it? Maybe. Would it hurt to add it to the system? Nope. I had a piece of stainless plate laying around so I mounted the valve to the cart in same fashion as the side panel using thumb nuts so it is removable/movable without tools.

While not an intentional idea of adding all kinds of stuff to the cart I did want it to be functional. Holding brew day items is being “functional” and a kettle lid is an item used every brew day. But what to do with it when the mash is done since you don’t cover the boiling wort? Hang it on the cart!

One final addition (for now LOL) was a mount for my Android tablet which has Beersmith brewing software on it as well as some music to enjoy while brewing. I used a RAM motorcycle tablet mount and clamped it to one of the cart poles.

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Now that I have a place for brew day essentials that doesn’t take up a ton of space in the house I started thinking “that’s great but it’s still an industrial cart sitting in the living room”. Well I’m no interior decorator and struggle at sewing but I figured I could do something to camouflage it a little. Being a guy going to a fabric store wasn’t to appealing so where else do you get fabric? Drapes! A quick trip to a discount store and I was on my way home with a couple modern looking blackout drapery panels for under $20. After almost an hour of what I’m sure was comical draping of the panels over the cart and pinning them here and folding them there I broke out the sewing machine and scissors. Now anyone who sews I am humbled by your abilities but after, what seemed like way too long I sewed up a cart cover. Now it looks a little less like the elephant in the room and could pass as a table? Maybe? Sorta? Anyways I think it turned out pretty good.

One more addition was a separate folding table that could be used if I decided to do a slightly different two vessel (Brutus 20) brew day for a larger batch, just wanting to do something different or just needed extra flat place to put something. A long time ago while wandering through a thrift store I found what used to be some sort of sit and twist kind of exercise equipment that I’m sure was sold on TV and thought I could use it for something. Well that day finally came and after adding a butcher block top to it, that had a previous life as a cutting board, the space saving folding brewing table was born. It sits at the correct height for a holding a kettle, below one that is on the top of the cart, and it is really sturdy.

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Here are a couple additional pictures of the whole cart so you can kind of see the idea of consolidating what some would consider brewing features reserved for the advanced home brewers with tons of space to brew in…all in the same amount of space as a coffee table. While I do have a second slightly larger wire shelving unit, which is begging for a matching cart cover, for things like grains, 3 gallon carboys and small corny kegs the bulk of what I use every time I brew is now in one place that I can easily move around and hide in plain sight. Are all the features necessary? Not at all, configure your equipment and even your storage solution to your style of brewing. Whether it’s mild or wild, high tech or low tech you do not have to be held back by brewing small batches or brewing in small spaces. Remember this is a very strong cart, there are carts rated to hold 800 lbs per shelf, and you could easily brew 10 gallon batches by doing electric BIAB and still take up very little real estate in even a small studio apartment.

Takes for checking out my blog. Subscribe to get notifications of my latest posts and enjoy brewing because you are making beer…how awesome is that?! Remember don’t be held back by being in a small space, having a small budget or popular brewing misconceptions. Stay tuned for next post on the new control panel made for this cart! Cheers.

What’s up…what’s next?

If you have been following my blog you have seen some posts on my builds, experiments, tips etc. In some of those posts I have hinted that there is more coming. Well there is…and it’s getting close but not quite yet. Sorry. I am continuing to work a few major projects for my brewing but I like to take my time and think out every angle, every possibility while still enjoying life. There will be posts that detail the projects coming soon. I’ve working on it diligently. I also have been enjoying some great craft beers from breweries here in the midwest (if you are in the Minneapolis area make it a point to stop by the Surly Beer Hall, great beers and awesome food and don’t forget Dangerous Man Brewing). I also did a first for me and started a small batch of hard cider that is almost ready to bottle or keg and I’ve been refining a handful of my favorite beer recipes. I believe and hope the upcoming posts will inspire and create discussion.

