Jerry Wayne Odom Jr.

Building Home Brewing Kettles

Converting 15 gallon stainless steel kegs

Beer as a hobby is an escalating condition. Understanding it's complexities, history, tastes and craftsmanship induce a serious addiction. Over the past couple of years I've been cobbling together enough parts to brew 5 gallon batches of all grain brew with a little extra leg work. It's been fun but now I'm at that stage where it's time to go 10-15 gallons worth of goodness at a time. It's time to get some real deal kettles fitted with bulkheads so I can go easier and bigger all at the same time.

Why build your own brewing kettles?

Buying stainless steel brewing pots costs serious money. You can buy manufactured kettles with all the bells and whistles for around $400 and up depending on what you're using it for. The Blichmann Engineering pots are awesome and do it all. Or if you're like me and own a garage full of tools then you can build a kettle out of empty beer kegs you pick up.(I got 2 for $25) You'll spend around $20-$100 per pot options depending on what you want to do with it and spend a day working on it.(hours if you're handy) If you want welded fittings you'll spend a little more. So for an upper end of $150 per pot you'll have a fully functional 15 gallon brewing kettle. A great place to start before you spend thousands on manufactured pots. Easily less than $500 for a full blown 3-tier stainless steel setup. So how to create a kettle?

Empty the keg & Cut It Open

There is an excellent Youtube video on cutting open the keg using a wooden jig, a 2" holesaw, an angle grinder and a couple of clamps. If you had to purchase everything to build it you're talking less than $50 from harbor freight plus you get some new tool toys. The title of the article is something like "keg to kettle" and it shows you exactly what he does.
It works and I was able to do it the first run in no time. Just be aware of the wear on your cutting wheels for your angle grinder. If they wear down it'll change your cut so you will want to change it as it wears down. Also mind whether or not your keg has any dents in the guard rail that protects the area you're cutting. It can interfere with the process.(it did on one of mine) However less than or equal to a 12" diameter opening should be your target for your top.

Installing Weldless Bulkhead Fittings

Installing a bulkhead and ball valve to let out the wort or water easily is a primary incentive in building these kettles. Standard parts necessary are Stainless steel 1/2" Stainless nipple, washer, coupler and locknut(off a hot water heater likely). 1/2" Brass ball valve, and barb fitting. Silicon o-rings rated for high temperature and food grade. Parts will run you something like $20-$25. You can even order them online if you don't live in a city like Baton Rouge where hardware is abundant. A word on o-rings: The rings at Home Depot are rated for only 250 degrees and you'll want better than that from a specialty shop.

Drilling Bulkhead Holes in Kegs

Before you can install any parts in kegs you'll need to drill holles. 13/16" seems to be the lower end target and then make it fit as necessary. Drilling the hole is best done with a quality step bit purchased from a place like home depot. Don't go cheap on the bit because the cheap ones don't last drilling stainless steel. I used spray on pam cooking oil to keep things cool while working.