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There are a number of excellent reasons that you would want a conical fermenter for home brewing. They are very convenient, easy to use, and look great, too.
Here are some critical items to consider when purchasing a home brew fermenter:
One of our customers (a talented engineer from Intel, of course) made his own fermenter chiller heater for about $200. Using low cost peltier chips, a heating blanket, temperature controller, insulation, 2 blocks of aluminum, and other sundry parts, he now has a fully automated temperature controlled fermenter for a great cost. On top of that, he was generous enough to document his project with step by step photos and put it all into a document for all to use. Thanks Rob! Download the Project Details
These instructions were written with a 7.3 gal. fermenter in mind. You can adapt these instructions to your larger fermenters as well.
- Siphon or pour about 2 to 3 gallons of your cooled wort into the fermenter (I brew a 6 gallon batch, so maybe 1/3 to 1/2 of the batch).
- Stir vigorously with a sanitized spoon for several minutes to aerate the wort. Oxygen is critical at the beginning stages of fermentation for healthy yeast growth.
- Add the rest of your wort. Stir vigorously for several more minutes to aerate more.
- I will let the wort settle for 15 to 30 minutes, then drain the trub out of the bottom outlet. If your transfer protocol keeps trub from getting into the fermenter, you can skip this step.
- NOTE: Always remember to remove your airlock before opening an outlet valve to prevent airlock water from being sucked into your fermenter! (However, I have made this mistake more than once and the results were not disastrous).
- Add yeast. Let the fermentation begin.
- When fermentation is near an end (or no later than 2 weeks), connect the hose barb to the bottom outlet and drain out yeast for re-use or discard it. If you want to re-use the yeast, discard the first bit that comes out – it is either mostly dead yeast or trub. Remove the hose barb and clean it when you are done. Use a spray bottle of sanitizer (no bleach!) and spray out the valve outlet until the sanitizer drains out clean.
- Drain the yeast out of the bottom outlet again in a day or three.
- If you want to age your beer for an extended time, you can leave it in the conical. You should be sure that most of the yeast and trub has been drained from the fermenter.
- When your beer is ready to be kegged or bottled, spray sanitizer into the side outlet valve. Sanitize your hose barb and attach it to the valve. Spray some more.
- Attach your sanitized hose, remove your airlock, and drain the beer out of your fermenter.
I have a questions about your conical fermenter. My brewing partner and I bought the conical fermenter and boiling pot. Awesome stuff! We recently, one week ago, made an APA. Today I went to drain the yeast and trub out of the bottom and nothing happened when I opened the valve. I had to sanitize a narrow wire brush to unclog the jam. Is this common? If not, what did we do wrong that this happened? We did use pellet hops and they do seem to leave alot more residue than leaf. Also, I drained until liquid was coming out, how do I know if I drained enough out to get the trub and yeast out for the secondary? Thanks in advance for your help. -Kevin
The things you can do are:
- Drain the trub 30 minutes or so after you dump your wort in (before you add yeast).
- Dump the yeast when fermentation slows down significantly.
- Dump a little yeast each day for several days in a row. Don't try to get it all out in one day. Once it gets very runny stop and close the valve. The more highly flocculent the yeast is the more it needs time to resettle so you can dump it again. E.g., it might leave a "hole" in the yeast pile that has to fill back in by gravity. If you have a highly flocculant yeast you will be a lot more likely have this jamming problem. I usually use Chico ale yeast with no problems as it has medium flocculation. I suggest a sanitized heavy wire or cut-up coat hanger instead of something like a brush from a santitation perspective. You can poke it up through the open valve. You can also fashion a handle so you don't get yeast all over your hand.
For bottling, you have a couple of options, depending on your preferences and practices. Even after dropping the yeast out of the bottom outlet, there is some clinging to the sides of the cone. So stirring in a sugar solution could stir more yeast into the beer than you like. Rack beer from side outlet into a bottling bucket, then add your sugar, then bottle. Add priming sugar or sugar solution to each bottle, and rack into bottles using the side outlet. Add priming sugar to the fermenter, and rack into bottles using the side outlet. You might get more yeast than you care for in the bottles this way.
Question: I mostly brew 5 or 6 gal. brews at a time, but on occasion I'll brew a 10 gallon batch. Can I use your 14.5 gallon conical for all my needs?
Answer: Absolutely. The CO2 created during fermentation provides a protective blanket. Many breweries put 1/2 batches in their fermenters with no problems. The only risk would be if you were to open it too much or for too long after fermentation has died down (and you lose your CO2 blanket).
Do I need a rotating racking arm on my fermenter?
I often get asked whether we offer a rotating racking arm on our fermenters. The answer is that we don't include them with our fermenters as standard items for a number of reasons.
As a brewery owner for almost 10 years, we had fermenters with racking arms of one sort or another. After working with them, we came to the following conclusions and threw them all away:
The fact is that if you dump the yeast and trub from the bottom valve the day before you rack your beer, and again right before you rack your beer, and then pull your beer from the side outlet, you will get very little yeast or trub in your keg or bottling bucket. This is my recommendation. However, if you really want a racking arm, we can make one for you as a special order. (Note: we now do offer 15 gal. fermenters with racking arms).
If you don't know what a jacketed fermenter is, it is a fermenter that has an extra "skin" on the outside of the tank that allows liquid to flow around the outside of the tank. By controlling the temperature of the liquid that flows around the outside of the tank, you control the temperature of your fermentation.
Commercial breweries do use jacketed fermenters for their primary fermentations. This is because fermentation is an "exothermic" process – that is, it generates heat. Because the tanks in a commercial brewery are quite large, the ratio of the surface area to the volume of the tank is low. As a result, there isn't a lot of surface area for heat to dissipate naturally. So, it is necessary to provide this extra level of temperature control to ensure that the product ferments at a consistent temperature, which is important for getting a consistent flavor profile.
For your home brewery, the ratio of the ratio of the surface area to the volume of the tank is much higher. There is a lot more surface area on the fermenter for every gallon of beer or wine. As a result, it is much less of a challenge to control the temperature of your fermentation – it is easier for the excess heat to leave the fermenter through the outside surfaces of the tank.
I have compared the temperature of my fermenting beer to the room temperature that the tank sits in, and it is almost always within 1 degree. Therefore, you can control the temperature of your beer by controlling the temperature of the room it is sitting in, or perhaps by putting it in a refrigerator with a good temperature controller on it.
The other thing to consider is that as a home brewer, you are not dependent on making a consistent product like a commercial brewery is. You will likely be happy if the beer is good, and if you are like me you seldom make the same recipe twice in a row, so the consistency from one batch to the next is not likely going to worry you a lot.
The cost of a jacketed tank would be too much for most people anyway, plus you have the cost of controlling the flow of the liquid that goes through the jacket (in a commercial brewery, they use a diluted food grade propylene glycol solution), which makes it all the more expensive.
The bottom line is that you don't need to have a jacketed fermenter for making quality home brew. There will be some people who are in it for the fun of building a commercial quality home brewery and they will no doubt enjoy the process of having a temperature controlled fermenter. For the rest of us that are more interested in just quality home brews, a regular conical does the trick just fine.
There is no "best" heat source. We make equipment that works with all kinds of heat sources according to our customers' needs. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages, which I will do my best to describe below.
Direct Gas Fired, Advantages
Direct Gas Fired, Disadvantages
Electric Heat, Advantages
Electric Heat, Disadvantages
Steam Heat, Advantages
Steam Heat, Disadvantages
Scorching We often get asked about scorching, especially when discussing electric systems. As long as you use low density or ultra-low density elements, scorching will not be a problem. On a gas fired system, you only need to ensure that the gas burners to not directly heat an outlet pipe or some other feature that has "trapped" wort in it. Steam isn't hot enough to cause scorching.Summary: Every customer and installation is unique. In general, I think the gas fired systems are more likely to be optimal for home brewers and small commercial operations. Electric is most likely to be optimal for small commercial systems (2 to 10 bbls), and steam heat is most likely to be optimal for larger systems. All that said, we sell equipment with all kinds of heat source capability for all sizes, because of individual circumstances and brewer preferences.
- Brew as you normally do.
- Be sure that the flames from the burner are not hitting the outlet, to prevent damaging the gasket and valve.
- After your brewing is complete, turn off the heat.
- You can whirlpool with the wort hot or cooled. I prefer to do it with the wort already cooled (I use an immersion coil to cool my wort). To whirlpool, stir the wort with a sanitized spoon in a circular motion, the same direction (clockwise or counter-clockwise), for 10 to 15 minutes. If you have a pump and a tangential inlet, hook the pump up so you pump the wort out of the bottom outlet and back into the tangential inlet for 20 minutes.
- If the wort is still hot (above 85F) be sure to avoid getting air mixed in with it. This is called “hot side aeration” and is bad for the beer. Stir/whirlpool carefully!
- If the wort is cool, getting air bubbles mixed in is a good thing – it is providing oxygen for your yeast.
- After stirring/pumping, let the wort settle for 10 to 20 minutes. The trub is forced to the bottom center of the kettle by the whirlpooling.
- Now you can continue as you usually do. If you are using gravity to fill your fermenter at this point, here are a couple of tips.