So what is going to be? What is he building? As you know I am small batch brewer but I am also someone that is trying to downsize my life for a future smaller living space, two things that in some ways might sound like they can restrict brewing and life…that is the “what’s next?” Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too.

I like to brew small batches of varying styles of beer using different methods, some simple and some more complex, so I need adaptability and flexibility in my system and what’s coming will offer that. I want to consolidate and organize my brewing supplies for a smaller space. Having the things I use for brewing handy and in one convenient place is a goal for me and what’s coming will offer that. I have gotten rid of some extra un-needed pieces and can fit my fermenters, kegs and miscellaneous items on a wire shelving unit so I’m getting there.

A few things that won’t change…I like to experiment and work on solutions to problems we face as small batch brewers so my mind is always going and I’ll always be tinkering.

To give you a little tease of what’s coming here are a couple pictures to get you thinking.

Stay tuned. Cheers!

Building your brewery…Weldless or welded?

When you start to assemble your home brewing setup, whether it is a simple single vessel small batch setup or a full blown three vessel 10+ gallon system, you are going to get to the point where you will want to put a fitting in a kettle or keggle. Why? Well a good example is the biggest aid in the whole brewing process is the simple kettle drain. That simple drain valve prevents lifting and pouring a heavy kettle full of ,possibly hot, liquid. Sometimes the easiest way to get your wort/beer from one point to another is with a hose and possibly a pump. There are many other fittings you can pepper your brewing vessels with, thermometer/thermowell, HERMS coil connections, heating element, whirlpool inlet etc. All of these fittings can be attached by three methods…welded, weldless fittings and soldered/brazed. Is one better than the other, well not really they all have advantages but with the advances in weldless fittings that method is becoming the easiest and least expensive way to add a fitting to your brewery. Weldless fittings used to be that fitting that was pieced together with brass or stainless standard pipe fittings from the plumbing section of your home improvement store that along with washers, o-rings, prayer and lots of swearing still usually leaked. Welded fittings are permanent and somewhat expense but when done right are leak free and look very nice. Brazing or soldering can be a DIY equivalent to welding for the ambitious home brewer. If you have an aluminum kettle weldless is the best solution and easy. Stainless kettles/vessels can use multiple methods. Lets look at each method…

Weldless –

Now days there several companies that have designed/manufactured weldless fittings that are purpose built for us home brewers, high quality and leak-free. They are available in many configurations, purposes and sizes. Standard fitting for attaching a drain valve are the most common but there are weldless whirlpool inlets, thermometer fittings, compression fittings for attaching HERMS tubing coils, dip tubes etc. The difference in these new era weldless fittings is that the are machined with a solid flange to meet up with kettle wall. That flange combined with an o-ring or washer creates a solid leak-free connection to the vessel. The examples below are new era weldless fittings available from http://www.brewhardware.com

A very nice fitting they have is a 1-1/2 tri clamp weldless ferrule that can be used for a drain or heating element. I recommend getting his 52mm socket to tighten it down. The results are impressive. For thinner stainless stockpots I used a Qmax 1-5/8″ punch. They are inexpensive compared to the Greenlee punches. For something thicker like a keggle or heavy duty pot I would use a Greenlee punch or carbide/bi-metal hole saw. Only problem with a hole saw is they can move during drilling, creating a hole that is less than perfect. Again, the successful fiting of weldless fittings depends on how good the hole is.


