River Crew Brewing


Equipment Upgrade – Burner


My Burner

Another step in my upgrade to all-grain was purchasing a free-standing propane burner.

While my new apartment came with lots of storage space and a great layout, it also came with an electric stove.  I have a few friends who brew on electric stoves and they hate it.  They say it takes forever to get the wort to a boil, and maintaining a consistent temperature is next to impossible.

I hit the ‘nets and got to researching.  I looked into a few options, the first being 4 free-standing electric burners.  These high-output burners could give adequate power to boil 6+ gallons of wort, but balancing my brewpot between them all was an issue, not to mention the “ghetto” nature of putting a pot on 4 different burners at once.

In the end, the most logical step was the one most homebrewers have already taken – getting a free-standing propane burner.  I got acquainted with the different burners out there, and narrowed down my preferences to a quality burner with good output and a low PSI so I didn’t burn through propane like crazy.

I decided on the Bayou Classic SQ14 Single Burner Outdoor Patio Stove.  The 30,000 BTUs was a pretty good amount of power, and the 10 PSI regulator would keep my propane use at a reasonable level.  Plus, at $50, it was pretty affordable.

Burner In Action

Burner In Action

So far – I love it!  It kicks pretty good.  I can get about 6-7 gallons of wort to a boil in about 15 minutes.  It’s a far cry from the hour plus it would take on the electric stove.  It has an oxygen regulator as well, which lets me get a nice blue flame to shave a few minutes off the time to boil.  Plus, I’ve started heating up my sparge water with it.  I can start the burner right before I mash out, and when the 10 minutes of the mash out are up, the water’s already at 170 degrees.

This burner has really shaved a lot of time off my brew day, and has helped me produce better beer.

Equipment Upgrade – Brew Kettle

Brew Kettle

Better pot for better brews!

After building my mash tun in my quest to upgrade to all-grain, my next move was a bigger brew kettle.  I had been doing partial boil extract, and my little 4 gallon pot just couldn’t handle the 6+ gallons needed for all-grain.

Like most homebrewers, I started my research online.  I knew I wanted to keep to to 5 gallon batches, so larger pots and keggles were out.  I consulted with my homebrew guru Joe Postma, who heavily recommended checking out the Heavy Duty Brew Kettles with Ball Valves from MoreBeer.com.

I went with the 32 Quart Heavy Duty Brew Kettle with a Ball Valve.  It was exactly what I wanted.  It’s big enough to easily handle a 5 gallon batch.  The seemless weld for the 2 ports ensure no leaks.  And it’s super solid so it should last a long time.

From the picture above, you can see I did a few custom upgrades to it.  First, after getting the ball valve assembly, I added a threaded thermometer to help keep a close eye on my temperatures.  Since I use this to heat up my sparge water, the thermometer will definitely be helpful.

Second, I added a braid filter to help keep the hop leaves and trub in the kettle and out of my beer.  I use the same braid filter I made my mash tun.  I simply made 2 with the correct fittings when I built my tun.

Brew Kettle in Action

The Brew Kettle in Action

So far the kettle’s been great.  I’ve had no problems with it at all.  It holds heat really well.  The thermometer’s been a huge help too.  I always know where the water and the wort are at.  My only complain is by my own doing.  I didn’t use hops bags making Travis’s Matrimonial Mild, and the hop pellets clogged my braid filter.  I was hoping to be done with hops bags, so its my own fault.  But, I learned my lesson, and I’ve got my all-grain brew days down pretty well!

Equipment Upgrades – Fermentation Fridge

Fermentation Fridge

Say goodbye to high fermentation temps

If you remember back, I had some trouble with my fermentation temperatures.  Due to the ambient summer temperature in my apartment, I had a few beers ferment at around 80+ degrees.  This led to some off-flavoring in my beers, and I actually ended up dumping a few of them. 

After getting a few negative reviews and feeling the pain of dumping beer down the drain, I knew I had to step up my game.  One of the first things I did was jump on Craigslist and look for a small fridge to help control my fermentation temperatures.  With space being an issure, I wanted something I could keep tucked in a closet, but big enough to hold a primary fermentor.

