Beer Tree: A Three-Tiered System with Roots in Simplicity
By Dave O'Neil
Republished from BrewingTechniques' March/April 1994.

A quest for simple solutions led to the development of a novel home brewery setup.

This grafted specimen is the result of our effort to design the best way to problem-free brewing. Wanted: as few places for contamination as possible, nothing in the kitchen, minimum footprint, in-garage hose-end operation, setup for all-grain or extract brewing, precise temperature control, no need to dip from a boiling kettle, and other niceties of simplicity - in short, a next-generation beer-making appliance.

One way I've found to eliminate problems is to eliminate parts, such as pumps, wort valves, recirculators, threaded fittings, and electric heating elements in the brew; simplicity has its own elegance. The tree began to sprout after many discussions and a lot of reading.

We began with the purchase of a used stainless steel keg, a fish fryer (we had to remove some leftover casting sand from the fryer-burner's venturi tube before the burner heated properly), a propane tank, a camping cooler, a water filter, brass hose fittings, an in-line hose valve, and two electronic thermometers. Later we bought another stainless steel keg. The accompanying box shows the complete parts list.

We assembled all of the parts and documented all of the dimensions. We then made a scale drawing. A no-lifting gravity system would have to be 8 ft high. We could have done it, but it would have been a tight fit, and there would be a tank with a lot of hot water at the very top. So we backtracked. Because the carboys would be the lowest parts, it would be necessary to lift the carboys 2 ft for racking into the kegs after fermentation. No problem
See Schematic for Plans


The frame: All of the steel for the frame cost $20. The frame consists of four types of steel, which the jobber cut into the smaller lengths we needed. Then we used bimetal 18-TPI (threads/in.) hacksaw blades in a high-tension frame for all other cuts.

The main structure: All frame components were made of 14-gauge box steel. The main upright is 2 in. X 2 in. X 6 ft. The base is 2 in. X 2 in. X 3 ft. The feet are 11/2 in. X 11/2 in. X 2 ft. The cooler support arm is 11/2 in. X 11/2 in. X 2 ft. A crossarm on the cooler support is 1 in. X 1 in. X 14 in. The upright brace is 1 in. X 1 in. X 22 in, welded in at a 45° angle.

We TIG (tungsten electrode, inert gas) welded the pieces using 90-100 amps of current, a 3/32-in. Linde 65 fill rod, a 3/32-in. 2% thorium electrode, a no. 6 cup, and argon flowing at a rate of 12 ft3/min. Because the 3-ft base will bow up when welded to the 6-ft upright, we welded it first and welded the 2-ft-long feet on last, scribing so that the bowed base touches the floor without being high centered. We tack-welded the feet on a level surface and then completed the full weld. The feet and cooler crossarm were inset for extra strength. We placed wedges under the feet to level the structure and to keep it solid and secured them in place using duct tape.

The branches: The burner supports are 3/16 in. X 11/2 in. X 10 in., bent, and welded. We drilled holes in the ends of the supports to allow the burner to be easily attached and detached with the twist of a wing nut; only one burner is needed at a time.

The brace for the mash/lauter tun (picnic cooler) support arm is 3/16 in. X 11/2 in. X 7 in. We riveted a plywood shelf that supports the tun to the support arm and crossarm (rivets: 1/8 in. X 5/8 in. long). Brass corner braces on the plywood prevent the tun from sliding around. The water filter bracket is riveted to the upright (rivets: 1/8 in. X 3/8 in. long).

The hot-liquor tank: An 8-in. hole was cut in the top of the 14-in.-diameter keg for the upper (hot-liquor) tank using a jigsaw with bimetal blades. It is important to go slow and use cutting oil. We drilled a 5/8-in. hole for the spout, which we made from 1/2-in. i.d., 5/8-in. o.d. copper pipe and silver-soldered in place. (We first under-drilled the hole and then drilled out to 5/8 in. and filed for a tight fit. We were also careful to use silver solder sparingly.)

A stainless steel 5/16-in. bolt secures the tank to the frame through a hole in the keg handle/rim; and this bolt is tightened in place by a stainless steel wing nut. We drilled a 5/16-in. hole for the surgical tubing through which we inserted the electronic thermometer. The surgical tubing in the 5/16-in. hole pinches the probe so tightly that leakage is no problem.

The mash/lauter tun: We took the stainless steel dip tube from the 14-in. keg and made it into the false bottom for the mash/lauter tun (cooler) by hacksawing slits (using a 24-TPI blade) and removing all burrs. In the tun, the false bottom is covered with a loose piece of copper screening.

We drilled a 1/8-in. hole through the cooler for an electronic thermometer, and installed a C-clamp over the plastic tubing that runs from the cooler to the kettle. The other pinch clamps that run from the hot-liquor kettle to the mash/lauter tun and from the boil kettle to the carboys are the ratchet type.

We made a plywood base for the malt mill. It fits over the open mash/lauter tun, and rubber feet prevent it from sliding when in use.

The boil kettle: We used the 15-in.-diameter keg for the kettle by cutting the top off with the jigsaw, drilling a 5/8-in. hole for the silver- soldered spout, and drilling a 5/16-in. hole for the mounting bolt. No hole was necessary for a thermometer in the kettle, but we drilled one anyway.


The accompanying box shows our step-by-step procedure for brewing with the Beer Tree setup. Brewing methods vary, but this example shows what can be done with our design.

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