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Old 10-25-2009, 04:11 PM   #1
nationslargest
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Default 55 Gallon Ordinary Steel Drum System

I picked up a few food grade "ordinary" steel drums. They have removable tops, crimped bottoms, and are coated with something that looks like epoxy.

There are lots of posts saying you can't mash and boil in ordinary steel but I haven't seen one from somebody who has actually tried it and has experience, versus speculation, with the failures.

I was concerned about the crimped bottoms leaking or failing when I apply direct gas heat but a test should answer that question. Possibly putting 3 inches of boiling water on the brew house floor but answering none the less.

I am also concerned that when heated the epoxy (or whatever) coating will fail in some nasty, toxic way. If the bottom crimp doesn't fail in the test, I will examine the water and the coating to see if there are any off flavors. (Might give some to the neighbor's cat too just to see if its safe.)

I got some advice the other day that water was such a good heat transfer fluid that for the most part the interior surfaces won't get above 212 F. Seems reasonable. I'm not concerned about any of the materials at that temperature.

The drums were the right price (free) and the test should be easy.

Any experience out there? I'll post some photos and updates from the test.

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Old 10-26-2009, 01:13 AM   #2
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Man up a little and drink the sample yourself. More than likely, the coating on the inside of the drums will bubble, split or crack exposing the bare steel to whatever you are boiling in them. Sooner or later the exposed steel will rust and ruin your beer. Don't bother with the pics. I don't think you will find much interest. A better option would be a stainless steel drums which are available, but usually not for free. Unless you have at least some brewing experience, you would be wise to start on a smaller scale. Have you ever brewed a batch of beer? Somehow I don't think so.

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Old 10-26-2009, 01:19 AM   #3
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Mashing or boiling in a container that is just steel covered with paint?

Sorry man, that does not sound good. I've never met a paint that didn't eventually wear off or fall off under harsh conditions. A stainless drum, if you are really seeking a huge pot, is probably your best bet.

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Old 10-26-2009, 02:28 AM   #4
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I used to work at a tin can factory for a few months. I can't say I'm an expert, but I might be able to shed some light on how the coating might perform.

For various food products, we would put a coating on the inside of the can to prevent food contamination from the can or even failure of the can from acidic foods like tomato sauce and whatnot. I learned that foods like some soups were cooked inside the can, so that may testify to the safety of the coating, but I can't say that your coating would be equally safe. As for the coating itself, it was put onto the can blank wet, and baked on in an oven at pretty high temps. So again, being exposed to temps very much higher than 212F, but it also may not have been applied in the same method and is not exposed to water products until much later if at all.

So ultimately, I really haven't helped much, but if I were in your position, I would proceed with much caution and I personally wouldn't do it. Just my opinion.

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Old 10-26-2009, 02:34 AM   #5
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I would forget about boiling in it and use it as a GIANT fermenter. Gather a half dozen guys with propane burners, use the same method and ingredients, and throw it in the drum to ferment. It would probably make for a more balanced beer and get rid of any mistakes one of you would make. Like a good coffee or wine blend. I wish I had more brewers on hand to do something like that myself.

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Old 11-19-2009, 10:51 PM   #6
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Despite the negative sentiment from the forum rats who don't have any experience....

Phase I and Phase II testing were successful.

The drums maintained their structural integrity under direct gas fire with 175k BTU. The coating proved durable to both heating and mild abrasion from the paddle. about 4 batches of 15 gallons of water was boiled and there was no impact, from either the coating or the small rust patches that are already there, to taste, smell, or appearance.

For Phase III, I am going to mount fittings to the drums and use either the Bazooka screen or the false bottom from the 10 gallon system for a test batch. (If the system passes Phase III I will customize some kind of screen or false bottom.)

I figure the test brew will be 20 gallons of a 1.060 pale ale, lightly hopped. Something I can ferment at ambient (65F) because my largering system (temp controlled fridge) can't handle much more than 10 gallons. I want something that's pretty clean so I can really asses if the system passes Phase III.

I've read a bout a guy who gets 46 gallons from his 55 gallon system and mashes up to 130 pounds of grain. I've got to work on my jacketed fermenter so that I can be ready for that much larger.

So far so good.

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Old 11-27-2009, 11:20 PM   #7
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The test brew was a pretty good success.

I decided I would brew 20 gallons at 148 with my usual, light hopping schedule and then ferment 10 gallons with German Bock yeast at 50 F and 10 gallons with English Ale yeast at ambient - which is about 65 F in the garage right now.

The problem I ran into was the hose connecting my false bottom with the tank fitting came off in the mash tun mid way through. So I had to pull all of the mash out and sparge it in my 10 gallon sparger by hand. Even with this set back, I got efficiency of 70% and ran at 20 minutes per gallon, down from 30 minutes per gallon on the smaller system.

20 gallons is most of my fermentation capacity so I am not going to run another batch for a little while. I will bottle condition, keg condition, and lager the results so I can compare not only the new system but also the ale versus yeast impact on my recipe.

I will update again in 4 weeks or so.

Next up is malting my own barely. I just happen to have 10 tons of Metcalf. I think that will be a separate thread....

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Old 01-09-2011, 02:39 AM   #8
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I know it's an old thread and all, but seemed interesting. Ordinary steel drums are so much cheaper, but I've always just speculated and never tried it. However, it sucks there was no pics posted though as they always speak louder than words and that there is no way to prove that this wasn't just made up...

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Old 01-12-2011, 09:28 PM   #9
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Word, I was hoping for a pic or two as well

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Old 01-12-2011, 10:45 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Catt22 View Post
Man up a little and drink the sample yourself. More than likely, the coating on the inside of the drums will bubble, split or crack exposing the bare steel to whatever you are boiling in them. Sooner or later the exposed steel will rust and ruin your beer. Don't bother with the pics. I don't think you will find much interest. A better option would be a stainless steel drums which are available, but usually not for free. Unless you have at least some brewing experience, you would be wise to start on a smaller scale. Have you ever brewed a batch of beer? Somehow I don't think so.
That was a little bit uncalled for. Hell, I'm all for people deviating from the normal progression of equipment upgrades and such. Don't listen to the poster above, try new things and prove all of us wrong. Interesting thread though, I'll be sure follow it. Pics of those beasts in action would be great...
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