The key to these is proper hole size. Unless specified otherwise the 1/2″ NPT based fittings typically require a 13/16″ diameter hole. Creating this size of hole is relatively easy but will require some drilling. You can use a step drill or a metal punch. The metal punch, such as a Q Max or Greenlee, requires a pilot hole but delivers a perfectly sized hole that is basically burr free. Q.max punches are less expensive and fine for stockpots/thinner kettles. Greenlee punches are more expensive but heavier duty and can punch a hole in a keg but make sure you get the radio chassis 13/16″ punch. They also make a line of conduit punches but the sizes really don’t match the fittings we use. A step drill is the least expensive route and is easy if you take your time. Whenever drilling stainless make sure you use a center punch to mark where you’re going to drill so the drill bit doesn’t “walk” and scratch up your vessel. Use a drilling lubricant such as cutting oil, WD-40 or even dish soap will work in a pinch. Use a slow speed on the drill and plenty of pressure. Resist the desire to go fast, high drill speed will heat up both the drill and the stainless piece. Heat will dull the drill bit and essentially hardens the stainless more than it is already and ultimately brings out the swear words. Take it slow and lube it up. When using a step drill bit make sure to visually look where the appropriately sized step is and stop often, checking the hole size with the fitting you are trying to install. Once the hole is done de-burr it with a little sand paper and/or a round file. A nice smooth burr-free hole won’t tear the silicone washer or o-ring. Install the weldless fitting using the directions provided and you are done.

Welding –

Welding stainless is tricky and best left for the professional. Welding stainless for our purposes requires TIG welding with shielding gas. The shielding gas (Argon) is used to ensure a contaminate free weld. The TIG welder, shielding gas setup, filler rods, electrodes, different sized and types of torch cups can cost you hundreds if not thousands of dollars so finding a professional is the way to go if you wish to have fittings welded. I have done some TIG welding and it is difficult, especially when joining two metals of different thicknesses so I highly recommend finding a professional. Given the training, skill, cost of equipment and consumables as well as just running a business don’t expect to find a good stainless welder that will weld a fitting for $20-$40. If you do keep him to yourself, buy him Christmas and birthday presents…I think you get what I’m getting at. Expect to pay $75-$100 per fitting when done by a professional. Look for welders that specialize in food and beverage industry as they have the experience. Ask to see examples of their stainless work. A good welder will be happy to show you pictures of what they have done or what they are working on. If you are having a fitting welded to a kettle ask them if they will back gas the weld. If they look at you weird then say thank you and leave. Back gassing prevents sugaring of the weld.

Below is an example of a poor weld that was not back gassed. While the front weld bead looked pretty good you can see what happened on the backside of the weld. Remember you are not just paying for the welding job you are putting your nice kettle at risk.badweld

Here is an example of nice back-gassed weld after a little clean up. goodweld

One thing that will ensure a good welding job is the fitment of the pieces being welded. The two pieces need to fit together tightly with no gaps. Picture a pipe stuck in a hole that stays in place and requires some force to remove it. That would be proper fitment. I recommend you let the welder drill the hole for the fitting as they know how it needs to fit for them to have a chance at providing you with a great weld job.

A more expensive route is sanitary welding that is ground and polished. This route is suitable for fermenters were things have to be uber clean and sanitary with no voids for nasties to hide and ruin your beer. This is left to the most skilled welders and is costly. Below is a triclamp fitting I had installed in a vessel by a welder that specializes in brewery/winery tanks and cost $200 to have done but looks like it came with the vessel. IMG_1259

Soldering and brazing –

There is good option for the home brewer DIYer that is comparable to welding in finish and strength and requires only a propane or MAPP gas torch. Silver soldering and silver brazing isn’t incredibly hard and can be done at home. I suggest checking out how-to videos and practice on some scrap. Tight fitment is still important. I have practiced silver soldering and just haven’t been pleased with the results but have seen a lot of great silver solder jobs out there. One key step to silver soldering is using the right products and surface prep. The most commonly used silver solder by home brewers is Harris Stay-Brite solder and Stay-Clean flux. The two pieces being soldered must be clean, dirt and oil free and scuffed up a little. I have silver brazed a few pieces and like the results so that is my choice, not much different than soldering just a little higher temperature but still can be accomplished with an inexpensive propane or MAPP gas torch. The thing that makes brazing a little more forgiving is the flux that is coated on the rod, it helps the molten rod flow and bind to the base metal better than the liquid flux used in silver soldering. Only drawback is the cost, the cost of the Harris Safety-Silv 56 flux coated rods is fairly expensive, $50ish or more for three 18″ long 1/16″ diameter rods but they do go a long way, an inch of the rod can do a typical fitting. Same goes for Muggy Weld silver brazing rods at $90+ There are how-to videos online for using flux coated silver brazing rods. Here are a couple examples of pieces I silver brazed at home in a few minutes and with minimal cleanup and polishing. Left one is a 1/2″ triclamp ferrule attached to a stockpot lid and the right is a 1/2″ triclamp ferrule attached to a 1″ triclamp tee. Both were brazed with Harris Safety-Silv 56 rod, tight fit and cleaned with acetone.

