Tag Archives: keg

Hand Pump to the Rescue

No, this is not a tool for a return to the keg parties of yesteryear where half barrels of Busch Light were consumed illicitly under the stars for a bargain price. The technology is similar, but the reasoning is completely different. What am I talking about? I bought a hand pump for my kegs:

Hand Pump

Yes, in conjunction with a picnic or cobra tap I could use this pump to dispense an entire keg in a field expedient setup. I might do that if I am certain to drink an entire keg over the course of a short period of times. Otherwise, the air pumped in will react with the beer and oxidize the product. Not a good thing to happen to good beer. Heck, that is not a good thing to happen to bad beer.

Nope, this is all about cleaning. No matter what a homebrewer will tell you this is a hobby that is about cleaning and sanitizing. Otherwise you are likely to brew up a batch that ends up tasting like sock juice pressings.

Kegs are a lot easier to deal with than bottles because you are cleaning and sanitizing a single vessel all at once rather than thirty 22 ounce bottles.

One pain-in-the-ass part of a keezer system to clean are the liquid dispensing lines that run from the keg to the tap. I use Perlick Perl taps in my setup, so I avoid some of the nasty gunk problems associated with taps that do not utilize a forward seal. However, you still want to run a lot of cleaner/sanitizer through the lines to ensure that no bacterial residue remains from a prior batch that will contribute to bad beer in a forthcoming batch.

The easiest way to clean a tap and tap lines is to run the cleaner of your choice through the lines for a period of time. Combine C02 and a gallon or so of cleaner in a clean keg…boom, easy cleaning. The rub here is that I was using a lot of CO2 to pressurize a nearly empty keg and push out a gallon of solution. In conjunction with a small leak in one of my keg’s seals—since fixed with a new seal and a generous application of keg lube—found me blowing through a ten pound tank of CO2 in no time. It’s ~$25 each time I want to fill my tank. Not horribly expensive, but not something I wanted to do frequently.

Enter the hand pump! With a few strokes—wait a second, this sounds bad—I can start pushing out solution and run the keg dry without blowing through a load of purchased gas. The hand pump only costs me a few calories of energy expenditure.

It’s not an elegant solution, but it works quite nicely. I have found that I am inclined to run more solution and do a more thorough cleaning of the lines now that I am not using CO2 to accomplish the task.

Okay, I have to admit that I am going to use this to take kegs on the road as well. If you have met my friends you know that five gallons of beer will disappear in no time. There is no worry about leftovers.

Finishing up the Keezer

The wiring is done and the construction of the collar is done.  Now only the final steps remain to complete my keezer and tap my first keg of homebrewed goodness.  I have said this in every post I have written about my keezer build: this represents my preferences and mistakes, you can make entirely different build choices and come out the other side with a very successful keezer build.

With the collar mounted and sealed—this is important if you do not want any air leakage—I installed the shanks and faucets:

Perlick Perl

The tap handles are cheap because I really do not care to have oustentatious handles that are not reflective of the beer coming out the tap.  Why have a Fat Tire Amber Ale tap handle if what is being dispensed is house pale ale?

There are two places in your build where you should absolutely not try and skimp on the quality of the components being used.  The first is the faucets that are dispensing you beer.  I will talk about the second in a few paragraphs.

Aren’t all beer faucets the same?  From the outside, sure.  You pull the lever and beer comes out.  Inside a traditional beer faucet, however, a small amount of liquid will be trapped in the faucet ahead of the seal cutting off flow from the lines and the tube to drain out.  Over time this beer will become a sticky mess.  If you do not pour a beer for a few days you could come back to a stuck faucet.

The solution?  Forward sealing faucets like the Perlick Perl.  There are other forward sealing faucets on the market, but I chose to go with the Perl.  The difference between a forward sealing faucet and the traditional faucet is that the seal is at the front of the faucet, so all beer is trapped behind the seal in the lines thus eliminating sticky beer goo.  Trust me, it is worth the extra money to invest in high quality beer faucets.

