Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Lot Like Christmas!

It's beginning to look a lot like Porter!
Beer's so rich and daaark.
Take a whiff of the beer again; So rich with toast and grain.
Tasting malty rich, with the yeast i pitch, and a color like tree baaark!

It's beginning to look a lot like Lager!
Smooth and light with sceeeent.
I've completely lost my track, I'll finish two before you're back.
Drink one down, another round, I've hardly made a dent!

I'll spot you the tip, if you take a sit, I may even buy you one...
I could take a shot, I may need a cot, a few more and I may be near...
And Jack and Jim can take a seat, tonight it's all for beer!

It's beginning to look a lot like Bit-ter!
Hops and malt abound.
The Tett is nice and fresh, the flavors all well mesh.
I grow my hops, i have five crops, the grain I also ground!

It's beginning to look a lot like Wei-zen!
Wheat and grain alike.
The taste of fruit is nice, with just a touch of spice,
I think I am done, I can't feel my thumbs, I have to take a hike...

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
Joy to you and me.
If you're at the bar that's grand. I think I can barely stand.
I don't want any more, I won't fall off the floor...


Please... don't mind my snore.

Thank you to our loyal readers. Knowing there are people out there enjoying this blog other than our mothers makes this all worth it. It's nice knowing that people actually enjoy reading the site, and I hope it encourages others to get into the joys of homebrewing. Everyone, have a Merry Christmas, and a happy New Year. Let's make 2013 the best year of homebrewing yet!!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Phase 4: Buff Your Keg

You can "buff your keg" and you can buff your keg.

Please "buff your keg" on your own time.

I've already written about polishing your keg, but this phase was also the time to figuratively bedazzle the kegs as well. Doing this involved a few neat little accessories...

Sight Glasses - Thanks Bobby_M! Who wants to get up on their tippy toes whenever they're curious how much water left they've got in their HLT? Or maybe the sparge has stuck. Sight glasses let you tell how full your keg is from afar. Bobby_M has got these great little glasses pre made and ready to go. Drill a whole, affix the glass, and calibrate your measurements.

Thermocouples and Compression Ports - You have to get a few special O-rings for this one, but they're cheap. You could even let me know, and I'll send you a few if you need. I've got some extra (23 to be exact). Again, drill, affix, jab in your thermocouple, and tighten 'er down. Link up with a Auber PID Controller and you're ready to rock and roll.

Valves - Gotta have valves. You've got that pump, now use it! I made sure to put a valve in between my disconnects and my kettles where it connects below the liquid line. If I need to change a hose, I don't want boiling water shooting out everywhere. That would be bad.

This stage is probably the easiest. Polishing is easy, but time consuming. Valves, ports, and glasses are all easy to install, but there's a lot of drilling involved. If you value your bits, use a few to get up to your hole size. Don't just start drilling a 1/2" hole with a 1/2" bit. I started with a 1/32" and worked my way up from there... (1/32 to an 1/8 to a 1/4 and so on). Also, watch out for your belly-button. Make sure you use a lot of oil as well. You need lubricant. Not for "buffing your keg" (well maybe, but that's not my point), but for keeping your bits sharp while drilling your holes.

It's been a long road! Don't slack on small things just because you've been working on it so long. You're almost done!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Phase 3: Plumbing

The entire idea behind this section is simple. Take stuff from point "A" and move it to point "B". The straightest possible solution would be the straight line, but it's not necessarily the most efficient. I already had a March Pump, and I wasn't really planning on buying another one. At this point in the process I don't think the wifey really was all concerned about my spending, but another pump is a pretty big deal. I was doing pretty well flying under the radar at this point and I wasn't screwing that one up.

If I wanted to make this design as inefficient as possible, I probably could use 6 pumps, and a crap load more connections, disconnects, copper, etc. Instead I was able to design the whole system to use only one pump. There are a number of transfers that occur during brewing:

1) Fill hot liquor tank.
2) Fill mash tun.
3) Circulate mash through hot liquor tank.
4) Sparge mash using hot liquor tank water.
5) Lauter mash into boil kettle.
6) Chill wort.
7) Drain kettle into fermenter.

