Barrel Keg Conversion FAQ
Teddy Winstead, firstname.lastname@example.org, 1/1/95
HTML Conversion by Mark Stevens
This work is Copyright (C) 1994 by Nathaniel S. "Teddy" Winstead,
(email@example.com), and is freely available as a service to the
Internet AND FidoNet Communities. No part of this document may be
published or sold in any form by any means, including print,
electronic storage, magnetic or optical media, and database without
the express written permission of the author, Nathaniel S. "Teddy"
I explicitly state that none of this information is guaranteed NOT to
make you suffer injury, lawsuit, economic loss, or time in jail. I
refuse to take any responsibility for anything that happens to you as
a result of using the advice in this file. If something bad happens to
you, don't sue me, I'm just a broke student...
I WANT YOUR FEEDBACK!
Please mail changes, suggestions, enhancements, flames, and other rantings to
This FAQ would not have been possible without the gracious help of the
following people --
Charles S. Jackson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Bob Gorman (email@example.com)
Jack Schmidling (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Many others, too numerous to mention.
Prologue or "Why You Really Shouldn't Do This"
Converted kegs are fantastic to brew in. They allow you versatility,
economy, and increased batch size. However, before you plunge into a
three-tiered gravity-feed system, or whatever else you might have in
mind, there are a number of things that you first must consider:
1) Do I really NEED to do this?
Some people think that just because they drink their five gallon
batches in a short period of time that they therefore need to make
a system capable of brewing larger-sized batches of beer, since the
new setup will invariably make brewing a ten gallon batch just as easy
as doing a five-gallon one. Think again! Almost every step of the
way takes longer when doing a larger batch. Grinding the grain,
bringing the water to mash-in temperature, raising the temperature
of the mash, sparging, lautering, and boiling all take longer, making
the process of brewing a ten-gallon batch take roughly one and a
half times longer than a five-gallon batch. Additionally, once you
are finished, you have ten gallons of the same kind of beer, which
can be no fun if the beer turns out to be crap.
Finally, the fact that you are probably using a King Kooker or
something similar as your heat source means that you will HAVE to
move your entire operation to the great out-of-doors. This isn't
bad if you live in an area where it never gets about hot and humid but
if you live in the Deep South, you'll find that it can be pretty
unpleasant to brew in the heat.
2) Is this legal?
It is not legal to get a keg by paying the deposit on it, and then
assuming you can do whatever you like to it. These things cost a
substantial amount of money to the breweries, and paying a $10
deposit is by no means an excuse for cutting one of these things
Additionally, costs incurred by breweries are simply passed on to
consumers via higher prices, so you are doing the entire
beer-drinking community a dis-service by cutting one of these
things up. Do everyone a favor, and buy one from a documented, legal
3) Is this EXACTLY what I want?
If you are unsure of whether or not you want to make a brewing
system out of converted 1/2 barrel kegs, I'd suggest not going any
further than the planning stages. The investment of time, energy,
and money that goes into making one of these systems is
substantial. There are some alternatives -- one of which is to
simply scale-down the system using ten gallon converted beverage
kegs available from Bev-Con International, another being to use the
standard 34 quart enameled canning pots in a three-tiered arrangement.
When I started building my system, I decided that my underlying
philosophy should be to
make the entire brewing process easier, not harder. I was using a
Phil's Lauter Tun and a 8 1/4 gallon enameled canning pot, so it
was pretty hard to make things easier. I think I succeeded,
however, by keeping it simple... Perhaps this helps.
But, everybody wants to build a brewery out of converted kegs, so
let's continue with the fun stuff.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
3. Design & Implementation
2. Stainless Steel Fittings and Pipes
3. Ball Valves
4. Other stuff
3. Cutting out the top
1. Hot Water Tank
2. Mash / Lauter Tun
Section 1 -- Preface
A few words should be said about materials --
There is on-going frequent debate in rec.crafts.brewing and the Home
Brew Digest about whether or not to use aluminum. I'm not going to
deal with this here except to say that there are aluminum half barrel
kegs out there. You should be able to spot them, since they should all
be pretty old (apparently they haven't made aluminum kegs in a number
If you plan to weld or braze or solder a brass or copper fitting into
your stainless steel keg, you should be aware of the dielectric
effect. This occurs when two metals of different conductivity are
connected. Brass and copper and silver are all more conductive (carry
electric current better) than stainless steel. This can cause the
metal to corrode. While you should be aware of it, you shouldn't worry
about it too much, since we home brewers generally just have small
areas joined together, so the effect isn't that big of a problem.