One critical area where a lot of first-time keezer builders slip up is on the length of the lines from the keg to the faucet shank.  If the lines are too short you will end up with beer that pours very fast and very foamy.  Keezers are a balancing act and one of the areas that can help to balance the system is the length of your liquid lines.  Some keezer builders go with ten foot lines, but I think that is a bit extreme.  In this build I used two six foot lines.  Most of my beer styles will either be pale ales or amber ales in the American tradition so the carbonation levels will be similar.

The second area that you should not skimp is on the regulator.

I chose a Taprite dual gauge regulator over a “no name” brown box regulator.  One of the reasons for my choice was that the mechanism for adjusting the pressure was a hand operated knob rather than a screwdriver. Very handy if you open the lid to your keezer and want fine tune the pressure a little up or down.

The gas system is fairly simple.  I did not use a manifold or a dual gauge regulator.  I am not going to force carbonate my beer using high pressure methods.  Instead, I am a fan of the “set it and forget it” school of thought where you set your beer at the serving pressure.  Sure, it takes a little bit longer but I am used to the weeks waiting for bottles.  Plus, I am going to keg condition most of my beer.  To get a gas system for a two keg dispensing setup I used a simple T fitting off of a short line from the regulator attached to two disconnects.  Very simple.

It’s completed and ready for the first pour!

Wiring the Keezer

The biggest difference between a kegerator and a keezer is that the kegerator begins life as a refrigerator and the keezer starts as a freezer.  The critical difference is that the temperature controller built into a refrigerator is meant to keep temps above freezing while a freezer’s temperature controller is meant to do the opposite.  While the slushy beer at Epcot was interesting I did not think that it was something I wanted to duplicate on a regular basis at home.

A common solution is to use a plug-and-play temperature controller like the Johnson Controls model available at Northern Brewer.  I thought that this solution was a little “hacky” and decided to go with a cleaner, hard wired solution.

I procured an Elitech STC-1000 digital temperature controller from Amazon.  The price seems to be stable at just under $20, but sometimes this spikes or availability goes into the toilet.  You can find similar temperature controllers on eBay, but I actually had a hard time finding one that was the right voltage and it was often no difference in price so I felt the extra hassle was not worth it.  As I said in my first post about the keezer build, everyone will make slightly different choices that make this an essentially custom build.

The key thing to remember when buying a temperature controller like this is that you get the model designed for 110 volts as opposed to the higher voltage model.  In the U.S. your household current and freezer are likely to be 110 volt alternating current.

A version of this temperature controller exists that displays the temperature in Fahrenheit as opposed to Celsius, but the cost difference was substantial and the availability was spotty.  For under $20 I figured that I could deal with converting to the accepted world temperature measurement.

The compressor and wiring in the back of my small—5.1 cubic foot—chest freezer was already exposed.  Some freezers may require you to remove a grill to get at this wiring and others may actually have the wiring hidden in such a way that would require some minor surgery.  If you require cutting into the skin of the freezer be very careful to not nick any coolant lines because if that happens you will be left with a very large piece of junk on your hands.

I did not have any problem cutting the power cord off of the freezer because it was free and the cord would be easy to replace in the even that I want to turn this back into a freezer at a later date.  You can mount the temperature controller in a special cut out or build a bracket, but I kept the wiring simple and easy to remove.

The other reason that I mounted the temperature controller here was to keep it out of the cool and moist air of the keezer compartment itself.  I have seen builds where the controller is mounted in a cutout on the collar.  Given that the STC-1000 does not appear to be sealed for this type of application I chose to keep it at room temperature.  Again, a personal choice.

As you can see by the picture below the temperature controller just sits inside the compressor bay:

Keezer Temperature Controller

The STC-1000 can actually handle temperature control for both heating and cooling.  In this build I will be dealing with just cooling because I do not intend to create a lagering cellar.  Again, this is a simple build and you will probably make different choices.

It can be difficult to find straightforward wiring diagrams for a cooling only STC-1000 that is hardwired, but below you will see how I wired the device:

Wiring Diagram

I do not claim that this is entirely proper and I would not follow my instructions for fear of burning down your house.  This is the internet and you can find information to suit your needs as you see fit.

