An Amateur Brewer...Go Big Or Go Home

Amateur Brewer

Brewing Beer: Go Big or Go Home.

Thomas showed up at my house with a stainless 5 gallon pale and announced that he wanted to brew beer. “What a great idea. Why not!? We love to drink beer and I brewed years ago!” I thought to myself.

As we walked through the brew supply store it occurred to me that this was going to be a lot of work… grinding the grains, mashing at just the right temp to get to the wort, the boil, the hops schedule, cooling, pitching the yeast, fermentation, and for heaven’s sake, SANITATION! EVERYTHING has to be sanitized.  All this so we can have a 4-5 gallons of beer. What serious brewer brews 5 gallons of beer!? We left the store empty handed and bought a case of Anheuser Busch’s best barley malt elixir to help us think.

We came up with a plan and made some decisions. Thomas was to be the recipe man and I would handle the equipment engineering.  And five miserable gallons just wouldn’t due. We would brew in old kegs. To hell with bottling, we would send the finished product directly to serving kegs and use the kegerator in the Garagemahal.

By the time Tommy showed up again, I had cut the top off a 15.5 gallon keg, installed a valve in the bottom and a temperature probe in the side.  Bam – we had a boiler. We sourced a propane burner, a grain grinder, grains, hops and a water filter and we were in business. Would use a mesh bag and mash directly in the boiler.

After a half dozen brew sessions at the Garagemahal, we learned a few things. 1) The neighbors have a way of showing up when they know you have brew on-tap. 2) Always have some left on-tap when you brew the next batch. 3) You can only brew maybe 12 gallons of beer in a 15 gallon keg. What serious brewer brews ¾ of a keg at a time?!

Time to go big or go home.  The kegerator held 2 kegs. That’s 31 gallons. We needed the capacity for a 40 gallon brew session.

After a brief head butt about who was going to pay for what, we divided our efforts and reconvened the following Saturday with a 40 gallon cooking kettle to use as a boiler and a 35 gallon conical fermenting vessel.  We also added a few other things such as a water pump, transfer tubing and a new cooler and grain grinder. The old brew kettle would be used for the sparging/mashing the grains. We purchased grain in 50 pound bags.

Now it takes a little longer to brew a batch – maybe 4-5 hours – but we don’t have to brew as often. We have about 6 kegs under our belt with the new, larger equipment. Maybe I’m getting to be a brew snob, but we are starting to contend with 1st world brewing problems – precise control of the temperature during sparging – time for electric heat and not propane. How best to control the temperature in the fermenter. 

Is there a better way to filter?  I think I’ll have a beer and think about it. Maybe we go bigger? What serious brewer brews two kegs at a time!?!?


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