The Fermenter Wagon

It’s been a while since I updated my homebrewing.  I’ll put a post together in the next week or so talking about all I’ve been learning over the past few months concerning all-grain brewing, but first I want to finish detailing some of the new equipment I bought and modified.

As many of you know I purchased two 14.5 gallon stainless steel, conical fermenters.  I bought mine from Stout Tanks and Kettles.  I’m really pleased with them, but I did have to make some modifications to them.  Luckily, I have a nephew going to school in the engineering department at Boise State University and he was able to get the modifications done for me.  Stout Tanks and Kettles do not use model numbers, so much, for their products so I can’t link directly to the fermenter I bought.  But if you go to their page and look for the one titled, “14.5 Gal, Conical Fermenter with welded-on legs, thermowell, thermometer.”  That would be the one.

My biggest problem with using the conical is where to put it.  Since I brew outside I realized I would need to make my fermenter mobile.  There are times when I brew and I’m by myself and there’s no way to carry 10 – 13 gallons of wort in a kettle from the patio to the laundry room.  So I came up with the idea to build a wagon for the fermenter.  This would also allow me to move the fermenter around the house to help maintain better temperature control as parts of the basement get hotter or cooler depending on the season.

Like the brewhouse, I only wanted to make this fermenter wagon one time (well, twice since I have two now).  So if I ended up buying larger fermenters I wanted to make sure the wagon would be able to hold the weight.  Since the total height would be nearly as tall as me, I also needed it to be able to hold me as well as a full fermenter.  Width and length were big issues as well since I would need to go through doorways and around hallway corners.  Since I couldn’t find a complete wagon that met these conditions I ended up buying this Millside Wagon Kit from Northern Tool and Equipment.  The weight limit on it is more than I would ever need, but it is the only wagon kit I could find that allowed me to design my own body and meet my weight requirements.

I’ve used this fermenter wagon five times now and it’s great.  Holy cow I never imagined how much easier it would make the process.  I can wheel it out next to the brewhouse and pump the wort directly into it, pitch the yeast and then roll it into the house where I want to park it.  When fermentation is over, I can wheel it into the laundry room and keg the beer.  I built wood leg extensions for the fermenter to sit on so I can gravity fill the kegs directly out of the fermenter.  The larger rubber tires roll easily over every surface I have.  We have a stone patio outside, a 4″ step up into the house from the patio, slate in one hallway, carpet in another and linoleum in the laundry room.  Even pulling the wagon over the step up into the house is a breeze.

The base of the wagon is large enough to hold my blow off bucket so as I move the wagon around I don’t have to carry anything with me.

The only downside I have run into so far is the space directly under the bottom of the fermenter is not wide enough to fit a 5-gallon bucket.  That really isn’t a huge problem.  I use a tri-clamp and hose line to drain out the bottom if I need to drain out more than a standard 1-quart pitcher will hold.

Here are some pictures of the construction and use.

This first just shows the underside after installing the frame work of the wagon kit.  I used two pieces of 3/4 MDF that measure 34″ x 24″.  The tongue for the handle make the total length 42″.

Here it is flipped upright with the handle and wheels attached.  I counter sunk all the bolt heads.

The leg extensions are just 4″ x 4″ lumber.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve used it for five batches now.  This morning I transferred my stout from the fermenter to the kegs.  Here are some photos of the fermenter in action.

If you’re asking, “Why is that hose line so long?”  It’s the line I use to drain out the bottom of the fermenter as well.  I don’t want to have to keep switching from one short hose to a longer hose every time.  It’s easier just to use one size.  One addition I will probably make is to add some linoleum over the top of the MDF.  During sanitizing and cleaning a lot of water gets spilled onto the MDF so I’d like to minimize any water damage that may lead me to have to replace that top piece of MDF.  Other than that, I haven’t had any issues with the design and I’m really happy how it turned out.

There was one major modification that I had made to the fermenter.  It had to do with the lid.  One major flaw with this fermenter is the method used to seal the lid.  If you’re not very, very careful, the gasket under the lid can pop out and drop into your beer.  This flaw makes it difficult to dry-hop as you don’t want to be taking the lid off and re-install it in case the gasket pops off on you.  I’ve had this happen twice.  I saved the beer the second time, but not the first time.  I didn’t know it happened the first time.  To over come this, as well as provide the ability to do one more thing, I had my nephew (Noah) cut a hole in the lid to fit a corny keg lid.  The corny keg lid legs had to be cut shorter as well to achieve a good fit.

This does three things for me.

1) I can get the fermenter lid on and then check to ensure the gasket is in place and seated properly by reaching in through this hole and feel with my fingers to make sure the gasket is in place.  Once that’s done, I just fill the fermenter through this hole and sanitize it.  Since this hole is air tight (when sealed with a corny keg lid), once the fermenter lid and gasket are in place I never have to take the fermenter lid off again till I transfer the beer and wash the fermenter.

2) I can dry hop right through this opening now without having to remove the fermenter lid.

3) After the fermenter is sanitized and drained, I pump in some CO2 and then fill the fermenter from the bottom forcing the CO2 and air out the top.   I bought one of these Carbonating Keg Lids from MoreBeer, cut off the tubing and had Noah shorten the legs to fit the fermenter lid.   Okay, this last part might be a little over kill.  However, the other thing this does is allow me to double-check for any air leaks from the fermenter.  I stick a rubber stopper in the blow off port and listen for any leaks from the tank being under pressure from the CO2.

Here’s a couple of pictures of the modification.

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