Homebrewing on a Potbelly Stove

My in-laws have an old potbelly stove sitting around.  Some research indicates it was made around 1900.  I smoked about 3 lbs of Pils malt on this stove on the 4th of July, and decided I’d see if it could crank out enough heat to brew a 5 gallon batch of beer.

The answer: almost.

pot on stove

It heated about 4.5 gallons of mash water fairly well, heating it 86.7 degrees in an hour.  The slope leveled off a little as it reached strike temperature:

potbelly_temp_ramp

This performance of 390 degree-gallons per hour (when heating water starting at room temperature) is not too much worse than this same pot when I’m heating with a 1500W, 120V electric element – that setup yields about 480 degree-gallons per hour.

I mashed in an Igloo cooler and was able to heat sparge water to about 160F during the course of the mash.

Bringing 6.6 gallons of wort to a boil was a struggle, though, and the wort never attained a good boil.  The best the stove could do with the pot’s lid off was about 205F.  I covered the pot when stoking the fire – to keep out the ash that would blow around when the coals were disturbed – and would then remove the lid to find a vigorous (but temporary) boil as a result of the covering.

As a result, I had to boil for 2.5 hours to achieve my desired ~1.25 gallons of boil-off.

Better wood and more know-how might make a difference.  We burned softwood, some of which was wet and/or rotten, and if we do this again we’ll try using higher-quality wood.

fire in the hole!

A bonus side experiment: this pot normally runs on electricity, which means it has a 1.25″ diameter hole in the side.  I plugged that with an old heating element, not connected to anything.  Would it melt?  Yes, if unprotected.  The plastic sagged a bit and may have dripped once before I put a thin piece of wood below it to shield it from the heat of the stovetop.  But it remained watertight!

slightly melted electric element contacts

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