Hiding a fermentation chest in my kitchen table

I live in a one-bedroom apartment on the 5th floor of a 5-floor walkup. During the day, the sun beats down on the aluminum roof of my building and really heats up the apartment. During the summer, temperatures can exceed 90 degrees, which, as we all know, can be pretty bad for brewing tasty beer. I’ve been mulling over some potential solutions to this problem, while keeping in mind the lack of space in my apartment, and came up with a space-saving DIY project that can be accomplished with minimal work that won’t break the bank. My idea was to create a kitchen table that doubled as a fermentation chamber. I ran my idea by one of our more technically skilled club members, Niall, and then we got to work.

I went to the local Home Depot and picked up a 5.2 cu. ft. chest freezer. They can be found on sale throughout the year, and usually range between $100-200 depending on the size you buy.

Back at the apartment, and five flights of stairs later, I was ready to take measurements. With a depth of 22 inches and a width of 30 inches, I would need a long wooden block that would function as a two-person table, yet still allow me to open the freezer and access its contents. The freezer also had plastic lining that ran along the outside. The lining stuck up just a few millimeters, but would need to be accounted for so that the wooden block would fit snugly on top.

Based off of those measurements, Niall picked up a 4 foot x 2 foot birch butcher block. We then cut grooves into the areas that would be resting on top of the freezer’s plastic liners. After chiseling away all access wood along the grooves, the block was ready to test.

Back up another five flights of stairs, and after a tense “moment of truth,” we found that the block fit perfectly. After a few coats with butcher block conditioner (which helps protect the wood by keeping out moisture,) we covered the freezer lid with epoxy and set the butcher block flush with the back of the freezer. This will allow it to open and shut without a problem.

We then filled a couple of carboys with water and set them on top of the freezer to help weigh down the butcher block as the epoxy resin cured.

24 hours later, I removed the carboys to find the butcher block secured to the lid of the freezer. I then purchased a dual stage temperature controller, which I mounted to the side of the freezer using Velcro sticky back tape. The controller will allow me to dial in what temperature I want to ferment my beer at down to a decimal.

I conditioned the wood a few more times, and the finished product looked great. It takes up minimal kitchen space and gives me control over a very important part of the beer-brewing process.


Words and photos by Matt McCaleb

Making George Washington’s Small Beer

Our founding fathers were many things: Generals, philosophers, scientists and, often, brewers. One of the most famous recipes surviving from colonial times belongs to George Washington, and is housed in a collection of manuscripts owned by the New York Public Library. Inside one notebook from his time as colonel in Virginia you’ll find a page with the heading, “To make Small Beer.” Here’s the recipe he scribbled down:

Take a large Sifter full of Bran Hops to your Taste — Boil these 3 hours. Then strain out 30 Gallons into a Cooler, put in 3 Gallons Molasses while the Beer is scalding hot or rather drain the molasses into the Cooler & strain the Beer on it while boiling Hot. Let this stand till it is little more than Blood warm. Then put in a quart of Yeast if the weather is very cold, cover it over with a Blanket & let it work in the Cooler 24 hours. Then put it into the Cask — leave the Bung[hole] open till it is almost done working — Bottle it that day Week it was Brewed.

You’ll definitely notice a few oddities in there. It’s not often that we brew with molasses any more, outside of a specialty winter and fall ales. And using bran is almost unheard of. If you’re adventurous, you could try to brew a faithful rendition of the beer using the recipe above. Or you could make this more modern interpretation that our own Paul Camarca whipped up.

G.W. small beer: adapted modern recipe 5.5 g
5# Marris Otter
1# toasted MO
2# Wheat bran
2# Molasses (light) 10 min
1.5 styrian golding 60 min
Mash 152 infusion biab
6.5 g 160 deg strike water
Raise temp to 165 mash out
2 g 170 sparge (pour over bag)
90 min boil
Add hops at 60 min
Add molasses last 10 min

A few members of the club recently got together to make this recipe. If you missed out on the festivities, don’t worry there will be other group brews to come. But it appears as if it was a rousing success. The crew got an early start and by early afternoon we had made our first president proud by cooking up a batch of his personal brew. (Sort of…)

But experiment! Make you’re own take on ol’ GW’s “small beer.” There’s plenty of variables in the recipe to mess with thanks the to the vague nature of Washington’s notes. What kind of hops and how much should you use? What constitutes a “large sifter full”? And what would happen if you swapped in blackstrap molasses or got real crazy and used sugar beet molasses? The possibilities are endless.

Paul will be representing Pour Standards and serving the club’s take on this presidential brew at a New York Public Library event on June 30th. We’ll update with more details when they become available.

Update: Unfortunately the NYPL event has been canceled. We’ll update with more info about a possible tasting when details become available.