How to Use an Electrical Pump to Make Homebrewing Easier

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Because I like beer, I have over the years dabbled in trying to make it. At no point have I had much success. My first attempt came in college, where not having control over the temperature of the dorm, as it turns out, is a problem. Attempts to artificially create the correct temperature with a cracked window in winter led to two cases of frozen beer and very small glass shards everywhere. Subsequent efforts first in Maine and then in Denver were less destructive but best described as not provably toxic.

My willingness and ability to improve, however, was always limited by the soul-killing tedium of bottling. Each time I’d brew a batch, I’d remember why it had been so long since the last time: I absolutely hate bottling. It wasn’t until a conversation with Devin a month or two ago that I remembered that, as the owner of a kegerator, I had an option other than bottling: kegging.

Hence last weekend’s brew day:

The good news is that kegging is substantially lower effort than bottling. The bad news is that it comes with some additional costs in terms of maintenance. To assist with these as well as the brewing process itself, I decided to invest in an electrical pump. Here’s how we use it.

The Basics

Are not very complicated. The basic idea is to use an electrical pump wherever moving water is required, whether for cleaning, cooling or both. After looking around, and one aborted selection of a non-submersible utility pump, with the assistance of homebrewtalk.com user @Mike_kever_kombi I settled on a Flotec 1/6 HP submersible utility pump, model # FP0S1300X. It’s available for $83.28 at Home Depot, which was considerably cheaper than the base ~$165 price I’d seen quoted for wort chilling pumps.

There aren’t too many rules associated with the pump; basically you drop it in, turn it on and it pumps water. But obviously be careful because you’re dealing with electricty and water, never a great combination. Besides the safety concerns, pay attention to the hose diameters on both sides. In my experience, the pump will not operate with 5/16″ tubing – common to many wort chillers – but is fine with slightly larger 3/8″ lines, in spite of what the user manual claims. It’s also critically important not to run the pump dry; pay very close attention, in other words, if you’re doing something other than recirculating water.

Other than that, it’s pretty straightforward. On to the specifics of how we use it.

Wort Chilling

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Whenever I’ve used our copper wort chiller in the past, I’ve always plugged it into a standard garden hose spigot and used your basic cold tap water to bring down the temperature of the wort after a boil. In Maine, in the winter, this is less practical, particularly during brew days like ours where the outside temperature is twenty degrees below freezing. Which is where the pump comes in.

In order to chill the wort, I take a piece of 3/8″ line and connect a standard garden hose connection (see above) to one end, hose clamp it, and clamp the other end to input of the wort chiller. A second 3/8″ line, meanwhile, is clamped to the output. The standard garden hose connection is then attached to the Flotec pump, and pump and output line from the chiller are both added to a six gallon bucket filled with cold water and a ten pound bag of ice.

Fifteen minutes or so before then end of your boil, you add the chiller to your brew kettle to sanitize it as usual. When it’s time to chill the wort, then, you merely plug the pump in. More or less instantly the ice cold water will be pumped into the chiller, which absorbs the heat and recirculates the heated waste water back into the bucket full of ice water. As a closed system, there’s not much to worry about here, and it works very well. We cooled our boiled wort down to the pitch temp in less than twenty minutes thanks to the pump.

When you’re done, simply unhook the garden hose connection, drain the pump, and you’re ready to use it for cleaning.

Kegerator or Jockey Box Cleaning

In addition to using the pump to chill wort, it’s highly useful in cleaning the lines of whatever you’re using to serve your kegs. Basically, I do this in three stages. The idea is to clean the lines, rinse them, then rinse them again.

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  1. Detergent Clean: Mix 4 tablespoons with 2 gallons hot water in five gallon bucket (~$3 at Home Depot), recirculate (input and output lines both in the same bucket) through lines for 3-5 minutes. When complete, dump mixture and drain pump.
  2. Recirculating Rinse: In empty bucket, add two gallons of hot clean water. Recirculate this through the lines for 3-5 minutes. When complete, dump mixture and drain pump.
  3. Cleansing Rinse: In empty bucket, add one gallon hot clean water. Pump through lines outputting to sink or other drain until complete, watching carefully not to allow pump to run dry.

