Upgrading the “portable-keg charger”

I coughed up the $20 for the portable keg charger from Genuine Innovations

but I’m not entirely happy with it for a slew of reasons.  First, the instructions say over and over again that you have to fully discharge the keg before attaching this, otherwise the back pressure can break the unit.  That’s stupid because you could pour off of some of that pressure.  Second, you have no idea how much you are really pressurizing the keg when you push the trigger.  I burned through 3 cartridges to pump half a keg the first time I took this to a party.  So I decided to do a DIY upgrade, so now it looks like this:photo

I had a spare pressure gauge laying around, which I wanted to connect up with a check valve so I could hook up the whole system without having to bleed off the pressure.  The gauge has standard 1/4-inch NPT threads, while kegs use 1/4-inch flared threads, so I used a 1/4-inch NPT tee, a 1/4-in male NPT pipe to to 1/4-in barb on the bottom, and to connect the tee to the charger, a 1/4-in NPT check valve connected to a 1/4-in flare to 1/4-in female NPT coupler.  In addition to the gas ball-lock and some thick tubing that I picked up years ago, here is a shopping list from amazon:


$15 carboy cooler

If you need to cool your beer about 10 degrees below ambient, here are two great ideas. The first is the age-old “pot-in-pot” method, where you put the carboy inside a large unglazed terra-cotta pot, and fill the pot either with water, or a mixture of water and sand. Then blow a fan on the pot and the evaporation can cool the carboy down at least 10 deg. I couldn’t find any pots big enough for my Better Bottle, but while wandering through the garden section at Lowes, I did find an EnduraCool towel ($15) which is a thin, synthetic towel that is extremely efficient at evaporating. It wraps perfectly around the 6-gal Better Bottle. I secured it with two paper clips and put the carboy in a shallow tub that I feed with a slow trickle of water. Blowing a fan on it has cooled it down ten deg below ambient. Many brewers call this a “swamp cooler” and use a wet t-shirt; I tried this but it only gave me 3 deg drop. I’ve included a pic below.  I believe this would be even more efficient if I were doing it in a small room with a dehumidifier also running.

Total Eclipse Chocolate Milk Stout

Here is the recipe for the chocolate milk stout that took first in the Nov 2012 meeting.

OG: 1.067 FG: 1.029 SRM: 40-deg IBU: 26 ABV: 5.1%
6 lbs 2-row Pale
2 lbs Munich Malt
1.25 lbs Chocolate Malt
1 lb Crystal 60
1 lb flaked oats
4 oz roasted barley
Mash at 156 for 60 minutes. Boil 60 minutes with 1 lb lactose and 2 oz fuggles. Pitch WLP013 London Ale Yeast. At the same time, soak 8 oz of roasted cacao nibs in enough vodka to cover. Rack beer to secondary on top of the nibs and vodka for 1-2 weeks, then carbonate. Pour, drink, repeat.

A DC motorized grain mill

I thought I’d toss up pics of the grain mill that I just motorized using a 90-VDC motor. Unlike AC motors, you have to use a power supply to control a DC motor, and on e-bay, gear motors that have enough torque at the slow RPM’s needed (i.e. more than 40 in-lb at 120 RPM or above) seem to be much more common in the DC variety. I picked up a used 90 VDC gear motor at 120 RPM with 50 in-lb of torque off ebay for about $25 and attached it to a Monster Mill 3 using Flexible Spider Shaft Couplings from McMaster Carr (I stole the idea from Chris Solito). You can run the motor using a plain 90 VDC power supply but these often how low current limits (i.e. 0.5 Amps) while my motor draws 1.23 A, so I opted for a KB motor control, model KBWM-120 with a 1.5 Amp fuse. These are fabulous controls because they come built-in with a power switch and speed control. You attach the four wires (two for the motor, two from the wall) and badabing! good to go. This was $80 on ebay, and while cheap knock-off versions from China are available, I trust KB electronics. $2 in scrap lumber from Home Despot, $16 in bolts and clamps from ACE Hardware, and a few minutes of jigsawing and it tore through grains in no time. I tested the mill with the hopper filled up before turning it on and it worked just fine.

