The Brew Cart!

Well I couldn’t wait so it’s time to reveal one of several of my projects nearing completion. I have been working on these projects for many months and this one is close enough to being completed to share it with you.

This started as necessity as I’ll soon be moving and not really knowing where I’ll be living or how big of place it’ll be. I wanted to have the majority of my brew day stuff in one small moveable unit but didn’t want to have to feel like I was sacrificing anything just because I was going small. It needed to be small enough to fit in any environment and look good, it needed to be sturdy, it needed to be functional and hold the necessities for my typical brew day, it needed to be moveable so I could roll it to where I was going to brew, it needed to be adaptable to different needs down the road, it needed to be easy to assemble with minimal tools and it needed to be reasonably priced. I think this demonstrates that home brewing at any level is possible anywhere you are if you get creative and take your time to plan.

I looked at different options and a cart of some type seemed to be the best choice and really fulfilled all I needed in a compact brewing unit. After some searching online I found that wire shelving carts were readily available in different sizes, expandable, easy to assemble and relatively inexpensive. That being said my BrewKart was born.

I started with individual wire shelving pieces from shelving.com although there are many pre-configured wire utility carts available from many sources including Amazon, Costco and Sam’s Club. The whole basic cart was less than $140 since an online sale was going on when I ordered. Many of the pre-configured carts are similarly priced so isn’t terribly expensive. My cart is approximately 31” wide x 18” deep x 38” tall overall taking up less than 4 square feet of floor space. Its height places my kettle at a comfortable position for brewing and almost matches kitchen countertop height so that is convenient on brew day when I roll it into the kitchen in front of the sink for easy access to water and it’s right in front of the window for ventilation.

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Out of the box it features locking swivel casters, a handle, a pullout second shelf and a basket style third shelf. All the shelves are standard size 18″ x 24″ wire shelves. The shelves will easily support 150+ pounds each so no worries if I wanted to do a 10 gallon batch. Assembly was easy and only required a rubber mallet to seat the shelves onto their clips. Here is where some planning is needed, take the time to figure out where you want each shelf. They are easily adjustable in one inch increments but it’s just easier if you get them where you want them the first time.

The first things I added were a black plastic shelf liner for the bottom shelf (ordered with cart) and a thick piece of HDPE cutting board material, it was found destine for the dumpster at work, to sit my electric brewing controller on the pullout shelf. I then needed something heat resistant for the top where my kettle would sit and chose a 1/4″ thick piece of black Richlite which I cut the corners out, using the shelf liner as a template, so it fit nicely on the top wire shelf. The top was totally optional, kettle can just sit on the wire shelf, but I like how it turned out.

The next obstacle was some place for taller items like my stainless mesh hop basket/strainer. I was walking through a home improvement store and noticed these pullout wire baskets that are used in kitchen cabinets and thought that would be nice since I wouldn’t have to move things to get at something in the back and stuff would be contained in the basket so nothing falls off the shelf while rolling the cart. Did a little online shopping and found a used one for $20 on eBay. I attached it to the bottom shelf, bolting it through the shelf liner and using fender washers under the shelf to span across the wires and provide support for the nuts.

Now I started thinking “what else do I want?”. How about a place to hang stuff like hoses, a spoon, power cords for the controller? Hooks! Found chrome plated hooks for wire shelves at Target for a few dollars but also available online and they just clip over the edge of the shelf. While rolling the cart through the house one day I noticed the pullout shelf wanted to roll out on its own…easy fix, I drilled a hole in the track for the shelf and used a push-to-release pin to secure the shelf in the closed position.

