Light the fires! (ULCBP)

February 25, 2011

The 23-jet gas ring is now plumbed and ready to go.  John conveniently found a natural gas regulator in a stove by the side of the road.  The rest had to be bought in from Gainforts, but it does mean that I have had the opportunity to build in some nice design features like the hand-out-of-the-heat galvanised extension, a flow rate valve and a long 3m flexible hose to allow for better siting of the rig.

The result?  Hotter than the surface of the sun.  I was able to bring wort to the boil in <15min and boil off 10L in 1hr!  Oh, and it makes house bricks glow.  Overkill?  Yes…

Boiling Kettle (ULCBP)

February 21, 2011

A boiling kettle is essentially a large pot – big enough to hold 40-50L of boiling liquid.  New a pot of this size can be quite expensive, but if you’re lucky there are a few alternatives.

Trawling the op-shop may turn up a large stock pot or an ex-commercial kitchen supplier might have such a thing on the cheap.  The other option is to convert a keg – although it isn’t easy to find kegs being retired from service.  I was lucky enough to do just that.

With a quick nip and tuck with an angle grinder it makes a very serviceable pot.  It does take a fair bit of filing to get rid of all the burrs!

To avoid the need for any tipping or syphoning I have elected to fit mine with a tap, so that once the boil is complete the liquid can be drained straight out.

The photo below shows the flanged backnut and washer used to seal the threaded pipe into the wall of the keg.  The washer I cut with a scalpel out of a cheap dollar-shop silicone muffin tray by using a backnut as a form.  It should be good for 300C so, fingers crossed, no leaks!

The 20mm hole required was a bit of a challenge – my largest drill bit is 12.7mm.  Ideally you’d use a bimetal hole saw, but I refuse to pay $30 to $50 for a single hole.  So in the end I simply enlarged the hole by hand with a circular file.  Sounds like a terrible job, but it didn’t actually take that long.

What isn’t pictured above is the copper extension that goes on the inside of the keg to draw the liquid from the side of the keg rather than the middle where all the sediment is.  Perhaps a photo of that in the future…

Spend for my kettle: $25.

Retail pot: $200.

Spend so far: $155.

Savings so far: $1540.

23 Jet Burner Ring (ULCBP)

February 17, 2011

A boiling kettle is essentially a large metal vessel for boiling up your wort to extract the oils from your hops which provide the bitterness and aroma to your brew.  In that sense it’s a very simple device, simply a large stainless steel pot with a tap in the bottom of it and some sort of heat source capable of bringing 30-50L of liquid to a rolling boil.

There are two common approaches – electric and gas.

Electric is certainly the clean and simple approach.  You either mount some heating elements directly into the bottom of your pot, or even easier you get an immersion element that simply dangles in it when you need it.

The problem with electric is that elements generally only run at 2400W.  I say “only” because although this is a large amount of power, it really is pretty underpowered when you consider how much work it’s going to need to do.  To raise 35L of water from 20C to 100C is going to take about 100 minutes!  And that’s in an ‘ideal’ vessel where there’s no heat losses to the outside world.  To make this approach work you’re going to need to insulate the bejesus out of the pot and even then it’s going to be slow and rack up the power bill.

You can run two elements to deal with the lack of power, but the initial cost doubles and you run into the problem where you’re now trying to pull more power than one household circuit is rated to supply.  Which means that the solution is a long extension cord to another circuit elsewhere in the house.

Option two is gas.  The amount of heat output from gas is immensely higher – so boil times are drastically reduced.  This is the option I have gone with and my 23 jet mongolian burner turned up in the post today!

Now I just need to collect a hose with bayonet fitting, a natural gas regulator, a valve and some suitable gal pipe.

Spend for my burner: $75.

Retail burner: $115.

Spend so far: $130.

Savings so far: $1340.

Mashtun and Urn Shakedown (ULCBP)

February 15, 2011

Well, Sunday saw the first use of the new mash tun and no-so-new hot water urn.  Big successes on both fronts!

The tun sealed perfectly, maintained good heat and had excellent flow with no blockages.

The hot water urn had none of the leaking issue that had apparently caused its early retirement, although the flow rate through the tap is a little slow.  This means the lid of the mash tun is open longer and more heat is lost, causing difficulty accurately hitting the mash-in temperature.  Might think about replacing the tap with a larger diameter ball valve, installing a sparge rig in the top of the mash tun, or possibly both.

But certainly as a trial run, I would be tempted to give it full marks.

Hot Water Urn (ULCBP)

February 10, 2011

Well, well… wonders will never cease… some things just land in your lap.