Here is the finished product, with close-ups of the individual parts below.

My “cheap” pressurized bottle filler

Once I got my kegerator set up (will post pics soon) I discovered the hard way that filling bottles from the tap is a mess.  I found BierMuncher’s “We don’t need no stinking beer gun” on homebrewtalk.com and this video from BobbyFromNH on youtube where you tap into the liquid-out post of your keg. However whenever I bled out the pressure by pushing on the stopper, it blasted beer all over me.  I have Perlick 525’s so the growler filler from MDHB wouldn’t work but it gave me the idea to machine my own tap insert.  I’m a do-it-yourselfer even if I end up spending 8x more than something would cost pre-built at a store so I set to tackle this problem.  This post shows my tap-to-bottle setup (which as it turns out is almost exactly like bowiefan and Irrenarzt from homebrewtalk.com.  Sigh…here I thought I was being original).  If you like this and don’t own a lathe, I think buying from them is a better idea.

Here is an exploded view of the setup.

A 3/8″ pre-drilled stopper (part A) has an air-pump needle for soccer balls inserted down the side.  This allows you to control the bottle pressure by putting your thumb on over the needle base. The idea is that when you start filling your bottle, close the adaptor and as the bottle pressurizes, the foam will die down.  You can then let out a little air at a time and the bottle will fill under quasi-pressurized conditions.

I don’t like this since foam oozes out of the needle when it reaches the top, and it hurts my thumb after a bit.  So I shoved some 3/16″ (ID) tubing over the needle, connected to a 1/4″ shut-off in-line ball valve (part D).  I close the valve and start filling and the bottle pressurizes itself.  I then open the valve a little and the beer flows into the bottle under constant pressure.  By putting the other end of the tube in a cup, any foam that comes out through the needle goes into the cup, so everything stays clean.  Only problem is that some air does leak out where the needle and tube are joined.  My first “cave-man” solution so far is Part E, a 1/4 compression to 3/8″ FIP adaptor (compression tapped at 5/16-28) packed with an o-ring and screwed into a 3/8″ barb adaptor, shown below.

A slightly-more elegant solution is to do away with the “middle-man” and connect the pump needle directly to a 3/8″ barb adaptor.  To do this, I bought a 3/8″ barb to 3/8″ male adaptor, drilled out the male part of the adaptor to 7/32″ and tapped it to 5/16-28.  This way the needle screws right in (see below).

The bottle filler (Part B) is a length of stainless-steel 0.375″ x 0.065″ x 0.245″ T-304 seamless tube that I bought from onlinemetals.com.  I machined the tip so 3/16″ ID tubing will fit snugly over it.   Now for the faucet adaptor (Part C). The inner diameter of the Perlick 525 is 0.40″ so I machined a small length of the same stainless tube as shown below.  

On the left is a 1/16″ deep groove cut 3/16″ wide, which holds two 11/32 x 7/32 x 1/16″ o-rings (#47 at Ace).  That end is slipped up into the faucet to about the level of the 2nd groove.  On the right, I machined a rounded tip to help the 3/16″ tube slide over, and a long channel in case I want to clamp the tube down.

So in summary, the faucet adaptor is put up into the Perlick and connects to the bottle filler by a 3/16″ tube.  The bottle filler is put almost all the way into the bottle and the stopper closes the bottle.  The ball valve assembly is attached to the air-pump adaptor, the valve is closed and I open the faucet.  When the flow slows, it means the bottle is pressurized to the keg pressure (I use about 3-4 PSI) so I slowly open the ball valve.  I let foam run out until the beer level is at the top of the bottle.  Then close the faucet, remove the filler, and add a little more beer to foam up the head space. Cap, chill, and give to friends.

Total costs: $15 stainless tube (shipping was more than the tube!), $1 o-rings, $2 3/16″ tube, $15 ball valve, $1 air-pump needle, $1 stopper, $2 brass fittings.  I already owned the lathe and borrowed bits from my machine shop at work but you can buy a cheap set for about $20.  My next project might be to solder the barb adaptor right onto the pump needle, but I hate the permanence of it.