Saturday, July 14, 2012

Keezer Build

As a frequent homebrewer, I found that I had managed to outgrow my two-tap mini fridge kegerator in the 2 years since I built it.  Since I brew 1-2 times a month, that meant that I had to have (at least) monthly bottling sessions to bottle off what was currently on top to make room for the new stuff.  This was time consuming, and frustrating for both my friends and myself.  "Hey, where'd that good beer from last month go, and what's this crazy thing you've got on tap now?!?!"

So, with that admittedly weak justification, I set off to build myself a five tap keezer (kegerator in a freezer).

Very important first step: Get the wife's permission.  Very important.  Don't forget this step.  I found that persistence pays off, but your mileage may vary :)

Having secured that, I started by measuring deep freezers to make sure I'd have enough room for six kegs.  My goal was to have 5 on draft, and room for a sixth to lager.

I found that my pin-lock kegs have a diameter of 9", so I started looking for freezers that were at least 18" deep and 27" wide.  I found one at Lowe's, a 12.9 cu ft Frigidaire that they had on sale. I didn't care how tall it was, because I knew I'd be adding a wooden collar to it.  This wooden collar sits in between the body of the freezer and the lid.  The taps themselves are drilled through the wood, so that you don't destroy the freezer (as the freezer's cooling coils are in the front wall).

What follows is the work that I wound up doing in order to wind up with the keezer you see above.

1. Take the lid off, and remove the seal.

I put a nail into the hinges on the back of the freezer to prevent them from flying open, and used a ratchet screwdriver to take the hex screws out of both the top and the bottom of the freezer hinge on the back.  Once the lid was free, I took a screwdriver and popped off all the clips that were securing the seal to the lid, and the plastic top to the lid.  You can see here that a keg sitting on the compressor shelf is just a little bit too tall for the freezer in its original condition.
The lid's plastic underside and the seal, set to the side.

2. Paint the lid with chalkboard paint.

I knew that I wasn't going to want to invest in whiteboard or chalkboard tap handles for five taps, and I really liked the look of chalkboard paint.  A quick trip to Lowes later, and I had sandpaper, priming paint, and a quart of chalkboard paint.

Part of the problem with chalkboard paint is that it requires a smooth surface, but the freezer lid had a dimpled surface.  I started by sanding it down as best as I could with a rough grit (60), which turned out to be a very time intensive process.  Unfortunately after quite a bit of sanding, I still had not reduced the dimpling entirely down.  Still, I moved forward with primer paint.

I let that sit overnight, then applied the first coat of chalkboard paint.

This is where I made my first mistake.  I used a standard paint roller, and it left a "spackle" style surface.  You all know the type - the bumpy surface on walls in a house.  As it turns out, I needed a high density foam roller, which I eventually discovered after a significant amount of searching online.  So, yet again, it was time to sand.  This time I used a finer grit (220) in an attempt to get the surface as smooth as possible.

After another day of letting the paint dry, then sanding, I took the foam roller and applied several coats to the surface, and set it aside.  I wound up using the entire quart of the chalkboard paint just on the lid, which means I may have used too much.

3. Prepare the boards for the collar.

I wanted a dark collar, approximately 8" high, and made out of 1x8 wood.  I came to these measurements by looking at how much additional space I would need to fit kegs with clearance on top of the compressor shelf, and by the assumption that I wouldn't want 2" thickness because of the additional weight it would add.

I picked up some Aspen wood and cut it into a frame shape.

Next, I took a jigsaw and cut out a 2.5" x 2.5" inch hole in the front piece so that I could mount a digital thermometer. I then stained the wood with a dark mahogany stain.  I really like the look this gave the wood.

After letting that dry for a day, I applied polyurethane to the boards to seal them.  This is where I made my second and third mistakes.  The second mistake was that I should have sanded down the boards after I stained them, as the stain raised the grain slightly.  The other mistake was that I used too much polyurethane, and I didn't notice where it ran down to the underside of the board and pooled.

To correct both of these mistakes, I took some 220 grit (fine) sandpaper and gave the whole boards a wet sand.  I also took a razor blade and sliced off the bumps where the poly had pooled.  Once that was done, I applied a final coat of polyurethane.

