Monday, February 18, 2008


So, I've had my fair share of issues in my brewing career, but yesterday topped it all. Here's what happened...

I started brewing a little past noon. My neighbor has a St. Patrick's Day party every year, and I was planning on bringing a keg of my Road House Red Ale. Everything was going well, and around 5:15 the boil was almost finished so I dropped my homemade immersion chiller (a 50-foot coil of copper tubing) into the kettle. A few minutes later I smelled burning rubber, and sure enough the inlet hose was touching the rim of the burner. I caught it before it was burned too bad and wrapped the burned area with duct tape. No harm, no foul, right?

Well, after 15 minutes I turned on the hose and noticed that very little water was coming through the outlet hose. I figured the hose may have compressed a little where it burned, and thus less water was flowing through the chiller. I was a little concerned that it would take considerably longer for the wort to cool, but at this point I didn't really have any other option. I let the wort chiller run while I checked on the carboy into which I would soon be racking the wort.

A few minutes later, I looked in the brew kettle and noticed the volume was almost twice what it was when the boil ended. WTF??? I suddenly realized water was somehow getting into the kettle, though I couldn't see any leaks in the hose and even if something was leaking I should be able to hear it splashing into the kettle. That's when I pulled the chiller out and discovered water was spraying from the copper coil itself. I quickly realized I was out five gallons of beer, $20 of ingredients, 5 hours of my time and one immersion chiller that will probably cost me $75 to replace now that copper prices (like just about everything else in the world) have skyrocketed.

When I realized that my brew day--and my brew--was wasted, I felt like Dalton must have felt when his mentor Wade Garrett stumbled into the Double Deuce all bloodied and beaten. (Hey, the beer was named after Road House, so I had to get some reference in). But the real mystery is how did the copper tubing burst? First of all, here's a picture of where the chiller ruptured:

(On a side note, I know my chiller looks like a tangled-up mess... I did it on purpose so as to avoid a circulation where the outside chills and sinks and the hot wort rises in the middle. In hindsight, I think such a circulation might actually aid in the cooling of the wort, but that's another issue.) So what happened? I don't think it has anything to do with the inlet hose having burned, since the worst thing that would have done is restricted the flow through the chiller. At this point the only thing I can come up with is that the chiller had been in the cold garage, and somehow the rapid temperature change caused it to rupture. Any other thoughts on what the hell happened are greatly appreciated.

In the meantime, I'm planning on switching to the Shirron plate chiller I bought over the summer. I've yet to use it because I (1) need to set up my pump to get the wort through the chiller and (2) need to make sure the wort is adequately filtered beforehand so the chiller doesn't clog. I was planning on using my immersion chiller as a pre-chiller in the summer (setting it in a bucket of ice water), and perhaps I can still use it in that fashion if I duct-tape the hole. Who knows. In the meantime, yesterday truly sucked. Oh well.

On to better news... Leah and I racked our big ol' stout this weekend. As I mentioned in our previous post, 5 gallons is going to be our Cocoa Puffs Stout and 2.5 is going to be our Cherry Stout. For the Cherry Stout we pitted four pounds of frozen Michigan cherries and stewed them at 160°F for fifteen minutes. We augmented that with 2.5 lb. of canned tart pie cherries. We racked around three gallons of the stout on top of this. Next we boiled five cups of Cocoa Puffs in 2.5 cups of water. After cooling, we dumped the goop into a 6.5 gallon carboy and racked the rest of the stout on top of it. Prior to doing this the stout had reached a gravity of 1024. It was definitely on the sweet side to begin with, so I hope the added flavors aren't cloying (though I realize pretty much all of the added sugars are highly fermentable). One thing I noticed in sampling the stout pre-racking is that my decision to cut out the roast barley in favor of chocolate malt definitely took off that roasty edge. Time will tell if that was a good call or not.

Anyway, that's it for now. Stay tuned to find out how the hell we chill our beer in the future. Or if you happen to have a wort chiller laying around that you don't want, we accept donations! Cheers!


Blogger Mike said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:31 AM, February 19, 2008  
Blogger Mike said...

I wonder if there was water in the coil and it froze?

You could just cut out the piece with a pipe cutter, and solder it back together with a coupler fitting. Cheaper than a new coil. :)

7:51 AM, February 19, 2008  
Blogger Dawnie said...

My guess would be the rapid temperature change, although I don't know how susceptible copper is to that sort of thing. Either way, that seriously blows.

11:58 AM, February 19, 2008  
Blogger Ted Danyluk said...

Hey guys, what an unfortunate circumstance. Damn!

I'm gonna side with mike. Did you completely drain the coil before taking it out to the frigid garage?

If it was temperature shock, then preheating the coil would be best. My stove top burners are so weak, I always preheat the chiller before it goes in to reduce the cold shock to the wort, and to check if it is leaking at all.

The hoses I'm using are standard clear plastic, and I've noticed the "O" clamps are coming looser because the hose has been melting in that area. Gotta fix that before it starts to leak or the hose falls off, and water shoots out everywhere.

I was telling my brew buddy about how I need to give my whole system an overhaul. Its been slowly falling apart over the years.

4:45 PM, February 19, 2008  
Blogger Russ said...

Hey, guys. Thanks for the feedback. The general consensus between this and responses to my post on is that it likely burst before I even placed it in the wort due to water being left in the coil. Let this be a lesson to everybody else... don't leave your wort chiller in sub-freezing weather!

5:31 PM, February 19, 2008  
Blogger Adam said...

Damn! Sorry to hear about that. Its always sumthin' :-/

Cherries look good though!

7:11 PM, February 24, 2008  

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