January 22, 2012

Steam Cleaning a Barrel (part 3)

Third time around.  I've finally got a functioning and effective barrel steam cleaner.  My previous attempt was somewhat amateur and had it's issues.  Here is a more professional steamer equipped with a pressure gauge, control valve, diffuser and all the right fittings (video below, another video here).  For a truly professional steamer, check out Cantillon's barrel cleaner!
All the parts were found at a local hardware store, and cost ~$50.  The little nipple valve on the top of the pressure cooker was removed and replaced with an adapter to 1/2" pipe.  From there I attached a pressure gauge and a shut off valve.  I know that the pressure cooker is regularly used at up to 15 psi, but am unsure of what its actually maximum is.  So, to be safe, I will maintain pressure of no more than 15 psi.  At the end of this section is a connection to 1/2" hose, which enables me to attach a diffuser.  The diffuser is simply a pipe with some small holes drilled into it for the purpose of evenly releasing the steam throughout the barrel's interior.

The goal of steaming the barrel is to kill the bugs (yeast and bacteria) living inside the wood.  Its unlikely that one would be able to kill ALL the bugs, but steaming them should kill the vast majority.  What I'm trying to do here is make an environment in which the desired concoction of bugs can be added and will be able to take over.

Given that this is my first time using this barrel, I first needed to soak it with hot water to extract the wine flavor from the wood.  I did this by turning my water heater up to the highest heat.  Once heated I connected a hose to my basement wash basin and turned on the hot water.  As you can see from the following picture, the water entered at ~170 degrees.
Obviously the water heater couldn't keep up and, once the barrel was full, the final temperature of the water in the barrel was 150 degrees.  I let that soak for about 14 hours (at which time the water was still 120 degrees), and then pumped the water out.  The water that came out looked nearly clear, but had a hit of pink to it.

The steaming process on the other hand penetrates deeper into the wood and pushes out the wine.  After I finished steaming there was a puddle of dark liquid at the bottom of the barrel.  My final step in cleaning was to give it a final rinse by completely filling and emptying the barrel.

The next step will be to "prime" the barrel...

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