Now came the hardest, but still actually not that difficult, addition. I like to use a small plate chiller to cool the wort, a pump to recirculate during the mash and adding oxygen to the wort before pitching the yeast is very beneficial but how to incorporate all that in a compact fashion on the cart? While working on a commercial A/C unit at work I noticed all the major electrical components were mounted to a sub panel inside the unit, why not do something similar on my brew cart? I picked up a piece of sheet stainless steel from a local metal shop and had them bend a 90 in it creating something of a shelf. I measured the cart shelf spacing and drilled holes to match in the sheet of stainless. Using bolts, fender washers and nuts I was able to secure it to the side of the cart and it doesn’t extend past the cart handle so the cart is still the same size overall. I was already in the process of building an inline wort oxygenation assembly out of surplus triclamp pieces from eBay so I took two of the clamps that hold the pieces together and had threaded studs welded to them and attached the whole assembly to the side panel. My plate chiller had mounting studs on its back some I attached it below the oxygenation assembly. Finally was the pump and that fit perfectly on the shelf that I had bent in the side panel. So when it was all assembled it was all neatly contained on the side of the cart. To hold the disposable oxygen cylinder I reused a water bottle cage from a bicycle and screwed it to the cart pole.

For storing additional brew day items, like StarSan and PBW I added a wire basket below the side panel. I also had some small plastic storage totes and four storage bins that I added to the basket-style shelf to hold brew day items such as hydrometer, pH meter, thermometer, refractometer, carboy stoppers and airlocks, spare triclamp gaskets and clamps etc. There is still room on the bottom shelf, next to the pullout basket, for storing another small kettle, sanitizing bucket or possibly a grain mill.

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I had a surplus 3-way ball valve laying around that I never knew how I was going to use but being a nice piece of stainless plumbing I could never bring myself to get rid of it. One day while watching a home brewing video on YouTube I saw a brewer using a 3-way ball valve to redirect flow from his pump without changing hoses. Would I need it? Maybe. Would it hurt to add it to the system? Nope. I had a piece of stainless plate laying around so I mounted the valve to the cart in same fashion as the side panel using thumb nuts so it is removable/movable without tools.

While not an intentional idea of adding all kinds of stuff to the cart I did want it to be functional. Holding brew day items is being “functional” and a kettle lid is an item used every brew day. But what to do with it when the mash is done since you don’t cover the boiling wort? Hang it on the cart!

One final addition (for now LOL) was a mount for my Android tablet which has Beersmith brewing software on it as well as some music to enjoy while brewing. I used a RAM motorcycle tablet mount and clamped it to one of the cart poles.

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Now that I have a place for brew day essentials that doesn’t take up a ton of space in the house I started thinking “that’s great but it’s still an industrial cart sitting in the living room”. Well I’m no interior decorator and struggle at sewing but I figured I could do something to camouflage it a little. Being a guy going to a fabric store wasn’t to appealing so where else do you get fabric? Drapes! A quick trip to a discount store and I was on my way home with a couple modern looking blackout drapery panels for under $20. After almost an hour of what I’m sure was comical draping of the panels over the cart and pinning them here and folding them there I broke out the sewing machine and scissors. Now anyone who sews I am humbled by your abilities but after, what seemed like way too long I sewed up a cart cover. Now it looks a little less like the elephant in the room and could pass as a table? Maybe? Sorta? Anyways I think it turned out pretty good.

One more addition was a separate folding table that could be used if I decided to do a slightly different two vessel (Brutus 20) brew day for a larger batch, just wanting to do something different or just needed extra flat place to put something. A long time ago while wandering through a thrift store I found what used to be some sort of sit and twist kind of exercise equipment that I’m sure was sold on TV and thought I could use it for something. Well that day finally came and after adding a butcher block top to it, that had a previous life as a cutting board, the space saving folding brewing table was born. It sits at the correct height for a holding a kettle, below one that is on the top of the cart, and it is really sturdy.

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Here are a couple additional pictures of the whole cart so you can kind of see the idea of consolidating what some would consider brewing features reserved for the advanced home brewers with tons of space to brew in…all in the same amount of space as a coffee table. While I do have a second slightly larger wire shelving unit, which is begging for a matching cart cover, for things like grains, 3 gallon carboys and small corny kegs the bulk of what I use every time I brew is now in one place that I can easily move around and hide in plain sight. Are all the features necessary? Not at all, configure your equipment and even your storage solution to your style of brewing. Whether it’s mild or wild, high tech or low tech you do not have to be held back by brewing small batches or brewing in small spaces. Remember this is a very strong cart, there are carts rated to hold 800 lbs per shelf, and you could easily brew 10 gallon batches by doing electric BIAB and still take up very little real estate in even a small studio apartment.

