The idea came from the need to transfer wort from one vessel to another without the use of pumps. I got introduced to home brewing in the summer of 2006 by two of my brothers Rudy and Tony. They told me what equipment would be necessary to brew my first batch. With that, I bought a 34 quart turkey fryer from Sam’s Club for the kettle and burner, and built the mash ton out of a 50 quart cooler, some ½” copper tubing and some fittings. We came up with a recipe and a brew date and I was hooked.
The first thing I learned after how much I love brewing beer; it seemed like a lot of work for a small amount of beer. (A labor of love for sure.) So I asked why don’t we make bigger batches. Tony laughed and said sure, we just need bigger equipment, and told me he could borrow a couple of Pico systems and we would brew again.
I invited a friend, Nick Pacquin to brew beer with us on the Pico systems. Nick and I did a batch on one system and Rudy and Tony on the other system. We did a 10 gallon batch of an Irish Red Ale and I immediately realized we could be doing a 20 Gallon batch with this system. So I asked, why don’t we do a 20 gallon batch on this thing? Tony laughed again and said sure you can, double the recipe, two more car boys and a little more work and you can do just that.
So back to the question, where did the idea for your brew system come from?
We had a great time brewing on the Pico that day, but Nick and I decided that the weakness in the system was the pumps. They got plugged several times that day and it was a pain. I thought that I could build a system like this to brew 20 gallon batches without the pumps. So I mentioned to the boys my idea and they agreed, that would be great. I asked Nick if he wanted to be my partner on the project and he enthusiastically agreed. Big Brew Day was a week away and we decided we should have it ready for that so I drew up some plans that night.
I was going over the plans later that night, trying to work out some details when another friend of mine (Steve Albreck) stopped by to visit.
My original plan was much more sophisticated than this. It had the burners sitting on top of the lever attached at three points, two pivot points with the third keeping the burner level with a simplest of small levers and gears. So when you moved the kettles they always stayed level.
Steve looked at my plan and in about two seconds said, that’s way too complicated. Why don’t you make your fulcrum taller and hang your burner stands from the lever and it will level itself. I agreed it sure would be easier to build, but I was concerned about the stability with the burners and kettles just hanging there and also the height. The mash ton and one kettle would be taller and you would need a stool to stand on to look in the kettles.
Being I wanted to build it in six days, so it would be ready for the big brew day, simplicity of design won over possible safety issues and ease of use. In retrospect using a small stool is not a big deal and with reasonable care it has been reasonably safe to use.
I picked up the material for the system Monday afternoon made some calls to find some kegs, and Nick and I stated the project Monday night. It was very convenient that Nick and his brother John own and operate a small shop (Laser Specialists) in Fraser, Michigan. We had at our disposal a welder, plasma cutter, 3 axis and 5 axis lasers and plenty of room to work. Awesome!
We worked very until 3 a.m. in the morning. It was grueling, but we still had a lot of fun. It was worth the effort. We have brewed a lot of good beer on the thing.
Post-script: Having gotten confident with the system, we were recently brewing up a batch, and had begun to chill it. Both during the boil and the chilling, we move the brew back (we use two of the kettles as boil vessels) and forth to make sure it is well mixed, and, since we just have one wort chiller, it all get's cooled down to the desired temperature.
On this particular brew day, we had set up the system on some less than ideal surface (grass) that had experienced some rain recently, and we had a short water out hose (just a few feet). Well, as the water puddle under the stand, I looked out of the corner of my eye and I witnessed the stand starting to tip over and the upper kettle fell down, launching the previously lower kettle up and into the air.
If you are familiar with the French alternative to the catapult, the Trebuchet,
you then can imagine our shock at what transpired next. The kettle, with the 10+ gallons of cooling wort flew about 10'-12' into the side of a building. The kettle was destroyed, the wort lost and the building was, shall we say, the worse for wear. Lesson learned- this system needs a stable, solid surface for safety's sake. Fortunately, no one was in the way when this happened and no one was hurt. Startled, yes.