Stainless Steel comes in a few flavors. The "L" grades are the ones
that are suitable for welding, and the "300" grades are those which
are suitable for food preparation use. Kegs are generally
"304L". Stainless steel is made by adding nickel and chromium to
steel. The nickel and chromium form surface oxides which are extremely
tough, and resistant to corrosion. However, EXTREME caution must be
taken when welding, brazing, and soldering stainless steel, because
overheating the material causes it to become EXTREMELY brittle (the
affected area will shatter into a zillion pieces with a light hammer
tap). So, if you are going to solder or braze something onto stainless
steel, be very careful that you don't overheat it. If you are going to
weld stainless steel, OXY-ACETYLENE IS NOT SUITABLE. Use only TIG or
MIG (or plasma if you're just cutting).
It should be pointed out here what the difference between copper,
brass and bronze is -- copper is just plain copper, pure and
simple. Bronze is a mixture of copper and tin. Brass is a mixture of
copper, (sometimes) tin, zinc, and lead. While most people cringe at
the thought of lead in their plumbing, lead in brass doesn't pose much
of a problem because it is present in very small amounts (0-10%). If
you are worried about the possibility of lead leeching from your brass
parts into your beer, you can take John Palmer's advice and mix white
distilled vinegar (5% acetic acid) with drugstore-variety hydrogen
peroxide (3% concentration) in a 2:1 volume ratio and soak brass parts
for 10 minutes. This will remove all of the lead from the surface of
the brass parts, thereby eliminating the cause for concern about leeching.
First, a warning from Dion Hollenbeck --
If you use a wire brush, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER use a steel brush on
SS. You will embed steel particles in the SS surface and cause it to
begin to rust. The only way to correct this after you have done it is
to get the SS passivated (dipped and soaked in nitric acid).
If you are screwing any two pipe pieces together, whether they are
brass, copper, stainless steel, or whatever, you will need to use
Teflon tape. Teflon tape is the greatest thing ever invented. What you
do is wrap the tape tightly two or three times around the male end of
the stuff you are connecting together. This will seal the pipe joint
from leakage and it will also have the added effect of "lubricating"
the pipe, making it easier to screw into the female part.
Also, when joining two pieces of threaded pipe, it is not necessary to
absolutely screw the hell out of it until it won't go any further. I
like to tighten things up by hand, then do one or two turns of the
wrench. I never have leaks, either. If you over-tighten parts, you
will come to regret it later...
I used to be afraid to solder anything. I look back at those days now
and laugh. Soldering is incredibly easy. It is NOT a good method of
joining stainless steel to other metals, but it is a great way to join
copper to brass or more copper. It is also cheap. $10 will get you a
propane torch (which you can also use for sterilizing your yeast
culturing loop), and another $4 will get you a soldering kit. USE ONLY
LEAD-FREE SOLDER, AND LOOK OUT FOR SOLDER AND FLUX WITH NASTY
CHEMICALS IN THEM (CADMIUM, BISMUTH, ETC.) In general silver solder
used for plumbing applications is very suitable for brewing use.
The process is simple -- clean all parts thoroughly, and using sand
paper or a wire brush, score the surfaces that you want to stick
together. Next, apply generous amounts of flux to both parts and put
them together. Now, light your propane torch, and heat up the
joint. Once it is hot enough, touch the tip of the solder spool to the
joint, and capillary action will "suck" the solder into the
joint. Make sure you solder the joint uniformly and thoroughly, then
let the part cool and harden undisturbed.
Voila! You've just soldered...
