An Oath of Relative Poverty: Brewing on a Budget

I’m sure many of you have been able to tell lately, but I have been sort of obsessed with brewing. This is not a new pastime, my congregants. I have been brewing for several years, but took a 3 year break or so when my son was born. Having 7+ gallons of boiling liquid around a curious toddler was not a good plan. However, my son is getting to be of an age where he can be told to stay back, as well as an age where he can actually help me. This, my friends, is where the fun begins…


My camp stove. It doesn't look like much, but it boils 15 gallons!

I don’t have an infinite amount of money to sink into this hobby, but brewing is not something that is free to get into. You’re working with some large volumes of very hot liquid. There are ways to do partial boils, and measure things imprecisely, but to do it right, you need to spend a little bit of money on equipment. One of the first things to consider is how to get your liquid heated. Some do this on the kitchen stove, and I did this once……once. A boil-over is a messy thing to clean up, and while many boil-overs can be prevented, it only takes one to ruin the fun for everyone.  Pictured here is my 70,000 BTU camp stove. It’s propane-fueled, as you can see, and it will definitely boil 15 gallons of wort. This unit was relatively inexpensive, and could probably be bargain-shopped, if one was of a mind to do so.  I’ve been nothing but happy with mine.

image Another piece of equipment that has been a blessing is my brew kettle, made from a decommissioned and converted keg, also known as a “keggle”. There are a couple nice features of this device, which have been very useful to me. For one, it’s made of stainless steel. While that does not conduct heat as efficiently or easily as aluminum, it’s far more durable, and that lack of heat conductivity works both ways. When I am mashing my grain, I am able to keep the keg at the proper temperature more easily because the heat doesn’t dissipate as quickly as it would in an aluminum kettle. Stainless steel is also very durable, resistant to oxidation, and less likely to end up flavoring my beer. Used kegs are also nice because they are relatively inexpensive, and are thus easier to modify. By that I mean that by spending less on the plain keg, it’s easier to bring one’s self to modify with pickup plumbing, thermometers, and even sight glasses.


The inside of my keggle.

This is a shot showing the inside workings of my keggle. The original top to the kettle has been modified to be a false bottom to filter out grain and hops, with the copper tube coming up from the center to pull the liquid from under it. You can sort of see another nice feature of converted kegs, which is their capacity: 15.5 gallons. With a converted keg, you can easily do 5 or 10 gallon batches, with plenty of room to boil down your mash liquor to get a higher gravity brew, if you so desire.


The wort chiller

Another indispensable piece of equipment is the wort chiller. The model I have, shown in the picture, is an immersion wort chiller. It is made from a length of copper tubing formed into a coil. On one end of the coil, you have a fitting for your garden hose to attach to. On the other end, you have another fitting for the heated water to be directed wherever is fitting for your brewing environment. The method of use for this device is really quite simple. Place the copper chiller into your boil, and let it sit there for a couple minutes. This will sanitize any bacteria that might happen to be on it. Then, once you have turned off the flame, turn on the garden hose water. The cool water leeches heat from the surrounding boiling liquid quite quickly, and allows you to chill your wort much faster than you can by placing your brew kettle into a bath of ice water, etc. On my last brew day, I was able to cool from boiling to about 75 degrees in about 20 minutes. Cooling the wort quickly is an important factor in sanitation of your beer, because the quicker you can get it to below 80 degrees, the sooner you can pitch your yeast and seal it in your fermentation vessel.

You can buy immersion chillers pre-made, which is the route I went with the one pictured above, but you can make your own relatively easily, especially if you are handy and have the time. My last wort chiller was homemade, and it served its purpose. My new one works much better. Recommendations: Go with 3/8″ copper tubing, and use 50 feet of it! The more coils you have in your brew, the faster it will cool, and smaller diameter will give you more overall cooling surface area than larger diameter tubing will.

Since I brewed last weekend, I have purchased another keggle so I can drain from my mashing tun keggle right into my boiling keggle without having to temporarily place the mash liquor in a temporary vessel while I clean out the grain and get the sole keggle ready for the boil. I also had a little bit of a mishap with my fermentation bucket, so I also purchased a Better Bottle brand plastic carboy for my next adventure in fermentation. I’ve been considering a glass carboy for a long time, but decided to go with PET plastic because it’s far less…fragile.

Well, folks, I’ve got to get to planning my next beer. I know it’s going to be a coffee brown of some sort, but I have some planning to do to figure out the specifics of my recipe. My moose drool clone is fermenting now, and I’ll be posting a review as I get to sample it! Until then, whether you brew your own, or support the awesome craft breweries that exist today, please drink excellent beer!

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