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DIY Homebrew Keggle Conversion

Homebrewers are renowned for being creative, not only by coming up with beer recipes, but also for building an array of brewing equipment. This creativity includes converting commercial sanke kegs into Hot Liquor Tanks (HLTs), Mash Tuns and Brew Kettles (called a keggle). In this article I will explain how I took two 15.5 US gallon sanke kegs and a 7.75 US gallon pony keg and converted them for a three-tier brewing system After brewing for a year on our kitchen stove-top there were a number of changes I wanted to make to my homebrew system:

  • Brew 10 gallon batches instead of 5 gallons as this requires the same amount of effort.
  • Boil full volume batches instead of either topping up the wort with cold water or having boil-overs that make a mess of the stove and kitchen in general.
  • Sparge safely and slowly instead of pouring 170 deg F water through grain in a strainer sat over a pot on the kitchen floor or using a pair of buckets with lots of holes drilled in the bottom of one.

In order to achieve this I purchased three stainless steel kegs from a brewery. These kegs had broken seals so were no longer of use to them and cost me $45 each for the sanke kegs and $25 for the half-sized pony keg. Note: It is illegal to pay the deposit for a keg of beer at a beer distributor and not bother returning it but instead keep it for your own use e.g. as a brewing vessel. In addition, this practice gives homebrewers a bad reputation.

Converting the Keg

My aim was to build a gravity-based three-tier brewing system with the pony keg acting as a HLT on the top level for fly-sparging an insulated sanke keg for the Mash Tun on the middle level and another sanke keg as a Brew Kettle on the bottom level. The first task at hand was to cut a large hole in the top of each keg. Stainless steel is a very hard material to cut or drill through and there are two main ways of removing the top:

  1. Use an angle grinder with the appropriate cutting disc.
  2. Use a reciprocating saw with the appropriate blade.

I opted for option #1 as at the time I did not have a reciprocating saw but had an angle grinder. Firstly I made a circle in the top of the keg with a pencil and a pot lid as a template to act as a cutting guide then with protective glasses proceeded to cut the tops out of the kegs. Important: Be careful of the shards of metal this generates as they are sharp. Also avoid setting anything on fire as the grinding disc generates hot sparks. Finally smooth off the resulting edges in the rim with the grinding wheel to avoid injury when cleaning the keg.

Installing the Hardware

Next up was drilling two holes in each vessel for a thermometer and a ball valve. The ball valve hole should be placed at the bottom whilst the thermometer hole should be drilled 1/4-1/3 of the way up from the bottom to avoid heat from the propane burner influencing the reading. I learned this lesson the hard way with my Brew Kettle! Regarding making the holes I used a normal drill bit with a mains power drill (not cordless) to make a pilot hole and then used a stepped drill bit to gradually widen this to the right size for the valve fitting to go into. Remember: You can always make a hole bigger but it is harder to make it smaller if drilled to big! Also ensure that the drill bits you use are for stainless steel otherwise they will not work. Once again any burred edges needed to be smoothed off and once the holes were drilled a thermometer and ball valve were fitted to each vessel. In addition to this the Mash Tun was fitted with a false bottom which allows the grain bed to float and the wort to be taken from the bottom of the vessel without clogging the valve or attached tubing.    There are different sized connectors and fittings so my advice is to go for the same fittings for all vessels as that way the connectors will all be compatible e.g. for ball valves there are 3/8”, 1/2”, 3/4” and 1”. The same goes quick disconnects, barbs, couplers etc. One thing to consider is that the hoses you get fit the barbs that they push onto – if in doubt seek the advice from the homebrew supplies retailer. For sparging I purchased fly-sparge arm which could be connected to the ball valve of the HLT and the valve handle could be adjusted to control the flow rate and level of hot water on top of the grain bed in the Mash Tun. One further thing I did was to insulate the Mash Run with aluminum lined bubble wrap and aluminum tape. This is to help reduce temperature loss and fluctuation during the mashing process. When investigating which fittings to purchase it can be cost-effective to buy kits for each brew vessel as that way you know that you get all the parts needed as well as not having to worry about whether each component is compatible with the others as it can be confusing due to the different sizes and thread types! In addition to the converted sanke kegs I also built my own brew stand and purchased three propane burners plus propane tanks. Stands can also be purchased off-the-shelf and be self-assembled. Another consideration is that a 15.5 gallon Mash Tun containing sufficient grain for a 10 gallon batch of beer can be extremely heavy when wet so assistance lifting it off the middle tier might be needed or if you have the money then there are some very nice tipping apparatus that can be fitted to your system which allow the Mash Tun to be tilted and emptied out. If this project extends beyond your DIY Chops, Homebrew Supply offers a great selection of kettles with fittings already installed from high quality brands you trust like Anvil, Blichmann, and Spike Brewing. {{block type="hbs_hbs/wordpress_articleFirstSliderBlock"}}  

About the Author

Phil Gowling has been an avid homebrewer since 2010. He is the current President of the State College Homebrew Club in Central Pennsylvania. He also runs the craft beer and homebrewing website Beer Infinity.