The difference between brazing and soldering is simply the temperature
at which the process is done. Soldering is done below 800 F, and
brazing is done above that temperature. For lots of useful
information, check out John Palmer's excellent article "Brazing and
Welding 304L Stainless Steel" in Brewing Techniques 2(6)
(Nov./Dec. 1994). Included in this article are excellent charts
listing different brazing fillers and flux, and useful graphs of
stainless steel temperature sensitation.
Again, it should be mentioned to avoid materials which contain lead or
cadmium. Cadmium is far, far worse than lead, as it will cause severe
poisoning and even death. Please, please be careful!
Brazing is almost identical in procedure to soldering. The major
difference is the heat source that you use. Oxy-acetylene is generally
used in brazing. Extreme care should be taken not to overheat the
stainless steel parts. Again, I refer the reader to John Palmer's
excelent article from Brewing Techniques (see above).
Bob McIlvaine writes... If something other than solder is desired for
a copper joint, copper brazing rod is recommended. This rod can be
used to braze any copper where solder is used. The rod contains
phosphorus as a flux which basically burns off and when cooled only
copper is left.
Non-Welders: If all of this stuff about soldering and brazing has
intimidated you, don't worry! You can always just take everything to a
welding shop and have it done professionally, probably for less than
$50. This is less than you would pay to rent the needed equipment
yourself, and you can have the added peace of mind that comes with
knowing that the job was done by a professional who knows exactly what
If you decide to go this route, look in your local Yellow Pages under
"Welding", and look for someplace that specializes in stainless steel
and/or sanitary welding. To save yourself some money, do everything
that you can do yourself before you take the stuff to the shop
(i.e. mark your keg where you want the nipple or coupling welded in,
write explicit instructions on a piece of paper, disassemble all the
parts). These people charge by the hour, so anything that you can do
to save them time will save you money. Make sure that they use
stainless steel filler rod, and make sure that the use either a TIG or
MIG welder (this shouldn't be a problem if they specialize in
Some people report having successfully had stuff welded at the local
muffler shop or auto body repair place. While I wouldn't recommend
going this route, if you want to save money this way, more power to ya'.
Welder-Types: There are really only two ways to weld stainless steel
-- TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas) and MIG (Manganese Inert Gas) these two
methods are the most desirable because they don't overheat the metal,
as described in the "Materials" section. TIG is the best method, MIG
is the second best method.
Once again, I refer you to John Palmer's article in Brewing Techniques
for more information.
If you're planning to weld copper to copper or brass, etc. You need to
look elsewhere for more information. This is beyond the scope of this FAQ.
(c) Design and Implementation
OK, we've gotten through some of the basics. I want to offer some
definitions here, and offer some philosophies about designing these
Definitions first, so you don't get lost:
o A pipe nipple is just a piece of pipe with male screw threads on
o A pipe coupling is like a nipple, only with female screw threads.
o A ball valve usually has two female ends, with a ball in the middle
that has a circular hole bored through it. There is a handle on the
outside which controls flow through the valve. Turning it on or off
is just a matter of turning the handle 90 degrees.
o A hose barb either has male or female fittings and a fitting which
you slide hose onto, so that you can move fluid through a hose from
o "Sankey" kegs are usually the best kind to use in these
systems. These are the kegs with straight sides, generally used by
the larger mega-breweries. These are the kind of kegs that BCI or
Sabco will sell you. You can also use kegs which have curved sides, as
long as they aren't the "Golden-Gate" style kegs which have a hole
for a wooden bung in the side. If you plan to use a "Golden-Gate"
keg, you'll have to make some kind of plan to deal with the
bung-hole (like welding a piece of stainless steel sheet metal over
Now, some words about design --
In the past, many people have just had nipples welded directly into
the side wall of their kegs. While this works well, you are really
stuck if you want to change your design after the nipple has been
welded in. For this reason, it is a much better idea to weld a
stainless steel pipe coupling into the side-wall of your keg. Mount it
flush with the inside, then you can do absolutely anything that you
want with the plumbing on the inside and the outside. Doing it this
way will also probably make the welding a bit cheaper if you're having
it done professionally.
