Saturday, November 26, 2011

The CPVC Brewery Experiment

If you want to skip to the chase here it is: The experiment failed, but it probably didn't have to.

CPVC vs. PVC:  Polyvinyl chloride, abbreviated as PVC, is used for the drain lines, drain vents, sewer lines, and some water supply lines for applications such as sprinkler systems. Chlorinated polyvinyl chloride, abbreviated as CPVC is a thermoplastic produced by chlorination of PVC. CPVC can withstand higher pressures and temperatures than regular PVC, with an upper temperature tolerance of 180 degrees in fairly high pressure applications; so it can be used for hot water pipes. It's cheaper than copper pipe and easier to install. I figured this would make it an ideal pipe for my homebrew setup. It would need to withstand temperatures as high as 212 (boiling) but low pressures (only what a March Pump could push.)

I used CPVC to plumb the whole system, including CPVC ball valves. Things went well for a while.

After a few batches, the CPVC ball valves started getting a little temperamental. After a few more, they started falling apart. I think the problem was residual wort that got in behind the valve mechanism, so even though I rinsed the system thoroughly, there was a little sticky sugar residue. The valves were getting stuck, but loosened up after I turned them on and off at the start of the brew day. There is a little clip that holds the handle onto the shaft. Those clips started popping off when too much pressure was applied to the valve handles. Finally, one of the valves stopped turning at all.

The vise grips seemed like a good temporary solution that would get me through the brew I was currently working on. Nope. The shaft would turn but the valve wouldn't turn on. I had to go back to a completely gravity-fed solution, which meant lifting seven gallons of hot wort up to chest level. Not so much fun. I'll be re-plumbing the system before I brew anything else. The pipe and connectors seem to work well, but the valves should be metal.

Friday, November 18, 2011

DIY Counterflow Chiller

After years of being somewhat satisfied with my immersion chiller, I decided to move up to a  counterflow wort chiller. As you probably know, counterflow chillers get their name because the cooling stream of water is flowing counter (in the opposite direction) to the hot wort. According to John Palmer, "Counterflow chillers use more water to cool a smaller volume of wort faster than an immersion chiller so you get a better cold break and clearer beer."

I built my counterflow chiller out an old garden-hose, some flexible 3/8″copper tubing and various odds and ends. I already had the hose, the pipe and some of the fittings laying around. The major purchase for me was the 3/8″copper tubing. If you have a copper immersion chiller you could scavenge the tubing to convert it into a counterflow. You're going to find most of the other parts and supplies you need on the plumbing aisle.

NOTE: I used 1/2" copper pipe and fittings. You could substitute  1/2"PVC and it would work just as well. It's cheaper and you won't need to solder anything.

25' garden hose
25' of 3/8" ″OD copper tubing.
1' of 1/2" copper pipe
2ea. 1/2" copper tee fittings.
2ea. 1/2" copper female
2ea. Brass compression fittings for 3/8" copper tubing
4ea. Hose Clamps
Teflon tape
Tie Wraps (AKA Zip Ties)

Fine Sandpaper
Hacksaw or Tube cutter
Propane Torch
3/8" Drill Bit

I started by building the two end assemblies. Cut six pieces of 1/2" copper pipe about 1 1/2" long using a hacksaw or tube cutter. The pieces can be a bit longer or shorter, you don't need to be precise. Use the sandpaper to 'shine' the inside of the fittings and the outside of the pipe sections. Home Depot will be happy to sell you special little tools to do this, and they're not expensive. After you've shined the surfaces to remove oxidation, apply flux and sweat (solder) the joints.

End Assemblies

The copper compression fittings are the standard pieces you may have under your sink. When they're used in your house, the 3/8" tubing goes only part way into the fitting. We're going to want the tubing to go all the way through, so we need to use the 3/8" drill to remove the internal stop. Please, DO USE a vise to hold these little parts while you're drilling. Things can get rather unpleasant when your holding small parts with pliers if the drill bit binds.

Drilled out on the left, original on the right.

Cut the last several inches off both ends of the garden hose. The flexible 3/8″copper tubing is probably in a coil. Straighten it out as much as possible and shove it inside the garden hose. Slide one of the hose clamps over each end of the hose, then slide one assembly over each end 3/8″tubing until you can shove an inch of the copper pipe from that assembly inside the hose. Secure with a hose clamp, and tighten the compression fitting around the 3/8″copper tubing. Wrap the whole thing around something round. I used a Corny Keg. Tie-wrap the layers together to prevent your wort chiller from acting like a Slinky when you lift it. Slide one of the hose clamps over each of the little end pieces of the hose, jam the hose over the copper pipe coming from the sides of the two copper tees, and secure the hose clamps. You're done!

When your wort chiller is complete, connect it to your garden hose, and slide 3/8″ ID flexible tubing over the 3/8″ copper tubing tubing in a line between your boil and your fermenter. Hook it up so that the assembly that has the outgoing wort is on the same end as incoming cold water.

I added a thermometer to mine so I could monitor the outgoing wort temperature. I had to add a bunch of brass compression fittings on the end to make that work. Normally, the cool wort would come out where the thermometer is, rather than out of a tee'd connection.