Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Upgrades To My Home Brewery

Though I am new to brewing, I have really taken a liken to it (hence the blog). I recently have received some bonus money and what else should I spend it on besides brewing supplies. Of course, I am saving a good part of it, but this is bonus money. It was a little extra for working hard. Therefore, it is time to play hard. Here are the major additions to my home brewery.

15 Gallon Brew pot fitted with Spigot and Blichmann Weldless Brewmometer
I wanted to do full 5-gallon boils, so I needed a big pot. Then I thought to myself, if I am going to invest this money in to a big brewing pot, why limit myself to 5-gallons. I want equipment I can grow into. So, I went with the 15-gallon pot. Now I can brew 10 gallons comfortably. Why not?

Bayou Classic Cast Iron Burner
Well, having a 15-gallon brew pot does no good if you can’t heat it up. I purchased this Bayou 185,000-BTU 20-PSI propane burner. I don’t have a natural gas line in the house, I can always upgrade the regulator and get up to 220,000-BTU out of this thing. This burner is massive and will bring my wort to a boil in no time flat.

Copper Immersion Chiller
Again, having a 15-gallon pot has some obstacles. One is chilling the wort. With my 4-gallon pot, I would fill the sink with ice and soak burry the pot in ice. This new pot is almost twice as big as my sink and may have trouble in my bathtub. Plus, who can lift and carry all that wort. For that reason, I got a chiller made out of 50 foot of copper tubing. This Chiller should chill the wort down quickly.

Digital Temperature Controller
I feel that my beers haven’t been as good as they can be and I have read that maintaining a proper temperature throughout fermentation could be even more important than going all-grain. I plan to try all-grain soon, but I want to get a hold of my fermentation first. I coupled the temp controller with some fermawrap since it is winter here, and I have a fridge in the garage for when the temperatures get hot out in the summer.

I can’t wait to set this stuff up and get brewing. This weekend will be fun for sure.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Stir Plate Project

In a previous post, I wrote about a yeast starter I created. This was a great learning experience and it really helped out my IPA I created. A yeast starter helps get the fermentation process started quicker. By growing the yeast culture, instead of just throwing in a White Labs tube, there will be more yeast further on in their life at pitching time. This will help drop the specific gravity down, increasing the ABV and drying out the beer. So what can one do to help out the starter even more? Keep the yeast starter on a stir plate.

What is a stir plate?

In short, a stir plate is a piece of equipment that continually stirs liquid (in our case, wort). With a yeast starter, the stir plate keeps the yeast in suspension and does not allow the yeast to settle. It also continually adds oxygen to the yeast starter. This helps keep the yeast growing and reproducing. As long as there is oxygen in the yeast starter, the yeast will reproduce.

One issue with stir plates is their price. A retail stir plate can go anywhere from $100 USD to $500 USD. If you’re a home brewer like me, spending a couple hundred on a stir plate is not an option. But how can you get the benefits of a stir plate and not pay the premium price. My answer, I built one.

After searching the web, I found hundreds of people who have built their own stir plates. These ranged in price from cheap and simple to complex a little more pricey. Still, most were under $50 USD. I went the cheap route.

I discovered a page from Dave Trumbell and the Stir Plate he created. I pretty much just copied his. In the end, the price ended up being around $22 USD, but I had some help. I ended up having some parts around the house. I took apart an old Hard Drive from a computer and stole the Rare Earth magnets from within. I also had some old 6-volt power supplies to old electronics that I kept “just in case”. Steve Hawk had a couple computer fans to add to the mix. I ended up making 2 stir plates. One for me and one for Steve.

Here is a video of the stir plate in action: