Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hop Plugger Project

Along with taking on growing your own hops, comes the challenge of packaging them so that they stay fresh. The first 2 harvests, I just packaged in Zip Lock bags, compressing the hops as best I could. There was a recent thread on the Grow Hops Yahoo Group about Hop Pluggers and I decided to try and build one. In this post I will explain how to make a hop plugger, and hopefully prove that it's not that hard to do.

The picture below shows the pieces required to make the hop plugger. As you can see, not a lot to it, and in total your cost will be from $8-$10.

3ft length of 1.5 inch PVC pipe
6 inch length of 1.5 inch PVC pipe
1.5 inch PVC coupling/coupler
1.5 inch PVC end cap
Oak Compression Plug (or other hardwood)

There is no need for any glue or plastic cement as you want to be able to disassemble the plugger for cleaning and to make it easy to get the hop plug out.

There are only 2 real fabrication steps in putting this together, other than cutting the lengths of the PVC pipe. The first is making the oak compression plug (right). This is what I use to compress the hops once they are in the hop plugger. To make it, I grabbed a scrap piece of oak I had, approximately 3/4 inch thick and used a hole saw to make a round plug a little larger than the inside diameter of the pipe. I then used a bench grinder and a sander to slowly trim away the excess wood (you can see burn marks around the edges) to make semi-tight fit, as the plug still needs to be able to slide through the PVC easily.

The second step is to slim down the outer dimensions of tube that will hold the hop plug after compression. You want to do this so that the coupling and the end cap don't fit so tight that they are hard to get off. I took the 6 inch long piece of PVC pipe I had cut, and using the bench grinder, lightly ground the outside of the tube on each end (If you click on the picture to the left, and look closely at the enlarged picture, you can see where I have done the grinding). Test fit the pipe with the cap and coupling until it is easy to pull apart, but still holds itself together. After I got the fit I wanted, I used sand paper to smooth the area I had ground.

Now, just assemble the pieces. On one end of the 3ft length of 1.5 inch PVC pipe, attach the coupling. Insert the 6 inch length of 1.5 inch PVC pipe into the other side of the coupling, and then attach the end cap to the other end of the 6 inch length of PVC. The picture on the right shows what it looks like assembled.

To make hop plugs, turn it upright with the open end of the long tube at the top. Add the desired amount of hop cones for your plug (I was able to get about one ounce in at a time). Then drop in the oak compression plug on top of the hops and use a rod (I used a broomstick handle) to push the oak plug down. Once the hops are compressed, you can then remove the plug chamber (6 inch section, picture on left) from the bottom of the plugger and either turn it upside down to get out the hop plug, or take the end cap off to let it slide out. Being able to take this chamber off also will allow you to add compression to the plug via clamp if so desired, although you may want to make the chamber a little smaller. This chamber is big enough to hold a 2 oz hop plug.

I used it last night to make hop plugs (sorry don't have pictures) and it did really well. The only thing I may do is add a reducing coupler to the other end of the long PVC pipe where I add the hops, so it is easier to get them into the pipe.

Here are a few other pictures you may find handy if you choose to take on building your own Hop Plugger.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hop Growing Updates....moved!

In an attempt to keep my hop growing experiment consolidated, and not have to sift through posts not relevant to my new hop garden, I have started a new blog: Hop Flavor. All previous hop postings have been copied over to the new blog and I will be documenting further updates over there. For your reference I am providing links below to specific hop related posts that were previously on the BrewTech blog:

Hops Update - June 19 Growth
Hops Update - June 12 Growth
Hops Update - June 5 Growth
Hops Update - May 29 Growth
Hops Update - May 19 Growth
The Hop Garden
Growing Hops

I will be removing the hop related posts from BrewTech within the next week.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Brass and Brewing: Compatible?

I've had several discussions with people about the use of brass fittings and brass ball valves in brewing. If you have read my blog on building an Igloo Cube Cooler Mash Tun, you can see that I did use brass to keep cost down. Yes, the use of stainless steel fittings and valves is optimal, but at times it can be cost inhibitive.

For those that are worried about using brass, but don't want to shell out the cash for stainless, John Palmer discusses brewing metallurgy
in his book How to Brew. For more information about removing lead from brass, you can reference the 'Cleaning Brass' section in Appendix B in his online book. The appendix also discusses the use and cleaning of other metals as they relate to brewing. If you don't already have this book in your brewing library, it is a MUST READ!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Copper Grain Filter for Igloo Cooler Mash Tun

In my first post, I outlined the process of how to build an Igloo Cube Cooler Mash Tun, using stainless steel braid as a filter media. While the stainless braid works very well, you do have to be careful when stirring the mash not to damage the braid. Because of that, I decided to build a grain filter manifold out of copper tubing and this post explains what I did.

