So you are slowly realizing that what was once a hobby has turned into an obsession. Well, grab a chair, or beer, and join the club. Homebrewers run the spectrum in equipment used, loved and thrown away. As I started to become more invested into the hobby, each project, purchase and piece of equipment was deliberate and purposeful.
If you’re like me, you might start to identify ways to improve your process, especially through equipment. I want to show you some of the equipment that I find useful and critical to my process.
|Hot Liquor Tank||Immersion Chiller|
Hot Liquor Tank
The hot liquor tank (HTL) is the vessel that holds and heats water for my mash tun. Not only is this for the initial mash but also for heating of sparge water, my HTL is a converted keg. The top has been cut off and some essential items added for easy transferability of water. The HTL includes 3 pieces of important equipment. The first is a 3 piece ball valve. The valve allows me to control flow into the mash tun. The second is a thermometer that allows me to take accurate temperature readings to ensure appropriate mash temperatures are reached. The third is a sight glass which allows me to ensure appropriate amounts of water, per gallon, being added either during the strike or sparge. If you are like me, accuracy is important on brew day and this equipment allows for predictability and consistency.
The mash tun is where the hot water and grains mix at a specific temperature and steep. The “steeping” allows the water to extract the sugars from the grains that are later eaten by the yeast and converted into alcohol. There is nothing special about this mash tun…but I love it. As you can tell, this mash tun is a regular picnic cooler. This 70qt cooler maintains temperatures perfectly and allows me to do 10 gallon batches. Converting a cooler into a mash tun is simple. First, a manifold system such as a bazooka screen or a stainless steel braided hose, found in the plumbing section at your local home improvement store, needs to be sourced. The braided hose used on my mash tun is actually the braided hose taken off a toilet water hose. Simply remove the plastic tubing inside the braid and you have an effective and cheap filter to keep the grains out of the boil kettle. Of course the braided hose is new and I did not remove it from a used toilet. ha. Included on the mash tun is some simple high temp tubing and a ball valve. The ball valve allows me to control flow while vorlaufing or running into the boil kettle. While this mash tun is not extremely advanced…it works fantastic. If you are looking to move to all grain brewing, converting a cooler to a mash tun is cheap and effective.
My boil kettle was my first big purchase. I wanted a kettle that would last a lifetime and decided on the MegaPot from Northern Brewer. This kettle is a monster and does it’s job well. I eventually added a 3-piece ball valve for flow and a kettle pick up tube to ensure I capture every drop of clear wort. While you can enter the hobby with any type of boil kettle, you will eventually find yourself wanting one that is heavy duty, likely stainless steel and big enough to do rolling full boils.
One of the most important steps a homebrewer can take is purchasing or making chilling equipment. Quick chilling after the boil is ideal, although some do utilize a no-chill method. I got tired of ice-baths, carrying a kettle of near boiling wort and wasting so much time waiting for the wort to reach yeast pitching temperatures so I decided to do something about it. I present to you the homemade immersion chiller. Nothing fancy to look at but very simple to do. I purchased 50′ of copper tubing at my local big box home improvement store and used a plastic bucket to wrap it in a circular fashion. If you decide to make an immersion chiller, I would highly suggest you pick up a tube bender at the same time to ensure you get the nice bends that are required in some spots. There are a number of chilling methods and equipment such as, immersion chiller, counterflow chiller, plate chiller and more. Decide which one works for you and go from there.
The next critical piece of equipment for any homebrewer that is serious about good beer, is maintaining fermentation temperatures with a keezer. The maintenance of fermentation temperatures will bring your beer to the next level…in a good way. Ensuring that you are fermenting at appropriate temperatures will prevent a number of the flaws resulting from temperature fluctuations. If you have ever had a beer that was fermented too warm…you will quickly determine how to maintain your fermentation. I went with a fermentation chamber that is a chest freezer. This 7cft chamber allows me to ferment two 6.5 gallon carboys at one time and when partnered with a temperature control unit, such as a Johnson Control A419, you can ferment within a degree. People use chest freezers, refrigerators, plastic tubs with water and ice packs, and the list goes on. The use of fermentation maintenance systems is better than no use…trust me.
So, there you go. A little visual into intermediate to advanced homebrewing equipment. As stated previously, brewers run the spectrum of homebrewing equipment. It is important to identify your process, or determine what you want your process to be, and buy or make appropriately. The last thing you want to do is to constantly buy equipment every time you want or need to make a change. The above items are by no means advanced as a new brewer can easily access or make the equipment, but it shows some thoughtfulness to process and investment in the hobby. So, grab a beer and make some beer.