Sunday, June 10, 2007

on the wagon, sort of

We've run out of beer.

I've got a birthday coming up, so we invited some friends over for a party last night. It is a lot of fun to be able to hand each guest a pint glass at the door and let them have at it, but for the first time in 3 months and 6 kegs, the bar did demand some maintenance. Brew and learn, I guess.

It began on Wednesday when I discovered that the CO2 tank was pretty much empty. The next day, I started googling "compressed gas" "CO2 tank refills" and "beverage service." Nothing--or at least nothing relevant.

Somehow I did find a link to a welding supply company out on Long Island with no website but a soothing man in their employ who told me that I could exchange my spent tank for a full one at a location near me. That sounded easy enough, but it was already pretty much closing time and my errand would have to wait until the next day. In the meantime, I decided to create a mountain out of that proverbial molehill by calling up Brooklyn Brewery and asking someone there where they got CO2. A few phone calls later, I'd learned (here's a big surprise) that my CO2 tank was too small for big commercial suppliers to be bothered with, and besides, it had gone out of test the month before. The particular gentleman who helped me figure that out went on to tell me about incidents of tanks that exploded after faulty servicing from a competitor he refused to recommend--or name. I worked myself into a pretty big panic about it all, but in the end, just like the soothing man said, all I had to do was take it to a welding supply place and swap it for a new one. I must admit, however, that I didn't go to soothing man's shop, but chose one in my favorite Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook instead. Note to other desperate home brewers: if "welding supplies" doesn't do it, try googling "industrial gases."

All fine and dandy. We got the new tank installed but laid off the beer for a few days, both to save the half (Red Hook ESB clone) and nearly full (Sierra Celebration Ale clone) kegs for the party, and to gain some control of our drinking habits. In the meantime, I set about brewing a batch of Belgian style wheat beer with some additional Curacao orange peel thrown in for good measure. (I was going for heightened citrusy tang, but I just read that I might have been better off with an extra ounce of coriander. Whoops.)

Fast forward to the party, when the flow of ESB thinned to barely a trickle. BrewUnc#3 had just walked in the door, so I put him to work diagnosing the problem, which I assumed to be with the CO2 boost. Not so, said me Unc. It seems the kegerator cabinet could use some more weatherstripping, and a mighty block of ice had built up around the beer lines; somewhere in the left set of hoses, something froze (that will teach us to leave beer untouched for more than a couple of days!) so that we had to settle for drawing from just one tank at a time, using the hoses on the right side only.

We blew through the first keg midway through the evening, but made it to the end of the party on the second. Before calling it a night, I unplugged the whole business and put a bath towel in front of the door to catch the meltwater. This was soaked by morning, when I went to check how much beer was left and came up with a sputtering glass of head. Empty!

All well and good. If the CO2 lines had any moisture in them, they now will have a couple of weeks to dry out. I've also rinsed out the kegs and filled the tap hoses with iodophur sanitizing solution. Before we hook up the next batch, I'll make sure to tack some more weatherstripping around the door frame. And a few weeks on the wagon never hurt anyone...though if I'm not mistaken, there's a six-pack or two in the fridge left by some thoughtful guest. Salud!

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