Sunday, December 9, 2012

Building a Keezer

We've been brewing for a little over a year now, and we've decided to take the plunge and start kegging.  We bought some kegging equipment (2 used cornelius kegs, a CO2 bottle + dual regulator, and associated tubing) from a local homebrew store, and assembled a keezer (keg + freezer) over the course of a weekend.

Most keezers have homemade or purchased temperature controllers to keep it warmer than freezing, but we opted for a chest freezer that had a refrigeration option instead.  After 24 hours of being plugged in, we confirmed it stabilized around 40 F.  

Here's a materials list and rough step-by-step guide with pictures.

10 ft 2x6 (cedar)
8 long wood screws
8 short wood screws
1 cabinet handle
1 wall-mounted bottle opener
6 1/4" disc neodymium magnets
1 bar magnet
2 3" L brackets
1" spade bit + power drill
1" thick pink foam
indoor/outdoor sealant
wood stain, black appliance spray paint, chalkboard paint

Optional steps to paint: Begin by removing the lid hinges from both the lid and the body of the chest freezer, as well as any grates on the side.  Use painter's tape and cardboard to block off all openings you don't want painted.

Using appliance-grade spray paint, and give an even coat over everything.  One bottle barely covered the body of the chest freezer and the edges of the lid.  We painted the lid with chalkboard paint.

Measure and cut your 2x6 board to fit the top of the freezer.  You can opt to miter the edges for a cleaner finish, or you could do butt-joints for an easier cut-and-assembly process.  We went with butt-joints for this build.

Measure where you want your taps to be placed.  Keep in mind the width of your drip tray, as well as the diameter of the plastic washer on the tap (you don't want them too close together, otherwise the multiple taps won't fit).  We went with 5" apart, but probably could have done 4".  Use a small drill bit and drill a pilot hole all the way through the board. You'll have to drill the spade bit on both sides to get all the way through, so this pilot hole will ensure your two cuts line up.  

Attach the four pieces together using the long wood screws (again, be sure to drill pilot holes with a small bit).  Once together, do a quick fit check on top of the freezer and then stain the wood.  We opted for a light cherry stain.

While the paint and stain are drying, cut your insulation blocks using a sharp box knife.  You can either leave the right-angle edges, or bevel the sides in to accomodate the lid.

Once the stain has dried, attach the cabinet handle for your towel bar (another spot for pilot holes...).

Since a 2x6 is thicker than most cabinet doors, you may find that the included fasteners are not long enough for your towel bar.  If this is the case, you can either buy longer fasteners, or use your spade bit to drill out half of the board thickness.

Use indoor/outdoor sealant to attach the collar to the top of the freezer, as well as for attaching the insulation.

Once it's all in place, use the remaining sealant at all cracks along the insulation.

Now's a good chance to fit-check those 4" shanks on your tap!

If your 2x6 is slightly warped like ours, you may find the board doesn't sit perfectly level.  We used our heaviest text books to "clamp" everything down while the sealant cured for a few days.

Once the sealant has dried, reattach the hinges to the lid.  Align the lid, and then screw the hinges into the collar using the short wooden screws.

Success!  We have a working lid.

For final hardware, we also included a wall-mounted bottle opener.  We first placed a small neodymium magnet underneath for our cap-catcher, but its maximum capacity ended up being 6 caps.  We will either switch to a bucket or a bar magnet.

Testing it out...

It works!  "Bravely Done," says the Deschutes bottle.

Final piece of hardware: the drip tray!  Some liquid will come out of your tap after you are done pouring.  Some people will use the drip trays to rest glassware and let foam overrun, but we just wanted ours to keep our floors clean.  We went with this plastic/stainless steel combo, which is much less expensive than all stainless steel.

Since the drip tray didn't have to hold anything other than its own weight, we used two painted-black L-brackets to keep the tray up.  The L-brackets are affixed to the fridge with six neodymium magnets superglued to the back (three each).  We also used some wire glued to the bottom of the drip tray to stabilize it and prevent it from being knocked off accidentally.

A quick peek inside of everything together!  The freezer comes with a small basket, which we use to chill our glasses or store bottled beer.

The chalkboard top is decorated with chalk paint markers.  Much cleaner-looking than traditional chalk, but it requires water to clean it off.  We named her "Bierstadt" after a mountain in our home state.  It translates to "city of beer," which is also fitting!

