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.