Oh holy beer, what a great liquid invention (if used properly). How long has mankind made beer? I guess it could be from the time we decided to get involved in farming, leaving our nomad lifestyle behind. But we probably learned to ferment for consumption long before that, just not grains for making beer.
About seventeen months ago me and my wife initiated out first real attempt at brewing our own beer. We had access to all the required equipment for free and only had to pay for the raw materials we needed. We also had highly skilled beer-brewers around us and with this support we aimed at making beer to serve our 80 guests for our upcoming wedding-party. It was a fun thing to do, and we could potentially save lots of money (alcohol is highly taxed in Norway).
So we decided to make as much beer as we could (limited only by how many beer pots we had available) for the few weeks we planned to spend on this. We managed to start early enough to be certain that it would be finished well before our party. Four different sorts came out of our attempt, all based on recipes we got from the specialists around us: Kölsch, Saisson, Pils and Stout. Some of them were poured into large 2 liter jugs, and some we poured into 30 liter kegs. When finished we actually ended up with a total of 200 litres; more than enough for the upcoming party (and we even had a decent amount of wine being served too).
We didn’t manage to finish the beer this evening, which was kind of expected. We stored the leftovers kegs in our basement for the next year or so until I finally decided it was time to make some better use of it. We didn’t really know if it was gonna drinkable after so long, but a quick test (and lots of spilling, it was crazy carbonised by now!) we learned that it was really tasteful but also about time to drink or forever let it go. It was for sure finished fermenting, and both the Pils and the Kölsch was nearing a fermented stage that could remind me of dark Guinness and high alcohol ales. We now needed some new and more reliable equipment, quick.
I had ‘always’ dreamed of recycling an old fridge, making it into a beer cooler with connected taps on the front. During the months we stored the beer in our basement I did many sporadic measurements to see what fridges (and freezers) could potentially fit one or two of our kegs. There were not many compatible with these dimensions. Finally I stumbled across an old 80s fridge that my father in law used to have available for his tenants. It was almost a perfect match, and I would even be able to fit two kegs at the same time. Two types of beer, cooled and available at the same time: Awesome! But first I had to do some (initially minor, ended up being major) adjustments, some of them I didn’t really know if I would be able to do without damaging the fridge or spilling (toxic?) coolant all over myself.
There was this small freezer-compartment in this fridge, blocking the top of the kegs with connections, and I knew I would have to get this out of the way to be able to use this fridge at all. I had never done anything like this before, but I decided it was worth a try and that I could at least start with removing the plastic-covers and front-flap to the compartment. After lots of rough pulling and bending I was left with “only” the freezer-element, partly connected to the back-wall of the fridge. Could I bend it without breaking it? I crossed my fingers and tried, and carefully I managed to ben it out of the way and fasten it to the top and back inside. The coolant still circulated and the cooling effect seemed to be working in spite of the heavy treatment.
I attached more fasteners on the inside walls for multiple items needed. I knew there was going to be tubes for the co2 and for the beer flowing to the tap. I wanted to split and regulate the carbon dioxide and I wanted to stabilise and fasten the kegs in position so that they didn’t risk falling out when opening the door. Using screws with some rough treading, and attaching lightweight metal chain, I created an arrangement that satisfied these needs. Now I only needed the actual taps for the front of the door.
In the future I really hope to be able to fit three whole kegs in this fridge, if I can find some just as tall but with a lower dim. Therefore I kept some space available for a third tap on the front while still trying to keep it good looking with only the first two in place. The handle on the front door created an “off balance” in the design, so everything needed a little offset. First measuring and estimating, and then I marked the correct spots and started drilling.
Initially I though it was going to be tough to make a hole through the front door. I was under the impression that this was really thick metal and recall scenes from movies and tv-series presenting fridges as almost bullet proof. They were not drill-proof at least – that was surprisingly easy. Widening the hole was a bit harder, but by using a jig saw from the center, creating several “flaps” and then bending the inwards to create something similar to a funnel shape made it possible. This way there were more metal to create the support for the shaft and became a tight and sturdy fit for the taps I had bought.
The simple taps (noe foam control, just straight and easy taps) were fitted in the holes, fastened properly from both sides and then got the tubes coming from the kegs connected. I used a manual “co2 gun” as it was cheaper and I didn’t have any use for accurate pressure regulation right now. Actually, the beer was so carbonised itself that I barely needed any co2 at all! Some adjustments was needed (I was missing a rubber gasket on the tap so the tap just started spewing beer everywhere when I connected it) and the fridge could be powered. This was after thorough cleaning of course, followed by spraying every connection and tight corner with anti bacterial food-grade alcohol.
All in all the “Beer manager” is working great. From time to time there will occur some icicles on the freezer-element, and if the temperature changes too much this can melt again and then drip to the bottom of the fridge. I should, ideally, have a cover below and in front of it to channel any water to the back draining-tube. But for now some paper-towel does the job. I have had some challenges with the temperature regulation and a couple of times the beer froze in the tubes. But as long as I dont mess too much with the temperature regulator setting, and keep the door locked, it usually stays stable.
For months now I have had mye own home-made high-alcohol great-tasting super-chilled beer available straight from taps – in my own living room! I cant wait to make more beer now, replacing the empty kegs with fresh new brews. I don’t think they will “survive” for as long as the current batch, now that I have this fridge.
I will do some additional modifications to the project some day (soon?), such as adding a better co2 regulator for a permanent supply and fixing the water-draining. I might also add a few temperature sensors, plus maybe a water sensor. It could be nice to be able to do some small adjustments of the temperature automatically through a micro-controller of some sorts. If I do this it could also inform me of any water leaking to the bottom (wooden floors are not very compatible with being exposed to water for long periods) so that I can wipe it up before it escapes. Or maybe I can get the controller to fix that too, by pumping it up to the drain? Automate all the things!
We’ll see what is possible and when I have time. Stay tuned for some digital learning-content dealing with how you can create a fridge like this too!