While I offer some design ideas in this article, these are by no means
the only way of doing things. By all means do it a new way, just let
me know about it, so that I can include it in this FAQ.
As I mentioned earlier, your MOST important design philosophy should
be ease of use. At every step in the design process, you should
consider whether or not you will be making your brewing any easier.
Finally, shop around, do all your designing on paper, then start
buying stuff. Do not buy anything until you have finished up the
design, you will just end up buying parts that you don't need.
Lastly, some thoughts about implementation --
When you brew with converted kegs, you will need a BIG heat
source. This means that you will most likely need to get a propane
cooker. You do not need to get three burners, though (one for each
vessel). I use just one propane cooker. The way that I do this is to
first heat the mash (do temperature steps if I want to), then during
the saccarification rest I heat the sparge water (I skip the
mash-out), then I boil. Pretty easy. Having two would make things
easier, but I haven't had a chance to get around to buy another one.
Try to figure out a design that will keep you from doing a lot of
lifting during the brewing process, as this gets strenuous and
tiring. It's also a good way to hurt your back. Some ways to avoid
lifting are: using pumps, getting burners that sit higher off the
ground, and using pulleys and ropes to lift your kegs.
Section 2 -- Getting
There are really only two reputable sources of guaranteed legal kegs
available by mail order (that I know of, at least). They are --
Bev-Con International (BCI)
6400 Highway 51 South
Post Office Box 396
Brighton, TN 38011
4511 South Ave.
Toledo, OH 43615
Both companies are extremely friendly and helpful, and they both are
aware of the fact that home brewers are a big part of their
clientele. It should be noted that BCI does not accept credit cards,
so you must call them about pricing and freight, and then mail them a
check. Also, Sabco does not do direct retail, but they are more than
willing to point you to the nearest reseller, and also send you their
catalog, which is pretty interesting.
BCI will sell you a keg that has been "retired" by a brewery because
it can no longer hold pressure. This is usually due to a defective
valve in the top of the keg, and has no implications on its use as a
boiler, mash tun, etc. They simply cut out a nice, big circle in the
top and mail it to you. They do no reconditioning, and sometimes their
kegs aren't in the prettiest condition, but you're building a brewery,
and not holding a beauty paegent, right?! The cost of the keg is $40,
plus shipping, which is usually about $15, for a total cost of about
Sabco takes great pride in the aesthetic appearance of their kegs. In
their own description of the process, they "have the keg completely
reconditioned, including upper and lower chine restoration, de-dent
and weld as necessary for best appearance ... cut a perfect 12'' hole
in the top ... acid clean keg and wire brush all the weld stains". The
cost for a simple keg with the lid cut out is about $90. For $289.95
($269.95 with a brass ball valve) they will sell you a "Totally
reconditioned stainless brewing kettle with stainless ball valve,
siphon assembly and lid. Removable false bottom stainless screen
assembly. Built in stainless coupling with accurate 3 inch dial
thermometer. Very efficient, very cleanable." The prices are plus
frieght, which is, as above, $15-$20. In my unbiased opinion, the
$289.95 is a really good deal.
Local junk yards and scrap-metal businesses may have some kegs
available. However, I would urge you to make absolutely sure that the
kegs were acquired legally by the business. It is ILLEGAL to purchase
stolen goods, so do your research and stay out of jail.
(b) Stainless Steel Fittings and Pipes
You should really only use stainless steel pipes and fittings in your
brewery. The expense really isn't that much greater than any other
material for pipes and fittings.
1/2" is really the best size to get, as 1" is just too damned big,
3/4" is kind of hard to find, and 1/4" is a little bit on the small
size. Make sure that everything that you get is NPT (National Pipe
Thread), and that you get male or female as needed. You should design
everything out on paper first, and make a list of everything that you
need, then go to the store and get everything at once.