Takes for checking out my blog. Subscribe to get notifications of my latest posts and enjoy brewing because you are making beer…how awesome is that?! Remember don’t be held back by being in a small space, having a small budget or popular brewing misconceptions. Stay tuned for next post on the new control panel made for this cart! Cheers.

Update! I wanted a little more brewing space but didn’t want a larger foot print. Solution? Add a folding side shelf! I actually had one from a previous larger cart so I added brackets with hooks to the existing folding shelf brackets so the whole unit just hooks on the end of two of the wire cart shelves. Folds up when needed and folds down out of the way when you don’t need it. If I really want it out of the way I can hang it off the back of the cart. The shelf will easily support 40-50 lbs counterbalanced by the weight of the cart itself.

How to brew and build a brew system on a budget…yes you can.

Am I a cheapskate? Maybe, well not really but I am on a budget and never really enjoy spending more than I need to. Let’s face it brewing and building that dream brew system can set you back some cash. Can you save money by home brewing? Yes, no, sometimes and depends but that isn’t why most of us brew and I’ll leave that argument for someone else to write about. This is just about ways to save money on brewing and building, upgrading or expanding your own brew system.

First let’s talk about brewing. There are a few things you can do to save money on your next batch. Are you a member of a home brewing club? If you are not I would encourage it as it is a great resource for all things home brewing and if you are a member check with the local home brew supply shop to see if they offer any discounts for club members. It is fairly common and it is a great partnership with the shop supporting those in the local brewing community and home brewers supporting local small business. Look for online home brewing suppliers that offer a customer rewards program. That way each purchase builds future discounts, I have used this frequently as the town I’m in does not have a local home brew shop and I’m ordering online anyways. Actually saved 50% on a keg that was on sale by redeeming my accumulated rewards and applying them towards the purchase. If you are ordering ingredients or recipe kits be sure to look at online home brew retailers that offer free or flat-rate shipping as this alone can save you a ton of money. Take advantage of every special offer you can, subscribe to online suppliers’ email newsletters so you will be notified of sales.

Another money saving idea…Try all-grain brewing, if you’ve been thinking about it here is another reason to take the plunge because it is generally cheaper than extract, gives you more control over your beers and is easy. All-grain brewing doesn’t have to require additional equipment if you go with the Brew In A Bag method, basically all you need is a kettle which you probably already have and a fine mesh bag for mashing in that you can make yourself (or nicely ask/bribe a friend or relative who sews) for about $8 with some Swiss Voile sheer fabric or Voile windows sheers which you can get from the big box stores for a few bucks. If you already are an all-grain grain brewer look for group buys on base malts like 2-row or check with the local craft brewery if they can add an additional sack of 2-row on their next order and you can pick it up. Chances are they are getting a bulk price and you frequent their tap room so it’s two brewers supporting each other…you are frequenting their tap room aren’t you? Of course you are.

Trying a completely new recipe? Why not brew a smaller batch the first time through? If it is great beer then you can brew it again in no time and if it’s not so hot then you don’t have 5 or more gallons of it to consume or possibly waste. Also if you find yourself frequently struggling to consume 5 gallons then consider the switch to brewing smaller batches. Many home brewers want to go bigger but many find going smaller is better suited to their lifestyle. Less cost to brew and you can brew more often if you like.

Thinking about starting home brewing but worried about initial equipment investment? Check local or nearby Craigslist ads for brewing stuff, often there is someone leaving the hobby (sad but it happens) or someone just making room for new stuff. Craigslist is also a good source for empty beer bottles in most towns. Just make sure you clean everything really well and it doesn’t hurt to consult a friend who brews to make sure you’re getting things you actually need and it’s a good deal. Also with Craigslist, don’t wait for someone to post a classified for what you are looking for, post a “wanted” classified ad.