Once that had dried, I took a couple pieces of paper and built a guide for where the taps would go.  I wound up placing the taps in the exact vertical center, shifted slightly to the right horizontally (to make room for the thermometer), and spaced exactly 4" apart.  Once I had measured and marked my guide, I drilled pilot holes at the center location for each spot.  I followed that by using a 7/8" hole bit, using my pilot holes as guides.  One thing I found that helped was to go about halfway through from one side, then flip the board over and meet in the middle from the other side.  This prevents it from exploding the board outward when you punch all the way through.

4. With my boards prepared, I need to frame them up.  I wound up using the base of the freezer itself to make sure I had the correct positioning.  I used a strong professional grade sealant to make the seals, and then clamped the boards together to cure overnight.  I also screwed in corner brackets in each corner to make sure the corners stayed square.

Once that had dried, I placed the collar on the underside of the freezer lid and repeated the process, gluing the plastic underside of the freezer lid to the top of the freezer and the freezer lid to the collar.  I made my next pair of mistakes here - I should have made sure the chalkboard paint had fully dried before I did this, and I also should have used bigger boards on the top side of the freezer as locations for the clamps.  What these two mistakes caused was a slight pinching of the two sides of the freezer lid together, and the chalkboard paint on the top stuck to the boards I used under the clamps, causing some imperfections on the paint when I popped the boards off.
From there, I bought foam insulation and cut it to fit the inside.  I secured the insulation in place on each side with the same glue, and clamped them into place.  I also mounted a small digital thermometer that measured temperature and humidity to the hole on the front, securing it with glue.  

You can also see here the hole in the back of the lid where the power for the fan and the probe for the temperature control will be run.

Once that had dried, and the freezer lid was secured to the collar, I ran a bead of silicon caulk around all of the seals.  This meant everything from where the foam met the wood to where the wood met the freezer lid.  As that was drying, I located the seal that I'd originally taken off the freezer lid and secured it to the underside of the collar I'd built, essentially turning the whole thing into a large freezer lid.

5. Affix the taps and run the lines.

I found that it was easier to run the lines with the lid off, as it kept me from working while upside down.  So I took the 5 Perlick 525 SS faucets and the 3.25" stainless steel shanks I bought from Farmhouse Brewing Supply and screwed them into location.  The 7/8" holes I had drilled allowed for a squeaky tight fit - I had to actually thread the shanks through to get them through the holes, and they secured tightly into place.

Next, I picked up 30 feet of 3/8" inner diameter vinyl tubing, and cut it into six foot sections.  I secured one end of each piece to the tailpiece of each shank, and held it into place with a 1/4" hose clamp that I tightly screwed down.  I ran each line across the top of the underside of the lid, and secured them to the back of the lid with a pair of O-rings and a velcro strap running between them.  Basically I created a velcro loop to hold them against the back, which keeps them out of the way when opening and closing the lid.  The other end of each of the lines was secured to a barbed pin-lock liquid post, and again secured with hose clamps.

On the gas side, I already had a 5 gallon CO2 tank and regulator, but I needed a six port manifold.  This was so that the one tank could keep all six kegs carbonated and at serving pressure.  Technically I only needed 5, but I decided to get the sixth port in case I ever wanted to add a sixth tap.

Again, Farmhouse came through for me with the necessary parts, and I hooked up the manifold to my regulator using the gas hose I bought from them at the same time.  Then I hooked five feet of gas line to each of the six barbed check valves and hooked the other end to barbed gas-in pin-lock posts.  As before, I secured both ends tightly with hose clamps.

Now that I had the gas and liquid lines ran, I re-attached the lid to the freezer itself.  Essentially I just flipped it over to be upright, set it on the freezer, and re-attached the hinges.  The weight of the lid was holding the seal onto the freezer body appropriately, and it all aligned flush.

6. Finish up.

I mounted a temperature controller to the side of the collar, and ran the probe through the hole in the back.  I also ran power in through this hole to a fan, designed to keep the air flowing throughout the freezer (keep a consistent temperature between top and bottom).  I mounted the fan to the rear of the collar using a L-shaped shelving bracket, so that it was suspended out and pointed down.

