Picture this scenario: You’re brewing an imperial IPA, and it utilizes a pretty aggressive hop bill. You’ve meticulously selected your ingredients, spent hours tweaking the recipe and have sourced all of the ingredients from your favorite homebrew suppliers. Brew day finally arrives and everything is going perfectly; you’re hitting your mash rests with ease, your efficiency is through the roof and you’ve perfectly timed your hop additions. You find yourself daydreaming about cracking open a bottle or pulling a pint of this heavenly brew a few months from now once it’s ready to drink, and it’s as close to brewing nirvana as you’ve been.
Then, the unthinkable happens; your ball valve, pump and plate chiller start to clog with hop matter, and even after trying to rectify the situation, you can’t seem to keep your system from clogging. Of course, you have a backup immersion chiller in case of this very scenario, but to your horror you remember that you sold that immersion chiller a while back since your beloved plate chiller has been working so well! The ice-in-the-bathtub method isn’t really reasonable if you are brewing a large batch (like I do, which are 15-gallon/57-L batches), so that’s another idea out the window. Without a way to efficiently cool your wort, your batch has to sit out for hours to cool, and in the end becomes hazy and infected.
After running into this problem on more than one occasion, I decided to try and find a solution. Some people have had success combating excess hop matter by adding a screen to the end of their dip tube; but that seemed to me like it would also be destined to clog at some point. Others just dump their entire wort, hop matter included, into the fermenter and let it all drop out during fermentation; but that means that you lose quite a bit of your final beer to trub/hop matter at bottling time. I decided that the best way to contain the hop matter would be to utilize some sort of hop bag. Some may argue that this method can affect hop utilization, but I haven’t noticed a difference in my recipes thus far.
At first, I attempted to add the hops to the bag, tie a knot in it and pull the bag out when I needed to add more hops. This didn’t work well since pulling out the bag, untying it, adding hops, and retying it — all while the bag was soaked in boiling wort — was a hassle. I decided then that I needed some way of holding the bag open during the boil so I could add hops at any point. I searched my local hardware store for some way of accomplishing my goal, and this is the design that I came up with. There are many other brewers out there with similar designs, so I used some of them for inspiration. I tweaked my design to make the unit sturdier and easier to clean. The thing I love most about this project is how simple it is to build. The only tool I needed was a drill with the proper drill bit.
Parts and Supplies List
• 4-inch to 3-inch reducing PVC coupling
• 1 nylon paint straining bag (1- or 5-gallon/3.8- or 19-L size, depending on your batch size)
• 3 carriage bolts with 6 nuts and washers of corresponding size
• 1 turn-key clamp (that will fit the 3-inch end of the coupling)
• Power drill with drill bit that corresponds to the size of the carriage bolts
• eye protection (safety goggles)
1. Gather your materials
The main piece of the spider is a PVC reducing coupling. You can choose whatever size fits your budget and is available in your area, but I went with a 4-inch to 3-inch reducing coupling for a few reasons. First, the naturally conical shape of the coupling allowed more space to pour the hops into the spider easily. Second, the larger area of the opening made it easier to fill. Finally, the small opening at the bottom of the spider made it easier to find a clamp to fit the spider. Another integral part of the hop spider is the nylon mesh bags, which are meant for paint straining, but work well for our purposes since nylon retains its structural integrity even at higher temperatures. The bags are available in 1- or 5-gallon (3.8- or 19-L) varieties, and are extremely inexpensive.
2. Drill holes in pvc coupling
This is the most technically challenging part of the project, but it should be fairly simple as long as you have a good drill bit. Find a drill bit that corresponds with the size of your carriage bolts and drill three holes equidistant apart. You will be threading the carriage bolts through the holes you’re drilling, and the carriage bolts will support the hop spider. If the holes aren’t exactly equidistant apart, the hop spider will still support itself without an issue. Make sure to wear some sort of eye protection during this part of the project as hot PVC shavings will be ejected from the coupling. It’s also a good idea to do this in a garage, outside, etc. where you can easily sweep up the shavings. Once you’re done drilling, clean up the holes by pulling off any hanging pieces of PVC, as they could loosen over time and fall in your wort.
3. Attach bolts, washers and nuts
The next step is threading the carriage bolts through the holes you’ve drilled. You want a nut and washer on each side of the hole, which will help secure the bolts. In order, it should be nut-washer-coupling-washer-nut. If you are so inclined, you can use a crescent wrench to tighten the nuts, but hand tightening is more than enough to keep the hop spider secure and it allows for easy cleaning after a brew session.
4. Attach clamp and mesh bag
In this step, you have an option of using either regular worm clamps, which are tightened using a flat head screwdriver, or turn-key clamps, which allow you to hand-tighten the clamp. I found the turn-key clamps to be much more efficient, as it makes for one less tool to have on hand on brew day. The first step is to attach the mesh bag to the smaller end of the coupling by stretching the elastic around the lip of the coupling. After the bag is attached, pull the bag through the center of the clamp and slide the clamp onto the coupling, making sure to keep the bag under the clamp. Tighten the clamp as securely as possible. If the bag falls off the coupling, all of this work would be for naught, so make sure to tighten the clamp well. Test the security of the bag by giving it a tug. If it passes this test, you’re good to go.
5. Test the fit on your brew pot
The final step is to double check that the hop spider fits your brew pot. I have two different brew pots that I alternate using, depending on batch size, so I made the hop spider large enough to accommodate both sizes. If the carriage bolts fit securely over the lip of your brew pot, you’re good to go. If they’re a little short, pick up three longer carriage bolts and you’ll be all set.
6. Use and maintenance
The hop spider will have wort splashed on it at some point, so be sure to wash it off after each brew session to keep it from becoming a sticky mess. I do not reuse the mesh bags as they can be a pain to clean, but you can clean those out if you so choose.
Since the cost of making a hop spider is so low, I suggest making a few at a time to give to your brewing friends. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the thought and will probably get a lot of use out of the spider. Even if you don’t use a ball valve or pump setup, this will help deal with hop matter in your fermenter, which means less trub when it comes time to bottle. The only thing left to do is brew a batch of beer with your new homemade gadget — have fun!
This is John Brooke’s first “Projects” column for Brew Your Own.