Friday, April 9, 2010

From keg to kettle

We have begun the adventure of all-grain brewing (update to follow), but before we could start we needed even more new equipment. The most important being a large vessel to boil in. Stainless steel kettles are a bit pricey. The alternative is a modified keg. So we decided to make our own. Aaron legally procured a 15.5 gallon stainless steel keg which was in excellent shape. For this project we refered to Brew Ware - Lutzen & Stevens to guide us through the process.

We decided to base the diameter of the opening that we cut into the top of the vessel on the diameter of a spare lid from a 3 gallon kettle (which was 9") that we had sitting around. The paln was to purge the keg of any pressure and use a drill to make a hole on the line laid out for the opening. Then we would use a reciprocating saw to cut the opening by inserting the blade into the hole that we had drilled.

This proved to be much harder then anticipated for several reasons. First stainless steel is strong, seriously strong (I know that sounds like a no shit kind of statement but it was extremely difficult to work with and neither Aaron nor myself really anticipated just how difficult it was.). Even the 8.0 amp drill we used had a bit of difficulty getting a start into the material. The second reason was that the reciprocating saw that we had was good and power full but ran way too fast and had no speed adjustment capability. It wanted to jump around all over the place before it would beging to make a cut. Which intimidated me a bit too much for comfort. Safety was a major concern here for both of us. We took all the precautions that we found to common sense and that we recommended by the authors of the referance book (Safety glasses! Take it slow!). Neither of us wanted to risk injury (or for that matter ruining the keg), so when we reached this point we decided it was time to take a different approach.

I called my Grandfather, Joe Trinkwalder a man who has profoundly more experiance with such things than either Aaron or I. He suggested that we use a small saw with specialty blades that he had and some cutting oil to keep the blades cool while cutting (Brew Ware suggests that you may go through up to five blades). So we got started. I kept a constant flow of cutting oil on the blade while my Grandfather made the cut.

A messy, smokey process.

Making the cut.

Cleaning up the oil.

Drilling the holes for the thermometer and ball valve.

The process for cutting the main hole took about twenty minutes. Drilling the holes for the brewing thermometer and the ball valve took just a few minutes more. Two blades and a quart of cutting oil were the only casualties. Everything went smooth and safely. I later used a small angle grinder to clean up any burrs left on the holes. I also used it to widen the main opening just slightly so that the lid fit nice and snug.

Installing the ball valve.

A cold OV to celebrate!

The kettle screen installed.

The finished product.

In Primary:
  • Blonde Ale (update to follow)
  • Genther Bock


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Lets grow some hops!

I am excited about growing my own hops for our homebrews this summer. I’ve been reading up on the subject in The Homebrewer’s Garden – Fisher & Fisher and Homegrown Hops – David R. Beach. I pre-ordered three varieties of rhizomes (Willamette, Cascade, and Nugget) from Niagara traditions homebrew supply back in early march and they arrived about two weeks ago. I chose these varieties because they are supposed to do well in this type of climate. I am storing them in our lagering refrigerator until I can get them planted (hopefully within a week or so) because it has been raining a lot lately and I'm still in fear of a late frost. If you grow your own hops and you may be interested in exchange some varieties with us send me an e-mail.

I have prepared a raised bed for growing the hops on the side of my garage. Its dimensions are 8'L X 3'W X 8"H. It is basically just a rectangular box made of pine. This should give the rhizomes a little under 3 square feet of growing space for each variety. I plan on planting two rhizomes in each hill and running a line to guide each vine up to the peak of the garage which is approximately 18 feet high. I like this spot because it gets a good amount of sunlight, the garage provides a structure for the vines to grow up, and a hedge and fence provide wind breaks. It also works well for me because I don’t have the room to create a trellis or pole system.

The hop bed.

Compost pile started last autumn.

Larger bed behind the garage for growing veggies.