Steel-Belted Jockey Box Build

>> Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Back in June my club had a booth at the Mountain Brewers Festival in Idaho Falls, Idaho. All proceeds from this event go to supporting local charities in Idaho. We had about ten club members donate batches of homebrew which were poured right alongside commercial beers. This was the first time we'd ever done an event like this and it turned out to be a lot of fun. We had all 10 beers going from the start of the festival; four on tap on a borrowed jockey box (thanks Lauter Day Brewers!) and the rest using cobra taps. The cobra taps worked fine but they ended up turning into a sticky mess. The jockey box worked awesome, so it got me to thinking that I should start collecting parts in order to build one.

If you're not familiar with jockey boxes, they're essentially a portable kegerators. Rather than keeping kegs at serving temp, room temp beer is chilled on the fly as it's poured. This is accomplished by passing the beer through a cold plate or stainless coil packed in ice. It's basically a heat exchanger, pulling heat out of the beer as it passes through the cold plate.

Fast forward a few months and I finally have my hands on everything needed to complete my build. I wanted something more interesting than you're standard plastic ice chest, so I kept my eyes open for a vintage metal cooler.  I finally got my hands on a nice vintage Coleman cooler a couple weeks ago. This cooler is from the 70's, so it's not 100% metal, but I dig it. It definitely has more character than an all plastic cooler.

As for faucets, I found a member selling brand new ones on homebrewtalk a while back. These are standard chrome rear sealing faucets. I wouldn't recommend these on a home kegerator because they tend to dry out and stick between uses. However, they should work fine on a jockey box where they won't have time to dry out between pours.

For chilling I'm using a seven circuit cold plate. Since we have seven circuits and only four taps, three of the taps are plumbed to do a double pass through the cold plate, and one tap will do a single pass. The single pass tap will be used for beers that will benefit from a slightly warmer serving temp.

Cooler wall cross-section
The build is pretty straightforward; make holes for taps and supply lines then make all the connections. For the taps, I drilled pilot holes all the way through the cooler wall then used a holesaw to cut the interior plastic and my Greenlee punch to make a hole in the outer metal layer. I cut the interior hole big enough to fit a PVC plug that I'd drilled so the tap shank could pass through. The plan is to sandwich the fitting between the metal layer and the nut on the shank. This will allow me to really snug down the shank for a solid mount without worrying about crushing the inner and outer wall. The plug was epoxied to the interior surface of the metal layer and the joint between the PVC fitting and the interior plastic was sealed up with some silicone caulking.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how the best solution for the supply lines. I wanted a clean look, but didn't want to break the bank. I ended up going with stainless panel mount 1/4" MFL union/bulkheads. I'm really happy with the way these turned out, and they can even be disassembled fairly easily for cleaning, replacing lines, etc.

It's said the cold plates perform better when they're kept out of the water from the melting ice. You can buy cold plate holders, but I figured I could make a rust-proof holder out of PVC for cheap. I attached the holder to the cold plate using zip ties (not pictured).

That's about all there is to it. I just barely finished it so I haven't had a chance to test it out yet. I imagine I'll have to do a little fine tuning so I'll post an update once I have everything dialed in. In the meantime, here are a few pics of my build. Hopefully anyone planning a similar project will find them helpful.


Interior shank mounting
1/4" MFL bulkheads, exterior
Cold plate stand


American Brown Ale

>> Monday, November 16, 2015

I picked up a copy of Gordon Strong's Modern Homebrew Recipes at GABF in September. Today I'm brewing a recipe from that book, American Brown Ale. I also have some company today; Chris Detrick from the Salt Lake Tribune joined me today for a video piece on Homebrewing in Utah. Chris is a very accomplished homebrewer himself so it was a lot of fun to have him on hand. I'll add a link to the video once it's available.

Updated: Here's a link to the piece. Chris did an awesome job with the editing. He took all my rambling and managed to put it together so that it made sense. It's funny because I'd planned on talking about all these different things, but when the camera was on, my mind went blank. It was much harder than I imagined to form coherent thoughts.   

American Brown Ales are a style I really enjoy. I don't brew them as often as I should, but they're a great style to have on hand. Moose Drool is one of my favorite commercial examples. The combination of caramel, toffee, and chocolate characters blended with fairly assertive hop character is something I really enjoy. Here's the recipe as I made it today.

10.0# Rahr 2-row
2.0# Avangard Munich I
1.0# Briess Crystal 60
0.5# Briess Crystal 40
0.5# Crisp Chocolate Malt (Vorlauf)
2.0 oz Weyermann Carafa II (Vorlauf)
28g Saaz (FWH)
14g Galaxy (15 min)
28g Sterling (5 min)
Wyeast 1272 American Ale II
0.5t Wyeast Nutrient
0.5 Whirlfloc

Mash at 151F for 60 min, 90 minute boil, ferment at 66F.

Water treatment - Per the recipe in the book, I'm using RO water and adding 3.4g (1t) CaCl to the mash. I'm still learning about water chemistry, but this just seems too simple...regardless, I'm going with it.

Brewing Notes
No issues with this beer. Dark grains were added once we started running off to the boil kettle; at first I was a little worried because it wasn't picking up much color, but that changed after a few minutes. With the cooler temps this time of year, we were able to chill down to pitching temps fairly quickly.

Update 11/18/2015
I had to hook up a blow off tube this morning. This yeast produced a very dense mousse-like krausen that slowly crept higher and higher. It finally pushed up through the airlock sometime late last night or early this morning.


American Wild Barrel-Aged Brown

>> Sunday, November 08, 2015

Today I'm brewing the first in my barrel-aged sours using my recently acquired whiskey barrel. The RIS that's currently in the barrel is progressing nicely, so I wanted to get going on this one so that it's ready when we bottle the RIS.

This beer is based on The Rare Barrel Bruin base recipe. This will primary with the INISBC-913 Brett Barrel III then I'll secondary in the barrel with my Roeselare-based sour blend. Here's the recipe as I brewed it today. This is for a 10 gallon batch:

15.75# Weyermann Pilsner
2.0# 11oz Rahr White Wheat Malt
13 oz Crisp Crystal 60
13 oz Briess Chocolate 350L
13 oz Flaked Oats
13 oz Special Aromatic
13 oz Spelt Malt
3 oz Carafa III
1 oz Aged Hops (60 mins)
INISBC-913 Brett Barrel III
Yeast Nutrient

Mash at 154F for 60 mins, 90 min boil, ferment at room temp.
Note: I decided to go with a 154F mash even though I'm doing a 100% brett primary. This is because the brett I'm using has a reputation for fermenting very dry, so I'm trying to ensure there's a fair amount of complex sugars in this beer.

Brewing Notes
No issues to speak of. OG came in at 1.063 (15.6). I was going to use Whirlfloc, but spaced it off. It shouldn't matter too much as this beer will age for a while.

Update 11/10/2015
This yeast is voracious. I woke up yesterday morning to very active fermentations. Both fermenters had a couple inches of krausen and very active airlocks. I considered hooking up blow-off hoses but there seemed to be plenty of headspace so I skipped it and went to work. About an hour later I got a text from my son that read , "It's exploding" and a picture showing krausen pushing up through one of the airlocks. I ran home for lunch and hooked up blow-off tubes, and it was just in the nick of time as one of the fermenters had started building up pressure. Crises averted, but I'll remember to use a blow-off from the beginning the next time I use this yeast.

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