After a few days of research, I came across the wine fridge pictured above.  It was exactly what I was looking for – it’s 48 bottle capacity can hold a primary fermentor, airlock, and have enough room for a blow off tube.  Plus, I could easily slide it into a closet to keep it out of the way.

What put this fridge over the top was its external temperature control.  It has buttons and an LED readout that let me keep the fridge at a constant temperature between 60 and 45 degrees.  It’s the control I was looking for and was sorely lacking before.  While 60 degrees seems low for an ale, it’s better than 80 degrees, and I’ve found that the temperature inside the primary during fermentation is usually a few degrees higher than the temperature around it.  Plus, this gives me the ability to lager beer as well.

So far I haven’t had to use it, as the temperatures lately have been fermentation-friendly.  Come summer or my first lager, I look forward to giving it a spin!

Building My 10 Gallon Mash Tun Cooler

The Finished Product - She's A Beauty

The Finished Product – She’s A Beauty

*UPDATE: Rumor has it Home Depot has a new cooler they sell in stores. The spigot is larger, creating a sizable gap. It looks like some people solved this with more washers, but it wasn’t ideal. This link looks to be the same cooler I used: 10 Gallon Rubbermaid Cooler. It’s more expensive than I listed below, and it looks like you can only buy them in-store. Use the store locator to make sure your local Home Depot has this exact cooler. Or, it looks like Homebrew Finds located this cooler at Walmart, which looks to be the same: Rubbermaid 10-Gallon Water Cooler, Orange.

The first step in putting on my big boy pants and upgrading to all grain is getting a mash tun.  A mash tun is used to hold grains at a specific temperature for a long period of time in order to extract those sweet, sweet sugars that give beer it’s flavor and turn into the hooch after the yeast is done with them.  There’s no need for a mash tun with extract brewing since the mashing process is already done for you, and now that I have more space with the new apartment, it was time to get one.

The Start of Something Beautiful

The Start of Something Beautiful

For my mash tun, I chose to build my own out of a 10 gallon cooler.  I’ve been fortunate to collaborate on some all grain recipes with a few very experienced brewers.  They all recommended a 10 gallon tun because it offers enough room for the amount of grain boozier beers and larger-volume batches require.  Props go out to Jonathan Moxey, Chris Lehault, and Andrew Maiorana for the advice.

I was pretty set on buying a pre-made mash tun I saw on Midwest Supply. But then I did some digging around, and I stumbled upon this post over at HomeBrewTalk: Cheap & Easy 10 Gallon Rubbermaid MLT Conversion

$60 vs. $120? Yes, please!

Using that link as my blueprint, I took a free Saturday afternoon and 3 trips to Home Depot to build my mash tun.  Here’s how I did it.  I made a few modifications along the way, and I’ll outline where they were.

Getting Started

Getting Started

First, here’s the inventory with links to what I bought at Home Depot as a reference. Items are listed in order of their use in the project:

The equipment I have outlined above totals $68.30, which is half of what I’ve seen for pre-made tuns.  A sense of accomplishment = priceless.

Here’s how I put this thing together:

First – Remove the Seal
Before the customizing starts, you need to take apart the existing spigot. To do this, hold the spigot outside of the cooler with one hand while unscrewing the piece inside the cooler with your other hand. If you need, use a wrench to loosen the plastic nut inside the cooler. You can disregard the spigot and plastic nut, but hold on to the white rubber seal to use later on.

Second – Create the Braid Filter
This took me the most amount of time for this project. You need to cut the ends off the Watts Stainless Steel Faucet Connector. Now, you might have the tools laying around to cut through metal, but I sure don’t. I picked up a mini hacksaw made to cut through metal) ($6.94), and used a 2-step method to cut it off.

Making the Initial Cut

Making the Initial Cut

To get through the metal braid, I made the initial cut with the hacksaw, and kept going till I got about half way through the tubing inside.  Then, I took out my pocket knife and cut the rest off.  Sturdy regular scissor should do the trick just fine.  I trimmed a few of the stray metal pieces off to avoid them scratching up the inside of the tun.  Careful – they’re freaking sharp.