Check your local Yellow Pages under "Pipe", and there will probably
find someplace that specializes in stainless steel. Failing this,
McMaster-Carr also sells stainless steel pipes and fittings via
mail-order. Their address is:
PO Box 440
New Brunswick, NJ 08903-0440
(908) 329-3200 Sales desk
(908) 329-6666 Everything else
(908) 329-3772 fax
(c) Ball Valves
Here's a good place to scrimp. You can expect to pay around $20-$25
for an all-stainless ball valve, while for about $5-$6 you can get an
identical ball valve whose body is made out of brass, and whose ball
is still stainless steel or is chromium-coated. Avoid the cheaper
brass ball valves available at Home Depot with the name "Jones
Mfg. Co." on the handle, as they are made out of cheap, soft brass,
and are tough to tighten onto a pipe without ripping the corners of
the hex nut off.
Ball valves are available from W. W. Grainger (check your local yellow
pages) in both stainless steel and brass. I use brass "Speedaire" ball
valves, and I have had no problems with them at all.
(d) Other Stuff
Other stuff that you might want includes hose barbs, compression
fittings, copper tube, adapters, etc. Almost all of these things can
be found at Home Depot or any decent plumbing supply house.
Section 3 -- Cutting out the top
Before cutting into any keg, extreme care should be taken to relieve
the keg of pressure. This is so simple that it baffles the mind --
take a screwdriver and a towel or rag. Place the towel or rag over the
beer outlet of the keg. Next, take the handle of the screwdriver, and
put it on top of the ball in the middle of the beer outlet. Press down
on the screwdriver, and the keg should hiss and the towel should get
all wet with beer. Press down on the screwdriver until all the
pressure is released from the keg, then you can do whatever you want
to it. Failure to do this could result in serious injury or
death. Please be careful...
Another suggestion from Bob McIlvaine is to simply drive a large nail
between the ball and the rubber, and leave it there during the entire
process. This has some advantage over other methods since further
agitation of the keg will not re-pressurize the keg.
I haven't done this myself, so I'll quote Dion Hollenbeck's excellent
advice (embellished with further advice in parenthesis):
Tools needed are as follows: High speed die grinder with 3" cutoff
wheel or drill motor with 1/4" cobalt drill bit to cut original
hole. Sawzall with bimetal or carbide blades (21 or 24 teeth per
inch). High speed right angle die grinder with 36 & 120 grit 3"
sanding disks or coarse and fine files (HSS drill bits can be used,
use a slower drilling speed and drench with a 50/50
mix of chain oil and kerosene).
Remove any blades from the Sawzall. Rest the nose of the Sawzall on
the top of the keg with the side of the nose right against the top
rolled rim of the keg. You will be using this rim as a cutting guide
later on. With a heavy duty felt tip pen, make a mark on the keg
aligned with where the sawzall blade would penetrate the keg. Make the
mark about 1" long, or long enough to accommodate a sawzall
blade. This mark will be opened up to allow the blade its first
insertion in the keg.
With the 3" cutoff wheel, plunge into the keg just inside of the mark
you made. Any cutting of Stainless Steel is much easier by abrasives
than it is by cutting tools of any kind. If you must use a drill,
drill 4 1/4" holes just inside of the mark and open them up to form a
slot with a file or hacksaw blade hand held with a pair of gloves or
in a blade holder which allows the tip to be free, not attached to a frame.
The book "How to Build a Small Home Brewery" (title approximate,
author not currently known) recommends carbide blades for the
Sawzall. This is probably a good thing, but they are sometimes hard to
find. If you can't find them, buy bimetallic blades. You will need
approximately 4 blades per keg. Insert the blade in the saw, plunge
the blade into the slot you made and push the side of the saw nose up
against the rim. Make sure the saw is perfectly upright. Turn on the
saw and follow around the rim until you get back to where you started,
at which time the top will fall down into the keg. Be aware that due
to the curvature of the top of the keg, the saw will want to walk
towards the rim and you have to be very careful to keep the saw
upright at all times. If you wander from this path, commercially
available lids will not cover a misshapen hole completely.
