Cheap, easy, good. Pick three.

 

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So I’ve been brewing 10 gallon batches lately in preparation of our more-or-less annual Oktoberfest throwdown. Given that I’m not as young as I used to be, I was not looking forward to lifting the big CurTec fermenter up high enough to siphon into my kegs. Not to mention my auto siphon has some age on it and I’ve never felt really good about the cleanability of the thing to begin with.

I’d been kicking around the idea of using CO2 to push beer from the fermenter to the keg for a while. It’s not brain surgery; there are plenty of examples on the web that show how to do it. The only minor complication for me was the fact that I use two different fermenter setups. I use the Speidel 30 liter tanks for my 5 gallon batches and the CurTec for 10 gallon batches, but still managed to cobble together the hardware which, along with some stuff I already had on hand, gets the job done.

As implied in the title of this post, the solution was pretty cheap with a few big IFs. If you already have a CO2 tank and regulator (preferably extras that you don’t have to disconnect from your kegerator every time you want to keg) and if you already have compatible fermenters, then it doesn’t take much to make it happen. I also had some spare gas line and a ball lock gas disconnect which helped reduce the parts list.

If you already have the tank and regulator, the gas disconnect and assorted tubing, all you really need are:

Ball Lock Keg Lid Adapters  These came from ebay. You can get these cheaper if you don’t mind waiting for China to ship them. These came from a domestic seller and arrived in two days. It’s a set of two. One post is a bulkhead and the other isn’t, but the non-bulkhead post can be used bulkhead-style on thin materials. I used the one with the bulkhead on the CurTec lid and the non-bulkhead post on a Speidel cap (photo below.) To get a good seal, I added some O-rings and stainless washers sourced from my local hardware store.

Stainless Steel Racking Cane-BrewHardware and tubing  From BrewHardware. The Speidel fermenters have a spigot for racking and I already had tubing that fit, so all I needed for the Speidels was the gas post to attach to the threaded lid. For the CurTec, I ordered the racking cane, a drilled stopper to fit the hole I had previously drilled in the lid for the airlock and some 3/8″ silicone tubing.  I drilled a hole in the lid to fit the ball lock gas post/bulkhead, which thanks to the O-ring and washer seals up nicely at pressures of 5-10 psi.

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I haven’t used the Speidel setup yet, but I filled 2 kegs with German Pilsner that had been fermenting in the CurTec and this little rig worked like a champ. At around 5 psi the CO2 pushed the beer up the racking cane, through the tubing and into the keg with no leakage  (gas or beer) at all. And if I’d had a ball lock liquid disconnect with a hose barb to fit the 3/8″ tubing I could have filled the keg through the liquid out post instead of the open lid and never expose the beer to oxygen. And that’s a good thing.

 

 

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Just a jar of yeast

IMG_0041 Wyeast Bavarian Lager 2206 to be specific. Thanks to Hutton & Smith Brewing Company for the hookup. They put a nice sized pitch in a growler for me from their batch of “Way Bock When.”

I harvested this jar from a Schwarzbier that I kegged on Friday and repitched it into a Munich Dunkel I brewed yesterday. Once that batch is done I’ll use it once again for a Cascadian Dark Lager. If such a thing even exists.

Quick and Easy Kegging with Speidel Fermenters

As a followup to my last post about the various fermenters I am using, here’s a quick video to show why I like the Speidel fermenters so much. Kegging beer doesn’t get much quicker or easier than this. My process goes something like this.

  • I generally don’t transfer the beer after primary fermentation. I usually let it go for three weeks, dry hop right in the Speidel (if I’m dry hopping) and then cold crash.
  • Before cold crashing, remove the airlock (so it doesn’t suck sanitizer out of the air lock into your beer) and replace it with the orange screw cap that is included with the Speidel tanks. I have read about some people who have had their tanks collapse inward when cold crashing with the cap on, but I’ve never had that problem.
  • After cold crashing, place one end of a length of sanitized tubing on the fermenter’s spout  and the other end at the bottom of a clean and sanitized keg. 3/8″ silicone works nicely. Remove the orange cap, open the spout, and drain the beer into the keg.
  • Seal the keg, purge with CO2, and carbonate.

It doesn’t get much easier.

