I started building a new single vessel system for brewing small batches and in the process I had an idea I thought I’d share since I couldn’t find anything online like it.
New system? Yep, from the completion of my first single vessel system I had ideas that I wanted to add but after some thought I figured it would be easier to start fresh. My first system, based on the modified Bayou Classic steamer, served me well and made many great beers. The ideas and features I wanted to incorporate in the new system will also allow me to take on the challenge to make a DIY brewing system that has a professional look and features and as inexpensively as possible. Why you might ask after I just posted about “brewing simply”? Well the ideas and features I want still keep small scale brewing simple. Plus my father and brother taught me if you are going to take the time to do something yourself why not do it right, the way you want. Do you need “fancy” add-ons to make good beer at home? Absolutely not, in fact a simple stock pot and plastic bucket fermenters can make great beers but some upgrades can make the brewing process easier and make consistent/repeatable results possible. Most importantly I hope the finished product will show others that you can achieve anything you can think of, from mild to wild, with careful thought, planning and patience. All this and at the same time showing that you don’t need a big work shop and huge collection of tools to do it since 90% of the system build takes place in my kitchen with hand tools so apartment dwellers and home owners alike can achieve this. Small scale home brewers do not have to settle for less, you can have the features 5 gallon and larger systems have. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, anything is possible.
Before starting the new system build I was able to sell my first system which helped fund the new build as well as sharing small batch electric brewing with someone just starting out.
While the completed system is still a little ways from being finished and me revealing it but I will be posting complete details soon. Now to the reason for the post. Many home brewers add sight gauges to their vessels to make determining liquid levels easier and I was no different. Marks on a brewing spoon or a wooden stick are a simple trick but I wanted something that was always in place. For me a sight gauge is an easy way to see liquid levels at glance to see strike water volume as well as pre and post boil levels. Most folks use 1/2″ polycarbonate tubing for their sight gauge and some sort of compression fitting at the bottom for connection to the vessel, my DIY version is the same design. Many of these types of sight gauges are available in a kit form and install easily but the problem I found was marking the tube with volume graduations. With smaller vessels that we use in small batch brewing the sight gauge is usually shorter thus making volume graduations harder to see. I wanted to have 1/4 gallon graduations yet my sight gauge is only 8″ long for a 20 quart stock pot. Most folks put lines on the tube with either a permanent marker or tape but with only 8″ of space and all those lines it didn’t seem like the best option for me. Well the sight gauge just sat plain for awhile until one day when I was at local home improvement store for something unrelated. I was walking down the isle where they have the pieces of steel and aluminum stock and saw some aluminum channel. I had that ah hah moment and stopped to look at it. They have several sizes that are made to put on the edge of plywood for a finished durable edge and one is made for 1/2″ plywood. Wasn’t expensive and it might just work so I got a piece.
After getting home I slipped a piece of the polycarbonate tubing in it and it fit! I cut a piece to length for my vessel sight gauge. To make it fit over the tubing snugly I gave the top and bottom a slight squeeze with pliers and it snapped into place yet it was easy to remove if needed. I thought it gave the sight gauge a more finished look and would provide a place to affix the graduated markings. With the new shield in place I put a piece of tape on the side and began filling the pot with one quart of water at a time. Once the water was visible in the tube I began marking the tape with small line every quart for the 1/4 gallon markings, a longer line for the 1/2 gallon mark, another small line for 3/4 gallon and then a full line for the gallon mark. After filling the pot one quart at a time and finishing the marks on the tape I transferred the tape marks to a piece of paper that was 1/2″ wide and 8″ long. To make it nicer looking I printed out a bunch of hyphens – for the quarter and three quarter gallon marks, double underscores __ for half gallon marks and the gallon number with a hyphen, the number and a hyphen -2-. I cut them out and using tweezers and a glue stick I glued them to the paper strip.
I then put the paper strip in the channel and snapped the new graduated shield on the sight gauge tube. I think it turned out great and allows quick liquid level checks at a glance. Later I found some full clear label sheets from Avery and copied the strip onto the clear label stock, cut it out and stuck in the back of the channel. Not necessary but probably more durable.