Friday, August 10, 2012

Easy DIY Ale Pale Modification

Recently my short lived love affair with the autosiphon came to an abrupt end once I discovered valves. Sounds crazy right, well read on and I will explain to you exactly what I mean. The very fist 6.5 gallon plastic Ale Pail I bought was to be used as a fermentor and it had no 1 inch hole drilled in it for a valve, so I bought an auto siphon too in order to get the beer out of it. I soon found the longer auto siphon and tubing was a pain to use and a bit too challenging to clean, sanitize and store for my liking.

Stock 6.5 Gallon Ale Pail Fermentor
  The next Ale Pail I bought to use as a bottling bucket came with a 1 inch hole drilled in it about 2 inches off the bottom for a valve that I attached my bottling wand to. The only issue I had with this was how high up the bucket wall the center of the hole was, this was done so that the bucket could sit flat on the floor without the valve getting in the way. But I had noticed earlier that the valves are built to swivel without leaking, from the vertical to the horizontal position, and they could possibly be mounted an inch lower on the bucket wall without hitting the floor.

Using Auto Siphon To Fill Bottling Bucket
 Then one day it hit me! Just switch things around a little to use the bottling bucket as the fermentor since it's valve was already mounted high enough off the bottom to keep the trub from getting into the bottling bucket. Say goodbye to the long auto siphon, now I simply connect a much shorter length of tubing directly to the valve to fill the bottling bucket and a whole lot faster too. Now that the 'bottling bucket' is used as a fermentor I had the opportunity to improve the bottling bucket too. One big pain point I had with the Ale Pails delivered, with the valve hole pre-drilled, was when using them as a bottling bucket I had to stick a wedge under one end to get all the beer out of it because the valves were mounted too high off the bottom.

1 Inch Spade Bit Drill And Valve Assembly
 Take it from me this is going to be the easiest DIY project you're probably ever going to take on that returns such a huge benefit on bottling day. I marked the side of the fermentor with a sharpie aligning the center of the hole perpendicular to the handle and 1 1/8 inches from the very bottom. This allows enough room inside the bucket to spin the lock nut which in turns compresses the gaskets on the valve stem so there aren't any leaks. Once you've marked the location of the hole lay the bucket on it's side, put the 1 inch spade bit in a variable speed drill and drill the hole.

Drilling A 1 Inch Hole Using A Spade Bit

Needless to say it doesn't take much pressure, or a very high drill speed, to drill a hole through the soft plastic fermentor wall so go slowly. As the fine point of the bit goes through the wall you'll start to see marks in the plastic from the shoulders of the bit, this is where you want to keep the bit aligned so it begins to cut a nice even circle all the was around the center of the bit.

1 Inch Hole Drilled In Wall Of Ale Pail 1 1/8 Inch From Bottom
It only took about ten seconds using moderate pressure and drill speed to plunge the bit though the side of the fermentor. I used my fingers to pick and pull off any bits of stringy plastic left on the bucket before lightly sanding any sharp edges with a small piece of fine sandpaper. I did this to keep the hole as clean as possible  before attaching the valve to the bucket.

1 Inch Hole Before Cleaning And Attaching Valve
Once the hole has been drilled and cleaned up its time to install the valve assembly. This will require a little bit of effort because the hole is just tight enough that the valve stem has to be threaded into the side of the bucket. Make sure the outside gasket has been slid onto the valve stem then using firm pressure begin to screw the stem into the hole while keeping it straight and level. Once the outside gasket on near the valve body is touching the wall of the fermentor its time to reach inside the bucket and slip the inside gasket on the stem and screw on the inside nut.

Valve Body With Gasket Screws Into The Hole
Let the valve spigot hang over the end of a flat surface to allow room to turn the assembly without hitting anything. Mounting the valve this low on the fermentor means you'll have to swivel the spigot horizontally when storing it away. It also means that you'll be able to fill your bottles with practically every last drop of beer without having to tilt the bucket to one side so it can flow out of the valve. It is just high enough though to keep those little bits of trub that somehow made it into the bottling bucket from getting into your bottles.

Bottling Bucket Shown On Left Fermentor Shown At Right
I unscrew the valves from the fermentors when cleaning them after transferring the beer to the bottling bucket, sometimes I find a little bit of trub buildup inside the valve body or accumulating around the inside gasket. It only takes me a few extra minutes to make sure the entire assembly has been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before each use. I really don't mind taking the extra time to make sure I get a good clean fermentation. 

Transferring And Aerating Cooled Wort To Fermentor
Using valves and tubing to transfer beer is a whole lot easier and a lot faster than transferring beer using a racking cane or an auto siphon. After making this simple DIY modification to two of my Ale Pales I wouldn't dream of going back to the way I used to transfer my beer. So far I've been relying on gravity to keep my beer moving but I'm already beginning to see the benefits adding a March pump would make to my brewing process. I'm happy with the valve and tubing upgrades made to my kettle, fermentors and bottling buckets. I really couldn't have imagined what a huge difference they would make to my brewing process if I hadn't actually gone ahead and made the changes.  

Twist The Valve Handle And Let Gravity Do The Rest

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