Making an All Grain System

I made the oath I would jump to allgrain sometime in this lifetime. The hobbles always were that it was expensive to buy a “kit”, so I got the brilliant idea to head over to MR2 Beer Home Depot and get the fitting myself. Since the valves are usually around $25 alone on the brewing sites, if I could do it for $25 total, I would consider it a success.

I made it all for $17.

I had bought an eight gallon gatoraide cooler awhile ago on the ebay. I never got around to using it for beer. The previous owner had used it extensively and said the valve would need to be replaced. I picked it up for a penny + S&H. Getting the stupid valve for it would prove to be impossibly hard, so I just waysided it until the light bulb went on one day and I realized Home Depots plastic fittings were all food safe along with the sealant in the plumbing aisle. If you’re playing along at home, now would be a good time to mention that the only food safe plumbing and sealer is the one in the plumbing aisle. Don’t get tempted by the much cheaper pipes in the other aisles (landscaping), or you’ll be wondering why your beer tastes like plastic. And, just to be safe, I plan on running boiling water through the whole thing anyway to make sure it’s water tight and not going to taste like plastic.

A few notes on what we’re building:
* Bazooka Screen, not false bottom.
* Brass is OK so long as it comes from the plumbing aisle.
* Plasic is OK so long as it comes from the plumbing aisle.
* Don’t substitute things from gardening.
* We’re going to use zip ties for fasteners.

Why zip ties? They’re not big enough to cause problems with being “food safe” or not, and I’m worried about making a “metal sandwich” and getting corrosion under there. With the zip ties, we avoid getting a metal sandwich and the possibility of making a battery by accident is reduced. Zip ties also are flexible. Remember, the seal doesn’t have to be perfect and the goal is to smash grain on top, a bit of give in the plumbing will help eliminate grains being squished through your filter.

Now, I would directly link you to the parts, but in fantastic oversights of inventory management, you can’t find the damned parts online. So bear with me, make a list, and go to your own home depot.

* some kind of water cooler, used new or otherwise. These are almost always 3/8ths in. dia. for the spigot.
* 3/8ths inch spigot. You can get the plastic ones which are exactly like their brass counterparts for $8. The brass or stainless ones probably will last longer, but seriously, how many times are you going to use it compared to your sink?
* Brass (trust me) T fitting, also 3/8ths.
* Two stainless steel lint traps. Ask for these, they’re sold in a two pack.
* Beefy zipties. If you have no zipties, stop reading and kill yourself.

The fittings are all color coded but be sure you match “universal” with “universal”. Mixing universal with flared will result in cracked plastic and leakage. The flared ones are crap anyway and should be avoided. Teflon tape is optional, but since we’re not running pressure here it shouldn’t be required. The color for 3/8ths is green. If you’re colorblind, just read the label. I like the quick disconnect spigots so I can just let them hang or attach whatever I want to it after the fact.

There will be a rubber gasket under the nut which keeps the plastic spigot against the bulkhead of the cooler. I would leave it there. You will need an adjustable wrench to get the nut off, it’s some stupid half size to keep people from messing with it, which is exactly what we intend to do.

Do yourself a huge favor and assemble the T junction first. Take your stainless lint traps, unroll them, then zip tie the open end to the T. If you have a round cooler (and I do) you will want to use a knife to loosen a small hole in the folded over portion (careful not to get into the actual tube) and thread a zip tie through that so you can zip tie them together in sort of a circle shape. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Now hold the T portion against the rubber gasket, and screw your plastic spigot through the bulkhead (it will grab the gasket, but this isn’t the thread, don’t be fooled) and into the T. Once it’s snugged up, if the spigot is upside down, back it off. Don’t try to tighten it until its right side up or you will either break the gasket, the bulkhead, or strip the plastic if it’s made of plastic. Remember, we can always add teflon tape.

