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Old 12-07-2012, 03:40 PM   #1
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Default Sanke keg fermentation adapter options (pros/cons)

I'm considering branching out in my brewing adventures by making lambics and meads. Both of these have long fermentation cycles, which means I'll be more inclined to do larger batches. That said, I'm considering learning how to ferment in sanke kegs.

I've found several options for how to adapt kegs for use as fermentation vessels, but I'm not clear on which would be best for my needs - so I thought I'd get opinions. One of the reasons I'm confused about which direction to head is that (not having made a long-fermenting beer or mead before) I'm unsure about how the process differs from a standard ale. I imagine I'll have to take occasional samples, and I don't know which system will be best suited for this purpose. Ideally I'll find a system that will work equally well for the following requirements:

  • Can be used for both short term fermentation (typical ales/lagers) and long-term fermentation (lambics or mead).
  • Can take occasional samples through the year(s) without removing yeast
  • Ideally, could be used for both pressurized and non-pressurized fermentation (This could be nice for standard ales/lagers, but I don't know whether I want pressurized fermentation for lambics, and haven't decided whether I want carbonated or uncarbonated mead)
  • Allows for easy cleaning without requiring boiling (I have an electric setup)

I've made a list of the options I've found, along with their pros and cons. I'm hoping others will weigh in with any suggestions, corrections, or clarifications.

Plastic Carboy Cap

Pros:
  • Cheapest option
  • Simplest to get started with
  • Ball valve and dip tube are removed
    • Possible (if still cumbersome) to add fruit for lambics
    • Easier to clean
Cons:
  • Transfer by siphon (iffy to move 10+ gallons high enough) or by C02 (can be gimmicky, risking blowing cap off keg)
  • Can't do pressurized fermentation

Fermenter Kit

Pros:
  • Professionaly built with keg fermentation in mind
  • Safe to use pressurized C02 transfer
  • Ball valve and dip tube are removed
    • Possible (if still cumbersome) to add fruit for lambics
    • Easier to clean
Cons:
  • Expensive
  • Not built for pressurized fermentation

Keg tap with spunding valve

Pros:
  • Moderate price
  • Can do pressurized fermentation
  • Transfer not necessary, but (if desired) can be transferred with C02
Cons:
  • More maintenance if pressurized fermentation not desired? (Have to regularly depressurize?)
  • Ball valve and dip tube are intact
    • Impossible to add fruit for lambics?
    • More difficult to clean?
My gut feeling is that I'll probably need two systems. The fermenter kit for lambics, where I may need to add fruit, and the tap with spunding valve for meads or standard ales/lagers. Any thoughts on this approach (or whether using two systems is necessary?)

Finally, I'm not clear how difficult it will be to clean the kegs afterwards. I can't boil it, since I use an all-electric system. That leaves either soaking (which may not get it clean enough) or building a pump/RIMS/CIP system which would be effective, but expensive. Any thoughts on cleaning the kegs (without requiring boiling) would be appreciated as well.

Thanks for your help!
~Dean
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Old 12-11-2012, 03:57 PM   #2
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(Bump)

Any thoughts on the keg fermentor conversion options listed above?

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Old 12-11-2012, 08:05 PM   #3
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I use the brewers hardware kit. I've had no problems with it, I may buy another one, but the one without the thermal well, I don't really think its needed. You can tape your probe to the keg.

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Old 12-11-2012, 08:13 PM   #4
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I've been fermenting in Snake kegs for about a year and a half now. I started with the orange caps and upgraded to the
fermenter kit from brewers hardware.

I temp control my sanke kegs in a dedicated fridge. It's a standard top freezer style fridge. I did have to modify the door a bit to get the keg in. Also the fridge has limited height so I use the bent part of a racking cane to turn the blow off 90 degrees without kinking the tube. An air lock will not fit in my fridge. I don't think a keg tap spunding thing would fit either.

For racking I use co2 pressure and a racking cane. The very first time I brewed I lifted it up on to a counter and racked with gravity but lifting is really not fun so I worked out how to transfer under pressure. You can pressurize with the orange cap! But if you use too much pressure the cap blows off. no big deal. Just put the cap back on and start over. The fermenter kit is just a nicer version of the orange cap. Is it worth the extra money? I don't know but I really like it so for me it is.