I hope that helps you with making the decision of how to attach that fitting to your kettle, mash tun or hot liquor tank. With everything else in home brewing, do a little research and ask some questions and you’ll get the result you are looking for.

 

Small batch brewing primer…

If you have checked out my blog you probably have noticed that I am a small batch home brewer. I love it and it works perfectly for me and my situation. Small batch home brewing has really taken off and offers so much for the new home brewer and experienced brewer alike. It also fits the needs of those with limited space that want to brew their own beer or even make their own hard cider. Recipe and starter equipment kits are available from the majority of the online home brewing retailers such as Williams, Austin Home Brew, Northern Brewer, Homebrewstuff and Midwest Supplies as well as the company that really pushed small batch home brewing into the market, The Brooklyn Brewshop. Your local home brew shop should be able to help you get started as well and provide you with advice on brewing in general. I am a big advocate of supporting local home brew shops as they are small businesses that support the hobby. Many were there long before online ordering was around.

The process of brewing beer is the same for one gallon as it is for 5+ gallons. The equipment is a little different but only in regards to size. Any of the equipment used for brewing 5 gallon batches can be used to brew smaller batches but there are distinct advantages to using equipment sized for small batch brewing. For example the mini auto-siphon is so much easier to use in a one gallon jug than a standard auto-siphon, small fermenters allow for less headspace thus eliminating excessive exposure to oxygen but the best reason for smaller equipment is that it takes up less space.

All beer needs to be boiled as part of the beer making process, it kills bacteria and helps to utilize the bittering components of hops. Fortunately pretty much any kitchen stove will easily boil two to four gallons for small batches. This is a big advantage over five gallon batches which start with at least a 6 gallon pre-boil volume and that usually sends home brewers outside with a large propane burner.

What do you need to start? Well you can purchase a starter equipment kit but I compiled a list of what I have used on pretty much every batch I have ever made. This would be the minimum I would recommend and most of it is included in the better starter kits. Not a lot of money has to be spent for the basic necessities.

  • Mini Auto-Siphon for 1 gallon jug/2 gallon bucket or Regular Auto-Siphon for 3 gallon carboy
  • Hydrometer
  • Hydrometer test jar
  • Dial, floating or digital thermometer for mash temperature monitoring
  • Bottle Brush
  • Bottle filler wand
  • Air Lock and drilled stopper to fit your fermenter
  • Siphon Hose with Shut-off Clamp
  • Sanitizer such as StarSan
  • Cleaner such as PBW
  • Hand capper
  • Bottle caps
  • 5 gallon bucket for soaking/sanitizing bottles/equipment and using as a bottling bucket and a place to store most of your equipment.
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Brewer’s Best Small batch starter kit

 

For boiling and mashing…

Generally speaking for Brew In A Bag (BIAB) style brewing you would want a kettle that is 2 to 2 ½ times as large as your recipe size to fit all the grains and the full volume of water. That rule of thumb is good for extract brewing also as it provides room for a full volume boil. So for 1 gallon batches you would want a kettle that is 12 quart, for 2 to 2 1/2 gallon batches a 20-24 quart and 32 quart for 3-4 gallon batches. Aluminum, stainless steel or graniteware are all acceptable. For folks wanting to try one gallon batches there is a pretty good chance you have a large enough pot/kettle in your cupboard already that you’ve been using for pasta or soups.

For fermenting…

Based on your batch size these would be the recommendations for fermenters.

