Beergonomics - Tips for Brewing as you get Older
By Mike Blaesser
"Wheels are an older brewer’s best friend. Why carry when you can roll?"
Your back hurts. Your knees hurt. And when they don’t, your shoulders hurt. You can’t drive a golf ball as far as you used to. You can’t stay awake through the late-night news.
Welcome to the world of getting old, where everything is just a bit harder than it used to be. And that includes brewing.
With strength and stamina on the wane, moving equipment around, lifting bags of grain and pots of water, and cleaning up at the end of the day all becomes harder. Worse than that, it can turn a really fun activity into a chore.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe all you need is a lesson in beergonomics and the aging process. And if you’re not getting old yet, but find that all of the above applies to you, read on. A back saved today is a back that may not hurt tomorrow.
You can go a couple of ways with beergonomics: you can brew on a well-planned rig complete with pumps, water supply hook-ups, drains and clean-in-place gadgets and maybe even a hoist to help you out. Or you can go small and brew on a well-planned minimal system complete with a heat source and a kettle. Welcome to the world of small batches, maneuverable equipment and a handful of gadgets.
A few years ago I chose to go small – 2.5 to 3 gallons – and I’ve never regretted it for a moment. My brews days are easier and the smaller amount of beer produced is geared toward another change that sometimes accompanies the aging process: a decreased tolerance for alcohol. As I near the age of 70, I can no longer drink beer like I used to. My body won’t allow it. But I still love a good beer and I still love to brew. Smaller works for me. And it seems to be an idea gaining traction.
When I decided to swap out my equipment there weren’t a lot of choices. I said goodbye to my 30-pound propane burner and heavy duty kettle and went with an induction burner and a 5.5 gallon kettle, all sitting on a rolling kitchen cart. I wheeled the cart over to my utility sink, filled the kettle, rolled it back to my brewing area and fired it up, so to speak. When it came time to transfer the strike water to my Igloo mash tun, I let gravity do the work, with the water flowing into the mash tun, which I set on a small platform that I built from scrap wood and casters. Nothing fancy, but the whole process cut my lifting significantly. At the end of the day I rolled the kettle back to my sink, put it in the sink and cleaned it out. Couldn’t have been easier.
Jump forward a couple of years and equipment manufacturers are finding there is a market for small-batch equipment. I now brew on an Anvil 6.5 gallon Foundry
all-in-one unit, complete with a recirc pump for mashing. It sits on a platform dolly that allows me to continue to roll it over to the utility sink where I fill it up. I still have to lift a few things here and there, but it’s manageable. And since clean-up is a vital part of brewing, I like that I can easily lift the empty unit up to the sink for a quick rinse.
"If I can’t easily get a piece of equipment to my utility sink, I don’t want it to be part of my brewing setup."
Small fermentors also are coming into vogue. I changed my fermentor to a WilliamsWarn BrewKeg 10
so I could do closed transfers to my 2.5 gallon Torpedo kegs
. Easy clean-up? I can carry an empty BrewKeg 10 with one hand to my utility sink. Same with the Torpedo kegs.
Is there a downside to small-batch brewing? Only if you brew from kits. Try to find a 2.5 gallon recipe kit. Good luck. You’ll need to develop your own recipes. But that’s another story for another time.
I’m not going to say beergonomics completely salvaged my brewing hobby. And I’m not going to say I’m done looking for better methods. I mill my grain and since my grain bills are generally pretty small, I just hand-crank the mill. But my shoulder is starting to rebel. The drill will be coming out fairly soon. The aging process demands you make accommodations.
Small-batch brewing may not be for everyone. You might already have figured out alternative methods. But I can say at the end of my brewing day my back is happier, my shoulders are happier, and I’m happier. I have enough beer to keep me – and my friends – happy, and because the beer doesn’t hang around all that long, I get to brew as often as I like.
And that little cart I built? I still use it. After all, beergonomics and wheels are a brewer’s best friends...
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