- Using a spray bottle of sanitizer (no bleach) spray inside the valve outlet. Then attach the sanitized hose barb and gasket. Sanitize your tubing and attach it to the hose barb and put the other end into your fermenter.
- Open the valve to drain the clear wort into your fermenter. Watch as the wort gets near the bottom to be sure your trub stays in the kettle. If you want to capture more wort, you can gently tip the kettle to get more wort out. I usually have a sanitized Pyrex pitcher on hand to catch the last bit of mixed trub and wort and will cover that with saran wrap and give it more time to separate, and then pour off the clear wort into my fermenter.
What are the trade-offs of plastic verses stainless steel conical fermenters? There are several key differences:
I’m sure there are many home brewers who are happy with their plastic conicals. But for my money, I would spend a little extra for a stainless steel vessel that will last for years and years.
Here are a few quick tips to take care of your stainless steel brewing vessels:
- Don't ever use chlorine bleach on or in your stainless items. Chlorine breaks down the protective chromium oxides on the surface and will cause rust.
- Don't ever use steel wool scouring pads (or stainless steel pads either, for that matter). The scratching will break the protective surface and cause rust. In addition, the steel wool will leave deposits that will rust.
- Do passivate your stainless steel from time to time. You should passivate all new stainless steel brewing equipment when you receive it, and every 4 to 6 months thereafter. There are several ways to passivate your stainless steel:
- Use cleansers with oxalic acid in them (Stout Tanks recommends using Bar Keepers Friend). You need to dry the kettle with a towel and let it remain dry in air for about a week. The dry exposure to oxygen will create a passivation layer on the stainless.
- Apply a 4 to 10% citric acid solution (by weight) at 70F to 120F for 20 minutes, rinse, dry. (Citric acid may be available at your local home brew shop). Lemon juice typically has a 5% to 6% citric acid concentration.
- Nitric acid solution. Our recommendation: don't try this at home (the other two methods work well and are much safer).
- After each use, disassemble the valves (it is very easy to do) and clean the parts. Beer and other liquids can get trapped inside the body and ruin your next batch of beer. This is why we made the valves so easy to disassemble – if it is hard – or even a minor pain to do - many people won't do it.
Our ball valves are designed to be easily disassembled and reassembled. As a professional brewery owner, it was my firm belief that something that should be cleaned should be easy to clean. Here is how you disassemble our valves for cleaning.
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A tangential inlet allows you to create a whirlpool in your brew kettle using a pump. You pump wort out of the regular outlet, and back in through the tangential inlet. You need to get a fairly high velocity in order to get a good result from the whirlpool. After running the pump in this configuration for 10 to 15 minutes, you can shut off your pump and let the whirlpool settle for another 20 minutes or so. This allows time for the trub to settle to the bottom and the whirlpool to slowly come to a halt. Now you are ready to cast out and leave the trub behind at the center of your kettle. On our smaller kettles you may wish to extract a little more wort by tipping the kettle forward carefully (so as not to disturb the trub). On small kettles, you can create a whirlpool by hand using your stirring spoon and a little "sweat equity."
A lot of home brewers have built pretty slick brewing systems using beer kegs. There is one main issue that you should be concerned about – chances are pretty high that the keg you intend to use for your system is stolen property. For example, if you have a party and put down a deposit on the keg, that doesn't pay for the keg. It's just a deposit so you'll bring it back. The fact is that new kegs typically cost breweries $100 or more, and the deposits don't nearly cover the cost. In fact, many breweries are stuck with deposits of $12 a keg because that's what it always has been and there isn't an easy way for them to increase it. So, if you decide to keep the keg after your party and convert it to a brew kettle, you have not only taken that keg without paying for it, but you also just cost that brewery $100. They have to sell a lot of kegs of beer to make back that $100 – and they shouldn't have to do that at all. If you go to a scrap yard and buy a keg there, chances are also high that the keg was stolen by someone and turned in for a few dollars of scrap value. Again, the brewery just lost close to $100, maybe more. The only legitimate way to buy a keg is directly from a keg supplier or from the brewery itself. Kegs can fail beyond repair, although it isn't that common, and you might find your local brewery is happy to sell you their cast offs. Support your brewery – don't steal their kegs!
The advantage of our thermowells are that they allow your thermometer to read the temperature, but do not expose yor beer to unsanitary threads that would otherwise be needed to hold your thermometer in place.
Another advantage is that there is no risk of leakage, as there would be if we used lower cost (e.g. o-rings, nuts, and washers) methods to attach our thermometer.
This sanitary thermowell design is another example of our commitment to bring commercial-quality equipment to our customers.
There are normally at least 4 ports on the top of the brite beer tanks (some designs vary):
The top fitting for the CO2 inlet/outlet is for three reasons: