Our earlier advice helped you deal with temperature extremes, but precipitation or wind can also be enough to spoil an outdoor brew day. It’s great if you can reschedule, but if it’s the only free Saturday for a month or bad weather is a season-long curse in your area, you can’t afford to throw in the towel.
The obvious answer is to find a sheltered place to brew. In our cold weather section, we suggested using your garage, remembering to maintain good ventilation. That advice still stands, but if your garage doesn’t even have room for your car, then you’ll have to look at alternatives. Rather than compromise with brewing indoors (or worse, not brewing), you can rough it outside. Think of it as day-camping.
Fighting the Rain
Standing out in the wet and getting soaked is no fun, but the rain offers more than just discomfort. Mud and slick surfaces can be dangerous. Dropping a brew pot would be a tragedy. Taking a fall with a carboy might be catastrophic. Also, if you’re running a pump or have anything plugged in, electrocution is a distinct risk.
The first step to safety is to pick a place where the water will drain away and won’t pool at your feet. A patio or deck is a better choice than out in the yard. Then you need to create some shelter. The best solution I’ve found is to set up an E-Z Up or other canopy. This will give you a drier base and keep the rainwater from diluting and cooling off your boil. Remember to weigh down the corners of the canopy, in case the wind picks up.
Now that your brew kettle and burner are protected, you need to address electrical safety. Obviously, a heavy downpour makes any electrical use dangerous, so use good judgment about whether you can make it safe enough. If you do decide to brew, make sure any outlet you use has a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI). In the event of a short circuit, this will cut the flow of electricity, ideally before any damage can occur.
From there, just use common sense. If you’re running an extension cord, it should be rated for outdoor use. All electrical connections should be sealed against rainwater, such as with a water-tight cord protector. You can also go with the lower tech solution of wrapping a plastic bag around the connections. In either case, keep all connections out of standing water.
A tornado would keep any sane brewer indoors, but a little breeze is hardly a problem, right? The truth is that the wind can make brewing a pain. Whether it’s a persistent drive or irregular gusting, it makes lighting the burner a challenge. Once lit, the wind throttles your burner’s efficiency because the wind pushes the heat to the side, away from the bottom of your kettle. Between that and the chilling effect on the boil, you can count on using extra propane and needing a bit more time. If you’re an all-grain brewer, the windchill can also impact your mash temperature. On top of all that, the wind may blow dirt and leaves into your kettle.
Your best strategy is to create a windbreak around your gear. A single sheet of plywood braced next to your burner will do in a pinch as long as it’s not too close to the flame, but if this is a regular issue or stronger breeze, it’s worth it to build something sturdier. Two sheets can be attached together using right angle brackets to form a more stable corner. Aside from standing on its own, this also handles shifting winds.
It’s still a good idea to keep your pot covered, though, if only to keep stuff from landing in your wort. This in turn means you’ll need to be fairly attentive to catch boilovers before they get out of hand.
If you do face down the adversity of nature’s challenges, remember to reward yourself for your efforts. I recommend a refreshing homebrew.
Podcast Episode 21: New Belgium's Wood Cellar Director & Blender Lauren Limbach
Jamie is joined by American sour beer pioneer Lauren Limbach of New Belgium Brewing, and they talk about the evolution of New Belgium’s sour beer program, from the earliest days two decades ago to the advances in analytics and technical process today.
Podcast Episode 13: Bonn Place Brewing's Sam Masotto Joins John Holl
What's it like recording a podcast in the middle of a brew day? Tune in to hear Senior Editor John Holl talk with Bonn Place Brewing's Sam Masotto. They talk about customer service, engaging consumers on social media, and simple yet flavorful beer styles.