  • 1 Gallon Glass Jug
  • 2 Gallon Fermenting Bucket with Lid (great primary fermenter for one gallon batches also)
  • 3 gallon carboy fermenter for larger 2 to 2 ½ gallon batches
  • 5 gallon carboy or bucket fermenter for 2 ½ to 4 gallon batches

For bottling…

Any regular beer bottles that do not have the twist cap, 12/16/22 oz all work fine. You can get new or save your empties after enjoying a good craft beer variety. Swing top bottles are convenient and available in many sizes. I do not recommend bottling in glass growlers as they are not designed to handle the higher pressures that can occur during bottle conditioning, as opposed to just storing poured beer, and can become a bottle bomb. Some have successfully done it but it is not worth the risk. I also would stay away from plastic  bottles such as 2 liter soda bottles as they can absorb oxygen over time which will adversely affect the beer if you wish to age it.

Kegging small batches? Yes you can!

If you are looking to keg instead of, or in addition to, bottling your beer you are in luck as there are several good options now for small batches. There is a greater initial cost to get started kegging but the equipment is reusable and will last for years.

There are two options that I will mention as they do serve the purpose but are getting harder to find and that is the Tap A Draft System and the Party Pig System. Both use a PET plastic bottle as the storage/dispensing vessel. 5 liter Mini Kegs are another option, but again, they are harder to come by and the kegs have a limited life as the lining of the kegs begins to breakdown with time and use. The best solution, as it follows the standards of current kegging systems, is the corny style kegs and CO2 tank and regulator. Several companies are now offering corny kegs in 1.75, 2.5 and 3 gallon sizes. They all use standard ball lock fittings so they have a lot of options for expanding and dispensing. Force carbonating is also possible with these systems.

Another option that I have recently discovered and like using (especially for one gallon batches) are the new mini keg style stainless growlers. They are available in 1/2 gallon and one gallon sizes. They can handle pressures of 25 psi, easy to clean/sanitize, don’t break and are very portable so you can take your home brew to a friend’s house and they fit in your kitchen refrigerator! You can bottle condition in them or force carbonate with the right CO2 attachment. There are even faucet taps available for these. Plus you can always get them filled with your favorite craft beer and keep it carbonated for more than a couple days. Many brewery taprooms sell them and they are also available on eBay along with matching tap/CO2 options.

CO2 tank and regulator options for these small systems range from disposable CO2 cartridges in different sizes to refillable paintball tanks that are inexpensive to purchase and easy/inexpensive to get refilled at most sporting goods stores that sell paint ball supplies. These smaller CO2 systems also easily fit in your fridge with the mini keg growlers or small corny kegs. Standard CO2 tanks and regulators are also an option with these. I like the paint ball tanks since I can get them refilled 7 days a week and late hours at local large chain sporting goods store for $3

Hopefully this has given current and prospective small batch brewers some information and food for thought.

Cheers!

2015 was a good year…

Now that we are firmly in 2016 and past the days of accidentally continuing to write 2015 on stuff I can reflect back on 2015. It was my second year in Grand Forks North Dakota which has been a challenge as a home brewer that enjoys tasting new beers and discussing beer and brewing. Grand Forks is still only beginning to embrace beers with flavors and the craft brewing scene but it is getting better. We have a new craft brewery in town, the first, and I truly wish them well. The home brewing scene is still very quiet, not much activity or social events. They’re here but not as active as other cities with very active clubs. This next year for me will be dedicated to preparing to move back to Washington state and I am excited about getting “home”. While the unknowns and challenges of the move are a little scary so was the move here in 2013 and it all worked out. Plus I’ll be back to a state with an incredible beer scene…bonus!

