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Slainthe Blarg - Ramblings of a Self-confessed Brewer

Using a Boil Keg is a whole different kettle of fish...

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...or beer, as it was in this case.

I bought a couple of Beerguevara's Molotov refills the other day so that I could brew up some easy-quaffing ales while I dream up the next recipe I'll make. The great thing about these refills is that they are now available in 15L versions, so my taste buds immediately went "Me. Me. Pick me!" and I had to get a couple of those.

Settling on the Biscuit Ale as the brew for the day and with work being a little quiet at the moment, I decided to fill the time by brewing. I mean, what else would one do, except go fishing, but I at least had to be within typing distance of the laptop in case work cropped up to spoil my fun.

The size of the brew also gave me the first opportunity to use my recently-acquired boil keg. A mate of mine had cut the top off an old keg that he had panel-beat back into shape, and now I was armed to brew larger batches. On Monday, I had fired up a half keg of water to see how long it would take to bring to the boil from room temperature and to give it a good clean, so now that it was ready and I had a plan, it was all systems go.

For this large batch, my usual grain bag wasn't going to work, so I stole an old cotton pillow case from SWAMBO's linen cupboard which was perfect for the job. I was also using the boil keg for my mash tun so that I could sparge the grains as soon as the mashing time was up, and straight into the keg without racking it from another pot.

The sparging was a little difficult as I had not sparged such a large grain quantity before, but after persevering and adding a few drops of sweat into the mix, I eventually got through it and the keg was about half full....woohoo...

As I only have a 2-burner gas unit, it took about 45mins to bring the keg to the boil and that was with the lid on so as to preserve heat and create a bit of a "pressure cooker" effect. It worked pretty well, I thought, considering it took over an hour to boil room temperature water the day before.

Once the three hops varieties had been added at required intervals and the boil complete, I sat with my next quandary. How to cool the wort down with my immersion chiller? The boil area is about 20m from the nearest tap so I had to carry the keg (bad back and all) and set it up as near to the tap as possible as my pipes are a little short (note to self: install water inlet and outlet in the brew-cave).

This is the first time that my home-made immersion chiller was totally submerged, so I was interested to see how much more effective it would be than when I used it on smaller brews. As it turned out, it was quite successful and the brew was chilled to 24degC (the water temperature from the tap) in about 45mins. When SWAMBO got home later she got on my case about how much water I was "wasting" and now I also need to direct the outlet to a tank somewhere so that she can use it for her herbs.

After carrying the keg into the kitchen and plonking it on the table (there is no other word for it, it was too heavy to put down softly), I racked it into the plastic fermenter bucket, but had to stop the racking as the first half litre into the bucket was pure trub. I had put the cane too close to the bottom and sucked up a lot of muck. Doh!!

Once the racking was done and the fermenter lid sealed and sellotaped closed (those plastic buckets don't all seal properly), I pitched the SafAle yeast, gave the bucket a good long shake and set it into the man-cave where I work during the day. Only when it was placed, did I add some vodka to the bubbler and insert that into the bung. I had learned a valuable lesson the first time I used the plastic not try and move it after inserting the bubbler as the bucket is flexible and WILL suck the vodka back into the brew when you pick it up (not sure what the effect is on the beer inside the bucket, but it wasn't negative).

Now, as I type this rambling, I can hear a constant stream of bubbles escaping the bucket behind me and it reinforces how rewarding this "hobby" of ours is.

Lessons learned from using the keg?

1. Make sure you place it where it needs to be - it is heavy when it is even half-full of liquid....AND hot!
2. Make sure your chiller can reach your inlet and outlet, and don't waste the outlet water, use it to water the plants or SAMBO will get on your case.
3. For large batches, make sure your sparging procedure is simplified due to the volumes (and weight) of grain and water to be used.
4. Make sure SWAMBO doesn't find out that you stole one of her cotton pillow cases. Apparently there is no such thing as "an old one".
5. Make sure that the keg is positioned high, to make racking of beer into the fermenter easier.
6. Sometimes it's okay to brew small batches of beer.
7. If you use gas to heat the keg, make sure you have sufficient supply.

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