Tuesday, January 29, 2008

It's all about the equipment (part 1)

As I ramped up my beer-making efforts this year, I realized that I had to update some of my equipment. I love the DIY and problem-solving aspects of brewing. Finding a way to easily sparge the specialty grains with common household tools, creating climate-controlled areas for fermentation, and creating a new beer from the inconsistent supply of hops at the LBS, are all part of the fun. However, I don’t like when some of the work is tedious or plain difficult.

I have come across two areas that I needed to improve if I am going to brew to the limit this year.

Issue 1: Kegs

I have been complaining for as long as I have been brewing about bottling entire batches of beer. It is usually a messy, time-consuming process that requires a small warehouse to store the bottles that may need to be pulled into rotation. I don’t have a problem supplying the needed empties, as Mrs. Brew Meister and I fill that channel well enough. We have a stack of bottles ready in a back room of the house, but I just can’t fill those darn things without spilling beer on every bottle.

There is also a little more room for error in natural carbonation versus forced. Picture this: I am in the basement with a few friends, drinking some beers from the previous batch and bottling the new batch. Twenty or so bottles into the process, I noticed the priming sugar still sitting in its sealed package on the counter. Oops. Forgot to add the sugar to the bottling bucket. I then went into mathematician mode of dividing the amount of sugar to the balance of beer in the bucket, and the rest into premeasured scoops for each bottle.

Somehow the math may have been made a bit fuzzy from the session prior to bottling. Regardless, the results were a six-pack that exploded a few days later, leaving two quarts of beer on my bar, and there was a bottlecap-sized hole in the ceiling from the main troublemaking bottle. The rest of the beer turned out to be the best batch I ever made; it was a shame to leave so much of it in the mop bucket.

I have been swearing ever since to go to kegs. I tried the half-arsed approach and bought the Tap a Draft system. This was due to the cost of a 5 gallon corni system and my commitment to brewing at the time.

The advantages to the Tap a Draft:

  • I only need to fill a few large PET bottles, greatly simplifying the process
  • The pressure level creates a nice, albeit slow, pour
  • Easy to take places
  • Inexpensive to add more bottles

The disadvantages to the Tap a Draft:

  • The bottles can only be stored vertically, as they leak when stored horizontally; however, the bottle bottoms are ROUND so keeping them vertical takes a bit of rigging
  • The CO2 cartridges are only for dispensing; they cannot carbonate the beer
  • The cartridges can only be used for one bottle, as once you pierce them, you can’t close them off when you take the tap off the bottle (so any remaining CO2 escapes when you remove the tap from an empty bottle)

This was a good answer for the price, but if I really wanted to lift my game, I was going to have to go for the five gallon kegs...(to be continued)

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