I reused the cord from the freezer and cut jumper wires from that same cord to ensure that my wire was properly rated, etc.  You could use supplemental wire, but I figured it was cheap and easy to make do with what I had in the basement at the time.

I grounded the refrigerator using the existing ground wire from the cord, bypassing the STC-1000, because the temperature controller does not have a provision for grounding.  Also, please make sure you use wire nuts that can accommodate three larger wires.  I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen people try to smash heavier gauge wires into a small wire nut meant to splice two small gauge wires.

After every wire nut was tightened and all the wires were checked I plugged things in and it all worked.

The setup on the STC-1000 is a little convoluted, but easy to follow with the instructions included in the box.  For a test I set the cool temperature at 2.5 degrees Celsius or about 36.5 degrees Fahrenheit.  Since I do not have any beer in kegs ready to dispense I might be adjusting that in the future.  Right now when it is below zero—in terms of Fahrenheit—here in Iowa that might be okay, but come summer when the temperatures move toward triple digits I might want to go even colder.

One thing to make sure happens is that the unit actually cycles the compressor in the keezer on and off.  When you initially power the unit a delay will be set because the STC-1000 comes from the factory with a compressor delay set to 3 minutes.  This is programmed to prevent the compressor from cycling too rapidly and wearing out prematurely.  I left the setting alone because I figured that at higher than freezing temperatures the cycling should not be an issue.  Just wait out the few minutes and make sure the compressor starts operation.  I waited until the unit cooled the keezer down to the set temperature to ensure that it would shut off.  Everything worked clean from the first try.

That’s the beauty of homebrewing, you are always tinkering.

In my next post I will discuss the construction of the collar and the mounting of some hardware.  See you then!

Scottish 70 Shilling

Over a year ago I poured a glass of Scottish 60 Shilling and found it to be a little too mild for my tastes.  The beer was very low in alcohol and bitterness.  Thinking back on it, I should have described it as a dark and malty version of you average American light beer.  I do not think that this is a bad thing, per se, but the beer’s appearance and its drinking character were kind of at odds.  Call it beer drinking dissonance.

This time I moved “up the ladder” and brewed a Scottish 70 Shilling:

Scottish 70

Fermented with Wyeast 1728 Scottish Ale, the beer comes out true to description as neutral and clean per the yeast strain description.

As a “far cry from a Wee Heavy” according to the lads at Northern Brewer, this is a good drinking beer for cooler temps.  I bottle conditioned this batch, but per the description at Northern Brewer’s website this would be a great beer carbonated at a slightly lower level and served with food that could be termed rustic.  It is hopped to what is considered the high end for the style.  Consider, however, that this means approximately 1.5 oz of US Fuggle hops in total.  Compared to a lot of modern American Pale Ales this is downright tiny.  Also, US Fuggle is a pretty mild hop variety having about one-half the alpha acid content to the more common craft beer hops like Cascade or Willamette.

When you drink beers that hew toward the traditional styles of the United Kingdom—in whatever iteration you want to consider the United Kingdom—it’s easy to see why people considered beer to be liquid bread.  You can almost taste the structure of baked bread in these beers.  Heck, it almost makes me want to sit down to a plate of bangers and mash while watching Everton eek out another mildly impressive season considering the resources at the club’s disposal.

It’s my belief that beers like this do not get enough attention because so much time is focused on the over the top or gimmicky beers coming from the countless craft breweries that are opening their doors across this great country.  Everyone wants to stand out in some way as that is the path toward longer term success in a marketplace that is increasingly saturated.  However, modest and drinkable beers are the ones that we, as beer drinkers, will return to time and time again.

Often derided as “house” beers, much like table wine is derided by wine snobs, these are the types of beers that occupy our refrigerators for a pint or two on a Wednesday night.  That is not a shame.  Rather it is an honor.

Next up is a SMASH American Session Ale.  It’s also going to be the last batch I put into bottles because I am moving into the world of kegging over Christmas break.  Check back to see my keezer build.