I was able to take care of the mash circulation and sparge using one pump and a bunch of solenoid valves. I also plumbed it in such a way (by accident) that I could send a shot a water through the pump to clear out any air that had nested itself into the pump head. The fills and the chill are taken care of solenoid valves that control the water supply from the garden hose. Lauter to the boil kettle is taken care of gravity, oh sweet gravity. Currently there's just a solenoid hanging out because I'm still using my immersion chiller. I decided that the plate chiller was too much of an addition to design/purchase into my system at this point. When the chiller gets installed it will have its own pump circulating hot wort through it. You can see a lot of the system in the picture. Once I finish writing about the construction, I'll be taking many more detailed pictures and placing them all in one spot for the world to see. Major purchase items for this section:

15' (about?) of 1/2" copper
2x 10 count bags of 1/2" copper elbows
2x 10 count bags of 1/2" push / 1/2"FPT fittings
2x 10 count bags of 1/2" push / 1/2"MPT fittings
4x 1/2" copper tees
4x 1/2" FPT/ 1/2" Barb Fittings

Again, I already had the pump handy, and I had already built my hot liquor tank some time ago, disconnects and high temp hose purchased previously as well. At the start of this phase I was going to make an attempt to hard solder the entire thing without using unions. The unions are stupid expensive for what they are, but the best price to go with is at McMaster Carr. It wasn't worth the effort, and the entire thing would be physically impossible to take apart. I ended up installing a valve backwards, so that turned out to be very important. If you don't know how to sweat copper, practice and test a handful of fittings first. Use flux. Check to make sure the solder worked its way around the fitting. At the end of sweating all those pieces together I ended up with 4 leaks. I think that's pretty good considering the 100+ joints that I sweated. None the less seeing those leaks develop was both frustrating and disheartening. Do it right though. Separate the joint carefully, sand, and re-sweat the joint. You only have to get it right once. If you don't get it right, it will leak your entire pitiful brewing life.

The entire process wasn't overly difficult. Just tiring and time consuming. It's slow and tedious work, but worth it. In summary, lessons learned:

1) Buy a hose fitting and a few caps. Use this to test your joints frequently before assembling the whole mess.
2) I started with polysulfone disconnects. New they worked great, but as they aged the seals broke down  and became difficult to connect/disconnect. I'm currently switching to cam-lock fittings and they work great.
3) A lot of valves only work one direction, keep that in mind.
4) Use unions to make it easy to service.
5) Design in a method to purge air from the head of your pump.
6) Make sure to throw in manual valves where you plan to remove your kegs. Otherwise you'll disconnect it and all the fluid will run out before you get to where your going.

I hope this information is helpful! I can't wait to do a beereview again! If you have any questions please feel free to comment below. I'll get right back to you, and I can take pictures of requested areas.

Areas of R2-DBREW, you sick bastard.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Phase 2: FIRE

Not gonna lie, phase 2 made me a little nervous. The principles were all there. Fill pipes with gas, shoot it through an orifice, and light a burner. Really no different from how your gas grill works or the turkey fryer.

But I wasn't so comfortable with it. 

Regardless I forged ahead.

This phase required a short list (relatively) of parts:

-   Black Iron Pipe and fittings.
-   1/4" Copper Tubing (for pilot)
-   Gas Rated Teflon Tape (Yellow)
-   1/4" Propane Gas Hose

There's a lesson written into the list here. Initially I had my burners, gas valve, pilot, thermocouple. I was doing some additional reading (post order) and found the gas valve was a low pressure gas valve. It would not operate correctly looking at 30 psi gas pressure. 

Well crap. 

I took out the manual and I confirmed that it was, in fact, only operable up and around 11" of water column (1 psi equals roughly 28" water column, or the amount of pressure required to lift a column of water 28"). I did some more research and found I could convert my burner to work on low pressures, hence the low pressure conversion and the low pressure regulator. You can see the regulator and the gas valve in the picture below.

Originally I didn't have enough pressure pushing through my regulator. No issues on the low pressure side, but the lack of pressure on the high side would cause flames to shoot out the back of the burner. There was not enough force to entrain the air and push it through the nozzles. The gas would pool in the venturi and just light out the back. Kind of exciting when you're not expecting it. Probably because I thought it was going to blow. Also because I was showing it off to my wife at the time, and her precious 350Z was parked right next to me. 

Switching out the regulator and cranking the pressure up to 30 PSI did the trick. So far so good. The first brew day went well. I'm not sure how much more gas the system used, but the extra juice was noticeable bringing the wort to a boil. The burners require some tweaking to get the flame just right. I still have to tweak my low pressure burner because it turned the bottom of the HLT black as Dad's "well-done" hamburgers.

Next week: Phase 3 - Plumbing.