Switching to Finish Cutting the Braid

Switching to Finish Cutting the Braid

Next, you need to get the metal braid off of the tubing.  This is a bit tricky, and took me awhile to get started.  The braid is kind of like a Chinese finger trap, so pulling it off could cause it rip.  Take a pair of needle nose pliers, open them, and use the 2 sides to push the braid off the tubing. Once you get it going, it’s should push off pretty easy.

Removing the Braid from the Tube

Removing the Braid from the Tube

Take the Watts A-737 Square Plug, put the threaded end into the braid, use a zip tie to lock it into place, and cut off the excess.  The post I followed called for Stainless Steel Hose clamps, but a follow up post showed the screws rusting on the clamps. Rust and beer don’t really mix, so after weighing a couple of options, I went with the zip ties.

It’s almost a filter now, but we’ll save the final assembly for later.

3. Assemble The Internal Bulkhead
Now we’ll start assembling the pieces that connect through the place for the spigot. Take the Watts A-786 Brass Pipe Nipple and apply a few wraps of the Teflon tape to one end of it. Slide on the Stainless Steel Washer from the Create-A-Bolt kit onto the middle of the nipple. it will be a bit loose, but that will change once everything’s fully assembled. Attached the Watts A-298 Female Barb Adapter onto the end of the nipple your wrapped with the Teflon tape.

Completing the Inside

Completing the Inside

4. Insert the Bulkhead
This part is a bit tough, but it’s because we’re making the tun water tight. Place the White Rubber Seal from the original spigot back to its original spot through the inside of the cooler. Take the Nipple with the barb attached and insert the non-Tefloned end into the seal. It might be hard to get it through, but with some negotiating, you should be fine.

5. Assemble The External Bulkhead
Now that the connecting mechanism is in place and the inside is partially assembled, we can get started on the outside. Start by sliding the 5/8″ O-Ring onto the nipple, and apply a few wraps of Teflon tape to the threads of the nipple. Slide the 3 5/8″ Fender Washers onto the nipple as a spacer to make sure everything’s tight once the ball valve is attached.

Starting the Outside

Starting the Outside

Attach the ball valve to the nipple, keeping in mind how the lever for the ball valve opens and closes (I put mine on backwards at first.) As you screw it on, everything should get pretty tight. Apply a few wraps of Teflon tape to the Watts A-294 Male Barb Valve, and screw it into the ball valve.

Attaching The Ball Valve

Attaching The Ball Valve

6. Attach the Braid Filter
Take the Stainless Steel Braid Filter with the attached Square Plug and slide it onto the barb inside the cooler. Use a zip tie to attach it to the barb, and cut off the excess from the zip tie.

Success! With about an hour’s worth of work and the right parts, you build a mash tun and save in the process. Like I said, sense of accomplishment = priceless. But don’t forget to…

The Attached Braid Filter while Testing the System

The Attached Braid Filter while Testing the System

7. Test The System
Everything’s assembled, but does it work? Give your new system a test to make sure. I filled mine up with about 2 gallons of hot water, put on the lid, and let it sit for about 10 minutes. After that, I checked for leaks, and thankfully there were none. I drained the water through the ball valve without any leaks as well.

Testing the System - Success!

Testing the System – Success!

Can’t wait to put this baby to use!

By in About RCBC 2

Upgrading to All-Grain

Big Boy Pants

Time to graduate to Big Boy pants

That’s right – we’re officially graduating to Big Boy pants.  The River Crew Brewing Company is upgrading to All-Grain.

The pending move brings new opportunities.  Space was the main concern for not making the jump.  We’re moving to a bigger place with a more-appealing layout, paving the way for the room and the set up necessary for all-grain.

Now the fun begins – getting all new equipment, finding new recipes, and making my own recipes just like the pros do.  I’ll be updating the site as I start to put my brewery together.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and it should be a ton of fun get started on.

Up first – building my own mash tun.

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