Withered Dewlap Brew Kettles,More Beer Equipment – Brew Kettle – 32 Quart

Equipment – Brew Kettle – 32 QuartEquipment – Brew Kettle – 32 Quart

I thought I’d kick off my more serious blog discussions by talking about my equipment; ideally this will accomplish two things: address my own process and force me to inventory everything that is scattered all around.

Thanks to MoreBeer’s order history feature I can state that on January 23, 2008 I purchased my brew kettle.  I purchased the Heavy Duty Brew Kettle – With Ball Valve (32 Quart/8 Gallon)– BE308; at the same time I added in the Dial Thermometer (3” Face x 6” Probe)–MT502.  The 8 gallon brew kettle has two ports: one for the thermometer and the other for a ball valve, which I also picked up: Stainless – 1/2 in. mpt x 1/2 in. Barb–H618.  I’ll put the full equipment list at the bottom for easier reading.

The ball valve obviously makes it easy to get the boiling hot wort out of the kettle and the barb reduces the flow so it can drain into a 1/2” vinyl tube rated for 212 degree temps.  Once this hits the wort chiller, which I’ll discuss later, I can quickly get the temps down to pitch temperatures.  The thermometer works well and I’ve paired the temperatures it reports against a digital thermometer and they match up.  Nice to test analog against digital and get good results!  The one thing that’s tricky is you have to have a bit more than three gallons in the kettle in order for the liquid levels to be high enough for the thermometer to register temperatures.  And on this note, I’ll also comment that a better design of the kettle would include some internal method of marking liquid measures.  As manufactured, there are no gallon markings–markings that are present on smaller stainless pots I have around the house.  This forces me to lauter into plastic buckets with spouts to measure what I drain off –and then re-drain the wort into the boil kettle.  (All to avoid hot side aeration.)  With regard to there being no markings, I have figured out over time that I’ve got about 6.5 gallons in the kettle when the wort level hits the handle bolts on either side.

In October 2009 I picked up a false bottom for the kettle (H111) as I made the move to all-grain and thought I could avoid the construction of a mash/lauter tun.  The reality is that the 8-gallon kettle is not suitable for all-grain brewing.  The ratios of water to grain that are necessary for most beers make it somewhat perilous and messy to attempt mashing in the kettle.  I’m sure that it would work fine for lower gravity or session beers, and I really should try that. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I like to brew big beers–imperials and barley wines, and the grain bill and water ratios just exceed the volume of the kettle.  Here I’ll relate and embarrassing tale as well.  Early on I thought I could get around this problem by doing two-part mashes and using the first runnings and mix them together for the brew.  Of course, the result was that I had two beers with average gravities and mixing them only made one big batch with an average gravity.  This demonstrates my mathematical logic at work.  The ultimate point, here, being that if you anticipate using the brew kettle for mashing and you think you might make the move to all-grain then you should buy a bigger kettle–probably a 60 quart.  If you intend to brew extracts or partials, then the 32 quart kettle should work fine.

Ultimately, the kettle is absolutely solid and I can continue to use it for boils–presuming 5 gallon brews.

8 Gal Beer Brewing Kettle w/ Valve & Thermometer

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Heated & Cooled Conical FermenterHeated & Cooled Conical Fermenter

Around the same time that I purchased the Grainfather, I purchased a conical fermenter from MoreBeer.

the 7.5 gallon heated and cooled conical fermenter from MoreBeer. Conical fermenter.
MoreBeer Conical Fermenter

I’m used to fermenting beer in glass carboys or specially designed plastic things.

For a long time I used a digital temperature controller from Johnson Controls. It had a probe that you’d stick down a thermowell via a specially designed bung. I’d wrap the fermenter in a heated jacket, set my hot and cold range in the temperature controller, and that’d be the end of it.

While that setup isn’t the end of the world, it was not ideal. So, finally I broke down and bought a fermenter.

I purchased the 7.5 gallon fermenter, as I brew 5 gallon batches (or so). The unit came with a power strip, a power supply, a Ranco Controller for temperature, built-in heating, and a fan for cooling.

The fermenter uses a Blow Off Tube that drops into a bucket that attaches to the leg. A Blow Off Assembly and Thermowell. An insulating jacket and stainless steel stand. A Slide Racking Arm and a Bottom Dump Valve. And all the Tri-Clamps and gaskets you’ll need to put it together.

