My Journey

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My Journey

Postby raketemensch » Sun Sep 06, 2015 4:37 pm

I need to document things as I discover them, and I needed a place to write them down so that I can get my thoughts out about them, and realized that the forum was probably a good place to do that. Please feel to ignore this thread and my ramblings :] Hopefully this isn't the wrong place for it, none of them seemed to fit better, but I guess this area gets filtered out every 90 days.

I'm pursuing flavor over ABV, and I started with a simple 4-gallon Walmart stainless steel pot, with 3/4 copper up, and a Slant/Fin baseboard radiator and box fan as my condenser. It works incredibly well for the 4-gallon pot, but I'm slowly amassing everything I need to build my keg boiler, and it will be interesting to see how the 5-foot length works with the full-size column. I would really only need about 3 feet right now. Here's the setup as it (literally) stands:

thumb_IMG_5811_1024.jpg


So far I've got the keg, a Camco 02962/02963 heating element and a few stainless steel nuts to solder on to mount the element. I had ordered an electric conversion plate from Hillbilly Stills, but the bends in the Camco (which give it the necessary surface area for low watt density) won't fit into it, so I'm back to the stainless nuts. I also have an idea for a solderless connection kit that I'm going to test the feasibility of this week.

The plan is to build a 36" packed column with air-cooled output. I've sourced everything but the copper (tri clamps, packing, ptfe gasket material, the heating element, the mount for it and one of those cheap triacs from China), and someone on another forum has offered to send me a 41" plain column that he doesn't use anymore, but I haven't heard from him for a while, so I'm back to trying to source it again. My wife's not exactly ecstatic about how much I've spent so far because we have an empty apartment and reduced income right now, so I have to try to do it on the cheap.

So far I've done a few runs of AllBran, and have a big jar of the feints that I'm going to run tomorrow with a little over a quart of the original wash (refrigerated) that I'm going to use to reduce the ABV. I also have 5 gallons of UJSSM going in the basement, still bubbling slowly on day 6.

Things I'm researching right now:

1) Is 36" too tall for a packed pot still?
2) Is it possible to get through 3 or 4 generations of UJSSM in a 5-gallon bucket and somehow transfer it to a 25-gallon wash in a 30-gallon fermenter, or will I need to start over?
3) What is the current ideal still for flavored whiskey? I was convinced it was a pot, then a flute, and now I'm wondering if running feints with wash in a reflux would be best. If "best" can even exist...
Last edited by raketemensch on Sun Sep 06, 2015 4:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: My Journey

Postby jedneck » Sun Sep 06, 2015 4:48 pm

I'll help you out a little on your questions.
1. Packing on a pot still will do very little other than make your wallet lighter. It may help a little till it gets heated but after that I doubt you will see a measurable differance.
2. Yup that will work. Mix up your ferment scaled up to size and dump your yeast sludge into it
3. Either will work. I ran both. I now run a pot cause it suits me better.
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Re: My Journey

Postby kiwi Bruce » Sun Sep 06, 2015 4:52 pm

:D For your title "My journey" I recommend a theme song The Eagles-"Journey of the Sorcerer" :D
And raketemensch, I don't know where you live but just a note of caution, take the jpeg of your set-up down, and photo-shop the license plate out of the image and put it make up. You can never be too careful. Kiwi Bruce
Last edited by kiwi Bruce on Sun Sep 06, 2015 4:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: My Journey

Postby raketemensch » Sun Sep 06, 2015 4:54 pm

kiwi Bruce wrote::D For your title "My journey" I recommend a theme song The Eagles-"Journey of the Sorcerer" :D
And raketemensch, I don't know where you live but just a note of caution, take the jpeg of your set-up down, and photo-shop the license plate out of the image and put it make up. Kiwi Bruce


Thanks, but it's someone else's plate from another state far, far away. I also removed the EXIF info from the image to be on the safe side.

[EDIT] Then again, there's no reason to screw the original owner of it :] So I edited it out, thanks for the suggestion.
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Re: My Journey

Postby kiwi Bruce » Sun Sep 06, 2015 5:00 pm

GOOD MAN!! Someone far far away may NOT get a bad bad visit, and have no idea why. LOL you just made my evening! I'm going outside to have a large one. Good luck dude! Oh and by the way, your post and "ramblings are very good! Kiwi Bruce
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Re: My Journey

Postby raketemensch » Mon Sep 07, 2015 9:56 am

So, I've been thinking some more about the air-cooled condenser lately, just throwing ideas in the pot and stirring.

The first couple of experiments that I've seen involved building a cage to attach CPU fans directly to the fins. The other design that caught my eye was the one with the fins mounted directly to a box fan. I still love that idea, but the numbers people were seeing seemed kinda low to me -- I'm using one of those laser temperature guns, and I'm seeing temps drop pretty drastically, as high as 20 degrees F over a span of ~6 inches, especially right over the fan. Then again, I'm only running a 3/4 column right now.

I was looking at my rig today (for hours, doing a spirit run) and realized that my fan is 8-10 inches away from the fins. So there's a big channel of cooler air to blow over the fins, especially compared to the CPU fans that are attached to them -- they're more likely trying to move a small volume of already warm/hot air, versus this big box fan, which has cooler air between it and the fins to push.

At any rate, I've got no desire whatsoever to build a liebig or any other water-cooled condenser. This thing is just so dead-simple, with no water to cool, hoses to kink, pumps to buy, etc. I can't wait to see how it works coming off the 2" column.

Another thing that's been drifting through my head, and is more an experimental oddity than something I'd suggest others try... I've got a 3' length of it just sitting here collecting dust. What I've been considering is adding it to the top of my existing 3/4 column and blowing a fan at it to see if it will create reflux, and how much it might raise my ABV.

Again, not pursuing some crazy new style of still, but now the question is in my head, so I'll try to work out a good way to measure the effect it might have, and maybe one day actually give it a shot once I have my 2" column up and going on the keg.
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Re: My Journey

Postby Wooday » Mon Sep 07, 2015 1:05 pm

k2-_a0c6b264-44d7-4012-9536-add9fb7d785b.v1.jpg
next level
k2-_a0c6b264-44d7-4012-9536-add9fb7d785b.v1.jpg (9.86 KiB) Viewed 5106 times


Strap this underneath for more even air flow?
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Re: My Journey

Postby raketemensch » Mon Sep 07, 2015 2:23 pm

wooda2008 wrote:Strap this underneath for more even air flow?


OMG IT'S OSCILLATING WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE :esurprised:
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Re: My Journey

Postby kiwi Bruce » Mon Sep 07, 2015 2:42 pm

I know that during Prohibition the City Swill Riggers were using radiators from cars and trucks to condense their hooch. They were running some impressive sized equipment too. So air cooling can be done, and effectively, please keep us posted. Kiwi Bruce
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Re: My Journey

Postby Deerhunter » Mon Sep 07, 2015 3:15 pm

Is that vapor coming off the end of your condenser? Its seems like that from the pic. If your running indoors I would be very concerned about filling that room with alcohol vapor.
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Re: My Journey

Postby raketemensch » Mon Sep 07, 2015 3:15 pm

jedneck wrote:1. Packing on a pot still will do very little other than make your wallet lighter. It may help a little till it gets heated but after that I doubt you will see a measurable differance.


That's what I always thought, until I stumbled onto a thread the other night with posts like this.

I'll pretty much always be running some feints, by which I mean "everything but fores and hearts from previous runs," and a little reflux, even a very little, seems like it might be a good idea. Anyway, it's a pretty cheap experiment, and there are a lot of people in that thread saying that it's worked out well for them, so I think I'll give it a shot too.
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Re: My Journey

Postby raketemensch » Mon Sep 07, 2015 3:20 pm

Deerhunter wrote:Is that vapor coming off the end of your condenser? Its seems like that from the pic. If your running indoors I would be very concerned about filling that room with alcohol vapor.


Heh, I hadn't noticed that, it's actually a ball under the garage stairs in the background. It's out of focus, so the blurriness makes it look like vapor. It was about 85 in the garage today, and the condensate comes out at a stable 75-80.

Even knowing that, since I'm still getting started I'm running in the garage with the doors open for ventilation. I want to be all practiced up for running in the basement this winter.

Thanks for the good eyes, tho. :shock:
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Re: My Journey

Postby Deerhunter » Mon Sep 07, 2015 3:38 pm

LOL, talk about trick photography. Your right is a ball. Sorry......but that really look like vapor.
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Re: My Journey

Postby SirPuFFaLoT » Mon Sep 07, 2015 4:00 pm

raketemensch wrote:
jedneck wrote:1. Packing on a pot still will do very little other than make your wallet lighter. It may help a little till it gets heated but after that I doubt you will see a measurable differance.


That's what I always thought, until I stumbled onto a thread the other night with posts like this.

I'll pretty much always be running some feints, by which I mean "everything but fores and hearts from previous runs," and a little reflux, even a very little, seems like it might be a good idea. Anyway, it's a pretty cheap experiment, and there are a lot of people in that thread saying that it's worked out well for them, so I think I'll give it a shot too.


Yeah, I always thought that post was interesting. I have always wanted to pack my pot still just to see if it makes any difference. I have yet to try it though because the logic that eventually the packing heats up to the same temp as the column has always trumped my curiosity. I just can't wrap my mind around what happens inside the column that would make those scrubbers have any benefit if they are the same temp as the vapor. Perhaps the initial condensation on the packing hangs around long enough to have a noticeable effect? The post you linked states he has empirical evidence but he was using a hybrid still and not a true (pure?) pot still so perhaps that was the difference maker.

I dunno, one day I'll pack my column just to try it for myself.
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Re: My Journey

Postby raketemensch » Mon Sep 07, 2015 4:21 pm

SirPuFFaLoT wrote:Yeah, I always thought that post was interesting. I have always wanted to pack my pot still just to see if it makes any difference. I have yet to try it though because the logic that eventually the packing heats up to the same temp as the column has always trumped my curiosity. I just can't wrap my mind around what happens inside the column that would make those scrubbers have any benefit if they are the same temp as the vapor. Perhaps the initial condensation on the packing hangs around long enough to have a noticeable effect? The post you linked states he has empirical evidence but he was using a hybrid still and not a true (pure?) pot still so perhaps that was the difference maker.

I dunno, one day I'll pack my column just to try it for myself.


It can't hurt, right? I saw a couple of posts where people were also aiming a fan at the top of the still to cool it a little, which is why I was thinking about maybe using the 3' length of finned baseboard radiator at the top of the column.

I also just stumbled onto this, I guess finned copper is now a thing in solar production:

http://www.spiralfinnedtube.com/sale-38 ... stems.html

pl5637148-cold_worked_extruded_copper_fin_tube_for_solar_heating_systems.jpg


I'm sure it's ludicrously, prohibitively expensive, especially for what would most likely be wasted effort, but interesting to look at anyway.
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Re: My Journey

Postby raketemensch » Sun Sep 13, 2015 9:32 am

So, this week I finally got the hole cut in my keg for the heating element. I don't have a mapp torch, and I've spent too much money already, so I'm waiting for a friend to get home from vacation to borrow his so I can solder on the stainless nut that I ordered from China. I spent $25 on a stainless "conversion plate" that is too deep to accept a bent (low watt density) element, so in the end I'm using a $2 stainless nut. I should've just gone that route in the first place.

Cutting the hole in the keg was not a pleasant or quick experience. I kept the SS cool the whole time, with a drill in one hand and a spray bottle of water in the other, but it still took forever, even with a diamond holesaw. Over an hour, at least.

Today I finally bit the bullet and ordered up (while doing a stripping run of my first batch of UJSSM) 36" of 2" copper, a 2" copper ferrule to solder onto the end for the tri-clamp, and a 2" to 3/4" reducer to attach the 5' length of baseboard. 36" may be too much for a simple pot, but then I have the option of turning it into something else later. I have a few ideas for air-cooled reflux that I want to try out.

My eBay triac finally arrived from China, so I've now got everything I need to build out the keg still. Or, at least, I've finally ordered everything I need, and it should ship this week. Next weekend is going to be interesting.

Running the stock pot has been a good learning experience, and I still enjoy it, but it's just not giving me enough product. The spirit run from from the 2 runs of All Bran gave me maybe a pint of hearts, tops. It's in the cabinet above the oven with a chip of oak in it, along with a larger jar of the hearts from the first two runs, which should have been stripping, but I saved the best bit in the middle. It's got 2 wood chips, a bit of agave nectar and a vanilla bean in it. It's about a month old now, and is starting to smell pretty damn good.

I also picked up a spirit refractometer on Amazon for $25, and love it. There are dozens of different sellers all over the internet, but they're all selling the same unit, so just find the cheapest one and run with it. It's especially useful for diluting your cuts for tasting to decide which you want to keep/blend, but it's also really nice to be able to just stick the slide part into the stream of distillate and look at a light source to know where you're at. You also don't need a parrot, so you avoid that bit of smearing.

While doing all this I took the whole Flute Talk thread and turned it into a single PDF to try to finally make it through the whole thing. It's a 947 page PDF, and takes forever to get through, but I want to see how many of my questions have already been answered before asking more. I'm putting together a parts list to build a 4" flute this Winter (probably with no sight glasses, at least at first), and trying to solidify my ideas as much as possible before bothering people with already-answered questions.

My end-goal is to figure out which still design can create the most flavor in a single, time-efficient run. Looking at Boka, Ponu, Pot and Flute so far. From what I'm reading, the Flute wins, but it also seems to have been extremely trendy, which makes me wary. It's by far the most attractive design to look at, which makes me even warier. Remember, the most beautiful ones are almost always crazy.
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Re: My Journey

Postby S-Cackalacky » Sun Sep 13, 2015 12:27 pm

raketemensch, I've enjoyed reading your thread. Whatever you decide to build, it would be a good idea to hang onto that small stock pot boiler for small spirit runs and small batch experiments. Also, be aware that some members have had problems with the Chinese controllers - mostly the power supply for the fan.

Good luck with your future build(s). I'm very interested in seeing how the air-cooling turns out.
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Re: My Journey

Postby raketemensch » Sun Sep 13, 2015 12:43 pm

Thanks, it's definitely not going anywhere. Once I get the keg set up I'm going to move to a 30-gallon Brute can for a fermenter, so my current 5-gallon bucket and stockpot can be for experimental batches, like you said. I was just really tempted to take a few bits of the peaches my wife was cutting up and toss them into the UJSSM bucket, but it's my only fermenter.... Someday.

Meanwhile, I just dropped the cooled backset in, aerated, waited about 15 minutes and got a 1.074sg, which I was kinda happy about, and then I sipped from the hydrometer flask and became *really* happy. I could just drink that all day.

Meanwhile, the second stripping run continues. I hadn't gotten two runs done in a day before. I'm really curious now how long a 12-gallon strip will take with a 2" pot column, but I know the answer is just a quick search away. Thanks, HDA.
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Re: My Journey

Postby skow69 » Sun Sep 13, 2015 1:04 pm

Hey Rak. Just a couple points of information for you.

Condensers need to be sized according to the amount of heat input, not the size of the still or boiler.

Once you put a condenser on top, it is no longer a pot still. It is then a reflux still.

Meatwad is waiting.

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My Journey

Postby raketemensch » Sun Sep 13, 2015 2:32 pm

Yup, the reflux idea is for later testing. I've been reading this thread about reflux and compressing heads/tails while maintaining flavor, so at some point I'll give that a test with the little still. I also have an air-cooled dephlag floating around in my brain, which might make it to the lab one day. You're totally right, I'll need to come up with some good measurements on what a fan and some fins can knock down before I head down that road. The design in my head looks really cool, but I'll need to do some math before I build it.

The Chinese SCR I bought is different from the ones that have been failing for people -- it doesn't even come with a fan, so I'll be supplying my own:

http://www.aliexpress.com/item/100-PCS- ... 5,201409_3
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Re: My Journey

Postby raketemensch » Fri Sep 18, 2015 6:04 am

(cross-posting this from another thread so that I don't lose it)

Something I read last night in Chris White's book on yeast:

“When the brewer has an appropriate pitch of healthy yeast available, and has the ability to chill the wort down to fermentation temperatures within a reasonable amount of time, the better course for beer quality is often pitching at or slightly below fermentation temperature. The brewer allows the fermentation temperature to rise over the first 12 to 36 hours, until it reaches the desired temperature. The benefit of this process is controlled yeast growth, which often results in better overall yeast health, less leakage through the cell membrane, and thus a cleaner beer profile.”


Starting a little cooler than "ideal" temp for your yeast gives it a chance to develop in a healthier manner. It sounds like giving it time to acclimate to its environment before kicking into high gear helps with the flavor. Or flavour, depending on where you live. A lot of craft brewers aim to let their yeast sit quietly in the fermenter for 10-12 hours before really kicking in for this reason. Sometimes we get caught up in "I want it NOW" mentality and rush through that process, which is ironic because I almost always end up with a few days to a week after it's done before I can even run it.

This is a great book, and I feel like I'm maybe absorbing about 20% of it. It's going to take a couple of reads through.
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Re: My Journey

Postby raketemensch » Sun Sep 20, 2015 2:04 pm

We went to a restaurant and microdistillery in Agawam, MA last night after riding the coasters @ Six Flags for our anniversary. Yup, I picked a good one.

Anyway, I took a few shots of the still. Their booze still needs work (and made me feel much better about my own), but this thing was gorgeous:

IMG_5874.jpg


IMG_5875.jpg
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Re: My Journey

Postby kiwi Bruce » Sun Sep 20, 2015 2:16 pm

What a freaking BEAUTY !!! Two nice pic's too.
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Re: My Journey

Postby raketemensch » Sun Sep 20, 2015 2:23 pm

I also spent both days of this weekend gathering every single tool, toolbox and box of random electrical/plumbing/woordworking crap, dumped it all out onto the basement floor, and organized it all properly. I mention this here mainly because I did it all so I can gather my tools and move them to another part of the basement to make room for 2 30-gallon fermenters, the keg, my fermenting stand, etc. I'll post pics eventually, but it's all still coming together now. I can't believe all the drill bits I found, nevermind the 15+ hole saws, and who the hell needs 3 plumb bobs?

I definitely need at least one new shelving unit, even if it's just for all the mason jars. I got my wife sucked into all the cleaning and organizing too, which netted me a nice food-safe container to seal my grains away from hungry rodents.

I plan to install a slop sink down there too, although I didn't realize that a drain pump (to get the water up overhead into the drainage pipe) goes for ~$200. Damn. Maybe this winter I'll have the cash for it, because then I'll have both hot/cold water and the hotplate from my stockpot still down there for setting up my ferments.

kiwi Bruce wrote:What a freaking BEAUTY !!! Two nice pic's too.


Yeah, it really was. I didn't get a shot of the mash tun, it was a nice piece too. They serve their own rum and vodka. I didn't taste the vodka (not really my thing, and not for sipping anyway), but the rum was OK. It was white, which also isn't really good for sipping, IMHO. I wish they did a dark, too.

toolboxes.jpg


tools.jpg
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Re: My Journey

Postby rager » Sun Sep 20, 2015 8:33 pm

raketemensch wrote:We went to a restaurant and microdistillery in Agawam, MA




awesome, ive wanted to go there now for a while. im actually not to far from there just over the ct border. shoot me a pm some time. going to the big E this year? sounds like we might be close to each other.
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Re: My Journey

Postby raketemensch » Fri Sep 25, 2015 10:09 am

The last of the bits I need for the 2" column arrived today (it took 14 days for the USPS to deliver something from 2.5 hours away), so I'm cleaning them up and prepping them for a build tomorrow. The 2" goes to a 3/4" reducer, which then elbows over into a 3/4 union. I'm planning to de-solder the baseboard pipe from the elbow it's in now so that I can put a union on top of that, as well as one on top of the 3/4" column from the stockpot. That way I can move the air-cooled condenser from still to still as I need to.

They dented one end of the 2" pipe when they cut it, so I can't get my ferrule into one end of it, it just it just won't fit inside. I can get the 2"-3/4" reducer onto the dented end, but I want to do a slip-fit for that end. It will work, and I'll obviously have to use PTFE tape on the slip-fit anyway, but it's less than ideal.

We also have to solder a stainless nut onto the keg for the heating element. I read a lot about doing stainless -> stainless soldering this week, and got my confidence up, then realized that I can't find liquid flux *anywhere* locally. I found a Torrco, a Grainger, I called 5 or 6 plumbing supply places... nothing but paste.

So, in the end I'm going to make an attempt with the paste. If it fails, it fails, I can't damage anything permanently and i'll just be out some mapp gas. If it works, well, then I'll get to some cleaning runs on the keg/pot still finally. I haven't stored up much in terms of feints from the UJSSM runs yet, and I only have a 5-gallon wash ready to go so far, so I don't really have enough to fill the keg yet anyway.

I also have a bunch of bananas sitting on some wax paper in the sun ripening, and I got 5 packets of EC-1118 in the mail today. I've been researching whether or not to use the peels, and in the end I think I'm going to skip them. I'll sun-ripen them for a while today, then tomorrow I will bake them a little if they're still too yellow, and start up a test-ferment in one of the old 2-gallon Mr. Beer fermenters.

It sounds like getting any actual banana flavor to come over through distillation is nigh on impossible, so I'm seriously considering just letting the ferment run its course, and if there's a good, strong banana flavor to the wash I may just add some brown sugar to it, pasteurize it, and drink it as-is. I'll take a fresh, sweet, alcoholic banana juice any day.
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Re: My Journey

Postby skow69 » Fri Sep 25, 2015 12:53 pm

I can't get liquid Stay-Clean flux locally either. The paste works fine for me.
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Re: My Journey

Postby raketemensch » Mon Sep 28, 2015 7:53 pm

A little digging on Craigslist this weekend found me a guy who welds in his garage, who offered to weld the nut on for $20. So I seat-belted the keg into the passenger's seat to drive to work this morning. I had the top down, so it probably wouldn't have looked good to any cops who saw it, but fortunately I didn't bump into any.

He turned out to be an incredibly nice guy, who loves metal. Once he saw the keg he got a vision in his head about what it would look like mounted on a stand, so.... He built one, after the 30 seconds or so that it took to weld the nut on -- which I probably spent 4-5 hours trying to solder on Saturday. He got really into it, which is kinda cool. It's about 7" off the ground, which gives me some room to put a drain under it if I decide to, but it isn't really tall enough to limit my column height options. The bottom ring was really badly damaged, it must've fallen off a truck a few times, so it wobbled. Like a Weeble. But it didn't fall down. Still, a stand was a huge help, and he cut that damaged ring off, which displays the keg's round bottom, which gives it a new look. I can't really explain it, I'll post some pictures tomorrow. It's been sitting in the living room all night, and even my wife keeps commenting on it.

At this point I've got the column built, the keg set up, the element and controller ready to go, but I don't yet have a great option for the 220v, it's the last step before I can go whole hog with this. I can build a cord to get to the garage from the dryer outlet, but I'd really rather be able to do this in the basement. I also don't want to drop the cash for a reel of 20 foot 10/3 wire right now. I can do the cleaning runs with the 5500 watt element on 110 anyway, even if it takes a little longer.

We replaced an electric stove with a gas one, so there are at least 50 amps going unused on the breaker board. I have to sort out the best way to deal with that and route some power to an outlet in the basement where I have all my gear arranged. I'll get there. Hopefully soon.
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Re: My Journey

Postby raketemensch » Tue Sep 29, 2015 8:55 am

I finally got it all assembled during lunchtime today. I had to clean some solder out of the threads on the union, but other than that it all snapped together like I actually knew what I was doing.

Here's a shot of the keg. I can't find an angle that really captures what makes it look interesting in person:
IMG_5923.jpg

Here's the head before:
IMG_5888.jpg

...after a good soak in some vinegar and a scotch-brite pad:
IMG_5927.jpg

And here's the whole thing assembled, with the element installed:
IMG_5925.jpg


I feel like it took me a really long time to get here, but it was worth it. My wife is doing one of those mud run/endurance things on Saturday, so I'll hopefully get to the cleaning runs on Sunday.
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Re: My Journey

Postby Wooday » Tue Sep 29, 2015 9:10 am

raketemensch wrote:...I feel like it took me a really long time to get here, but it was worth it.


You started this topic less than a month ago. Blink of an eye compared to how long you'll be enjoying this hobby.

Hell, my "next step" probably won't be for 6 months.

Keg looks damn good
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