Finally, she's done!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Secondary Fermentation Dry Ice CO2 Purge

Oxygen contact is bad news for homebrews.  Once you pitch your yeast into the fermentor, you want to keep contact with oxygen at a bare minimum.  You need a little bit of oxygen to help the yeast reproduce and be happy at the beginning of the process (which is usually incorporated by aeration), but producing alcohol is an anaerobic process for the yeast.  That means oxygen can stall or stop the fermentation process (not to mention, if you have contamination in your fermentor from poor sanitation practices, oxygen will help the nasty stuff grow).

For the primary fermentor, your yeast are actively creating CO2 and displacing the existing oxygen in the container, so you don't have to worry about purging it.  However, in a secondary fermentor, a CO2 purge would minimize the risk of oxidization of your beer and contamination.

We learned a cool trick from our local homebrew store using a funnel and dry ice, and thought we'd share it here!

Quick reminders:

  • Remember to use good gloves and/or tongs when handling dry ice! 
  • You only need a small block--maybe the size of a full wallet or a deck of cards.
  • Check your dry ice for dirt, and use a sink brush or sponge to quickly clean it.

Check your funnel for a small notch in the stem--this method will only work if there is a way for your purged gas to exit.

Place the sanitized funnel into your carboy, and carefully place a small amount of dry ice in the funnel.  
Since CO2 is heavier than air, the CO2 will sublimate off the dry ice, travel down the funnel, and displace the air out of the carboy through the stem notch.  Let the sublimating CO2 purge until you see the condensed air (what looks like fog) come out of the stem notch.  

Be careful when removing the funnel: water frost will form on the outside of the funnel, and you don't want to accidentally shake or knock this into your fermentor!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Making a Wort Chiller

You only need to brew once to understand the value of a good old-fashioned heat exchanger!

After boiling all of the ingredients, the wort needs to cool to a temperature that won't kill yeast.  The tricky part is doing this in a truly clean fashion, and many new brewers are forced to use the kettle-in-an-ice-bath method.  The first time we brewed, it took us over an hour to cool our wort, since our bathtub was so huge and we didn't have enough ice.  In our new apartment, our brew kettle fits snuggly in the kitchen sink, which allows for frequent water bath changes and a wort cool down to happen in about 45 minutes instead.

This last month, Ryan took the initiative to fashion a homemade wort chiller.  Time for a science explanation!  A wort chiller is essentially a heat exchanger.  The idea is that the cold pipe and hot fluid will "exchange" energy, thus cooling your fluid and heating up your pipe.  We used a 25-ft copper coil because the more surface area you have, the more heat you can exchange through the pipe.  Additionally, copper has a high thermal conductivity, which means heat transfer occurs at a faster rate than materials with a low thermal conductivity (like air).  To keep the copper pipe at a much lower temperature than the wort, you run cold water through the coil to keep the heat exchange at a high rate.  This homemade chiller brought our wort cool down time to < 20 minutes.

The best part?  Ryan spent ~$30 on materials and a few hours in one day, and I bet we could have spent less if we did some deal-searching online/in town.  If you go to a homebrew store to buy a commercial wort chiller, they can run at least $60.

We purchased our materials from local hardware shops, but I linked some of the materials to so you can see the pictures.  Of course, it is best to have the pieces in hand to make sure everything fits before you go to put it all together.


Take out your boiling kettle and make sure the copper coil can fit inside.  Slip the tube bender over the pipe, and use your hands to shape a 90-degree bend such that ~8 inches of the tube protrudes over the top of the kettle.  Bend another 90 degree bend at the top of that leg, such that the pipe is parallel to the ground.
Repeat this with the other end of the pipe.

Cut your plastic tubing in half.  Affix each piece to one end of the copper pipe, and secure in place with a worm drive clamp.

With one of the plastic tubes, push the hose-to-barb adapter into the tube and secure with another worm drive clamp.
Screw the faucet-to-hose adapter onto the other side of the hose-to-barb adapter.

 Remove any sort of cover from your faucet of choice, and attach the faucet-to-hose adapter to your sink faucet.
Place the wort chiller in your kettle, and route the free plastic tube to a drain (we used our bathtub).

Now turn your faucet as cold as it will get, and watch your wort cool at record speed!