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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Beer Gun on the Cheap

 

IMG_1632If you are like most home brewers, it won’t take long for you to come to the conclusion that bottling your beer is kind of a pain. You have to wash all those bottles, sanitize them, measure and boil your priming sugar, and transfer your beer to the bottling bucket. Then, once you finally have all those bottles filled and capped, you get to clean all your gear and whatever mess you made in the process.

Fortunately, there is no homebrew problem that cannot be solved by throwing cash at it. So you start your internet shopping and Craigslist stalking and don’t stop until you have collected all the hardware necessary to keg your beer. Thing is, though, you are still probably going to want to bottle occasionally. Sure, growlers are a great way to transport and share your brews, but you can’t get away from bottles completely. Growlers will only keep beer fresh for a few days and if you decide to enter your beers in competitions, bottles are an absolute must.

The problem is, your kegged, carbonated beer is kind of a pain to bottle. Pouring a pint into a glass is no problem at all, but try to fill a bottle from your faucet or picnic tap and you’ll get a bottle mostly filled with foam. Enter the counter-pressure bottle filler. Blichmann, among others, manufacture off the shelf beer guns that will let you bottle your homebrew a bit more easily. A one hundred dollar bill and a little time to dial your pressure in and you are ready to bottle away.

If you are like me, though, and are inclined to keep that Ben Franklin in your pocket, there is a cheaper alternative. A little rummaging through your spare parts bin and maybe a trip to your local homebrew shop is all that stands between you and a very effective bottle filler.

A good first step when tackling any brewery related DIY is a visit to Homebrew Talk. The sum total of all of humanity’s homebrew knowledge can probably be found in this forum and a cheap bottling apparatus was just a click away. You can find the original post that I used as a reference here.

You really only need three things to build this bottler:

  • A picnic tap that fits your keg setup
  • A bottling wand
  • A stopper (with hole)
  • Teflon Tape (You may or may not need the tape depending on the size of the hole in your stopper and the diameter of your bottling wand.)

It turns out, the bottling wand can easily be inserted into the dispensing hole of the picnic tap. You will not need the spring loaded thingy that on the end of the bottling wand. Just pull it off and try not to lose it.

Once you have inserted the wand into the picnic tap, slide the stopper onto the wand and position it so that when the stopper seals the top of the bottle, the tip of the wand hovers inside the bottle, just above the bottom. The hole in my stopper was slightly too large and the stopper tried to slide around on the wand a bit. I ended up wrapping a few turns of teflon tape around the wand to hold it in place (I remove the tape and replace it each time I clean the wand after using.)

 

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Once your gizmo is assembled, bottling is a very easy. The best practice is to use as little gas pressure as possible. Compare my methodology to the description given in the Homebrew Talk post and you’ll quickly find a method that works for you.

  • Start with sanitized bottles (Obviously. Cleanliness is next to Godliness and all that. Also, chilled bottles will foam less than warm ones.)
  • Turn off the gas supply and release the pressure in the keg with the quick release valve. Some folks will turn the pressure on their regulator down to 1 or 2 psi. I prefer to bleed off most of the pressure in the keg and use a bit of residual pressure to gently fill my bottles. If the flow gets too slow, I will give it a quick burst of gas, just enough to get the beer flowing again.
  • With the stopper sealed against the crown of the bottle, begin filling the bottle. As the bottle is filled with beer, the pressure in the bottle with build, keeping the carbonated beer from foaming, and the flow will slow and eventually stop. Lift the bottling wand ever so slightly and allow the pressure to “burp” out of the bottle. Re-seat the stopper back on the bottle and continue to fill. The flow will continue until the pressure builds up again. Keep burping and filling until the bottle is full to the crown.
  • Once the bottle is filled, lift the wand out and give it one final squirt if necessary to adjust the head space in the bottle. Cap with a sanitized cap and your preferred capper.

After using this setup on a number of occasions, filling bottles for competition and for Christmas gifts, I am pretty happy with it. I tasted a couple of test bottles (I’m sure you will appreciate that level of dedication) and was pleased to see that all samples were still properly carbonated. Until Blichmann decides to send me one of their Beer Gun to review, this cheap little number will be my bottler of choice.

Have Beer, Will Travel.

IMG_1602Having decided a while back that bottling is for the birds, I finally put together a keezer and have been kegging my homebrew for the last five or six batches. This past weekend, though, was the first time I had occasion to haul a keg along for a road trip. I had already brewed, fermented, cold-crashed, and force carbonated a batch of Kolsch for our Thanksgiving weekend with the Wife’s side of the family and needed a way to dispense my beer while also keeping it at serving temperature.

I already had a picnic tap for my ball lock keg, so the liquid side of the equation was already taken care of. For the gas side I opted for a small, cartridge type keg charger. It spared me the expense of buying a spare CO2 tank and regulator and the hassle of pulling my existing tank and regulator out of the keezer and dragging that around. The charger did require a MLF threaded ball lock gas disconnect and some CO2 cartridges, so the total damage on the gas side of things was about $32.

To keep it all cool, I brought along my mash tun, built from a 10 gallon Rubbermaid cooler, and a couple of bags of ice. The cooler turned out to be overkill, as the weather stayed between 32 and 40 degrees for most of the weekend.

Overall, this little mobile unit worked pretty well, but if you go this route, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First off, these keg chargers are meant for dispensing only. You can’t force carbonate with them. Also, my charger seemed to leak a bit when I left it attached to the keg. Not sure what caused that, but I’ll do some troubleshooting and report back. The charger doesn’t have a regulator, so I suspect that the cartridge may have a bit more pressure than the connection can handle. And not having a regulator, the charger won’t dispense gas as needed. You will need to squeeze the trigger to give it a blast of gas whenever the flow of beer out of the picnic tap gets slow. Finally, don’t plan on the CO2 cartridges lasting very long. We went through five or six cartridges to dispense most of a five gallon corney keg. These minor issues aside, this turned out to be a great way to share your beer away from home.