Sunday, August 4, 2019

Adventures in Homebrewing: DIY Kegerator / Keyser!

Last week we talked about making the switch to all-grain brewing...and the kegerator wasn't far behind.  

We held off on the kegerator for a long time, because we like to have a variety of beer around the house.  Bottling allows you to store several batches for a long time and have tons of variety in the fridge., sanitizing, and capping each bottle is also a huge pain in the butt, and we, like many brewers, have dealt with the annoyance of having some of your bottles not get clean enough and ending up with some random funky off-flavors in a normally drinkable beer.  
Dunkel--the last batch we bottled before making the switch. Unfortunately, our ratio on priming sugar was off and these ended up under-carbonated, so we had to uncap them all, add more priming sugar, and then wait another several more weeks until they were ready to drink, while praying they didn't explode.

With kegging, you're just getting one big vessel super-spankin' clean--and it's a heckuva lot easier to get to all the nooks & crannies.  Also, if you want to force carbonate your beer right after you're done with fermentation, you can, rather than bottling and then waiting 2-4 more weeks for them to carbonate. So...we finally pulled the trigger.
Step 1: Find a freezer & convert.  So, technically this is a "keyser" because we made it out of a freezer rather than a fridge, but either will work.  We had a small chest freezer out in our garage, so we upgraded to a larger upright freezer for storing food, and moved the chest freezer into a storage room in our basement with some extra space (room temps in our basement stay more consistently cool, so this was preferable to having it in the garage where temps fluctuate more and would require more energy from the system). 

It has enough room for two pencil kegs (each holds 5 gallons).  We see similar models pop up frequently on Craigslist & Facebook Marketplace--you can find one for $50-75.  You'll have to turn the internal temperature of the unit up to about 40F, so that it functions as a fridge rather than a freezer.  We  installed a digital temperature controller--attached the temperature probe to the outside of one of the kegs (covered with insulation, so it's measuring keg temp, not ambient temp inside the kegerator) to check beer temp, and then the freezer plug-in connects to the controller to tell the freezer when to kick on and off to maintain temp. (Note: if you start with a fridge rather than a freezer, this step isn't needed.)

Step 1a: Buy Kegs & CO2 tank - We found ours on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist--$100 for a 20 lb filled CO2 tank is a good price.  Our unit fits two pencil/soda kegs.  You can get pin-lock kegs for about $35, or ball-lock for about $40: ball-lock is preferred, as they're more interchangeable.  When you get these home, you'll want to clean them well, and then do a pressure test to make sure they don't have any pin-holes or leaks in them.  We'd also recommend replacing the seals (they're cheap) so you know when that was done last.  You'll also need a CO2 regulator for the tank (there are multi-valve models available if you want the option to vary the amount of CO2 pressure you mix for different types of beers.)

Step 2: Make a collar:  So you don't have to drill through the unit to install the taps--then if you want to convert it back into a regular freezer later, you can with no issues.  Disconnect the hinges to remove the lid, measure dimensions, then cut boards to fit and glue + screw together, with caulk on the inner corners for a good seal.  You can vary what size boards you choose based on your preference--we went with a 2x12 to give us a little more room for taller kegs (plus we already had them on-hand from replacing deck boards earlier this year).  We also stained the wood after assembly (you could do chalk paint instead if you want to be able to write what beer's on which tap).  And on the short edges, there's an additional board along the inside of each end that extends down into the cooler to stabilize the collar and keep it from falling in.

Step 3: Install taps & manifold -  Stainless steel faucets are recommended over chrome (if your faucets don't come with a spanner wrench, you'll need to buy one to install them properly).  Drill holes (using a step drill or hole saw) into the collar at a size that matches the shank of the faucet--our faucets came with a 2-inch shank which wasn't quite long enough, so we replaced it with an extension shank.   

Then drill one small hole in the collar (ours is on the back corner) for the CO2 line to run into the kegerator (we store the CO2 outside of the kegerator).  Mount the manifold on the inside of the collar.  This is what allows you to run CO2 from one tank to multiple kegs.  These can come with multiple numbers of check valves, depending on how many taps you plan on having.

Step 4: Hooking up TubingWe got quick disconnects--they're color coded and connect on the keg end.  We used Bev Seal Ultra Tubing.  It's heavy duty and will take some manipulation (heating with heat gun and/or hot water) to soften the tubing to slide onto the disconnects, but once it's on, you're set--they should never leak.  Then we have John Guest fittings which connect to the tap end: the tubing should just slide into the fitting and click when it's in place.
John Guest fittings on the back side of the taps.

For a 2 keg system, you'll have 5 connections:
  • CO2 tank regulator to Manifold (barbed fittings, no connectors)
  • (2) Manifold to Keg (barbed on manifold end, quick disconnects at Keg)
  • (2) Keg to Tap (quick disconnect at keg-end, John Guest fitting at tap) - check out this article about line balancing regarding the length of tubing you should use to keep foam down.

Step 5: Insulate the collar (optional) - more for energy-savings than anything.  We got some pink insulation board from Home Depot. We also used weather strip seal on the top and bottom edges of the collar (where it touches the freezer).

Step 6: Install drip tray - ours is a magnetic "tool tray" & sticks to the freezer.  Found it at Harbor Freight.  Others opt to screw it in to the collar.

Step 7: Leak Check - Once everything is connected, spray all the connections/fittings with sanitizer (including tops of kegs) and watch for bubbles.  If no issues and you don't see your CO2 gauge drop after 1 day, you're good to go!

Step 8: Add fan (optional) - this circulates the air within the unit to help keep a consistent temp (which helps keep foaming down). Any CPU fan will work, but you'll have to adapt the wiring.

Final Product:


Saturday, July 27, 2019

Adventures in HomeBrewing: Making the Switch to All Grain Brewing

As most of you know, we have been home brewing for a while now. It started about 5 years ago when I got the The Hubs a Groupon for a 5-gallon bucket system and a brewing class from our local homebrew store.  It should be noted--The Hubs does most of the brewing--I help with sanitizing, cleaning, stirring when his arm gets tired, handing him things, acquiring bottles, and bragging on him since he's his own worst critic.  
Our first batch in 2014, an American Bock (this is a really solid kit, FYI. Great beer).

We did extract-based kits for most of that time.  If there are any non-brewers reading this: one of the first steps in brewing is the mash--which is steeping crushed or cracked grains in warm water to extract the starches & convert them into fermentable sugars, forming the "wort" or beer base.  In order to simplify/expedite the home brewing process, you can buy malt extract which comes as either a dry powder or a thick syrup.  This process requires less equipment so it's a good option for those who are new to homebrewing, or who don't have time/space for the full process.
We slowly upgraded our equipment--first getting a copper coil wort chiller to speed up the cooling process (rather than doing an ice bath in the sink), and then getting a conical fermenter so we could easily remove sediment and then bottle directly from it, rather than having to transfer beer from the fermenting bucket to the bottling bucket.  
The hydrometer that came with the basic brewing kit was tough to read and we were concerned we weren't getting accurate ABV calculations, so we got a refractometer which seems to be working better.
About a year ago, The Hubs joined a local home brewers group, and we went to several Big Brew Days where the brewery store would demo different brewing methods.  

The Hubs took a class on all-grain brewing a couple years ago, but we held off for a long time because the process just takes longer--We could make a 5 gallon batch of beer using an extract kit in about 3 hours (aka, during Lil' Man's nap), whereas all-grain takes about 5-6 hours--so it's more of an all-day process.

But there's also a cost trade off--malt extract kits run about $30-50, depending on the type of beer.  But with all grain brewing, buying the raw ingredients is cheaper--a typical all-grain kit is around $20-25. If you brew enough to buy in bulk, you can save even more. 
Bulk buy of ingredients for three batches of beer.  We were having them double-mill the grains at the store, but we've also since bought a grain grinder so we can buy raw grains and mill them at home.

I think the breaking point for us was when The Hubs wanted to brew a high ABV double required so much malt extract that the total price of the 5 gallon batch was around $80. 
So we finally made the switch to all-grain brewing: The Hubs bought a Brew In The Bag and I got him BeerSmith recipe software for Christmas. As an intermediate step, we did an Imperial pumpkin ale as a partial mash--it was the last batch we did fully on the stovetop with a 3 gallon pot. Then last year we bought an outdoor propane system on sale at Bass Pro Shops over Black Friday.
Inaugural use of the turkey fryer, making a "Miller Light" clone, while drinking delicious Rock Candy from Lost Forty in Arkansas.

We still mash on the stovetop because it's easier, and then move to the turkey fryer for the boil.
Since making the switch, we've brewed 6 beers using all-grain: a Miller Lite clone, Irish red, dunkel, rye IPA, vanilla porter, and an English mild (note: if you're interested in any of these recipes, comment below and we'd be happy to share).  The Hubs prefers to brew when it's colder outside, since the turkey fryer has to be used outside and generates a lot of heat, and our fermenter is installed in our basement, so the temperatures stay a little cooler and more steady for better consistency.

The Hubs won 3rd place for its category with his Irish Red at this year's Ozarks Open--though technically he brewed that on a friend's system.
On deck next we're going to try doing a kettle sour (I promise a whole post on that once it's ready to drink).

After making the switch, it was just a short jump to moving away from bottling to having our own kegerator.  I'll have a  post about how we built our own kegerator up next week--stay tuned!

Friday, July 19, 2019

Boudin Chimichangas and Crawfish Cream Sauce

Hey y'all, bringing you another original recipe, straight from our crazy brains. This was a collaborative effort between myself, The Hubs, and Primo.
Last summer while down visiting in Louisiana, we saw a sign that Bourgeois Meat Market was selling boudin burritos.  

If you're not familiar with the awesomeness that is boudin:  it's simmered pork, mixed with seasoning, vegetables, and rice (generally about a 50/50 mix, though Bourgeois makes theirs with less rice, about 30%), inside a natural casing.  It's often served grilled, or smoked and cut into bite-size links, or the casing is completely removed and folks will roll it up into little balls, bread it, and then deep fry. Piece of Meat restaurant in New Orleans makes a boudin egg roll that is INSANE.
So a boudin burrito makes sense, I mean: rice and meat inside a tortilla?  A logical lateral train of thought.

But we wanted to go one better.  Because you know what's better than a burrito?  A deep-fried burrito...aka a chimichanga.  Top that with a homemade crawfish cream sauce, and now THAT....that would be something.  I pitched the idea to Primo who responded "10/10 would eat."

So before we booked it back to Missouri, we hit up NuNu's market for some of their amazing boudin, and a packet of crawfish tails. Along with some other essentials.
Now...when it came time to actually make this masterpiece...I didn't actually feel like deep-frying anything. (Especially after having a particularly bad frying incident the week before which scorched my arm and filled our house with smoke.)  So instead, I decided to feaux-fry them (aka oven bake).
INGREDIENTS: (makes 6)
1 lb boudin (fresh or thawed), casings removed
6 "soft taco" size flour tortillas
Oil or butter 
green onions (for garnish)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp dried onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 tsp Cajun Seasoning (we use Fontenot & A Half which is extra spicy, so I just use 1 teaspoon)
12 oz crawfish tails
1.5 cups half & half or heavy cream
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp butter
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese - OPTIONAL (note: most crawfish cream sauces don't call for this, but it wasn't really thickening up for us, so I added the cheese. I'd just recommend having it on-hand in case your sauce misbehaves as well.)

Heat oven to 400F.
Place about 1/2 cup of loose boudin in the center of a tortilla,
 ...fold in the sides, and then wrap/fold the long edges, and repeat six times.
Spray a 9x11 pan with olive oil, and then place the wraps inside, and bake for about 30 minutes or until golden.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat, and add the onions and garlic.  Then add the flour and stir well.  Next, add the crawfish tails and cajun seasoning and let cook for 2 minutes.
Add the cream & Worcestershire sauce, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer, stirring often.  Let reduce for 20-30 minutes or until thickened/reduced by about half.  If sauce doesn't reduce/thicken to your liking, add the cheese.  

Let the sauce cool for about 5-10 minutes to help thicken, and then pour over the chimichanga and top with sliced green onions.  Enjoy!