Friday, April 8, 2016

The State of the Brewhouse

It's been a long time since I have given an update of what I am up to on the homebrewing front. So I wanted to share a little of what I currently have set up to make brewing convenient and enjoyable. With two young kids, it's all about being able to squeeze in a brew session at the drop of a hat. When brewing all-grain beers, the first thing you need to brew on a whim is a grain mill:

Oh, and the drill or a motor of some kind to drive it is a big plus. With this in place, grain in stock, and some dried yeast in the freezer, I am ready to brew on a moment's notice. This is a Monster Mill. It has put up with some abuse, keeps a good grind locked in, and has been a solid addition to my brewery for the 5 years or so I've had it. I should note that the drill is from a pawn shop. Great resource for cheap tools.

As I mentioned, the other things that need to be in place to be ready to brew are:
  1. Yeast - I always try to keep a plethora of dried yeasts in my freezer. There are increasingly more varieties available, and dry yeast is always better than it's liquid kin. Cheaper, higher pitch counts, and easier to use.
  2. Hops - Again, I try to keep a small stock in the freezer. These don't like to last for much longer than 6 months to a year in the freezer, but do better vacuum-packed (I have two perfectly good FoodSavers from the thrift store). I will buy a pound of bittering hops when I run out, and stock a bit of aroma hops and try to replenish them every few months.
  3. Grain - Grain lasts a good long time. I always keep a bag of Pilsner and Pale malts (~55 lb) in sealed tubs as well as a variety of specialty grains in tupperware containers so that I can blend to my heart's content.
Here's the brewing apparatus:

The rig itself hasn't changed much, but I have made improvements to the brewzone:
  1. Pot fillers - you can see these above the Liquor Tank (left) and Mash Tun (middle). This is great - no pouring and no dragging hoses over there to fill. This is a very simple solution that I am still evaluating as a long term solution, but has made it at least 3 years now, and doesn't seem to be breaking down. You can see the copper pipe structure that is made to swivel on the simple copper pipe holders screwed to the wall. Below the 2x4 where you see the pipe disapear is a copper to PEX junction. This provides a swivel. I couldn't recommend this approach as I'm sure a plumber would be offended I even mention this, but for a cheap swivel pipe, it's worked great for me.
  2. Exhaust fan (top right) - this has been an asset, but not life changing. It does an OK jub of sucking up steam from the boil, but it's a residential cast off, so it is probably not strong enough to really do the job. Proof of this is that I have to open all the windows in my brewhouse while boiling or it get's way to hot to stand in there. It's better than it was before I installed this though.
  3. Metal roofing for water resistant wall - I was inspired by the Chipotle interior on this one, but it is also functionally useful. I built out a 4' tall 2x4 wall in front of the existing wall. This allowed me to run plumbing and drains with lots of space. In addition, the metal roofing panels are easily removed to upgrade and/or maintain any wiring and plumbing that is behind the wall.
  4. Underneath my boil pot, I have a water heater mat. This is great for collecting boil-over messes, spills, and leakage in general. However, plastic was a bad idea. There's a lovely molten mess in the middle of this, so I heartily recommend a metal version. Not only was I burning the plastic water heater pan, I was also melting the tile below. I decided I'd better get some padding underneath, so I went to my local home store and got a slab of cement board (used for tiling) and put it under the pan. This has been adequate to keep me from burning everything down...
I have a Mark's Keg Washer as pictured below. I don't care if you invest in it or make one yourself out of a pump and some fitting - just get one set up. Cleaning kegs and carboys and even fermentation buckets with this setup is so much easier. Dump some PBW in and let it run. 

Here's the current kegerator:

Nothing too special here, just a $50 Craigslist fridge with the appropriate holes drilled. I did picture the zip-tied lines (right) - I'm not sure why I didn't figure that out earlier, but that makes it ten time easier to wrangle lines like that so there's not 4 lines going 4 directions when I close the door.

I'm not sure this is a completely coherent post, but I just wanted to give an update of some of the tools and mods I have made in the last few years to make my brewing experience nicer.

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