I also taped the probe from the temperature controller to a bottle of water. This was so that the temperature controller wouldn't cycle as frequently.  I wanted to make sure the compressor didn't burn out, and the water bottle would allow the controller to not read temperature changes quite as quickly - thus not turn on and off as much.

Next, I took some heavy duty double-sided adhesive tape and mounted three more mounting brackets to the front of the freezer, under the taps.  Part of the reason I only spaced the taps 4" apart originally was so that the total width was 16", and would be compressed together enough that I could use my existing 19" drip tray under them.  I secured the drip tray to the shelving brackets using velcro on both side.

While this was going on, I took a keg and filled it with sanitizer.  I then ran sanitizer through each of the taps, running out anything that would have gotten into the lines.

Finally, I took a piece of chalk and "seasoned" the chalkboard paint by running the chalk across all of the paint.  I let that sit for a few minutes, then took the eraser and erased as much as I could.  This also served to give the top an even appearance, and have the chalk dust compress into some of the crevices caused by my imperfect paint job.

7.  Enjoy.

I had a keg cold from my old kegerator, so I moved it over, hooked it up, and poured myself a beer to celebrate.  I'd earned it.

Lessons learned (things I could have done better):
1. Take your time.  I tried to get everything done in one week, and I really should have given the paint and polyurethane more time to dry.  Due to my impatience, I wound up with some imperfections.
2. The right tool for the job is very important.  I wound up cutting the wood for the collar with a jigsaw, because that's all I had.  This caused very uneven cuts, and I had to spend a lot of time sanding it down.
3. Don't buy a thermometer sight unseen.  What I really should have done is gotten one with a temperature probe that was separate.  This one is all one piece, with vents on the inside that I assumed would read the internal temperature.  But, where it's mounted reads about 10 degrees too warm.  I'm guessing this is due to the ambient room temperature where it's exposed to the monitor face, even though there's no air vent on that side.
4. Give plenty of thought to where you're going to mount everything before it's too late.  The kegerator is now completed, and foam sealed all the way around, but I didn't make a spot to attach the CO2 manifold and I did a poor job of mounting the fan - it should be more centered to help with airflow.
5. Read the right way to do it BEFORE you do it.  I should have done a better job reading about staining and polyurethaning.  With that said - I was able to find a ton of tutorials online that helped me clean up my mistakes.

Even with these minor issues, I'm proud of what I built.  The wife was even impressed.  I believe her exact comment was "Wow!  It even looks professional!"  A buddy of mine came over, not knowing I'd built it, and stopped talking in mid-sentence to just stare at it.  That was a pretty cool feeling.

I spent a chunk of change on this build, but I firmly believe the enjoyment and educational value I've already gotten out of it was well worth it.  The techniques and tools I learned while making this will pay off in a number of other projects around the house.  Plus, I feel I should be able to more than recoup my investment if I ever decide to sell it.  This is by far the biggest project I've ever undertaken around the house, and it took a good 30+ hours of manual labor to see it through (not to mention the 10+ hours tracking down parts, techniques, and figuring out my design).

Worth it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Breakfast Stout

This post is a little late.  I'd saved the revision instead of posting it, so apologies for posting it a month late.

Every now and then I decide to make a batch that isn't my own recipe.  I do this because I want to see if I can, or because I can't get that beer here, or even simply to save money.

I've been craving a nice stout, and I hear all the time about how awesome Founder's Breakfast Stout is as a beer.  Unfortunately, we don't get Founders distributed in Oklahoma.  But something about the flavor combination from oatmeal, chocolate, and coffee sounded amazing to me, and it sounded like an excellent recipe to try and build from.

First thing I did was track down a clone recipe.  Once again, HBT came to the rescue. (I love that site).

Starting from there, I wound up getting quite a bit of interest in this beer from a coworker of mine, Andrew.  A fellow brewer, he volunteered to split it with me.  We agreed to meet up at my house and give it a shot.

Now, logistically, this beer posed more problems than any batch I had previously done.  Per the recipe, it's supposed to be well over 8% ABV - a big beer by any definition.  That would be fine if I was doing a 5 gallon batch - I've made bigger beers than that using my 10 gallon mast tun.  But, in order to split the batch with Andrew, we quickly determined we would need two mash vessels.  So, I MacGuyvered the hell out of that and used my hot lauter tun (7 gallon pot) as a second mash tun:

Here you can see the 10 gallon rubbermaid completely full, as well as the 7 gallon HLT being sparged.

