Monday, January 12, 2015

The 2014-2015 Newness: Home Brewery System Updates, Monarch Bear...

2014 (the year of the Yang Wood Horse, no less) was an amazing year, but I didn't spend a lot of time in the homebrewery, only clocking 5 brews for all of 2014. In the time since I last updated this blog (February 2014), I have:

 - Moved across the country from Albany, NY to amazing Oakland, CA.
 - Traveled back across the country on a 5-week national tour as a stage assistant for Brett Dennen.
 - Completed a draft of my entire doctoral dissertation. (I'll be a doctor by May!)
 - Landed a job as a Production Assistant at The Rare Barrel, an all-sour brewery in Berkeley, CA.

I sincerely tried to get rid of a bunch of homebrewery stuff when we moved from New York to California, although you wouldn't know it now. I did sell all my grain, a few corny and one sanke keg, and my grain mill stand and hopper (this last was a toughie).

I also vowed to update the Wittbrew system, which was previously called the "5000." I'll call the new iteration the "Wittbrew 5500," for no other reason than it seems a logical procession. Here's a brief photo-essay on the current system, starting with what it looked like when I left Albany:

Here's the Wittbrew 5000 as it was before breaking it down and moving it across the country (for the second time). It was constructed as a gravity-fed system, although I later added a pump, making it a direct-fired RIMS. I've been wanting to convert it to a single or double-tier system for a few years now.

Here's the new system, the Wittbrew 5500. It is still a direct-fired RIMS with a single pump. In addition to having some welding done for the reconfiguration, I also replaced all my brass qds with stainless camlocks, and replaced my really old silicone hoses too. I use the blue 55-gallon drums and a submersible pump to capture and reuse my chiller water (actually Star-San), eliminating any waste water from knockout. (We're in a severe drought in California.) They also come in handy for sanitizing things in the brewery.

The Hot-Liquor Tank (HLT), on the far right of the brew sculpture. No bells and whistles here. There is an old 1/8" sightglass port that I temporarily blocked with a stainless bolt and bulkhead.
The interior of the HLT.

The Mash Tun (MT), on the far left of the sculpture. It has a burner underneath and recirculates the mash using a pump, mounted below. I've been using this "direct fired" technique for years and have never scorched the mash.

Here is the interior of the Mash Tun. You can see the Sabco hinged false-bottom and copper pickup tube, as well as the mash return arm on the top right of the keggle. I'll slip a length of silicone hose on the copper return arm to gently return the mash liquor onto the top of the grainbed. It works really well.
A blurry pic of the Boil Kettle (BK). I'll try to remember to snap another one soon. The valve on the left is for the whirlpool recirculation, used to speed up knockout times.
Here's the interior of the Boil Kettle. The pickup tube is made of copper fittings (a NPT-female, a 90º corner, and a 45º corner) curves back to the edge of the kettle just underneath the outlet valve to allow any hot-break or hop residue to settle in the center of the kettle.

Friends in Albany knew my homebrewery variously as "Zephyr Brewing" (a name now claimed by an unrelated commercial brewery in Denver) and "Monarch Bear Brewery" -- a reference to a 1200 pound California grizzly bear (one of the last in the state) captured and put on display in Golden Gate Park by associates of William Randolph Hearst. The story of Monarch is in my mind a parallel to California itself, whose emblematic and essential wildness has been captured, annulled, and forgotten in tragic ways. With the move back to California I feel justified naming the homebrewery after the iconic Monarch Bear.

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