It is not just the quest for beer — or even the quest for really, really good beer — that has made the hobby of homebrewing so popular. It is also the ability homebrewers have to determine the outcome of what they make, a desire to do something well and then tinker and improve upon it, the intrigue of using your hands and conducting experiments, and the opportunity to create something uniquely “theirs.” And with that mindset, it’s no surprise that beer isn’t the only thing homebrewers create — these same “do it yourself” aspirations have led to nearly every invention and advancement in the history of mankind.
Now a self-aerating racking hose might not be on the same platform as the inventions of Henry Ford or Thomas Edison, but when was the last time a phonograph helped you brew a batch of beer?
Homebrewers often go big with the DIY builds — from designing and engineering completely automatic electric brewing systems or bar rooms with 10-tap, tricked out keezers — but these builds can be luxuries. If you are on a budget, there is a whole other range of projects homebrewers can create to make life and brewing simpler and, therefore, more enjoyable. We call these homebrew hacks. They take imagination, creativity, a little time, scrap materials often found tucked away in a garage, and usually just a few dollars
to build. Here I share some of the BYO editors’ favorite hacks, scoured from social media, emails and numerous homebrewing bulletin boards and threads.
Proper oxygenation of your wort is one of the key components of healthy beer fermentation. There are many methods to aerate your wort, each with their own pros and cons. Most either require purchasing equipment (aquarium pumps, aeration stones, oxygen tanks, etc.), or require some heavy lifting and time (splashing back and forth between buckets, shaking your fermenter).
My preferred method is extremely cheap (free in my case), and is a simple DIY in-line addition to the tubing that I use to transfer from the boil kettle to the fermenter.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Cut the Cane
Cut a piece of racking cane about 3-inches (~8-cm) long. I found that a tube cutter with a fresh, sharp wheel in it (commonly used for cutting copper pipe) worked well. Just be careful — almost no pressure is needed to cut it, and it’s very easy to crack it and not get a clean cut.
2. Pierce Holes
Find a very thin piece of metal, such as a finishing nail or a heavy staple. Hold it with a pair of pliers, and heat it up with a lighter or torch. Use this heated metal to melt a couple of small holes into the piece of racking cane (try to make these as small as possible).
Finally, cut a piece of your transfer tubing about 12–18 inches (30–45 cm) from the end that goes into your fermenting pail, and use the piece of racking cane to splice the two ends back together, being careful not to cover your holes.
Use the tubing just like normal, keeping the added piece out of the liquid. The racking cane has a smaller inside diameter than your transfer tubing. This, combined with the holes in the cane, creates a Venturi effect, which causes it to draw air into the liquid as it flows past the holes. The result is that you have nicely aerated wort, while adding literally no additional time to your brew day, and no heavy lifting.
Poke small holes in your cut length of cane with a small, sharp object such as a finishing nail.
Bottle Drying Rack
For any homebrewer who bottles regularly, some method of allowing your bottles to drain and dry properly after washing and sanitizing is a must. This DIY bottle drying rack is both inexpensive and easy to make using some items you may have kicking around your garage already.
(24) 3.5-inch (9-cm) stainless steel nails
(8) 2.75-inch (7-cm) wood screws
(4) 7-inch (18-cm) length of 2×4 lumber
(1) 2-foot (0.6 m) length of 2×2 lumber
6 feet (1.8 m) of 3⁄8-inch vinyl tubing
1. Cut and Prepare Tubing
Cut the tubing into sections 3 inches (8 cm) long, with a 45-degree cut at one end, keeping the other end cut straight. Insert your nails through the tubing pieces, with the straight cuts stopping against the nail heads.
2. Mark Nail Points
Mark a center line down the length of the
2×2. Choose an end of the board that will be the bottom. Mark a point along your center line 4.75 inches (12 cm) from the bottom end on one of the long faces, then points every 3.75 inches (9.5 cm) up from there, for a total of six points. Repeat this on each side of the board.
3. Drive the Nails and Cover
Drive a nail in at each marked point, at a 45-degree angle. You are looking to sink each nail about 3⁄4 of an inch (2 cm). Your tubing pieces will compress slightly, ensuring a tight fit at both ends. After the first two sides, you will encounter a slight problem — the existing nails will get in the way of laying the board flat. You can support the board between the pieces of 2×4, with the nails sitting in between them. Note: If you cannot find stainless steel nails locally, a box of 25 can be purchased from McMaster-Carr online for about $7. If you do not want to spend that money, or have regular nails handy instead, what I actually did was use regular nails and painted clear nail polish on the exposed heads to prevent them from rusting.
