Barley Mowat 

Archive for November, 2015

Cellar Chronicles Part II: Fill Your Hole

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When we last checked in on my cellar it was but a twinkle in the brewmaster’s eye. A lot has happened since then: walls have been framed, insulation sourced, electrical wiring diagrams… diagrammed, etc.

However, let’s step back a bit and talk about why all those steps are required. Ultimately, a cellar is an unnatural thermal and humidity gradient and, as the saying goes, nature abhors a cozy booze cave.

I think it’s in the bible, towards the back somewhere.

Once you’ve measured the proposed walls of your tentative cellar, the next step is to calculate the volume of space we’re dealing with here and then shop around for an adequate cooling unit. Measure from 1/2 way into your walls, floors and ceiling, then multiply all three together to get the cubic feet you’re enclosing.

In my case, the lucky number was 864 cubic feet. Take your number and head over to and peruse their various cooling units, check out the prices, and then seriously reconsider if you really need that much space.

For me, the two full sized, upright, stand-alone cellars I hope to replace with this little project total just shy of 40 cubic feet, so while the thought of enclosing a volume fully 22 times that amount was appealing, I couldn’t really justify it. Add to that the $1500 required to cool it, and I was quickly back at the graph paper adjusting some walls. Yeah, 520 cubic feet is juuuuuust fine.

Yup. I’m old. If you don’t get this reference, it’s probably best to just ignore it and move along.

Picking your cooling unit is the next step. There are lots of options, and each has it’s own merits. Being a cheap bastard, I went for the cheapest possible unit, the KoolR. These are not very serviceable, so if it breaks I’ll have to replace it, but at 1/3rd the cost of the next comparable unit I get two do-overs before breakeven.

Next up is wall construction. Most people just figure they can throw their beer in a dark room, stick an A/C unit in there and call it a day. Hells no. A proper cellar requires proper construction, and that means insulating it like a house, installing a vapour barrier, and venting your walls so any trapped moisture has an exit path. That might sound intimidating, but it’s really as simple as stapling plastic on your studs and cramming your gaps full of pink things.

In my case, since I was additionally building this on a raw concrete slab, I built up a floor above the concrete and insulated that sucker. Having my flooring directly on the concrete without any insulation would mean that the giant heat sink what is my garage’s foundation would greedily suck up all my cooling and heating energy, and make any sort of temperature control efforts moot. For the same reason, I built an entirely new wall in front of the exposed foundation lip in my cellar.

Yes, I insulated my floor.

Lastly, don’t forget about heating. Lots of attention is paid to cooling cellars down to 55F, but the reality of the matter is that the average annual temperature in Vancouver is around 52F, which means that heating your cellar will be your worry most of the year. Luckily, keeping a small, well insulated space warmish isn’t too hard, the only trick is finding a space heater whose built-in thermostat can go as low as 50 or 55F… which I have yet to do. Failing that, something like this bastard coupled with a cheap space heater should do the trick.

Next time: racking! This is when my cellar starts looking more like a cellar, and less like the dark hole in which I torture railyard hobos to death.

Written by chuck

November 27th, 2015 at 2:33 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Cellar Chronicles Part I: Find Your Hole

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One day, in early October, I rolled out of bed, had a shower, ate some breakfast, and then bought a house. Shortly thereafter, I began scouring over floorpans of my new house, looking for a room in an out of way corner that I could turn into a walk-in cellar without Sharon noticing. Sharon, wise to this plan, suggested that I could take our new two car garage and turn it into a 1 car, 2000 bottle garage. Challenge Accepted!

Building a walk-in cellar, unlike buying a house, is not something you simply wake up and decide to do on a whim. It takes many hours of research and detailed planning. You have to balance thermal and humidity control with killer interior design that screams out “Look at me! I’m a rich twat!” Getting that balance just right is pretty hard.

The guy who built this, for instance, must be a huge asshole. Well played, good sir.

Seriously, if you Google “wine cellar” you’ll quickly find a steady stream of glassed in, brightly lit, wealth-brags cleverly disguised as rooms in which to age grape juice. The reality of aging wine and beer, though, is that all the things that makes a cellar photograph well are the exact same things that are bad for your boozey fluids.

Wine and beer age best in dark places, far from the vibrations caused by people walking, held at a very consistent temperature and humidity. If you’ve ever seen someone with a big open wine rack built on top of their kitchen cabinets, for instance, then you’ve been in the kitchen of an idiot who drinks a lot of spoiled wine. Heat from cooking rises to also cook the beer/wine, light from the ceiling fixtures accelerates undesirable chemical breakdowns, and the constant vibration from opening/closing kitchen cabinets never lets sediment settle out.

“Above your cabinets” is probably the single worst place you could possibly store significant quantities of booze, yet if you search for “kitchen wine storage” instead of a single result saying “don’t, you fucking moron” you get page after page of “stunning renovations.”

Sure, it looks badass, but it’s the booze storage equivalent of leaving your Lamborghini unattended on the streets of Surrey for 15 minutes.

Spending a lot of money to build a massive wall rack in your kitchen or dining room, and then walling it in behind glass, isn’t much better. Sure, you now have an enclosed space that you can apply cooling to, but your wine and beer are still very far from being comfortable. Of course, building a cellar in your basement doesn’t show off your very expensive booze in the same way, but with a kitchen cellar all you’re really showing off is your desire to slowly ruin perfectly good wine in front of your friends. In short, you’re an asshole.

So, where should the non-asshole store his beer and wine? Every house will have its own secret booze hutch, just waiting for your discovery. Some might have a below-grade, unused basement bedroom. Other’s might have an actual honest-to-god root cellar. Still others might have a dry well that, until recently, was only used for storing your lotion.

Poke around. Leave a digital thermometer in your potential spots for a few days and look for places in out-of-the-way corners with as little temperature variation as possible. Keep in mind that you will not be building a glorious temple to liquid happiness. Instead, you’re looking to create a dark, semi-humid, hole that you will cram full of booze to age comfortably and undisturbed. Once you’ve picked a spot, we can move on to Part 2: Planning Your Build.

The back left corner of this unfinished carhole is where my actual cellar will be built.

Written by chuck

November 6th, 2015 at 1:41 pm

Posted in Beer and You