The deadly thing for the bimetal blades is that they will heat up and
about 1/2" of the teeth on the blade will melt. If you can be patient
and just cut a very small bit and then let the blade cool, you can
prolong the life of the blade. If you are like me, you will use a lot
of blades. If you use a carbide blade, please let me know how it works
and how many were needed per keg so that I can add that to this
report. (You can keep blade requirements down by using the 50/50 mix
of chain oil and kerosene mentioned earlier. You will need to stop and
add the lube often, but it will make the job much easier).
Now is the time to smooth the cut edge. This is best accomplished
with the right angle die grinder and sanding disks. First use the 36
grit to shape the edge and remove all the grossest burrs and then use
a 120 grit disk to smooth all edges. Be careful to not take off
excess, because again, you will not be able to use a commercial
lid. You are now done if you do not want any fittings in the keg.
The book that he references, How To Build A Small Brewery is by Bill
Owens, and is published by G.W. Kent, Inc. It's a pretty good book, I
own a copy. You can also purchase cutting oil in hardware stores which
will serve the same purpose as the 50/50 chain oil and kerosene.
Another option, for those of you who don't own a saw is to drill out
the top of the keg. This is pretty easy in concept -- mark a pattern
on the top of the keg, and start drilling holes with a large (3/8" or
larger) drill bit all the way around the top, leaving a little space
in between the holes. Then take a hammer, and pound the top
out. Finally, take some kind of grinder, and grind down the sharp
edges. This would probably take a long time to do, and would
definitely require a LOT of energy.
Really, the best way to have things welded is to pay to get it
done. Welders and machinists generally charge about $30-$35 an hour,
and generally there's a one hour minimum. I had two nipples welded
into kegs with holes drilled into one of the two for my slotted T
manifold in just under an hour. Unless you're having everything done
at once, it probably shouldn't take more than an hour.
If you're going to have stuff welded by a pro, I'd suggest going
someplace that specializes in stainless steel (check you Yellow
Pages). You'll want to make sure that the welder is not using rods
which contain cadmium, since they will poison and kill you. They make
rods which are 100% stainless steel, and a place that specializes in
stainless will have and use these rods.
Also, before welding (or having someone weld) the lid out, put some
water in the bottom of the keg. This will ensure that the little bits
of metal that the welder blows through the weld will not "stick" to
the bottom of the keg. Apparently these little bits of steel are very,
very hard to remove.
Section 4 -- Plumbing
As mentioned before, the best way to plumb your converted keg is to
have a pipe coupling welded in flush with the inside, then handle your
plumbing in whatever fashion you like. However, for those of you who
don't want to weld, here are a couple of other ideas...
First of all, Charles S. Jackson points out "If/when you drill a hole
to place a pipe nipple DON'T DRILL AT THE SEAM WHERE THE KEG BODY
MEETS THE SUPPORT RIM." This is the weakest part of the keg
construction, and if you try to weld a nipple into the hole you drill,
you'll have a real mess on your hands, because it will probably fall
Alan Gerhardt (email@example.com) gives the following plan
for a weld-less mash-tun drain --
I then drilled a drain hole in the bottom, and used a brass "cooler
drain" fitting. The fitting has a nut and a gasket, which gives a
good seal, and is threaded on the inside as well. I then attached the
required pipe/fittings to connect the drain to my RIMS unit.
----------| |------------keg bottom
| |other fittings to suit
Another option (also from a back-issue of the Home Brew Digest which I
can't find) is to take a pipe nipple and put a hole in the side wall
of your keg. Then use Teflon washers on the inside and outside, and
secure the nipple in place with stainless steel bolts.
(a) Hot Water Tank
Basically all that you will be doing with your hot (sparge) water tank
is emptying it. With this in mind, it is simple to design one, and
there are two good approaches to this:
The first is to put a nipple into the wall of the keg such that about
two inches protrude out of the keg, and on the inside, the nipple
comes just about 1/2 inch short of the exact center. It should also be
oriented so that on the inside you can put in a 90 degree elbow and a
1/2 inch nipple, and reach almost to the bottom of the keg. Here's a
-------------=||<------------ 1/2" NPT SS elbow
^ | ^ ||<------------ 1/2" NPT 1/2" long SS nipple
1/2" | |\ | /|
Ball ---| | --|----------------- |
Valve goes |
1/2" NPT 4" long SS pipe nipple
The elbow and the 1/2" long nipple make a siphon to suck up all the
sparge water. This works well and it only leaves about 1/2 a cup of
water in the tank.
