Oct 072012

Those that know me know I like a good brew. Anything local or craft-brewed tops my list; the only things I don’t really like are “big” beers just for the sake of being big. Or, you know, the IPA with 4000 IBUs in it just because… Well, because EXTREEEME!!! 

A while ago I decided to finally make the plunge and setup a little brewery in my garage. I thought I’d document some of it here. First, some background: I have none! I have never made a beer before, kit or otherwise.  I have a few friends that make all-grain beers frequently, and by leaning on them heavily I was able to setup my own all-grain system. Special thanks to Greg (hi Greg!) for the tons of help he gave in this setup.

I’m happy to answer any questions and take any feedback or criticism while I’m at it!  My target was to do half-batches (one corny keg, 5 gallons) per brew.

And here’s the rest of my gear, all on one convenient shelf in the garage:

Not pictured: two more kegs  and a water filter.

Some of my more cherished items (the grain crusher, pictured above the fridge) were purchased from friends that no longer brew. A lot of the minor buckets, supplies, and hoses aren’t really anything special; I made sure all my hoses were food-grade and able to handle high temperatures, but standard stuff all around.

I really like my thermos containers (the bright orange ones). My hot liquor tank is 5 gallons, my mash tun is 10 gallons. They are sold as water-dispensers (the kind you see at football games) from Home Hardware on sale for about $50, and the water spout just unscrews and a spigot fits right in without needing any modifications! Wonderful. They retain temperature quite well and don’t drip or leak.

For the mash tun I dropped in a screen that happened to fit the inside radius perfectly.

I have two 6.5 Gallon carboys as secondaries, plus two more 5 gallon carboys. I’m not sure the 5 gallons will ever get used, they were a mistake! I might try to swap them for some 6.5ers. Pictured above: little red rubber/metal handles on the carboys. THESE ARE AMAZING, if you have glass carboys USE THESE and you can make handling them way easier and safer! Only a few bucks each!

For my brew pot, you can see in the above photo it’s resting on a custom-built wooden frame sitting on top of an old set of office-chair wheels. It looks haphazard but it is quite solid, and way better than lugging around a vat of boiling water by hand. I can use this setup to wheel the pot to the drain at the front of the garage (and the filling hose there too). The height of the pot is such that I can gravity-feed into both the orange vats; the screw-top lids on the orange vats mean they’re easy enough to safely lift back into position on the shelf.  Because I’m a strapping young man with bulging arm muscles and I just love to lift 5 gallon tubs to show off.

The pot is also low enough that you can gravity feed into it from the mash tun so, hooray! Perfect height. (The adjustable shelving unit was so helpful here)

Here’s a closeup of the pot:

It’s came with a temperature gauge outside (it seems to read 3-5 degrees colder than an interior thermometer, unfortunately) and a spigot already on it, but I decided to go electric instead of propane. That way I could stay indoors in the dead of Canadian Winter and not worry about fumes or anything.


There’s a sheet metal shop in town that charged me $20 to punch some circular holes in the side of the pot. The elements are from Home Depot, they are standard 120V hot-water-tank heating elements ($40 ea). A friend helped out by slicing open some extension cords, wiring up the elements, and hooking up the ground wire. A single electric element can bring 8 gallons to a full boil in about 1 hour 45 minutes; two elements as I have here brings 8 gallons to a full boil in about 45 minutes.

I was shopping around for a chest freezer to modify for dispensing (I might still, someday), but someone was moving and had to get rid of the fridge and I managed to snag it for free. Free is a good price! I can live with that! I’ve got a Johnson temperature controller plugged into it at the back.

All in all, the whole kit cost me around $1000, the biggest single expense being the three kegs and the full giant Co2 cannister that I got off the local sites like Craigslist. If you want to do your own bottling and naturally carbonate things, you could shave $300 or so off of that price.

The only complication is two elements on any one outlet will blow a fuse in my house, so I’ve got to run an extension cord through my basement.

I’ve made my first brew already, but I’ll save that for another post!

  2 Responses to “My First Brewery”

Comments (2)
  1. Man, that’s a pretty good setup. Impressed you dove right into all-grain and kegging. Only thing missing are a couple of taps on the front of that fridge. :)

    I’ve never considered an electric heating element immersed directly in the brew pot before. That’s a fantastic idea I may to have to adopt if I ever start brewing again. Adding wheels is the pièce de résistance. An electric stove just isn’t suitable for a 33 qt stock pot and propane is a dangerous hassle. My solution was brewing a concentrated wort that is diluted in the primary with refrigerated water. It’s extract not all-grain, obviously, but it does mean I can pitch yeast immediately, which is a nice convenience.

    Have to second the use of carboy carrying handles. I busted a full carboy and it wasn’t pretty. Damn near cried.

    Thanks for sharing your brewing exploits.

    • I’m actually waiting a bit before getting the taps all done up! I might be able to sell the fridge and get a chest freezer going instead. If I put holes in the fridge door, suddenly my options dry up… We’ll see how it goes though. Get a few beers under my belt first!

      Glad you’re OK after dropping the carboy. I’ve heard some horror stories that ended in ER visits!

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