Low Pressure CO2 Regulator Build

Low Pressure Regulator and Gauge

So from the Big Badda Boom event, I decided I need to build something to help prevent over-pressuring and make it idiot proof. In my discussion with SSBrewTech, they make a recommendation to build a connector with a 5 PSI pressure gauge. This allows you to adjust the pressure from a CO2 bottle regulator with more precision, where a 0-60 PSI gauge doesn’t provide the resolution necessary. In their bulletin on pressurized transfers, SSBrewTech provide a parts list on the back of the page to build such a device. I decided to add a regulator body to the design as extra insurance against another BOOM, restricting the possible pressure into the vessel.

I already had a 1 ½” Tri-clamp fitting, but with an elbow and barb, so decided to work with that. I bought all of the parts listed in the link below and created a regulator that guarantees no more than 5 PSI is being added. The system quick connects to my bottle through a flare fitting – same fitting I use with kegging.

There are practical uses for a low pressure regulator. This allows me to keep my bottle regulator around 10-12 PSI for most normal applications. With the inline regulator, I am assured that I will not over pressure my conicals again, whether pushing beer for kegging or topping up headspace while cold crashing. Using TCs ensures that I can apply it to both SSBrewTech Chronicals and my MoreBeer conical.

1 1/2" Tri-Clamp with elbow barb

When kegging, I now have a quick way to attach to the gas post of a corny, pressurize and purge, and then quickly move the bottle to the conical to push the beer into corny (PRV released of course). At about 3 PSI, I can closed-transfer into a keg in just a few minutes and still not worry about contact with O2!

A couple of notes. The regulator uses 1/8” connections for gauges. The gauge I bought was ¼” so I had to add an adapter into the mix. You may be able to find the right gauge without the adapter. This gauge is fairly heavy, relative to the rest of the parts. I used a 8” length of silicon hose to tie the regulator/gauge to the TC nipple, which means this will hang free to the side of the conical. I will need to be careful it doesn’t get hit very hard. The one-way valve on the right is not necessary, just don’t want to lose it off the bottle. Those are handy for force carbing. Shop around. I decided to grab all of this off Amazon for convenience sake – but you can save a portion of the costs by looking elsewhere!

I tested the regulator by pressurizing my MoreBeer conical to 5 PSI and backing off. I was able to easily set the pressure to 3 PSI, adequate for most transfers. The regulator dial locks into place, so I can leave it in that configuration as long as required. I then tested it on the ½ BBL Chronical and it works great!

Parts List from Amazon (Smile for Charity!)

http://smile.amazon.com/registry/wishlist/1MUVSR5YHM830

5 PSI Pressure Regulator Body

Low Pressure Gauge, 5 PSI

½” Barb to ¼” MPT Fitting

Half Union, ¼” Flare to ¼” MPT

¼’ Female NPT to 1/8” Male NPT

Gas Line Pipe Thread Tape

The total was about $85

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Big Badda Boom – Pressure is Dangerous!

SS Brewing Technology 1/2 BBL Chronicals

Shiny new Chronicals awaiting a good cleaning and passivation.

So this was going to be an article on how I expanded my fermentation capability by 1 BBL, and with an explanation on why I chose the solution and vendor. It will turn into a severe WARNING to everyone that pressure, even as low as the pressure we use with corny kegs, is dangerous! So what does this have to do with fermentation? So please pause for a few words about safety!

It takes very little pressure, released suddenly to harm someone. A little Google searching can illustrate the dangers of steam pressure in a sanke keg. This can be fatal. I am afraid that we as homebrewers so often get comfortable and lazy about handling the pressure for kegging that we forget how dangerous it can be.

A week ago, I dry hopped a batch of American Brown ale. At the time, I also attached a pressure valve that allows me to measure the pressure and add additional Co2 when needed. I also use CO2 to transfer from conicals into kegs. Earlier this week, I tasted and decided to cold crash. Since I had put the PRV on, I added a few pounds of CO2 pressure and let the freezer and controller do its thing.  This morning, I went to check gravity and clarity of the Brown ale, and when I opened the sample valve, air sucked in backwards causing bubbling. I panicked, not wanting 11 gallons of oxidized ale. So I grabbed my Co2 tank, connected it and opened the valve. The pressure set immediately.