2015 was a fun year for home brewing for me. A new home brew shop opened here and I was able to teach some brewing classes. The cold times of the year, and there are many, gave me time to tinker with new brewing projects/ideas and develop some recipes. It was also a year of sharing my random brewing thoughts with you. Visits to this blog exceeded my wildest dreams when I first ventured into the blogging community with over 100,000 visits to this blog so far. This simple little blog about brewing, that I thought I’d “try”, has become something I enjoy and hope others enjoy. The exposure to my brewing life through the blog also transpired into being featured in BYO magazine this last December, which was a huge honor for me. This upcoming year will be a busy one but I will continue to post and share my brewing with you and hopefully continue to do what I planned from the beginning and that is make fellow brewers think about trying new things. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You’re still making beer! None of us are experts, we can always learn more from each other and there is nothing wrong with trying something different.

Like Lonnie Mac, creator of the Brutus brewing system as said and very much represents my theory on brewing… “So there we are! Don’t be afraid to try new things man! We are only 10,000 years into beer. There are thousands of years left to go! Things are bound to change!!”

New build creates new idea for a sight gauge shield

I started building a new single vessel system for brewing small batches and in the process I had an idea I thought I’d share since I couldn’t find anything online like it.

New system? Yep, from the completion of my first single vessel system I had ideas that I wanted to add but after some thought I figured it would be easier to start fresh. My first system, based on the modified Bayou Classic steamer, served me well and made many great beers. The ideas and features I wanted to incorporate in the new system will also allow me to take on the challenge to make a DIY brewing system that has a professional look and features and as inexpensively as possible. Why you might ask after I just posted about “brewing simply”? Well the ideas and features I want still keep small scale brewing simple. Plus my father and brother taught me if you are going to take the time to do something yourself why not do it right, the way you want. Do you need “fancy” add-ons to make good beer at home? Absolutely not, in fact a simple stock pot and plastic bucket fermenters can make great beers but some upgrades can make the brewing process easier and make consistent/repeatable results possible. Most importantly I hope the finished product will show others that you can achieve anything you can think of, from mild to wild, with careful thought, planning and patience. All this and at the same time showing that you don’t need a big work shop and huge collection of tools to do it since 90% of the system build takes place in my kitchen with hand tools so apartment dwellers and home owners alike can achieve this. Small scale home brewers do not have to settle for less, you can have the features 5 gallon and larger systems have. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, anything is possible.

Before starting the new system build I was able to sell my first system which helped fund the new build as well as sharing small batch electric brewing with someone just starting out.

While the completed system is still a little ways from being finished and me revealing it but I will be posting complete details soon. Now to the reason for the post. Many home brewers add sight gauges to their vessels to make determining liquid levels easier and I was no different. Marks on a brewing spoon or a wooden stick are a simple trick but I wanted something that was always in place. For me a sight gauge is an easy way to see liquid levels at glance to see strike water volume as well as pre and post boil levels. Most folks use 1/2″ polycarbonate tubing for their sight gauge and some sort of compression fitting at the bottom for connection to the vessel, my DIY version is the same design. Many of these types of sight gauges are available in a kit form and install easily but the problem I found was marking the tube with volume graduations. With smaller vessels that we use in small batch brewing the sight gauge is usually shorter thus making volume graduations harder to see. I wanted to have 1/4 gallon graduations yet my sight gauge is only 8″ long for a 20 quart stock pot. Most folks put lines on the tube with either a permanent marker or tape but with only 8″ of space and all those lines it didn’t seem like the best option for me. Well the sight gauge just sat plain for awhile until one day when I was at local home improvement store for something unrelated. I was walking down the isle where they have the pieces of steel and aluminum stock and saw some aluminum channel. I had that ah hah moment and stopped to look at it. They have several sizes that are made to put on the edge of plywood for a finished durable edge and one is made for 1/2″ plywood. Wasn’t expensive and it might just work so I got a piece.