 

 

 

Homebrew Fermenter Line-up

IMG_1815Because I had these fermenters on hand and because my work table, for once, was clean enough to photograph, here is a quick rundown of the fermentation containers currently in rotation at McPhillips Brewing. There seems to be a wide range of opinions regarding which fermenter is the  “best” one to use. I have no idea, but I do have a few thoughts on the ones I am using.

6 Gallon Better Bottle

This is actually the second fermenter I purchased when I started brewing. I call it the Better Than Nothing Bottle. Actually, it is fine, just not my favorite. The Better Bottles are lighter than glass carboys, won’t break like glass, and are hydrophobic, so they are allegedly easier to clean. Visit the Better Bottle website for their full details. You can also get ported Better Bottles with racking assemblies, airlocks, and other accessories.

The Better Bottle turned out to be my least favorite of the fermenters I am currently using. I find them kind of awkward to carry when full, and a pain to clean. Even after a hot water and Oxiclean soak I usually have some crud left inside. A carboy cleaner would probably make a big difference, but I have never gotten around to buying one. Also, I find the six gallon size that I have too small for five gallon batches; they are always blowing out on me. That said, I do use the Better Bottle any time I secondary beer, which is only occasionally.

6.5 Gallon Ale Pail

The Ale Pail was part of my first starter kit that I picked up at a garage sale several years ago. Many homebrew equipment kits include the Ale Pail or a similar bucket style fermenter and for good reason. They are cheap, simple, and effective. They may not have the bling factor of a stainless steel conical fermenter, but there is no reason you cannot make great beer with a humble bucket fermenter. I find the bucket to be easier to clean than the Better Bottle and easier to carry when full. At 6.5 gallons, it is also a little too small for higher gravity brews without a blow off tube, but the extra half-gallon compared to the Better Bottle does help in that regard.

30 Liter Speidel Tanks

Now we’re talking. The Speidel tanks are my personal favorites. The 30 liter size (a liter being a made up measurement that Europeans insist is real; what they mean is eight gallons) is plenty large enough that for five gallon batches. Blowouts are not an issue, even with high gravity beers. They have a couple of rugged handles to make moving full tanks easier, and a comically large airlock.

The lid opening is large enough to allow you to get your whole arm inside, which makes cleaning much easier than the Better Bottle.  After an Oxiclean soak, any stubborn stains or deposits are easy to wipe away with a sponge or scrubbie.

My favorite feature is the built-in spout. Unlike the spout on a bottling bucket, the threads of the Speidel spout are actually molded into the body of the tank and I have never had a problem with leakage. The advantage of the spout is that it allows you to draw samples for gravity readings without removing the top (and letting oxygen in) or using a thief or turkey baster to pull the sample, reducing the chance of contamination. And if you keg your beer, the spout is a minor miracle. I usually do a 3 week primary fermentation, followed by cold crashing for a few days and then just drain the fermented beer into a keg for carbonation. The spout is just high enough that yeast and trub is left behind without being disturbed. It literally takes 5 minutes. Did I mention how much I like these tanks?

The downside is the Speidels are a little pricey ($59.99 for the 30 liter.) For a while they were notoriously hard to find in stock, but MoreBeer.com seems to have gotten a better handle on demand now as they seem to be in stock most of the time now. I have my eye on the 60 liter version for ten gallon batches which brings us to…

CurTec 13 gallon Wide Neck Drum

If you brew ten gallon batches, the CurTec wide neck drum is possibly the best value around. They can often be found on eBay for $16-$20 plus shipping. The seller I bought mine from offered to combine shipping on 2 tanks, so mine ended up being $30-$35 each shipped. Mine were listed as having been used once for bagged ibuprofen tablets and came to me very clean and odor free.

These high quality tanks have a huge lid opening which makes cleaning easy and a gasketed lid that seals very nicely. Like the Speidel, it has carry handles, and has a huge 13 gallon capacity.

You will have to drill a hole in the plastic lid for an airlock. I used a step bit and drilled mine out to use the same stopper and airlock as the Speidel tank. I don’t brew ten gallon batches very often, but when I do, the CurTech tank works very well. They also make great grain storage containers.

That’s my lineup for now. I’m sure other fermenters will be added eventually. Of course, I’m always happy to provide unbiased reviews of stainless steel conicals. I’m looking at you Brewhemoth, Blichmann, and Stout Tanks.