The Little Orange

I cracked opened a bottle of my latest homebrew this weekend, Northern Brewer’s La Petite Orange or as I like to call it the Little Orange:

Little Orange

First off, this has to be the most inconsistently bottle conditioned batch of beer that I have had the pleasure of drinking.  Some bottles almost foam out the top upon opening.  Other bottles barely have enough carbonation to produce a thing ring of head around the interior rim of the glass.  I do not get what happened with this batch, but it is one more push toward force carbonating my beer with a keg system.

The estimates from iBrewmaster put the alcohol at 5.37% and the bitterness at 19.  It’s a little hard to believe the estimate of the alcohol content because after a couple of these you start to feel things get soft around the edges.

One of my fears was that the yeast used—Wyeast 1214 Belgian Abbey—is known for producing banana esters at higher temps.  Naturally, I decided to brew this recipe when we went through a period of three weeks where the temperature barely ticked below ninety degrees and commonly topped out closer to 100.  We were fried and I was afraid my beer was going to come out like mofungo.  Good news is that my fears were not realized and the beer does not taste of bananas.  Whew!

Note to anyone using Wyeast 1214: it’s a slow start.  However, once this batch got going it was explosive.  I was afraid my blowoff preventer was not going to be able handle the volume of gas being belched out.

I really wanted to like this beer.  It seemed, from the description of the recipe, that it would really hit the spot as a late summer/early fall beer to drink on those days when the temperatures drop as the sun sinks below the horizon.  You know, something to bridge the season between the lawnmower beers of summer and the “heavier” beers of the cooler months.  It just did not come together in a way that I found satisfying.

The real problem that I had with this beer was that it was too sweet without any accompanying bitterness or body.  It sort of reminded me of the honey ales that friends have made where the sweetness of the honey added later in the brewing process overwhelms any other flavors.  With only 1 ounce of Styrian Goldings hops to provide bitterness, you are not likely to get much balance against six pounds of malt extract and a pound of candi sugar.

If I were to brew this recipe again, I would opt for a more potent hop or more hops in general to provide some bitter balance to the sweetness of the malt and sugar in the wort.

Next up is a batch of American Amber Ale and a Chinook IPA.  Stay tuned to see if I go the keg route and skip the horror that is two hours of my life spent bottling.

May Beer Thoughts

Just a few random beer thoughts a week into May…

Irish Red Ale

I brewed up my second batch of Irish Red Ale because…well, Northern Brewer was offering a free growler with the purchase of this particular kit so I bit.  If there is one truism about homebrewers, it’s that we love us some glassware.  It’s like crack cocaine.

It was about one year ago that I tried this particular recipe for the first time.  The beer turned out well:

Irish Red Ale Part Deux

This style is perfect for brewing up a crowd pleasing batch of beer.  I stuck to the recipe as called out because I felt that I should leave well enough alone.

Like a well-crafted wheat beer or saison, the Irish red ale is easy to drink and pleasing.  No one is going to sing from the mountain top about the notes of licorice and dragon fruit along with a lingering hoppy finish, but no one is going to complain when you crack open a bottle and slide a glass under their nose.

After putting over thirty miles on the bike this afternoon, a cold glass of this particular ginger beauty was a welcome sight.

A Guide to Sustainable Beer

What does it mean for beer to be sustainable?  The good folks over at Grist.org took a shot at the topic.  I agree that sustainable beer starts with craft brewers and ends there because there is no way that the AB-InBevs of the world can be sustainable.  Sorry, but these companies are the liquid equivalent of WalMart and Monsanto.

From there it becomes a question of what you think is sustainable.  Is it local?  Beer can be made and consumed locally.  Heck, it’s better that way.  But what about the ingredients?  You want to source hops locally and do not live in New York or the Pacific Northwest?  Good luck.  You want to go organic?  Some have tried, but the market does not seem to bear the extra cost—even though I personally loved Mothership Wit when it was available.  The discontinuation of that beer was one of the reasons that I started homebrewing in the first place.  Thanks New Belgium.