4. Assemble the Tree
The 2×4 pieces will now form the legs of the rack. Use two screws in each piece to fix it to the 2×2, following the pattern shown. Make sure they fit flush with, or even slightly lower than, the bottom of the length of 2×2.
The “arms” of the tree are simply stainless steel nails covered with vinyl tubing.
Fermentation Temperature Control
As a homebrewer, the worst part of living in a small apartment is not having space for a proper fermentation chamber. I’ve found a good way to solve this space dilemma, however, by combining an STC-1000 temperature controller and a water bath.
I have this set up in my back hallway where there’s no heat and the ambient temperature is about 50 °F (10 °C). I have successfully fermented beer in temperatures in the lower- to mid-60s °F (16–18 °C) and am able to bring the temperature up to the lower 70s °F (22–23 °C) to finish off and help the yeast to fully attenuate in
While this may not be as great as having a fully functional fermentation chamber, it’s only a step behind and works really well for me.
Cooler (or other water-holding container large enough for your fermenter)
Temperature control box (STC-1000 with sensor, project box, outlet, extension cord)
1. Put the Pump in the Cooler
Place the pump in the cooler with the heater in front of it so that the pump will move water directly across the heater. I like to plug the pump into an outlet that is always powered so the water is always circulating.
2. Plug in the Heater
Plug the heater into the heating side of the STC-1000 box. When your wort is ready and the yeast is pitched, figure out how much of your temperature sensor will be inside of your fermenter. Clean that section of the temperature sensor wire and give it a good spray with some StarSan (or other non-rinse sanitizer). Stick the sensor into the wort and close the fermenter with your stopper and airlock.
3. Set the Temperature
Set the temperature for whatever you like and walk away. The aquarium heater will heat the water to warm the fermenter, and when it needs to cool down the ambient cold temperature brings it back down.
As always, there’s a chance of contaminating your beer if you don’t get the temperature probe cleaned and sanitized. If you don’t want to place the probe directly in the fermenter, you can put it in the water to regulate the temperature, but the fermentation temperature will not be quite as accurate.
A cooler, water bath, aquarium heater, and a temperature controller can make an inexpensive temperature control setup.
Set the temperature controller to whatever temperature you want and it will turn the heater on if the water is too cold, and off if it gets too warm.
Veggie Steamer False Bottom
I primarily brew smaller batches, 2.25 gallons (8.5-L), with the brew-in-a-bag (BIAB) method. Keeping a steady mash temperature means having to periodically turn the heat on for a minute or two. I have read horror stories in the past about people accidentally burning a hole in their grain bags, which can, at best, leave all the grain behind when the bag was pulled out, or at worst, ruin the wort.
To avoid this, I wanted to keep the bag off the bottom of the pot when turning the heat back on. My original method was lifting the bag up and holding it while the burner was on. There were two real pitfalls in this strategy. First, with the lid off, heat would escape so it took longer to heat up the mash. Second, my arm would get tired holding the bag.
I knew there had to be a way to make this process a little more efficient, or at least make it easier for myself, so I came up with a quick fix. I found that our vegetable steamer was about the perfect height to keep things off the bottom of the pot. When I looked closer, I saw that the middle post was only screwed in and could be detached from the main unit. I unscrewed it and placed it in my boil kettle. My brew kettle holds 4 gallons (15 L) and the basket fits perfectly in my brew pot with only about a quarter-inch (~half-cm) gap.
1. Measure your brew pot
If you want to use this method, make sure your pot and steamer fit together and that the bag doesn’t droop over the edge of the steamer too much when you put it in the pot if your pot is a little bigger than the steamer. You don’t want the bag to touch the bottom of the pot.
2. Place and Boil
Place your steamer in the bottom of the pot, add the bag with grains and brew as normal.
If you try this and have a large gap, the steamer should still keep the bag off the bottom as long as your bag can be pulled over and wrapped around the edge of the pot. Using the steamer means I can turn the heat on full blast whenever I need without worrying about burning a hole in my bag or taking the lid off the kettle. Best of all, now I can sit back and hold onto a homebrew instead of a bag of grain during the mash.
