Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Kegging, Cleaning, and Keg Cleaning

I clean the kettle and heat exchanger after every brew, of course, but once a month I like to give it a good going-over. The kettle collects a layer of beerstone after a few brews, and the only way to get it clean is to climb in and scrub it with an acid solution.


...and after.

After I climbed out of the kettle — no mean feat for someone my size — I mixed up some caustic and hooked up a loop involving the kettle, a pump, the heat exchanger, and some hose. I let the caustic circulate for an hour.

While that was running, I attacked the pile of dirty kegs in the cellar. Cleaning kegs properly is very essential and very tedious work, but it's really not too difficult. The keg-washing machine has two small tanks, one for caustic and one for sanitizer (an iodophor solution), and a pump to circulate each.

Beverage Machinery Service Puppy-B keg washer/filler

The procedure is quite simple, once the machine is set up: hook up the keg, lift it upside down onto the platform*, and push the green button. About 150 seconds later, the keg is clean and sanitized, and the machine is ready for the next one.

*This can be quite a trick if the half-barrel happens to be full. An empty half-barrel weighs about 30 pounds. A full half-barrel weighs about 160 pounds.

Dirty keg ready to be cleaned

Dirty keg in the process of being cleaned

This machine is also supposed to be able to fill kegs, but I haven't figured out how to make that work yet. Besides, it can't fill kegs while it's cleaning kegs anyway. So I filled this week's beer order for the pub while the kegs were washing.
One half-barrel each of Fire in the Hole! Rauchbier, Cow Palace Scotch Ale, All-American Gold, Princess of Darkness Porter, and Impromptu Pale Ale, and two of Tin Lizzie Hefeweizen, one of which is for our wholesaler in Grand Island. I also kegged all of the Toil & Trubbel Dubbel, seven half-barrels, and set them aside. And I kegged what root beer was left in one of those tanks, most of which will also go to Grand Island on Monday, and I ran the last of the root beer from upstairs into that tank.

All told, I cleaned 23 half-barrels and 18 five-gallon kegs. Somewhere during all that, the hour expired for the brewhouse cleaning loop. I went upstairs and rinsed all the caustic out of the loop, then mixed up some acid and started it circulating again. The plan was to let that run for an hour as well, but with all the keg filling and washing I lost track of the time, and the acid actually ran until I was finished with the kegs, some 2¼ hours later.

I rinsed out the acid and mixed up some iodophor, and let that circulate while I took my boots off. The heat exchanger and transfer hoses remain full of the sanitizer until it's time to use them again; the rest of the sanitizer gets drained from the kettle, having served its purpose admirably.

A few weeks ago, we attended a tasting of Belgian beers at Max & Joe's, a new fine beer bar sandwiched between the magnificent establishments Crescent Moon and Beertopia. John Keenan of the Omaha World-Herald was in attendance, and he's been working on an article about Belgian beers for his paper. I found a message from John on my answering machine asking for a few final details for his article, which I provided as best I could, and I look forward to reading it on Sunday.

Tomorrow, I think I'll brew a batch of Bugeater Brown Ale, using yeast harvested from the new batch of All-American Gold. Local homebrewer Tom Froehner said he'd like to see the process on a commercial scale, so he's going to come give me a hand.

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