For cleaning I use a bucket full of hot PWB and a sump pump that shoots the pwb up into the inverted keg. Kinda like a keg bidet. This works best when you use PWB (not oxiclean) and the PWB is hot (I start with 180F water). I've used oxi clean with 120F water in the past and it sometimes took 2 rounds to clean it properly. With the hot PWB it's 30 mins and it's clean. Then I rinse with hot tap water. The bath tub is a great place to rinse your sanke keg. To sanitize I put a quart of water inside. Put it on the burner (yeah I know you don't have one) and boil for 10 mins with tin foil covering the opening. I think you could skip the boiling and just sanitize with star san or iodaphor.

MOST IMPORTANT>>>
Temp control. Make sure it fits in your fridge or whatever. I'd think a chest freezer would be insane but maybe your a power lifter.
Cleaning. It's really hard to see inside (I use a tiny mirror) so make sure you have a good reliable way to clean it.
Racking. You don't want to have to pick it up. Just plan on racking under pressure.

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Old 12-11-2012, 08:14 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rossi46 View Post
I use the brewers hardware kit. I've had no problems with it, I may buy another one, but the one without the thermal well, I don't really think its needed. You can tape your probe to the keg.

I'm also thinking about getting a second one. I also don't use the thermowell and just tape the probe to the side.
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Old 12-12-2012, 01:36 AM   #6
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I ferment in a chest freezer. I pump from the plate chiller into the freezer, then rack from sanke to cornie with co2.

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Old 12-12-2012, 01:41 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rossi46 View Post
I ferment in a chest freezer. I pump from the plate chiller into the freezer, then rack from sanke to cornie with co2.
That would work fine if you can get everything in the same room. I make wort in my garage. I ferment and keg in the basement.

BTW How much height is there in the chest above the sanke keg? Enough for a standard air lock?
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Old 12-12-2012, 01:56 AM   #8
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I brew and ferment in the garage. Yes an airlock will fit easily.

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Old 12-12-2012, 02:09 AM   #9
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I've never had trouble with the carboy cap. The ones I have fit really tightly, an you could always use a worm feet clamp if you're concerned sour CO2 pressure popping the lid off. I've never had one pop as long as my outlet was clear. The brewers hardware option looks awesome, but it's much more expensive.

If you're considering buying a sankey and a valve, you might want to look into the ones offered by SABCO. The whole setup is in the $200 range and has a 4" opening.

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Old 12-12-2012, 02:13 AM   #10
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I've been fermenting in sanke kegs for some time now. I started off using the large universal stopper (the one NOT for BB's) fitted with an airlock. I initially would transfer via a siphon to bottling bucket, or keg. That got old, fast. Started using one of the orange carboy caps to allow a CO2 push, but getting those fitted to the keg could be an issue (tight fit). Tried the Brewer's Hardware cap for a while. Nice but has a couple of things I don't like/need. So, I had a corny keg post base welded into several kegs (drilled a hole first) also had some TC caps altered to allow me to use a standard corny keg liquid dip tube (also had a thermowell fitted to it). Then started using CO2 to push the finished beer out of fermenting keg. No more lifting of the keg. I also fill my serving kegs via their liquid post, so filling from the bottom there. Makes it easier and pretty much zero chance of oxidization, and greatly reduced infection/contamination risk (virtually nil). I'm working on revision two of the cap setup now. This one will require NO modification of the sanke kegs (other than removing the valve/spear) and still have all the functions I like. I really wish I had gone this route initially, but I didn't have enough experience with the systems yet. I have found I really like the thermowell in the brew, not attaching the sensor to the side of the keg. For one thing, putting it on the side can be impacted by the ambient temperatures. I'd rather have a reading from the middle of the keg than the outer inch, or two.

BTW, I ferment [and age] my beer and mead in sanke kegs. Just the other day I actually bottled one of my meads using my Blichmann Beer Gun, one of my extractor caps, and a CO2 feed/source (connected to the keg). Keg was at ground level, no bottling bucket was used, and I got everything out of the vessel. SO much easier than transferring to the bottling bucket, using the wand, etc. Plus, I only had ONE vessel to clean at the end of the session.

Also, the Sabco sanke fermenting vessel is $569.95. Their 'select sankey keg' is $369.95. That's all that you can find on their site currently. I do recall seeing a short pony keg version a while ago, but cannot locate it today.

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