The next few seconds were sheer terror and panic. The little PRV valve on the lid of this conical whistled (you can see it below, a button on the lid). Then there was a weird creaking noise, like twisting metal. And then BOOM. My hair blew back and next thing you know, lid is crooked and the gasket hangs over the side. I grabbed the bottle of Co2 and shut it off…. I then realized I had the pressure set at about 15-20 PSI to seal the lid on some cornys I had filled earlier in the week. I didn’t verify and adjust down the pressure before connecting to the conical – and the lid system failed.

Chronical Lid Clips

Spring Steel clamps lock the lid when the Spring Latch is closed. With the silicon gasket in the lid, creates a tight seal.

Failed in a good way however. The conical lid design was such that the clamps that hold the lid deformed, yet they held the lid on, while decompressing. Yeah those little clips on the lid in the picture above! I grabbed the lid, cleaned it and the gasket and reseated as quickly as possible. I then discovered that the clamps are wrecked – and sit limp. They will not hold any pressure on the lid. I am fine by the way – just a bit disappointed that I made such a stupid mistake!

So – I expanded my fermentation space, essentially tripling my controlled fermentation capacity. I have been using a MoreBeer Ultimate Conical for the past couple of years. I love it, but it can be difficult to clean, and just does not keep up with cooler ferments in my hot Texas garage. So I have been mulling over other options. A good friend in the Zealots has a full size walk-in cooler and two temperature controlled ‘chambers’ or closets that utilize the cool air from the walk-in. I would love the walk-in, but don’t need it, and decided after a lot of looking to buy 2 upright freezers and conical fermenters. This weighed against the costs of buying two more Ultimates seemed like a bargain.

Chronical installed in freezer

The Chronical in Fridgedaire 20.5 cubic foot freezer. Plenty of room for a carboy or a Brewbucket on the side!

Please understand I have nothing against buckets or carboys and use them often, especially for sour beer and experiments. Conicals have many features that are attractive, including easy racking and sampling. I looked at a number of suppliers and locked onto SS Brewing Technologies pretty quickly. The feedback I have seen on their Brew Bucket has been pretty good, and the fact that the ½ BBL Chronical used tri-clamp fittings was a bonus. I have collected a few parts over the years and 1 ½ TC elements from the Ultimate could be used with these. I pulled the trigger on two beautiful Chronical Half Barrel Fermenters. As a bonus, the new homebrew supply said they could order them and gave me a good deal compared to purchasing online. While I waited, I hit up Lowes and found a sale was on – and purchased 2 20.5 cubic foot freezers.

Freezers came and were installed side by side. I even left the protective plastic on them. Hooked up the Johnson digital controllers and waited. It took an extra couple of days, but the fermenters arrived and I picked them up. Next day, went through the cleaning and passivization process and installed them into my freezers. I can also fit a full size 6 gallon carboy next to these bad boys – bonus! Later that weekend, I brewed the hoppy American Brown ale mentioned above.

I sent off an email to the SS Brewing folks. I admitted that I over-pressured a vessel and wrecked the lid hooks. I am blown away by their response. By the time this is posted, I expect that I will be a guinea pig on replacing those hooks. I got a call from the mechanical designer and we talked through what happened in detail…

SS Brewing Technology products are both well-made and sensibly priced. When you compare to similar products and price points, there is little to criticize. I buy high-end gear and this stuff is comparable in quality to anything out there from Blichmann or MoreBeer. The steel is bright and shiny, but there are flaws, as there will always be, where you can see welds or a small scratch. You will need to passivate and clean before filling them – but easy enough. The flexibility of the racking arm and the dump valve, and using my existing TC components is a big asset. I highly recommend their products.

Now – back to today’s lesson – ALWAYS check the pressure of your tank before you connect it to any vessel! PERIOD!  Looking forward to tomorrow – time to fill the other fermenter! 

