Friday, October 12, 2012

The New Rig - Part #1: Keg Procurement (Incl. a short discourse on All-Grain brewing and morality)

First of all, major shout out to Scott Kaczorowski - he put together the most viable looking guide for making my own All-Grain brewing system. I looked at many and found the 3 tier, gravity-fed system to be the best use of my means and level of expertise. As such I see this as most homebrewers probably do, as a stepping stone. I'll probably always want to add things and simplify/sophisticate my set up, but Scott made this brilliant set up seem achievable for even this metal and wood shop novice.

At the heart of this system is the time-honored and brutal simplicity of man vs. nature. Harnessing the awesome natural power of gravity to produce delicious and life-affirming results. Also, you might get a bit of a buzz for your trouble ;). In its most basic form, a 3 tier gravity-fed system has a vessel for each of the imperative steps of all-grain brewing:

  1. The top Keg - Hot Liquor Tank (HLT) - this is where the water for the Mash is heated to the required temperature.
  2. The middle Keg - Mash/Lauter Tun (MLT) - this is where said heated water Mashes the grains by virtue of its temperature creating enzymatic activity enough to convert malt starches into delicious fermentables. This vessel also serves the double purpose of being where Lautering takes place. This is the process of flushing water through to extract said fermentables from the spent grains 
  3. The bottom Keg - Boil Kettle - does exactly what it says on the tin. This is where the extracted fermentables (aka wort - pronounced wert*) are boiled and any hop and special late additions are made.
So I made my decision to make keggles, as that is obviously the most aesthetically pleasing route one can take here (chicks just don't dig the cooler man!). It seemed like a cheaper and more fun way to go about things, and the idea of building it myself is and was appealing.

The first question was how to go about it, as I'd read many articles on the shady business of the keg black market. I guess there's a whole ethical question about where resold kegs come from and how they are acquired. I used craigslist to get mine, and some transactions were not without moral ambiguity. For instance, the first one I ended up with was plastered with stickers from nearby paragon of craft ales, Fremont Brewing. This stank to high heaven of course, but I bought it anyway (I had driven all the way up to Snohomish for it after all). A couple hours on the drive home spent wrangling on the morality of cutting it up and stripping the stickers and I knew what I had to do. I returned the keg to Fremont Brewing at the next business hour opportunity and asking for nothing was gratefully treated to a growler of my choice on the house (gotta love their Interurban IPA). The beer was good, but the feeling of having done the right thing was even more satisfying. I like to think I notched a couple of brew-karma points that day.

After this episode my searches were a little more careful and I was more thorough in finding out the origins of my purchase. In the end I have 3 units which are of satisfactory origin. I have one Anheuser-Busch one, which was already converted before I bought it, one Heilemann one (a now defunct mega-brewery) and one Coors one (I mean come on... Coors? Really?).

Keggley goodness!
Also pictured: a 7.75gal Sanke Keg I got ahold of (which I'm still scratching my head over using), my weldless Mash-Conversion kit and obviously a drill. And that gives me a excellent segue to...

...Coming Soon - Part #2 - Cutting & Drilling! Gotta run folks, I have a Spiced Winter Ale that's calling to me with its Siren Song and thankfully for me won't make itself! 


*I know you're probably excited about the fun and arbitrary brewing jargon being thrown around here. I know I always have a hard time explaining to people whys and wherefores behind brewing terms. My favorite exchange was when it came time to pitch the yeast on one batch. My girlfriend asked me, "What does 'pitch' mean?" and my lame response: "Putting it in."  This and much more bizarre wordsmithery (that's right, I said it!) awaits the inquisitive new homebrewer!