Unscrew the center post of the steamer, place it in the bottom of your brew pot, and it’s ready for your brew-in-a-bag (BIAB) homebrewing!
A simple vegetable steamer, commonly found in most kitchens, can become a false bottom when the middle post is removed.
Fermentation Bucket Liners
I think it’s a pain to clean and sanitize a carboy/ bucket/conical after fermentation is complete. All that yeast residue, hop matter, etc? This is my method for cutting down on all that work using a trash bag liner. This technique has served me quite well the last two years and makes cleaning a piece of (yeast) cake. The bags are also great to store your milled grain the night before brew day. Then re-use the bags for trash or spent grain. When I say “bucket” in these instructions, I also mean carboy, conical, trash can, etc.
First you need to get some food-safe bag liners. I personally use the S-13572 Clear Trash Liners from U-Line, but it is up to you to determine what you agree is safe. Disclaimer: The trash bag liners I use are “FDA compliant,” the details of which are fully discussed on my homebrew blog post: www.fermware.com/fer
mentation-bucket-liners/. The bottom line is that they are, “approved for containing or packaging of non-contained beverages.” I think, they would have to be specifically tested with beer, but the generic “beverages” designation is good enough for me and has passed muster with BYO’s Technical Editor Ashton Lewis. Here’s how it works:
1. Get the Bag and Bucket Ready
2. Place the Bag
If you shake to oxygenate your wort, or you will be opening the lid before starting the fermentation, you need to leave some excess bag material in the fermenter. My point is, when you put the lid on, it does stretch the bag material and sometimes could put a hole in the bag and if you need to open the lid and reseal before starting fermentation, you may not get a good seal the next time. By leaving more bag in the bucket, after you open the lid, you can pull more fresh bag out and have a brand new seal.
3. Pour the Cooled Wort
Pour your cooled wort into the vessel and when you are ready to pitch your yeast and close the lid for the final time, grab the bag and pull up on it. Do not yank hard enough to pull it out of the bucket, but just enough to pull the slack out of it and hopefully get rid of any potential air pockets between the bag and the walls of the bucket.
4. Keep it Tidy
If you want, you can tie up the excess bag to keep it tidy, then ferment your homebrew in the same way that you normally would.
After fermentation, rack the beer from the fermenter as you normally would and you’ll be left with your yeast, trub, etc.
Simply pull the bag out, tie it shut and place it in the trash. If I decide to re-use the yeast cake, I do start with a new bag and transfer the yeast. The lid and airlock will still need cleaning, but no more soaking and scrubbing!
I have found an easy way to sanitize my small homebrewing equipment (such as my airlock, hydrometer, thermometer, etc.) by using two 5-gallon (19-L) buckets, one with many holes drilled in the bottom for draining (and the other can be your fermenter if you use a bucket). Since the buckets are designed to fit inside each other for stacking and storing, I figured out a simple design: I place the bucket with holes inside the other bucket and fill them with 4–5 gallons (15–19 L) of my favorite sanitizing solution. Then I put all of the items that need to be sanitized inside the bucket and attach a Gamma Seal lid. When all of the items have soaked for the allotted time, I just grab the handle and raise the top bucket up, allowing the sanitizer to drain into the bottom bucket.
This nifty contraption allows me to sanitize all the required items for my brew day and gives me a convenient way to keep them sanitized and out of the way until I need them. The airtight Gamma Lid allows me to save and reuse the sanitizing solution for a later date if I wanted as well.
All you need for this simple project are two 5-gallon (19-L) buckets, a power drill, a ½-inch drill bit, and a lid (optional).
1. Drill and Go
It couldn’t be easier to make this setup. Simply drill about 35 holes, evenly spaced, through the bottom of one bucket so that the sanitizing solution can easily and quickly drain from the bucket. Put that bucket in the other and fill it with sanitizing solution. And that’s it, you’re done. If using a no-rinse sanitizer, you can just hang your bucket with the equipment up and allow everything inside to dry.
Simply place the bucket with the holes inside of the other bucket and fill it with sanitizer. When you’re ready, pull the interior bucket out and let it drain into the bottom bucket.