Now on to building, upgrading or expanding that brew system or your home brewery…

Number one piece of advise I can give, that I believe in because it has paid off for me over and over, be patient! Normally I blog about my brewing equipment projects or ideas but right now I have a couple on hold because I am patiently looking for the best deal on components. If you can handle a little patience you will find a better price on almost anything you are looking for. Some of the brewing vessels or controllers I have built I have honestly paid less than half of retail price on many of the components because I was patient. I know sometimes it’s hard to wait but if you already have the basics to brew a batch then being patient is a little easier and think of the money you can save. Not impossible to save enough on that new brew kettle or kegging setup by shopping around to literally pay for the ingredients of your next two or three beers.

Along with patience comes research, do some online searching for what you are looking for. Again check Craigslist, look on eBay and with eBay you can save a specific search and it will notify you when matching items are listed. Check Amazon as many times they will have many options for the same item. I found a kettle that was offered as “used” directly from Amazon that was simply an open box return and never used but I saved 40% because I waited and watched the price drop over a couple weeks. Some online home brewing forums have a classified sections so check those. If you belong to a home brewing club ask around for what you are looking for, someone may actually have it or knows someone who does. Consider group purchases with the club members, on things like silicone tubing, if there are enough people looking to get tubing the bulk rolls are a great way to same money for everyone. Talk with members of the club about having a club swap meet. A club I belonged to had these and it was a great opportunity to clean out the closets and even find something you have wanted to get for your brewery.

Prioritize your wish list and start looking for the items at the top of the list but if you happen to come across a great deal on something lower on the list don’t pass it up because many great deals and opportunities don’t come around twice. Prioritizing keeps you focused but checking off an item lower on the list is great because you found it now and saved money. My lists are always changing. One thing I have found with lists and home brewing it allows me to keep track of things I want or need. Lists also help the brewer keep track of ideas that occur during those Ah Ha moments during a brew session or while out shopping for something completely unrelated. On more than one occasion I was looking for something else for everyday life and saw something that generated one of those Ah Ha moments, “hey I can use this or that to make brewing easier or this thing will work better than that product I have wanted for brewing and it’s cheaper”. Write down those ideas, take a picture of that “thing” and go home and patiently research the best price.

Consider going DIY on many aspects of the system or brewery build. With the abundance of information on the internet most brewing DIY projects are easy and money saving. There are many step by step online videos demonstrating different projects. Build your own mash tun, sew your own bag for BIAB brewing, put an electric element in your boil kettle, make your own weldless fittings, make your own brew stand or fermentation chamber. The list goes on and on. What goes naturally with DIY projects is repurposing items for brewing. Wanting to build a new brew stand but cost of materials scaring you away? Repurpose materials, I have seen many brew stands constructed from repurposed metal bed frames, wood from wooden bunk beds and out of kitchen carts. A good source for items that can be reused in brewing is thrift stores and yard sales.  Not uncommon to find a used bed frame for $5 or even free, try getting 10 plus feet of new angle iron for that price. Another example, at work they were throwing away an old heavy-duty 12 gauge three conductor extension cord, I snagged it. Chewed up and abused in places yet after stripping the outer jacket off it still yielded many feet of great heavy gauge wire for wiring my control panel.

Another source for brewing related stuff is restaurant supply stores, many of them buy out restaurants that are closing and you can often find great deals on kettles, stainless tables, carts, mixing spoons etc.

Same as when shopping for brewing ingredients, look at online retailers offering customer rewards programs, free or flat-rate shipping and look for sale and clearance items.

Let’s face it most of us cannot drop a ton of money on anything, especially a hobby, without it affecting our personal budgets so shop smart. Ultimately the more you save the more you can brew.

Brewing indoors and brew day ventilation.