Gas manifold connected to Tri-Clamp fitting with a quick connect CO2 fitting for a gas line.
Gas Manifold, w/ CO2 quick connect.

I’m not a biochemist so I’m not taking yeast samples for culturing. However, I do use the Racking Arm to move the fermented beer directly into my kegs.

There’s a handy gas manifold that connects by Tri-Clamp to the top of the Blow Off Assembly (after you remove the Thermowell). I connect the gas manifold to my CO2 and push the beer out of the Racking Arm into my corny keg. Make sure you disconnect the Blow Off tube before you push in the CO2, else the Blow Off tube will suck like a straw right out of the bucket. (It was Star San water in the bucket…)

Now, when I’m at the end of the brew session, I use the Grainfather to pump the wort out. It goes through the Wort Chiller, the line, my Thrumometer, and right into the top of the Fermenter (before I attach the Blow Off Assembly). I oxygenate the wort with my O2 stone, pitch the yeast, and seal it all up.

The beer never hits the air again until it’s in a glass, and the world is a wonderful place.

Recent brew sessionRecent brew session

Thought I’d throw up a few of the shots from my most recent brew session–the Arrogant Bastard clone.

Photo descriptions

The first is the 10-gallon water cooler that I use as my mash/lauter tun. It’s upside down in the picture drying out after I washed it. There’s a couple of shots of the brew in the kettle as it simmers: anticipating the rolling boil to come. I’ve got a shot of the counter top with the Chinook pellet hops in their respective hop socks: the first, on the left is the 90 minute, then 30, then flame out. There’s also a bag of Whirlfloc tablets and Irish Moss. I only used the Whirlfloc. You can also see my digital scale and a small white bottle of Fermcap (anti-foam)–oh, and cookies! I’ve got a shot of my Therminator plate chiller which I’ll talk about soon in another article, as well as a shot of the Thrumometer which allows me to keep tabs on the temperature of the wort after it exits the plate chiller on its way to the fermentation bucket. Good stuff.

Conclusion

The OG of the Arrogant Bastard was 1.084 which is good, but given the recipe I used demonstrates my continued problem of low efficiency in my process. The one sure area of my brewing process on which I want to improve.

Blichmann TherminatorBlichmann Therminator

Plate Chiller Heaven

The next piece of equipment that I’d like to type about is my Blichmann Therminator plate chiller and accompanying pieces of equipment.

I have to say, first, from a purely emotive perspective: I love the Therminator.  I used a more traditional wort chiller for several years: the old copper coil submerged in the brew kettle.  I didn’t like the coil because: 1) it took forever to cool the wort (and wasted water); 2) if I didn’t tighten it properly, water leaked into the wort; 3) you had to submerge it in boiling wort to sanitize it; 4) it was a pain in the ass to deal with the thing sticking out of the brew kettle and it interfered with the whirlpooling of sediment.

I also tried other approaches to cooling the wort.  Often you’ll read suggestions for an ice water bath, etc., which to my mind takes too damn long if you’re truly attempting to get a cold break. As I said, I have tried other approaches, which culminates in my telling yet another embarrassing story of my brew past.  There was this one time… Seriously, it was in the middle of winter, a foot of snow, near zero temperatures outside.  I thought: why not?  Took the old brew kettle, full as it was, outside and plunked it down in a snow bank.  I went inside, cleaned up, and plopped down with a frosty pint and started watching a movie with my wife.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
I sprang from the couch to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash
Tore open the blinds and threw up the sash.

I’ll spare you the bit about the moon, for all was blackness to my eyes at that point: five gallons of future joy stained the snow like blood after a winter battle.  Yes, I learned that night that snow melts unevenly–or that heat dissipates unevenly–or that something does something unevenly.  Outside I picked-up the now empty brew kettle from off its side, along with the lid, and trudged back into the house utterly forlorn. For a month I had to watch my very young daughter point at the black ice and listen to her say, “there’s daddy’s beer.”

So, plate chillers are good.

Features

The other that I’ve seen (on Morebeer) is the Shirron plate chiller, which is about half the price of the Therminator.  I’ve not tested or used them all, so I can’t speak to the best features or disappointments of the class of products–Blichmann does have test results on their site, but of course: It’s their site.  I picked it up the Therminator from the grapeandgranary in January, 2009, for $199.95.  At the same time I also picked up the Blichmann Thrumometer.

According to Blichmann, the Therminator is:

  • Identical to those used by commercial breweries
  • Can chill 10 gallons in 5 minutes
  • Is Ultra compact
  • Easy to clean and sanitize
  • Uses garden hose thread connections
  • Saves water
  • Comes with a heavy duty mounting bracket

Use

There are other features listed on the site.  The Therminator is pretty straightforward: you have a connector labeled WORT IN and WATER OUT. The connector sizes are different for each channel–so, the WORT only connects to WORT, and WATER to WATER. There is a mounting plate that is attached by bolts on the back. I don’t think I’ve ever chilled 5 gallons of beer in 5 minutes, but certainly less than 10 minutes.  However, I’ve not tested the throughput of the flow of water that I’m using.  Blichmann’s site states that it uses 5 gallons per minute.  It has to be pretty close to that, though, as I’ve filled up two 7-gallon fermenting bucket 2 times (4 times/28 gallons) with the water that goes through the Therminator.  I dump the water in the washing machine; in the summer sometimes I dump the water in the garden.  In terms of compactness, it does not take up much space and it is easily placed in a fermenting bucket filled with sanitizer or, as the Blichmann site says, in a pot to boil.  The thread connectors are quite important as, once you have the appropriate connectors for your hoses, everything fits together easily.  I had to go to a hardware store and pick up an adapter for the kitchen faucet and I created my own WORT IN and WORT OUT hoses by picking up the appropriate threaded connector accessory kit.  The ease of this made me feel pretty stupid after I had already ordered the Backflush hose, which is simply another piece of hose with the garden thread connector on one side and the quick connector on the other.

In use, I connect the barb valve in the Brew Kettle to and ID hose with the quick connect on the opposite end.  This connects to the WORT IN connector on the Therminator.  I connect the other ID line with the quick connect on it to the WORT OUT side.  This hose has the Thrumometer in the middle to gauge the flow temperature of the wort as it comes out of the Therminator.  The ID line flows directly into the fermenting bucket.  I connect garden hose connector one to the faucet and the opposite end to the WATER IN on the Therminator; likewise, garden hose connector number two to the WATER OUT and the opposite end is just an open ID line into a 7 gallon bucket for collecting the water.  Often there is some adjusting of the temperature of the water coming out of the faucet because, believe it or not, I’ve actually had instances where the wort coming out of the Therminator is too cold for an ale yeast starter.

Thrumometer

The Thrumometer is an instrumental tool, I think, for monitoring the temperature of the water coming out of the process. I always have a digital thermometer in the wort to ensure that the reading is on target and it generally is; though sometimes there will be variance in how hot the temperature of the wort is when it initially comes out and once the plate chilller has been active for a bit.  The Thrumometer is an inline measure and it’s pretty passive, but it works.  The tool itself measures temperatures between 88 degrees and 58 degrees.  It is made of aluminum and has a black temperature gauge that changes color as a temperature is reached: the color moves between black, to dark blue to bright green when the constant temperature of the wort settles.

Backflush Hose

The Backflush hose is important.  After I’ve aerated the wort and pitched the yeast and the beer is safely and happily snugged away, I take off the WATER OUT hose from the previous process and connect the garden hose connector of the Backflush to it.  I take off the line from the barb valve to the WORT IN as well, and then connect the quick connector of the Backflush hose to the WORT IN of the Therminator.  In essence, the Backflush hose is connecting the WATER side of the Therminator to the WORT side.  I heat up the water from the faucet and let it flush out the Therminator, which is generally pretty full of hop sludge and other break material.  I then move the WORT connector to the WORT OUT and repeat the process, flushing in reverse.  I’ll do this a couple of times to clear the Therminator and then I’ll dunk it in a sanitizing bucket while I clean up.

Conclusion

All-in-all I’m pretty pleased with the Therminator plate chiller, and while I can’t speak comparatively to other plate chillers in how they compare, the Therminator is a big step up from the traditional coil wort chillers and definitely beats ice bathes and snow banks.