Apparently some businesses’ OH&S assessments determine that the hot water urns that people have been using for decades in tea rooms and conference areas in offices all over the country are actually society’s silent menace.  With a non-fastening lid these seemingly benign looking devices are lurking on the buffet table waiting to unleash scalding fury all over unsuspecting employees!

Great news for the ULCBP: 20L hot water urn? Freebie!

The only question is, will 20L be enough capacity?  For single batches probably, and if not the boiling kettle will have to do double duty.  I will almost certainly need to heat for the mash-in and then refill and reheat for the sparge water.  In order to cater for this and minimise heating times, the urn is now sporting a stylish blue insulating jacket made from an old camping bed roll and shoelaces with truckie’s hitches.

My hot water urn: $0.

Retail cost: $260.

Project spend so far: $55.

Project savings so far: $1225.

Mash Tun (ULCBP)

February 9, 2011

The plan: make a mash tun out of an esky.  I’m not the first to do this by any means, but everyone seems to do it slightly differently and the biggest part of the challenge is working out how you’ll do it and where on earth to get the bits (cheaply, of course!)

First up I need an esky.  So, again it was a quick browse on Gumtree.  There I found a pretty much brand new Coleman 40L esky for sale by some Skandos planning on leaving the country.  After a little haggle it was mine for $25 (RRP $70).

I know that many people on the Aussie Home Brewer forums manage to brew using a 25L esky-based mash tun, but the general concensus was that a little larger was better.  My esky has quite a high lid and I wondered if Coleman included that in their volume specification.  Of course they do!  After measuring the internal volume with a tape measure I reckon I have 33L of useable space.  That will go down slightly too, because my outlet won’t be able to go absolutely flush to the bottom.  But still, I’m ahead of the 25L-brigade.

How does a mash tun work?  The idea is that you steep your grain in water at a certain temperature for a certain period of time to extract the sugars and flavours.  The temperature needs to stay as close to constant as possible – hence the insulated esky.  Then the resulting sugar solution, wort, is drawn off through a manifold.  The manifold is essentially a screen or strainer which ensures that the grain is left behind.  The grain forms a cake or bed and further water can be ‘sparged’ through it to extract more sugars.

So the next step for me is to construct a manifold in the bottom of my esky.  Naturally, everything that goes into the esky needs to be food safe at warm temperatures.  PVC and some other plastics will leach plasticizers and other compounds which isn’t good for your health or your brew.  I went with copper and brass – which are routinely used in hot water drinking supplies the world over.

The greatest challenge is working out how you’re going to put a hole in your esky without it leaking.  Plenty of people on the AHB forums use a combination of threaded brass tube, flanged backnuts and homemade rubber washers – what I didn’t realise, until I visited the blokes at Gainforts plumbing wholesalers, is that we’re all making up a product that already exists – a tank adaptor.  I looked it up on the Hansen website and it’s made from foodsafe nylon.  And it only costs $8.

It comes with quite a large flange – which is excellent for spreading the load on the thin walls of an esky, but will need to be cut down on the bottom edge so that the manifold can sit nice and low to the bottom surface of the esky to minimise wort wastage.

Next up the copper manifold needs to be made.  This is just a simple exercise in choosing a layout and cutting the pipe to fit.  If you have a pipe-cutter this would take no time at all.  I only had a hacksaw and it was slow but okay.  The idea with the layout is to provide plenty of channels for the wort to drain out of the grain-bed into.  The straight sections of copper pipe also need to be cut with thin slashes.

I sealed my tank adaptor up with some heat-rated foodgrade silicone sealant.  SikaLastomer 511 is one such product.  Don’t use normal silicone or even aquarium silicone – it isn’t designed for the purpose.  Is $5 really worth being a cheap bastard over?  (well, yes – but not in this context!)

The whole thing gets topped off with a ball valve on the end of the outlet.  Mash tun ready!

Spend for my mash tun: $55.

Retail plastic mash tun $300.

Savings so far: $965.

Fridge (ULCBP)

February 9, 2011

A key element to the ULCBP is temperature control during fermentation.  This will allow the use of tastier yeasts (rather than strains produced for their robustness), control the production of desirable and undesirable by-products, guard against unpredictable weather and facilitate more advanced brew techniques like lagering.

The way that this is to be achieved is through the use of a domestic fridge large enough to house the fermenter and to control its temperature with a digital thermostat.

I found a 370L fridge on Gumtree being given away for free.  It’s old-ish, but apparently still works fine.  Tom kindly offered his assistance and the work ute to move it.

Considering a new fridge of the same size sells for $680 – the project is staying true to its low-cost roots.

Spend so far: $0

Savings so far: $720