This weekend, happy to report that both fermenters are full and chugging away.

– – – Addendum – – –

I failed to mention that while cleaning out the fermenter, I was able to carefully bend back the lid clamps. They are spring steel and take a bit of patience. Use pliers, but wrap the teeth with a soft cloth. First I bent the top of the clamps back to a 90 degree angle to the longer legs, and then added a little bit of a bow or curl inward to the legs, working from the middle. As you do this – it may twist a bit – but you can twist the clamp opposite carefully and it should return true. I tested each on on the lid without the silicon gasket in place to ensure a snug fit when the spring clamp was lowered.

Happily – the lid and clamps, with the gasket are holding a seal and 12 gallons of IPA is happily fermenting!

Restored Lid Clips, after bending back into shape.

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Fumble Recovery; Robust Porter becomes a Coffee Porter

Dark Roasted Sumatra

Well now. Fumble is a strong word. But by the numbers, yeah, missed it by that much! But recovered, rather than dumping the beer.

Recently I re-brewed an old Robust Porter recipe, confident that with the experience I have gained over the last few years it would turn out better than the previous brew. I am not going to list the recipe here… you can review my thread at the AHA forum if you would like here. And here is the crux of the discussion.

I achieved a much higher efficiency than expected while using the same recipe (something I should have expected!). I pitched Nottingham yeast, rehydrated and at the appropriate rates into the wort. However, after 7 days in primary, the fermentation stalled at 1.025 – far to sweet and high for a Robust Porter. I had high hopes for this.

I pitched 3 rehydrated packages (previously I sprinkled 2 dry packages) of Nottingham at 64F. Fermentation took off as expected and I let the fermentation naturally rise to 68F. After a week and a couple of days gravity stuck at 1.025, I pitched another rehydrated active slurry of S-04. Gravity remained the same. I posted on the AHA forum asking for advice, and got some good ideas. I recently brewed a hoppy American Brown ale, took some excess from the cooled and oxygenated wort, and pitched a fresh package of Notty into that – and at high krausen, tipped the lot into the porter.

Fermentation took off, although I wouldn’t call it vigorous. 3 days later, no drop in FG. We did manage to shave it down to 1.023, but that maybe to dilution from the starter. Remember my OG was 6 points high and I finished basically 6 points high.

There are two fundamental issues at play here:

First, I used a recipe from the past that was not re-tuned to my current setup, capability or more more educated taste. The OG was 6 points higher because my system efficiency has increased. I also did not have the temperature controls that I have today – so my notes indicate 68F at pitching the first time, and I now pitch several degrees lower than fermentation temps and let the wort free rise to fermentation target temperatures.

I would love to blame a bad batch of Nottingham yeast, but cannot. S-04 and a later pitch of active and new Nottingham failed to bring the gravity any lower. I should note that S-04 was not the best choice as its minimum attenuation is lower than Nottingham. My bad.

Secondly, a review of the recipe reveals an overly large portion of specialty malts. Namely a portion of British Brown Malt and Carared… adding, along with some of the roasts, unfermentables. It is possible that I mis-measured my grist and/or I didn’t write down an accurate FG.

The second issue is the real eye opener. I am a far more detailed brewer that I was just a few years ago. So, note to myself, revisit recipes each time to make sure they are tuned to my system, my palette and meet my more educated expectations!

The Recovery

As suggested by Jon in the AHA thread, I cold steeped some locally sourced roasted coffee. I intentionally made it stronger than normal, and after 2 days it was ready. I took a sample of the porter and slowly added higher concentration of coffee. After some tasting, I chucked the lot into batch and started to cold crash. I expected to need to add more, but tasting before kegging – there was a very nice balance.

Now that the porter is kegged and carbing, this will be a really nice beer. Not something I would expect to do well in competition, perhaps, given the high final gravity, but a solid porter with subtle roasty notes, some coffee, nut and vanilla in the finish. Looking forward to this one! And making adjustments to the recipe to ensure proper attenuation, a slightly lighter color and a tweak to the roast character without adding coffee.

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