I went to Ace Hardware (Got a gift card from my father in law for Christmas!), and purchased the following items:

4 feet of Straight Copper Tubing (5/8 Ouside Diameter)
4 EPC 90 Degree Elbow (5/8 Inside Diameter)
3 EPC Copper Tee (5/8 Inside Diameter)

I took the straight copper tubing and I cut into the following pieces using a pipe cutter (could also use a hack saw):

2 @ 10 1/4 in
2 @ 4 3/4 in
4 @ 3 1/8 in
1 @ 2 in

The picture to the upper right shows how these pieces were placed to create the manifold.

The single 2 inch piece is going to be used to attach the filter manifold to the output valve. Since the valve is slightly higher than the cooler bottom, you will need to put a slight bend in it. I did this by taking a short piece of 3/8 steel rod and putting it in the bench vise. Then take the copper 2 inch piece of copper tube and place about an inch over the rod sticking out from the vise. Then take a longer piece of 3/8 steel rod and put in the remaining end of the 2 inch piece of copper, applying downward pressure to bend the copper. It's a good idea to go slow and test fit by putting one end of the piece in one of the copper tees and the other into the valve fitting, bending little by little. Once the tee sits on the cooler bottom, you've got the bend you need.

For each of the remaining straight pieces, I then used a small drill bit to drill multiple holes in each piece. It works well if you put a piece of scrap wood underneath so you can drill through straight through, creating 2 holes at once. Try to keep the number of holes uniform across each piece to create a balanced flow. Drill holes evenly until you get the drain flow you want by testing periodically. Any burrs on created on the outside of the copper due to drilling can be removed using a file. You can reference the assembled copper manifold (above left) to see the holes in the copper tubing. I didn't drill any holes in the elbows or tees but that could be done as well. If you plan on using the valve to regulate flow, you can drill many more holes in the manifold than I did.

Right is the finished copper manifold assembled and installed in the cooler mash/lauter tun. I didn't use any solder to sweat the pieces together, but found a good tap from a hammer on all of the ends and elbows creates a pretty tight fit. If needed, it also makes it possible to disassemble in the future for cleaning or storage. If you have questions regarding the installation of the ball valve, please reference the original post which includes detailed mash tun conversion instructions.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Burner Modifications for Keggle Brewing

I've been brewing now for 2.5 years, and it only took one brew in the house for my wife to ask me to take it outside! So, I went and purchased a propane, 75,000 BTU turkey fryer with stainless steel pot. So far, that has worked perfectly to brew 5-6 gallon batches, and it has seen quite a few brew days. Several months ago I purchased a few kegs that had been damaged, and plan on turning them into a lauter tun and brew kettle (Keggle). I ran into a problem burner has a high center of gravity, only 3 legs, and oh yeah, the keg diameter is larger than the top of the burner! No problem, we'll just do a few mods and be right back in business.

First I needed to lower the center of gravity to make the stand more stable, so hopefully a keggle with 12 gallons of wort won't topple over. After looking the burner over (left) and taking some measurements, I determined 12 inches tall would be a good adjustment. I flipped the burner upside down and began measuring each leg, and marking it with a sharpie at exactly 12 inches. Then for the fun part, I pulled out the plasma cutter and got to work, cutting each of the 6 support rods to the proper, shorter length. This left me with 6 support rods, 12 inches long, and 3 'toes' that had been cut off (right). I decided to take advantage of the toes, and weld them back on to create feet for the structure, hoping to add stability too. To do that, I took each of the toes, and used a bench grinder to make a 45 degree angle where I wanted to weld them back on. The same was done to the rods still attached to the burner, so that when put together, the angles met. The burner was then flipped upright, toes put in place at the bottom of the support rods, the burner was checked to make sure it was still level and the toes were welded in place.

The last thing to do was increase the size of the burner top, so the keggle would sit on it securely. I took 3/8 inch rod stock and used the plasma cutter to cut 6 pieces 2 inches long, and rounded of any resulting sharp edges with the bench grinder. The burner was flipped back upside down, and the 2 inch pieces of rod were placed evenly around the outer ring of the burner and welded in place. The picture to the left is of the finished product. Still not as sturdy as it would be with 4 legs, but better than I stared with and a keggle will now sit on top!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Amarillo IPA Bubblin

Last night my brother Jason came over and we brewed an Amarillo IPA. The video below is of the air lock in active fermentation!

Thursday, January 25, 2007