The other method is similar, but it has the added advantage of being
able to drain 100% of the water from the tank. In this case, you
simply put a hole into the bottom center of the keg, put a short
nipple in it, add an elbow outside, then run some pipe or tubing to
the edge and through the skirt, like so --
| ----------|--------- |<----- Bottom skirt
-----> --------------| <--------------- Pipe in bottom center
| | |
--------------------------------------- Pipe or tube running to
and through bottom skirt,
with a valve on the outside.
(b) Mash / Lauter Tun
There are a number of alternatives here. Some of the ones that I'm
familiar with are the "Scaled-up EasyMasher(tm)", the REAL
false-bottom, and the copper-tubing approach. Of course, there are
endless flavors and variations on these basic themes.
I first used a "Scaled-up EasyMasher(tm)". I had a 1/2" NPT nipple
welded in my mash tun which extended almost to the center of the keg,
so I got a big piece of window screen and wrapped it around the nipple
on the inside of the keg. Then I tightened it down with a SS hose
clamp. This "false bottom" cost about $1.20.
^ ^ ^
| |------- Hose clamp |
---- 1/2" NPT nipple Fold the end over -------------
I got 28 pts/lb/gallon this way. This is THE most economical way to do
it. The down side here is that if you want to do a step-mash, it is
very easy to scorch some grains on the bottom of the keg, which is a
mess. But if you do it carefully, and you heat the keg gently, you can
keep this to a minimum. You can also minimize this by using a smaller
heat source than the standard 185K BTU propane cooker or by purchasing
a piece of heavy-gauge aluminum sheet metal and placing it on top of
your burner and under the keg. I made some excellent beers with this
Jack Schmidling Productions now also makes a "SABCO COMPATIBLE"
EasyMasher (TM). This allows you to buy just the keg and attach the
EasyMasher (TM). Both products are availible from "The Malt Shop" at
Then I moved on to a Sabco converted keg. This item comes equipped
with a stainless steel mesh false bottom that is the diameter of the
keg. There are supports on the inside to hold this up. This method is
easy to visualize, so I'll spare you the ASCII art. The pros of this
method are the lack of a scorching problem, ease of cleaning, and
simplicity. The cons include the large amount of dead space that is
under the grain bed (about 1.5 gallons in my case), the fact that the
false bottom must fit your keg EXACTLY, or else you will not get all
the grain bits out of your wort, and the fact that it is added hassle
to build supports for the false bottom into your keg.
The copper-tubing method remains very popular for many reasons -- it's
cheap, it's easy, it's simple. It does, however, suffer from the same
problems as the "Scaled-Up EasyMasher(tm)" -- scorching, etc.
Bob McIlvaine chimes in: The keg already has a fitting in the top. So
take the keg, turn it upside down, now the fitting becomes a bottom
drain. (From here on the top side with the fitting will be refered to
as the bottom) So now, just below the top seam on the side of the keg
cut the top (used to be the bottom). Now plumb to the fitting on the
bottom. Use either a brass sink drain fitting or fabricate a plate
with an NPT thread in it, that fits the keg fitting. (One person I
know just used an old tap!). Now you can use the discarded top
(bottom) as a false bottom, (drill a zillion wholes and cut to fit
into bottom of the new tun) or acquire a false bottom. JB Distributing
sells one that is hinged in the middle, fits inside the barrel when
unfolded, and is made of 1/16" thick, 3/32" perforated SS sheet. Here
are some more ideas, culled from old digests:
From: Bob Jones
Subject: Mash Tun False Bottoms
Date: Mon, 18 Nov 1991 10:22 PDT
>In HD 762 Mike Sharp asks :
>How does one place a false bottom inside a 15gal keg?