If you’ve gotten this far, you’re done. Make sure the zip ties are tight, fill it up with boiling water and let it sit for however long you feel is safe. Then drain the water through your spigot to get a feel of how far to open the valve for what flow rate. I would suggest making a mark with a black marker on the plastic for “recommended”. Remember, the water is going to flow faster out of the valve than wort will. From here, you can pretty much take this project anywhere you want. If you have a box cooler, for instance, I would buy another few sets of lint trap screens, and a cross instead of a T fitting so you could have even more drainage. Instead of a pipe to the spigot, for instance, cut the end off the screen so you have a “screen pipe” and use that as your pipe.

If you did this from Northern Brewer, it would cost $50 to $100 depending on if you bought the cooler from them, etc. For my project, the cooler was $5 from ebay, and the parts were an additional $17.

A Little Bit of Beer History

Shamelessly stolen from Beer Advocate:

Seattle, WA (November 2008) – Pike Entire is a blend of three beers: Pike’s XXX Extra Stout, original gravity 10.73 / alcohol 7.00%; the same beer aged for more than half a year in oak Bourbon barrels; and an Imperial Stout original gravity 10.98 / alcohol 12%. The Entire blend contains 42.7% barrel aged beer and finishes at 9.5% alcohol. The taste is complex with velvety malt tones, a coffee aroma, and a palate and finish of bitter chocolate. The biscuity character of pale and crystal malts, along with roasted barley, is balanced by a generous amount of Yakima Valley Willamette, Goldings and Columbus hops in the boil; finished with even more Willamette and Goldings. Adding complexity are the underlying wood tones perfumed by the caramel sweetness of wood-aged Kentucky Bourbon.

Pike Entire was unveiled for the first time on November 8 at the Washington Beer Lover’s (WABL) Third Anniversary Party in Seattle that featured 20 local “rare and hard to find” beers on draft. The next morning, Seattle P-I beer writer, Geoff Kaiser, commented: “this was everything I hoped it would be…. It had plenty of bourbon and oak character without being overwhelming and it still allowed the stout to do most of the work. Quite lovely, and easily my favorite of the night.”

Until the 18th century, malt was “kilned” over wood fires making most beers dark brown or black, and contributing significantly to the pollution in cities like London. The use of coal allowed brewers a little more control, but it was not until coke, a bi-product of coal, was introduced as a fuel that pale malt could be made. Pale malt yielded more sugar than black malt. Because the Thames was polluted, soft water was drawn from wells, ideal for dark beers, but yielding unpleasant flavor to black beers unless they were blended with the paler beers made by country brewers who had access to hard water. These country brewers also bought dark beers from London and aged them in large oak casks. After aging they sold them back to the London brew pubs as highly desirable, “stale” (aged) beer. Home brew houses then began to blend the black, pale, and stale beers and the result became known as “three threads”, a corruption of “three thirds.” Ralph Harwood’s Bell Brewhouse, one of London’s original common brewers and was the first to market an already blended beer to other pubs, called “Entire”. It is believed that he blended his own black beer with purchased pale and stale. Since it saved publicans the chore of blending their own three threads, it became an immediate success and the beer style of choice that was sold by London’s train porters. Ultimately the style became known as Porter. As brewing moved away from the brew pub to common brewers, Harwood’s creation became London’s great contribution to beer. As the British Empire expanded, “Porter,” later known as “Stout Porter,” then simply “Stout,” became the world’s most widely distributed beer style.

In order to brew a beer in keeping with the original style but still distinctly American, Pike acquired oak Bourbon barrels last year and filled them with Pike XXX Extra Stout in April 2008 to be blended back. Pike Head Brewer, Drew Cluley, describes the beer as “complex and chocolaty with a great vanilla wood overtone.”

On Monday, November 24, 2008, Pike Entire, in wax-dipped 22 oz. bottles, will be released. It will have very limited availabilty at the Pike Pub and in select bottle shops, primarily in the Seattle area. A few quarter-barrels will be released for sale on draft. The Pike Pub will tap its one and only quarter-barrel of Pike Entire on Friday, November 28.

The Pike Brewing Company is a family-owned gravity flow craft steam brewery and pub in the heart of Seattle next door to the entrance to historic Pike Place Public Market. Founded in 1989, it was one of the earliest American craft breweries to offer styles like Imperial Stout, IPA, and Barley Wine.