What You Need

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To make all of the above work, you’ll need a different connector depending on what you’re cleaning. One end of your input line should keep the garden hose connection mentioned above to connect to the pump. If you’re cleaning a jockey box, then, you’ll simply need a 3/8″ barb (middle above) along with a standard 7/8″ hex nut coupler (left above) – the same one you use for keg couplers. Attach and clamp this to your hose, then screw it on to the back of your jockey box as if it was a beer input line.

If you’re cleaning kegerator lines, it may or may not be the same setup. For our usage, we use a male fitting that is the same threading as the tap mechanism (right above). This is fitted to the 3/8″ barb and attached to the other end of the line with the garden hose attachment. We then unscrew our tap assembly using a tap wrench like this one:

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With that off, we use the above fitting to attach the tap tower to the pump, and proceed through the steps mentioned above. Apart from the different fittings, the process is essentially identical.

Caveats

In general using a pump is fairly straightforward. Remember, however, that the pump valve is open at all times, and can act as a siphon even when powered off. Be careful of accidentally draining the pump bucket if your lines are hanging down lower than the bucket, in other words.

Also, use the provided handles to lift and move the pump; do not lift it by its electrical cord.

Questions? Make sense?

My 2014 in Pictures

If for no other reason than as a concise summary for my future self, it’s time for my now annual tradition of a wrap up post. As with last year’s edition, I’ll walk through the events of the calendar year via pictures along with the occasional tweet or screenshot. I write less words that way, which is less words for you to read. A win/win, in other words.

Like most years, 2014 was a year with some good and some bad. But just as my grandfather used to get up every morning and commit to having a good day, I try to think of every year as a good year – speed bumps and travel disasters notwithstanding.

Before we get to the pictures, a quick look at some of the data that describes my 2014.

Travel

2014 was a good news / bad news year from the travel perspective. The good news is that I traveled 22% less than I did two years ago. The bad news is that I traveled 17% more than I did last year. The worse news is that the trendline for my annual travel is not encouraging. Or sustainable.

miles-traveled

Room for improvement, clearly. But as it can be measured, it can theoretically be managed. In the meantime, a few other tidbits courtesy of Cemre’s TripIt Year in Review tool and Openflights.org.

2014-travel

  • Distance-wise, I flew 103,563 miles, or half way to the moon.
  • This was the fourth time in five years I’ve flown over 100,000 miles.
  • 59 of my 75 segments were on JetBlue.
  • I connected through JFK 42 times.
  • I spent an absolutely horrifying 10 days, 20 hours and 5 minutes on planes.
  • My most popular route was between JFK and SFO at just under 30,000 miles.

Personal Stats

  • My Top 5 non search-engine referrers to the work blog were 1) Twitter 2) Reddit 3) Heise.de 4) Facebook 5) Wikipedia.
  • Two of the Top 3 searches on my personal site for the year were “pony kegerator” and “make your own netflix.”
  • Per the FitBit chart, I took 2.852 million steps in 2014, including a few zero step dead battery days. The trendline isn’t great, and that averages to a little under 8,000 steps per day, which is low. Something to work on.
  • Per ThinkUp, I tweeted 5298 times this year, but only said fuck once, which is low. Something to work on.

With that, on to the pictures.

January 3, 2014

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The New Year welcomed us with a not-Buffalo-bad-but-still-not-awesome blizzard.

January 5, 2014

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Which in turn caused me to miss my first flight of the year, and my first professional engagement ever.

January 6, 2014

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Our basement, whose flooding problem we thought had been addressed via the addition of gutters, flooded.

January 8, 2014

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On the anniversary of our first date, Kate and I returned to the scene of the crime.

January 11, 2014

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With Corey’s help, finally sheetrocked over the area where we’d ripped out two closets. Felt like revenge after the debris from the removed closets sent me to the hospital the previous summer.

January 30, 2014

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James made us proud, as always, at the Monki Gras. Completely off the hook.

February 1, 2014

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When in Brussels and not at FOSDEM, this is probably where you’ll find me.

February 2, 2014

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Shawn, Ryan and Corey joined Joe, Kate and I in Brussels. Hearts was played, Cantillon drunk.

February 3, 2014

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Post-FOSDEM, we took the train up to Amsterdam. Can’t believe no one told me what a beautiful city it was before.

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While in Amsterdam, on the recommendation of our friend Ryan Travers, we hit the Arendsnest. When he recommends something, you just go.

February 4, 2014

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Back in Brussels, we all hit the Cantillon brewery. Consciously antiquated, very little has changed about how Cantillon is brewed.

February 5, 2014

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Took the train down to Paris for the day. This was the high day for me on the year at over 23,000 steps walked.

Oh, the Eiffel Tower is scary as hell in high winds, just FYI.

February 14, 2014

More water in the basement. The best part about sopping it up? It’s basically near freezing in temperature.

March 2, 2014

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While stripping faux-wood paneling in our basement, some of the glue used to attach it suggested that the previous homeowner and their contractor may have had a slight dispute.

March 12, 2014

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Flooding. Again. I couldn’t figure out at first why a shop-vac full of water was so heavy, even at 8.34 pounds per gallon. As far as I could tell, it was a 6 gallon vac.

Turns out it was a 6 horsepower vac: the capacity was actually 14 gallons. Which explained a lot about why my back hurt so much.

March 13, 2014

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Replaced an old, rotted out section of drywall in our beer cellar, insulating it in the process to protect our most important investments.

March 16, 2014

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Our friends Devin and Rachel came up to help celebrate St Patrick’s Day.

March 21, 2014

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Furnace had some problems, and we discovered as part of the fix that it was 22 years older than our inspection claimed. Good times.

April 7, 2014

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In Denver for work, got a firsthand look at my BFF’s new kegorator set up.

April 18, 2014

Visited New Orleans for the first time in years with Alex, Corey, Devin and Joe. The city welcomed Alex with his very own brass band parade.

May 21, 2014

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Had the house energy audited. Turns out our attic had about half as much insulation as our inspection had suggested. The silver lining was that having that corrected by professionals was close enough – ~$2100 vs ~$1700 – to the DIY cost that I didn’t have to do it myself.

Good times.

May 23, 2014

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Helped my parents clean out my Grandmother’s house in Rockport, MA, as a preparation for its sale. The house has been in the family for around a hundred years.

May 28, 2014

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First Seadogs game of the year. Ended up as a 9-8 loss for the good guys, but I got to see Blake Swihart play and the club went on to set a record for wins.

June 5, 2014

After a routine checkup and despite being entirely asymptomatic, Azrael was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. The good news is that it’s eminently curable. The bad news is that the radioactive iodine treatment is exorbitantly expensive, assuming you don’t want to shove pills down your cat’s throat for the rest of its life.

For me – and bless her, Kate as well – pets are family and you do what you have to do for family. So after being injected with radioactive material and isolated for six days until the half-life of the material rendered her safe, we brought her home. She’s been her usual insane but loving self since.

June 8, 2014

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First dinner of the season at the Osprey – which is now managed by our friend Tiff.

June 9, 2014

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Bought a bike based on the Wirecutter’s recommendation. At better than ninety minutes from our house to the office, it’s not exactly a daily commuting option but the planned Freeport-Portland bus service will hopefully change that.

June 20, 2014

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Attended Foo Camp for the first time. Amazing collection of people.

June 30, 2014

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Hit Fenway for the first time in 2014. The result…could have been better.

For the record, however, Stephen Drew broke up Arrieta’s no hitter with an eighth inning single.

July 10, 2014

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While in San Jose for work, paid a visit to the Winchester Mystery House. A little touristy, but just as strange as advertised.

July 24, 2014

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Borrowed a tractor from my father-in-law to begin construction on a…

July 25, 2014

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French drain. Remember all the water in the basement? This is our (theoretical) solution.

July 27, 2014

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First camping trip of the season. The good news is that it was easy to “hike in” the gear. The bad news is that that was because we were effectively “camping” in a parking lot.

