The lovely Mrs. Nerdly Endeavours treated me to an awesome birthday present of a new homebrewing system. I wound up sourcing a Blichmann Top Tier stand, burners, and shelf from a local shop and the kettles, pump, fittings, etc. from an online source. Here it is squeezed into a nook in our backyard.
I used my existing rectangular cooler as a mash tun, adding a 10 gallon kettle and burner for hot water and a 15 gallon kettle and burner for boiling the wort. The pump is to move the wort into a fermentor and for recirculating chilling with a counterflow chiller (more on that later).
The Blichmann stand requires DIY plumbing of a propane gas manifold which was actually pretty easy. I made the mistake of getting a five foot length of black iron pipe at first which was too long – four feet was perfect. My two-burner system came with all the required plumbing parts apart from the long pipe itself.
I received some parts for a new homebrewing system & thought I’d better calibrate the thermometers to ensure the desired mash conditions, where temperature is critical.
To start, I heated water to approximately mash temperature and put it in an insulated mug. I used a reference mercury thermometer and a Thermapen™ for reference, plus the thermometer being calibrated.
It’s difficult to see in the photo, but the mercury thermometer and the digital thermometer agreed to within about +/- one °F. The photo was taken after I adjusted the analog dial brewing thermometer (a Blichmann Brewmometer™), also to within about a degree. Let the zymurgy begin!
I have a keg of homebrewed Dubbel style beer that is a little disappointing, so I thought I’d inoculate it with some souring bugs to funk it up. But it was already in a keg and pretty well fermented out – why not leave it there? It might build up a lot of pressure so some way to vent it is desirable, such as an airlock.
The first few Google results for fitting an airlock to a 5-gallon Cornelius style keg (“corny key”) looked excessively complicated. I had some old tubing that I managed to stretch over one of the outlet ports by soaking it for a bit in really hot water. The airlock plugged right in.
I’m using WYeast 3278 which has “Belgian style ale strain, a sherry strain, two Brettanomyces strains, a Lactobacillus culture, and a Pediococcus culture.” Should be interesting.
I make beer, which requires yeast, preferably lots of yeast. Normally I buy yeast prepared by commercial labs that cater to homebrewers, but I make 10 gallon batches so I would buy two packs of yeast and even then wonder if I had enough.
After reading this piece by Dr. M.B. Raines (showing that continuous stirring generates about ten times the number of yeast cells as compared to just aeration), I was convinced to build a magnetic stir plate to help grow yeast and save some money.
I used a 120mm computer fan with a LM317 voltage regulator to adjust the speed using this simple circuit:
Details on the circuit can be found here. The component values aren’t critical. I used some capacitors I had around and aimed to keep the ratio of the values of C1 and C2 about the same.
I attached some rare-earth magnets to the fan with a hot melt glue gun and stuck the works in a plastic project box. People say a metal box won’t work, but I’ve used metal-topped stir plates in the past, so I’m not sure.
The potentiometer worked well to control the stirring action over a range of speeds. I don’t have a hemacytometer to count the cells, but it seems to work well, making the starter medium much more cloudy and giving a vigorous fermentation.