After getting home I slipped a piece of the polycarbonate tubing in it and it fit! I cut a piece to length for my vessel sight gauge. To make it fit over the tubing snugly I gave the top and bottom a slight squeeze with pliers and it snapped into place yet it was easy to remove if needed. I thought it gave the sight gauge a more finished look and would provide a place to affix the graduated markings. With the new shield in place I put a piece of tape on the side and began filling the pot with one quart of water at a time. Once the water was visible in the tube I began marking the tape with small line every quart for the 1/4 gallon markings, a longer line for the 1/2 gallon mark, another small line for 3/4 gallon and then a full line for the gallon mark. After filling the pot one quart at a time and finishing the marks on the tape I transferred the tape marks to a piece of paper that was 1/2″ wide and 8″ long. To make it nicer looking I printed out a bunch of hyphens – for the quarter and three quarter gallon marks, double underscores __  for half gallon marks and the gallon number with a hyphen, the number and a hyphen -2-. I cut them out and using tweezers and a glue stick I glued them to the paper strip.

I then put the paper strip in the channel and snapped the new graduated shield on the sight gauge tube. I think it turned out great and allows quick liquid level checks at a glance. Later I found some full clear label sheets from Avery and copied the strip onto the clear label stock, cut it out and stuck in the back of the channel. Not necessary but probably more durable.

Home brewing…simply

At first glance of all my brewing stuff the first thought that comes to mind certainly is not “simple” or “minimalist”. While I admittedly tend to over-engineer things I’m building my ultimate goal is simplifying my brewing process and along with that minimizing the brewing equipment I have.

A few years ago I realized I had a lot of stuff, stuff I didn’t use any longer and thus didn’t need. That began the process of simplifying and downsizing my life. But wait, I have a hobby that could probably be classified as an obsession and it involves a fair amount of different equipment and “stuff”. Like a lot of home brewers I’ve accumulated a collection of fermenters, mash paddles, long brewing spoons, kettles, corny kegs etc. Not sure how it happens to us since, let’s face it, everything you need to brew a batch of beer comes in one of those home brewing starter kits. When I decided to downsize and simplify my life it was about the same time I made the switch to small batch brewing. Small batch brewing fit my drinking style and desire to brew less each time but to brew more often. Small batch brewing itself goes well with the simple lifestyle and the minimalist idea. The problem for me is that overwhelming need to over-engineer everything like I mentioned before. Always a couple brewing equipment projects in the works, parts for those projects laying around. But I have found that trait is now beneficial, over-engineering is getting me to my ultimate goal of simplifying my brewing process. I have focused on creating a small compact, space saving brewing system that fits my own needs. Something that is versatile and efficient. Stay tuned for progress on that build!

While I’m brewing I usually take notes, well okay I always take notes. Often it is a recipe idea for the next batch but just as often it is a collection of ideas to improve my brewing process whether it’s temperature control or how to simplify the cleanup process. Regardless what my thought or idea is I now blend in the requirement of reusing things I already have and making it compact and space saving. A few brew sessions ago I was hanging out in my small brewing space/kitchen during the mash and looking at my accumulation of brewing equipment and started thinking…I use the same few pieces of equipment every brew day so I started boxing up stuff I thought I had to have but never really used. Going to sell it and that will fund ingredients for several future recipes.

Some of my simplifying and downsizing has given me new tools to help improve my beers like using a small dorm refrigerator as a fermentation chamber that I store my 3 gallon Better Bottle fermenters in between brewing batches. Some of the ideas have had multiple benefits like cleaning my brewing system in place with the pump I use to recirculate wort during the mash. Using my immersion wort chiller as HERMS coil. Adding valves to my Better Bottle PET carboys thus eliminating having to have siphoning equipment. Making my electric brewing controller small enough to store inside the brew kettle. Consolidating equipment onto one shelving rack and a small tool cart I can also use as a brewing stand. I use a clear, tight sealing tote for storing some less frequently used items such as extra silicone tubing, spare hydrometer, bottle capper etc so I can easily see what is in the tote without having to dig through it to find stuff.

Whether you are a 1 gallon small batch brewer in a tiny studio apartment or have a large dedicated brewing space and brew 10+ gallon batches you can simplify and still improve your brewing. Simplifying home brewing makes home brewing even more enjoyable.

Cheers