It’s been a long time since I’ve brewed beer!

Over the summer, Neil acquired a 60 gallon wine barrel which we’re going to fill with beer. The barrel smells delicious and very winelike right now, so we expect that the first beer we brew in it will pick up lots of wine flavors. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but not all styles of beer can support wine overtones.

So our first barrel-aged beer is going to be Vertical Epic 7, for which Stone provides a homebrew recipe. We’ve had Stone’s version of this beer aged in wine barrels before, and it was awesome, so we’re going to try to make it ourselves.

In order to brew 60 gallons of beer, you need some new equipment. We found The Electric Brewery, a site with all the plans for an awesome 10-gallon automated brewing setup which you could build in your home. (It costs about $6k.) We’re obviously not putting the whole thing together, but we’re slowly moving in the direction of better automation, and we’re taking a lot of their recommendations for parts.

We bought a 20 gallon Blichmann BoilerMaker for use as a mash tun. We’re going to set it up similar to how the Electric Brewery folks did it: during the mash, to maintain temperature, continuously pump sweet wort out of the tun, through a heat exchanger in another vessel, and then back into the mash tun at the top. The heat exchanger will be our existing wort chiller combined with a pot on the stove.

The pump is something I’ve wanted for a long time. We’re going to use it for mashing (to maintain temperature) and sparging (to top off the mash tun with water as we drain the wort). But it will also be generally useful anytime we would have picked up a heavy container of liquid – instead of picking up that container, just pump the liquid out. It will pump around six gallons per minute, and it supports boiling liquid, and you can restrict the pump rate with a ball valve. The only catch is that you have to place the pump below the level of the source vessel in order to prime it. That’s not usually going to be a problem, I don’t think.

We also (finally) bought heat-resistant silicone tubing instead of the flimsy vinyl stuff, and we also set ourselves up with lots of quick disconnects for our tubing so that we won’t have to pop hoses on and off of barbs all the time.

Overall, I think it’s an exciting upgrade, though I haven’t gotten to test any of the equipment yet. I’ll post pictures when we have it all set up.