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Converting a water heater?

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Driftwood

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Had this idea to try to convert a water heater into a brew kettle. Anybody thought about this before?

Don't think gas or electric makes much difference, but gas should be more efficient... The heater is already insulated, so that should be helpful...

With a standard water heater, i should be able to make 30-40 gal at a time...

Opinions? Anyone think of any reason NOT to try this?

P.S. This would be for my frat, we have a few brewers here and we go through a LOT of beer, so this would be great... hmmm... but then we need to find fermenters to handle these volumes... any suggestions?
 

Born Brewing Co.

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I see no reason it wouldn't work. I am assuming you intend to have this be the brew kettle? You could rig a spigot on the bottom to drain the wort. The question is, as you mentioned, what will you use then as a 30-40 gallon mash tun and liquor tun? Also, because of the size of these you probably would have to go side by side rather than 3-tier gravity fed. Hence, you'll need a pump to move the liquid. An easier method may be to save 3 kegs after a weekend kegger and convert them to a 15 gallon brewery. Hell, I bet you could walk around fraternity row and find 10 more kegs. Have some pledges nab them for you under the cover of darkness. Yes, I was in a fraternity (Sigma Nu) in college and speak from experience.

Maybe the fraternity will budget for the equipment. You should run for treasurer and write it in the house budget. Of course, when you graduate in 6-8 years the equipment will stay in the fraternity, so have a few pledges serve as apprentices each year to learn and carry on with the fraternity brewery.

In anycase, you guys will be the most popular fraternity on campus. When everybody else has Keystone Light at their functions, you'll have premium homebrew! I love it! Keep in touch. I would love to hear more about a brew session in the fraternity.
 
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Driftwood

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Born Brewing Co. said:
I see no reason it wouldn't work. I am assuming you intend to have this be the brew kettle? You could rig a spigot on the bottom to drain the wort. The question is, as you mentioned, what will you use then as a 30-40 gallon mash tun and liquor tun?
Yeah, it would be for the kettle. For mash/lauter, I found what I think used to be a deep fryer with a false bottom! The false bottom is removable, and I'll need to put in a significantly finer one in (the current one has 1 inch holes). Its got a couple immersion heaters in the bottom and its insulated, should be perfect!

But what about fermentation? Big plastic drums? I know I can get some steel drums from my HBS for $5 and then a plastic liner for $2. They use these to transport juices for wine brewing. These should work... or should we look for copper tanks?
 

sudsmonkey

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You could go with 50 gallon plastic barrels. They ship olives and pickles in these big egg-shaped barrels with removable gasketed lids. Drill the lid for a grommet and airlock setup , and you're fermenting in style. Maybe some of your bros. could help you lift it onto a counter or table at bottling time. Remember, lift with the legs, not with the back. :D
 

ian

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this is awesome, I love it. This is sounding like the frat could become a professional microbrewery with a couple years experience and this MONGO brewing setup :D :D :D
 

cowain

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Do you plan on using the hot water heater's burner or upgrading the burner? If you were planning on using the one built in to the heater, you would have the benefit of using natural gas, but you'd have to figure out a way to either modify the on/off thermostat to a higher temp or bypass it all together. Also, what metal is the inside of a hot water heater? I suppose there's a possibility of weird off flavors being contributed by a strange metal if the heater were not aluminum, ss, or brass on the inside.
 
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Driftwood

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cowain said:
Do you plan on using the hot water heater's burner or upgrading the burner? If you were planning on using the one built in to the heater, you would have the benefit of using natural gas, but you'd have to figure out a way to either modify the on/off thermostat to a higher temp or bypass it all together. Also, what metal is the inside of a hot water heater? I suppose there's a possibility of weird off flavors being contributed by a strange metal if the heater were not aluminum, ss, or brass on the inside.
Was leaning toward a gas fired one, without upgrading. Just a standard 40 gal 33,000 BTU heater should get a full load of about 30+ gal from mash temp to boiling in about half an hour.

As for off flavours, I don't think we need to worry. I mean, the water from a water heater is used for everything around the house, even drunk sometimes, so I think it should be fine...

And yeah, i think we would just bypass the thermostat with an on/off switch, and maybe a valve on the gas line to reduce the flow a little once its boiling...
 

brewhead

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isn't the water heater itself made of cast iron? i know sometimes in an old water heater you'll get rust at the fauscet. while ok for watering your plants and taking a bath in - wouldn't recomend it for drinking without a reverse osmosis whole house filter.
 

sudsmonkey

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Good point. I think if you're going to comvert a used heater you'd need to clean out scale and sediment first and a really good filter on the output side wouldn't hurt a bit.
 
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Driftwood

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Hmmm.... well, i know water heaters come with sacrificial anodes in them, a bar of some metal that is supposed to be preferentially dissolved to the casing itself...

I don't think they make cast iron water heaters anymore, but lets say they do. I would be using the thing just like a pot, so could it really contribute to the flavor during a one hour boil?

But I'll keep and eye out to learn what they make them from. I would assume aluminum would be cheapest, or regular steel... we'll see...


Edit: Went to howstuffworks.com, they label the tank as being "heavy inner steel tank", so i wonder if thats how all modern ones are made...
 

cowain

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It just depends. I was talking with my parents last night because they had a water heater in their house when they remodeled and one of the workers asked if he could have it. They said sure and gave it to him. The thing was stainless steel on the inside, so it would have made your perfect kettle. See if you can't find a really old one (like 40's) maybe it'll be stainless.
 
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