This, quite frankly, was a nightmare.  Trying to shuffle the times so that we could be mashing one while sparging the other, and splitting the grain semi-equally between the two, all while trying to get a high efficiency?  It was a real pain.  Not something I want to try to do again.

On top of that, we tried to speed through this batch due to some prior commitments, and thus we had to cap the boil at 90 minutes.  I really wanted to boil longer, and so I collected a bit too much from the second runnings, which diluted the gravity even further.  Why'd I do this?  Because, as always, I'm a moron.  Not to mention that there's a chance I was drinking while brewing.  Hypothetically.

Still, a crazy interesting beer.  There was a large number of boil additions, seen here:

That's 8oz of hops, 4oz of ground coffee, and 8oz of Cocoa Powder.

Yeah, that's how I roll.

Due to the inefficiencies I introduced in my split mash, we wound up with a significantly lower original gravity than I'd hoped for: 1.073, as opposed to somewhere in the 80s.  In addition, I wound up collecting close to 6 gallons of wort for my half of the batch, which was about .5gal more than I really had a use for.

With a beer this big, yeast is key.  Knowing this, we approached it two ways.  For Andrew's batch, he pitched two 11.5g packets of S-04, an English ale dry yeast.  On my side, I pitched directly on top of a yeast cake of Wyeast 1728 Scottish ale yeast.  In both cases, we wanted to make absolutely sure we had a large population of viable cells.

With the amount I collected, as well as the high OG, I set up a blowoff tube to make sure I didn't have any issues during fermentation:
As it turned out, this wasn't a necessary step.  Potentially due to the oils in the cocoa powder, I never had a very high krausen, and so the tube went unused except for C02.  Still, better safe than sorry.

After 3 weeks in primary, I racked to a 5 gallon corny keg.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get all of the beer out, and wound up leaving somewhere around .5 gallons behind, even after completely filling the corny.

You can see the large amount of trub on the bottom of the carboy.  This is a combination of the large yeast cake, as well as some of the grounds from the coffee and cocoa powder making it through my boil filter.

Having recently put this on draft, I have to say I'm thrilled with how it turned out.  It has an amazing coffee nose, but a sweet and smooth taste.  Very little alcohol burn, which is awesome for a 7.7% ABV beer.

This isn't Founder's breakfast stout, that's for sure.  This is due to a lower OG, a lower FG, the use of cocoa powder instead of what I suspect to be the use of nibs on their side, and the profound coffee in mine.  I have to believe mine has significantly stronger coffee aroma, due most likely to the 1lb addition of Belgian Kiln Coffee malt, as well as potentially due to the brand I used.

But that's just fine.  This is a beer I'm proud to have on draft.  Any dark beer fan will like this one, and that's all that I care about.

Appearance: Black as night.  Evocative of motor oil.  Thick, pleasant head.
Aroma: Coffee, with a hint of chocolate.  Very complex, roasty, intense.
Mouthfeel: Thick, but not heavy.  Surprisingly balanced.  The oats give it a nice creaminess.
Taste: There's hop bitterness, but it balances the sweetness of the beer very well.  Coffee is very strong, and I can't really get the chocolate.  Very much a COFFEE stout, but it hits all the standard stout flavor notes.
Overall:  Love this beer.  I'll make it again, but will cut down on the coffee.  I'm also toying with adding some vanilla beans instead of the chocolate.  For a bit, strong, beer, it's very drinkable.

Final recipe (11.5 gallons):
30lb 2-row
3lb flaked oats
2lb chocolate malt
1.5lb roasted barly
1.13lb black patent malt
1lb belgian kiln coffee malt
1lb caramel 120 malt

4oz Nugget (12%) @ 60min
2oz Willamette (4.7%) @ 30min
1oz Willamette (4.7%) @ 1min
1oz Fuggles (4.0%) @1min

8oz cocoa powder (15min)
4oz Ground Philz Ether coffee (5min)

OG: 1.073
FG: 1.015
ABV: 7.7%
IBU: 69.5