I have used two different methods. One is with SS screen sandwiched
between two SS rings cut from a large diameter SS pipe. One of these
SS rings is placed inside the other, with the SS screen between. The
sandwich is held together with SS screws and nuts. I then made a
copper L shaped pipe with a compression fitting that connects to the
fitting that passes through the keg wall and on to the output valve. One
end of this pipe rests on the bottom of the keg after passing through
the SS screen. It is held in place in the screen with two washers
soldered on each side of the screen to the pipe. Whew! We need
some drawing tools here. This screen method works great, however it
is complex to make(unless you have a machinist friend who likes
beer). I have used another method that I think is easier to make and
works just as well. You make a ring out of copper tubing that has a T
in it. The output of the T connects to more tubing that connect to a
compression fitting that connects to the same fitting that passes
through the keg wall. This circular ring that rests on the bottom of the
keg has lots of saw kerfs in the bottom of it. I mean one every 1/4
inch. The compression fittings allow you to remove either fixture for
cleaning. Obviously the hole in the top of the keg is a little larger than
the fixture. Mine are about 10-12 inches in diameter. I have been
using the SS screen method for years for both kettle and mash tun. I
recently went to the tubing method when I gas fired my mash tun for
step mashing. I was afraid the mash liquid would not be properly
mixed if below a screen, hence the new tubing design. Both work very
good in a mash tun situation.
The goal that you should have in mind when designing your boiler is
how to build it so that you can drain the thing and leave all the hops
and break material behind. I used a "slotted T drain" which was
described in an article in the Zymurgy Gadgets special issue. I really
like this idea, and it sounded like a pretty effective method. Here's
what it looks like --
||== ============= ==||
|| O O O O O O ||<-- These are
||----------------- -----------------|| SS end caps
||== ==|| ||== ^ ==||
||| ||| |
||| ||| ------ These are 3" long 1/2"
| | NPT pipe nipples
| O<---- O's are 3/8" holes drilled clear
| | through the pipe.
| O |
| |<--- This is a 4" long SS 1/2" NPT
| | nipple
============================ <--- Keg wall
|===| <--- Ball valve goes here
This worked excellently, left all the trub and the hops behind. I did
have to tip the boiler up towards the end in order to drain everything
out. There are some other excellent methods that people have used. In
a recent Brewing Techniques (2(2), March/April 1994), Martin
P. Manning described building a boiler with a small (8") piece of
perforated stainless steel as a sort of false bottom, with a 3/8" hole
drilled in the center. Into this hole, a piece of stainless steel or
copper tubing was run, which connected to a nipple which ran through
the keg wall.
Dion Hollenbeck describes his unique boiler design:
I took a 1/2" SS coupling instead of a nipple and welded it into the
side of the keg with the inside surface as flush as possible and all
of the coupling sticking out the outside. In this manner, no matter
what the pickup design, it starts at the perimeter and if it is not
correct, I just unscrew it and start over.
I got a SS 1/2" NPT x Swagelok elbow fitting and a length of 1/2" SS
rigid tubing. The elbow is screwed into the coupling and looking from
the center of the keg it is oriented to 4 o'clock. Out of the
Swagelok end of the elbow is a 6" slightly curved piece of SS
tubing. On the end of the tubing is an EasyMasher (TM) style
screen. This means that the end of the tubing is right down at the
level where the rounded bottom meets the sides of the keg and the
screen tube snakes along the perimeter.
The first time I made it with the screen I had on hand which was too
fine, but it did work. At the end of draining the wort, I was left
with quite a bit or wort in the boiler because hops partially
clogging the screen caused the siphon to break. This was easily solved
by tipping the keg up so that the end of the SS tube became the
lowest point in the keg. I could have not done this with the center
pickup design because the center was already the lowest point. Then
the liquid had to go up and over and once the siphon was broken,
that's all she wrote. Now with the side pickup, when I tilt to make
the pickup the lowest point, the exit from the keg is *all* lower
than the pickup and no siphon is needed, it just flows downhill. I
can drain every bit of wort.
But I really want it to break the siphon and leave some wort and the
break behind, so making the new screen tube which will be heftier,
larger surface area by 4 times and also coarser (1/12" holes, vs 1/18"
holes before) should work like a charm.