We’ve all been there, started our boil and everything is going smoothly and then drip…drip…drip. Yep the dreaded condensation from boiling liquid indoors. It’s on the walls, ceilings, kitchen cabinets…everywhere. It’s worse in the cold weather as the outside walls are cooler than the inside air. Since switching to electric brewing and moving brew day indoors it was the only downside to brew day. For some time I simply conceded that wiping down the kitchen cabinets, ceiling and walls was part of brew day clean up and tried to make myself feel better by telling myself “look how clean the kitchen is now!” Didn’t work, still hated that side of brew day.

Well we know that when we are doing our boil we are boiling off anywhere from 3/4 of a gallon to 2 gallons of liquid depending on your batch size and equipment. We also know that evaporated liquid has to go somewhere and cool surfaces is where it ends up. How do we deal with it? Well one could raise the temperature of the room 2-3 degrees above the temperature of the boiling wort to prevent condensation but wait, room temp of 212+ degrees then we die. Scratch that. The solution…ventilate ventilate ventilate!

Being a renter and the last two places I have lived did not have range hoods and one didn’t even have a window that opened so ventilation was a challenge. How much ventilation are we talking? Simply put a lot. Everyone’s ventilation requirements are going to vary so there is no steadfast rule other than err on the side more is better. Most range hoods are inadequate when you are talking the amount of liquid we are boiling off. Some range hoods don’t even vent to the outside of the building instead they suck up the smelly food fumes and blow them out the front of the hood…not sure of the purpose of these at all. Opening a window or door usually isn’t enough either and for it to work you have to have another window or door open to create a draft. Well here in North Dakota where we routinely have winter temps in the -10 to -45 degree range having a bunch of open windows and doors doesn’t make for a comfortable brew day either. I have tried using one of those window fans that has two small fans and it didn’t really do much. Next I tried a bigger box fan in the window with a little better results but still was wiping down the kitchen. I looked at the amount of air these fans are rated to move and compared them to typical range hoods which I knew didn’t work well either and they ranged in the 100-500 CFM capacity. I started looking at other types of fans with higher CFM ratings and they either where huge or very expensive. Plus there was the question of how to mount them and since I rent I want something that is going to be usable in different settings. Well after countless hours searching the web and eBay I found it.

Dayton axial fans. These industrial fans are readily available online and with deep discounts on eBay. They are available in 120V as well as 220V. The model to look for will be the 10″ version and typically are rated at 665 CFM.$_1-2

I found two of them with the grilles for $45 each shipped. To mount them you can simply get a piece of plywood from a home improvement store that is cut to fit your window that you will be brewing close too. Most Lowes and Home Depots will cut boards to size for you and often have smaller pieces. You will need to cut the circle for the fan to mount over yourself or trade a couple home brews with someone who has a jig saw. If you are lucky enough to have a dedicated brew room then a more permanent mounting can be created. For me, I had a hunk of used 1/2″ thick cutting board that was close enough to the size of my kitchen window so all needed to do was mark and cut the circular holes and screw the fans to the board. To wire the pair of fans you can simply use a power cord salvaged from something and wire them in series or get a switch. You can use a outdoor outlet box to house the switch and wiring and then screw it to the board. I had a small plastic project box left over from another project and I picked up a three step ceiling fan pull switch from Lowes for $5. It allows me to turn on each fan individually or both together.

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How does it work? Great, no more wiping down the kitchen. I run both fans at same time for 1330 CFM! Yet even with both fans running it is relatively quiet. I have it in the window above my sink which is close to where I brew. I open the window place the fan in the opening and close the window onto the board to hold it in place. There is a little condensation that forms on the fan grilles while they run, when outside temp are cold, but a quick swipe of a rag every once and awhile through the boil takes care of that. After the boil is done I give the fans a quick wipe down with a rag and done! In the winter the short hour during the boil while the fans are running hasn’t made much of a difference in room temp but has made a big difference in humidity. For around $100 it has been a great investment and a huge savings over anything else that moves that kind of air.

Remember this is for electric brewing. If you want to brew on a propane burner please brew outside for safety sake or consult with a professional regarding required ventilation based on the BTU rating of your gas burner as well as local fire codes. Brewing should be fun, never deadly.

Cheers