One of my goals for 2014 is to step up to full-volume boils to get more quality out of my beer. The other is to move to all-grain brewing. This post, however, focuses on the keg boil kettle – the keggle.
A 1/2 barrel keg holds 15.5 gallons of liquid. When you think “keg,” this is what most people think of. There are oodles of other sizes for kegs, but this is the standard. Most homebrewers who serve beer from a keg use smaller, 5-gallon kegs, officially (?) called cornelius kegs. There are a couple non-sankey valve types of 5-gallon kegs for homebrew, and they go by the names of pin lock, slim, corny, soda, ball lock (pick your poison). But I’m not talking about serving the beer. I’m talking about making beer, about boiling wort in a keggle.
Why use a keg this big? WHY NOT? Okay, seriously though… in order to make a 5-gallon batch of beer with a full-volume boil, you need both headspace to guard against boil-over AND you need to account for evaporation. Also, if you’re brewing 5-gallon batches and you decide to step it up to 10, you’re all set with this one kettle. There is no need to buy more kettles when you can just make a keggle.
Here’s a very basic breakdown of the steps required to keggle conversion:
- Find a keg. Buy it.
- Make sure the pressure has been let off of the valve. This is very, very important
- Remove the valve and the stem/dip tube
- Cut out the lid
- Cut a hole for the spigot (the nipple)
- Use a welded or weld-less connection and hook up a ball valve
- Test test test
I am sure I have skipped a step. So bring it on, internet trolls…. feel free to correct me and I will edit the post as needed. For my project, my friend Brody, the Craigslist Sleuth, found a keg for me and had us over for BBQ and beers while we did some serious lid-cutting. After cutting out the lid, I smoothed out the edges and followed it up with some sanding. It’s important to smooth out the edges of the hole you cut out so you don’t cut yourself and ruin a brew day.
From what I learned, stainless is the way to go when attaching a spigot to a keggle. No exceptions. And don’t get in a hurry to just go out on your lunch break and hunt down a part like this nipple. I went 0-3 on my lunch break trying to find this part. Just go order it online and save yourself the hassle.
I am surprised I have taken this long to mention the welder. I looked and looked and looked for a welder who could do food grade welds (stainless… TIG… you know, the kind that uses argon?). Let me throw this caveat out there: I know very little about welding. The closest I have ever gotten to welding is soldering… and that doesn’t much count, now does it? There must be a ton of welders in DFW who can take work like this, right? Maybe I was searching for the wrong thing (again, due to my lack of industry knowledge). I talked to one guy at AirGas and he reacted weird when I used the term “sanitary welding.” So I don’t know what I don’t know. Whatever.
Anyways, I tracked down Richardson Fabricators and saw commercial, stainless steel sinks on their home page and knew that I was on the right track. Yesterday I phoned them and talked to a nice woman named Demetral to ask if this was something they could help me with, and to schedule a time to drop off the keg. And one day later, I stepped in to their shop and met James. James is a super nice guy. He and his other welder were wrapping up some in-shop stuff and hadn’t left for the day yet, so James welded up my keggle while I waited.
James was able to cut the hole super-duper low on the keg. He then used a grinder to get the hole the appropriate size and welded the nipple right in there. He made it look like a joke. This keggle will be used strictly as a boil kettle. If I were going to use this keggle for mashing, I would have wanted to get the nipple mounted up higher. But as a boil kettle, the lower the better… that way you won’t leave wort in the keg when it’s cooled and ready to go in to the fermenter. When I say “low,” I mean that he mounted it so perfectly that the interior threads are touching the inside bottom of the keg. He smoothed out the inside threads and cut them off and smoothed it out. Awesome.
I am going to connect clean this beauty up and get a ball valve on it. I also need to upgrade my burner, but hey, one thing at a time.
Got any questions? Feel free to contact me about this project and I will see if I can help you.