Hey, things are looking up!!!
We broke out the family brewery last Sunday, and everything worked flawlessly. Well, almost. First, we added some very expensive stainless steel quick disconnects to our piping system as the old plastic ones we inherited with our pump purchase were leaking and letting air into the pump and making it lose its prime. The new disconnects are beautiful, and changed our brewday from one of coaxing things to work to actually worrying about our brewing. The disconnects cost $45 for each set. Expensive, I know, but I am actually considering buying two more sets so that my entire system utilizes them.
The only problem is that one purchase at the local homebrew shop always begets another. So, I want another couple of sets of disconnects. But the disconnects get hot (the plastic ones don't), so we need a good set of heat and liquid resistant gloves. We also really need to convert one of the kegs I use for fermentation into a combo fermenter and Hot Liquor Tank. So, I need to buy a weldless bulkhead and another valve. I also need to find another container for my pump. I had mounted it into an old plastic toolbox, but it proves to need at the very least, modifications. I am also looking for another cheap box to try again. I was thinking of an army surplus ammo can. I also could use....well, you get the picture.
So, to top all off of the rumination about equipment upgrades, now that I may have a more permanent gig, we are also talking about buying new equipment and scrapping the old. Specifically, we are looking at the expensive Sabco Kegs with the sanitary welds and the professional tri-clamp fittings. But if we go with the tri-clamp fittings (non threaded fittings that are easier to connect, disassemble, and clean), we need to replace all of our valves as well. So, we started talking about the package deal from Sabco that includes everything. Which got me thinking, maybe we ought just to pull out the nuclear option and get the computerized, hard piped, and turn-key system from Sabco (it is the Brew Magic system if you are interested). It is truly a professional level set up. So in the blink of an eye, I went from a couple hundred dollars of new equipment to $1,500 for new vessels and tri-clamps, to $2,500 for a full system, to $5,500 for never having to buy another piece of brew day equipment.
I think that it may be cheaper in the long run to invest in the turn-key system. But, then I feel sad that I have more money than time to build my own Frankenstien, post-apocalyptic brewery. It is kind of like buying an expensive sports car, or restoring one a piece at a time. Either way, you have something very cool, but there isn't much cost savings in the actual equipment, and then there is the time to shop and assemble a brewery a piece at a time. Time which I probably will never have.
My ultimate goal, is to have a safer, efficient brewery that is easy to set up, tear down, clean and brew. In theory, that would make it easier and more likely to brew. Many of the upgrades have helped me reach that goal in part. I have eliminated the glass carboys, eliminated the need to carry or lift heavy or hot containers of beer or wort. We also made the brewery more efficient and able to monitor and control more variables, while shortening the brewday by a couple of hours.
The big question now is weather to continue the incremental upgrades, or make a few large purchases, or go with the nuclear option. If money was no object (or if I didn't consider $1,500 to $5,500 a ridiculously expensive outlay), the decision would be easy. I also have the issue of wanting (but probably never having the time) to build it myself from scratch. How badly, do I want to computerize (and thus completely control) brew day?
And then, there is always a kegging system. Decisions, Decisions.
Oh, and I got completely off of the brew day. Everything worked almost like clockwork. Part of it is a good (better) layout, part of it is fixing small things (new disconnects) and the other part is that my nephew has fully integrated into our brewing day so we can be doing more at once, and paying better attention to more details. We set up, milled, brewed, and cleaned up in six hours. Our one problem occurred when we were pumping our wort into the fermentor in the basement (instead of carrying heavy containers), our piping and pump clogged with hops. We need some sort of screen to prevent this. I have a few ideas, or we could just pull the trigger on the expensive equipment. Even then, there would always be more to buy.