August 8, 2014

The two weeks Kate and I spent in Chamberlain were easily the best vacation I’ve had since our Honeymoon on Nantucket. Waking up to waves crashing outside the window, no TV or internet, and, perhaps most importantly, nothing to do. Last summer was spent being sliced up by construction debris and with shards of tile in my hair; the summer of 2014 was spent on this porch, with this view, with a book in one hand and an Oxbow in the other. Not too bad.

August 21, 2014

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While in Chamberlain, visited the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum. Highly recommend if you like antique planes, classic cars or fine engineering in general.

August 23, 2014

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Took the ferry out to Monhegan Island with my in-laws. The highest compliment I can pay to Monhegan is to say that if it was more practical to live out there, I would.

August 25, 2014

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Put the finishing touches on the French drain.

August 26, 2014

Annual pilgrimage to Houston Brook Falls. Had to share it with two families, but they were too scared to swim under the waterfall, which left it for me.

September 5, 2014

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Visited our friends Ryan and Leigh at Of Love & Regret down in Baltimore. If you enjoyed the Monktoberfest, this trip was a big reason why.

September 27, 2014

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Second camping trip of the season. Once you got to the campsite, the location was phenomenal. Problem was getting there.

Probably didn’t help that we had to hike in a sixtel of Classique, jockey box and forty pounds of ice.

October 2, 2014

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Fourth annual Monktoberfest. The response was humbling, as always.

October 5, 2014

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Private house show by Liz Longley with Alex, Caitlin, Corey, Devin, Heather, Joe, Kate, Rachel and Tess. Never been to a house show before, and only recently became aware of them as a thing. Great way to listen to music.

October 25, 2014

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Goods from the Woods. One of the highlights of Fall every year.

November 1, 2014

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Halloween. Oh yeah.

November 6, 2014

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Oxbow’s new Blending & Bottling venue opened in Portland. That’s good. The even better news is that they opened a quarter mile from RedMonk HQ.

November 20, 2014

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Some Williams alums might question the wisdom of marrying a Middlebury girl. Those alums probably are not aware that Allagash founder Rob Tod is also a Middlebury alum, and hosts a Middlebury alumni (and spouses)-only tasting and tour at the brewery.

December 14, 2014

Dear friends STOP Everyone survived the ballet STOP Live to die another day STOP

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Survived our annual trip to the Nutcracker, with a little help from the makers of Bulleit. Great to have special guests Devin and Rachel along this year.

December 20, 2014

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A few people in Denver were surprised that Kate and I flew out just to help celebrate my best friend Andrew’s 40th birthday. Their surprise, in turn, surprised me.

For the better part of two decades, he has been my best friend. We’ve had a lot of fun together. He and my brother were my wedding party. We won three national beer pong championships as partners. And he has been a surprise visitor for god knows how many of my own birthdays these past few years, as he and my wife conspired to sneak him out from Denver (you’d think that after a year or two of these I’d pick up on the patterns, but not so much).

He’s also been with me for a lot of low moments in my life. Being unexpectedly laid off. Being dumped. Having my apartment sold out from under, leaving me temporarily homeless. Or, during one particularly unfortunate stretch, having all three of those happen at once.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to understand that not everyone has a friend like Andrew. That they’re exceedingly rare, in fact. I feel bad for those who don’t, because it’s worth more than I can say.

So yes, I was in Denver for his 40th birthday. Happy birthday, old friend.

December 26, 2014

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Having already invested in home automation equipment from companies like Nest and Sonos, the buildout continued with the installation of a Belkin WeMo switch (Christmas present) that controls our front door light. Coupled with IFTTT, the light is programmed to, among other things, turn itself on at sunset so that when we arrive home at night, we no longer have to use our cellphones as flashlights to pick out the right house key.

We’re probably one or two more IoT gadgets away from the house talking like Pierce Brosnan.

December 31, 2014

Happy & Merry 2015!

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Welcomed in the New Year hosting friends from out of town with a fire, champagne and the champagne of beers. And the odd Curieux or two, naturally. Here’s to 2015.