The big challenge in home-brewing beer in El Salvador is getting the supplies you need in order to do it well. Both my husband and I are adaptable and enjoy making things, which is good. Most of what you need to brew beer can be pieced together from items you can find at a hardware store, but even with that in mind, there are still some challenges for the home brewer.
Check out more of the antics as we chronicle the journey to build our Craft Beer Brewery in El Salvador.
One challenge is that, like in most stores here, much of what you need to buy must be requested from an employee, or at minimum retrieved by an employee. If you are like me, or if you are making something odd, you might not know exactly what you need until you mess with the pieces from various bins and play with them for a while. In the US you can do that, but here, much of the time, you have to request each potential piece. Add on that our Spanish is still not up to speed, and it´s a challenge.
Check out our NEW Pilot Brew House (We have fixed almost every issue we have had in brewing beer in El Salvador and the beer is now pretty darned good)
Andy has a large moustache (men respect that) and a gift for pantomime so he was able to get what he needed without too much exasperated eye rolling from the hardware store guys. Here is a breakdown of most of the adapted homebrew set-up, the reasoning, challenges and solutions.
#1) Impatience is the mother of mistakes. We brewed our first batch using the best ingredients we were able to pack into bags to fly home with us, just as soon as we got home. There were some changes from what we are accustomed to. We had been doing all grain brewing in the states, and had been using vials of White Labs yeast instead of the dry dry yeast we packed into out bags. We also chose to begin with mini mash/ partial extract brew due to the constraints of bringing our first few batches in suitcases. We used a 5 gallon bottle as a fermenter, but despite all the other changes, we used a relief valve similar to what we used in the much cooler temperatures of Northern California.
The result of our first effort was a foamy and explosive nightmare. There are significant differences in
the amount of foam and gas produced. The differences of dry yeast, higher ambient temperature and possibly extract vs mash all added up. The little bubbly valve was overwhelmed in less than 6 hours. Foam from the fermenting wert rose, clogged and then re-clogged the valve. At one point we thought we had solved the problem, went back to sleep and a short time later the cap blew off the the bottle, leaving a nasty stain on the ceiling, and a batch that may or may not be infected after all the manipulation that followed.
Solution; In the US we could run out and buy a long curved glass tube, made specifically for brewing, and which allows for faster release of gasses and which won’t clog if a bit of sticky foam rises to the base. Having opted for the small plastic bubblers because they would not break in transport, we now needed to make an equivalent item from scratch.
Our cheap, short term solution was pretty easy. In the short term we were switching to plastic buckets anyway, and the lids of these are easy to work with. A curved section of PVC pipe, run through the lid, works just fine. Place the outside end in a jar of sanitary water to prevent flow of bacteria up the tube , and you have a bubbler. It takes a little looking to find the right washers to create a good seal, but those can also be made from materials at hand.
We have yet to address other effects of such aggressive ferment, because that test batch is still in progress. But the improved fermenter is one step.
2) To rewind a bit, there were other challenges to meet while brewing that batch. One of them was the messy effort to transfer the wert from the large kettle in which we brewed it, to the fermenter. Andy has collected a few nifty items to make the process better. He is madly in love with his Thermonater wert chiller. He purchased a small pump to help compensate for changing from a brew sculpture to a more horizontal transfer, and he had a filter installed along the line to catch extra material as it went to the fermenter. The setup looked great, and Andy had even thought to install a water filter on the wall near the system for the water going in. The plan was to chill, filter and deposit in the fermenter all in a nice orderly, sealed, sanitary line.
Some things we did not account for got in the way of the plan. To give us credit, Andy tested the system with water, and
then sanitizing solution and it worked great, and looked super-pro, for a handmade home-brew setup. The problems in transferring hot wert involved several differences between hot wert and sanitizer water.
To start at the very beginning, we were trying to prime the pump using a syphon-pump, which actually creates more air bubbles in the wert as it transfers, we were incorrect in our positioning of the pump, and were unable to get the pump primed with bubble-free wert to get it working properly. Further, we somehow forgot that plastic melts, and the bottom of the siphon tube became quite distorted. Another problem is that amid all the chaos of figuring out the pump, and stressing about the siphon tube, we did not maintain a consistent placement for that siphon tube and thus sucked up a ton of material that had fallen to the bottom of the kettle, which overwhelmed and clogged the filter Andy had installed on the line.
Solution; To solve the problems of sucking up debris from the bottom, and of trying to use a melty plastic tube to get things moving, Andy drilled a hole near the bottom of the kettle and installed a ball valve to enable us to use gravity to begin the transfer. Inside the kettle, the ball valve is fed by a curved copper tube, the level of which can be adjusted to help avoid the transfer of trub.
To solve another part of the pump trouble, he attached the pump to the frame of our cooker, to feed from the bottom and pump out the top, which assists in clearing unwanted air bubbles, and insures the pump is full at all times.
For the curious I included pictures of some of the very unprofessional looking, but functional and inexpensive items. Im not afraid to fail, so I’ posting this as we begin the next batch, and will let you know each part of the assembly handled itself.
To rewind even farther, we have not yet found any way to buy either supplies or ingredients locally. Even high temperature tubing had to get thrown in a suitcase. Shipping the materials we needed would have cost a fortune, and our short term solution was to bring extra bags to the US on a trip we had to make anyway, and pay the comparatively cheap baggage fees to bring a few 50 lb bags of supplies back. If any Salvadoran home brewers out there that have suggestions speak up! I wanna start a hobby store with you!
The next few months will be packed with work, on getting the kinks out of this tiny backyard system, and learning everything we can from it, with figuring out the best ways to get materials in, and the best ways to buy whatever we can locally. Im looking forward to a messy, busy season, full of learning, failures and success. I have to admit loving this totally unprofessional, tiny, make it up as you go along testing we are doing. It costs nearly nothing, and helps me understand the bigger, better, cleaner versions. Breaks it down for me.
Check out all the improvements we have made to the Pilot Brew House