The Tri-Clamp Ball Valve: Every Brewer’s Superhero

  • John Zabkowicz
  • May 14, 2021

Homebrewing may seem like just another “silly hobby” to many a spouse or work colleague.

“Why go through all that bother when you can just buy a decent IPA at the store these days?”

“Wasting another Saturday in the garage, playing Sam Adams and making ale, when you could be with us, drinking ale, at the game. Tsk, tsk…”

What they don’t realize is that homebrewers get a huge sense of satisfaction from knowing they’ve produced something as ordinary and yet as special as their very own beer.

Homebrewing is a creative release, a source of relaxation, and an outright joy to most serious homebrewers.

So imagine the disheartening discovery a few years back when they realized that the NPT valves they were being sold as “sanitary fittings” were, well, not-so-sanitary after all. 

The threads on the NPT fittings allowed for the build-up of bacteria-laden “gunk”.

And if you were unlucky enough to have a warmer that didn’t get the valve warm enough to kill off this germy junk, you ended up brewing beer full of diacetyl, tasting more like something from Grandma’s candy dish than from the taproom.

No amount of hot PBW could eliminate the issue, as it couldn’t get into the pipe threads in the ball valve connections.

Enter the tri-clamp ball valve to save the day! 

Switching to tri-clamp ball valves eradicated the gunk, the germs it produced, and the nasty diacetyl-filled beer, making homebrewing safe and stress-relieving once again. 

We’re going to examine this small superhero in some detail, covering:

What Makes Tri-Clamp Fittings So Special
How a Tri-Clamp Ball Valve Works
Putting Tri-Clamp Ball Valves to Work in Your Homebrewing
How We Can Help With Your Tri-Clamp Ball Valve Needs

Got your cape and tights on? Let’s get started!

What Makes Tri-Clamp Fittings So Special?

If ball valves are the small superheroes of brew day, then the entire family of tri-clamp fittings should be something akin to the Avengers or the Justice League. They save many a brew, a brewer, and a lot of hassles and headaches, too. 

There are three things that make tri-clamp fittings so special for the homebrewer:

  • Their versatility
  • Their quality
  • Their relatively quick and easy assembly and disassembly

Tri-Clamp Fittings Are Versatile

The entire line of tri-clamp equipment available to the homebrewer makes building your custom brewing setup or system a breeze. Everything from valves and spool, to thermowells and reducing connections (and a lot more) is yours for the asking. 

The wide range of available sizes is a great benefit, as well, since you don’t have to hunt around for just the right OD fitting. You can make us your one-stop-shop for all your tri-clamp fitting needs. 

(Not sure how to measure your tri-clamp fittings? Watch this video.)

Tri-Clamp Fittings Are High-Quality 

All of our tri-clamp fittings are made of either 304 or 316L food-grade stainless steel

316L and 304 stainless steel are preferred for food and beverage production because they are made with sanitary conditions in mind. They are highly resistant to corrosion and rust, easy to clean, and easy to maintain. 

Tri-clamp fittings consist of 4 basic parts:

  • The two pieces of equipment with their flanged ends
  • The gasket that goes between the two pieces
  • The clamp that creates the secure, safe, sanitary seal 

Here’s a schematic diagram showing a cross-section of a tri-clamp fitting, minus the clamp:

Tri-Clamp Fittings Work

There are no threads to capture or grow “gunk”, no crevices or grooves to collect germy junk. 

Tri-Clamp Fittings Are Quick and Easy to Assemble and Disassemble

Now, let’s get one thing straight: Tri-clamps are not as quick to connect and disconnect as camlocks. We’re not going to deny it. 

But…

Tri-clamp fittings are easily removed for cleaning, repositioning of hoses, disconnecting, and are just as easily reconnected. A bit more time-consuming than camlock fittings, true, but still faster than nearly any other type of fitting available. 

How a Tri-Clamp Ball Valve Works

A standard three-piece stainless steel sanitary ball valve is made of, well, three parts:

  • The inlet port, where the beer enters
  • The outlet port, where the beer exits
  • The ball-and-stem handle assembly, which controls the flow of the beer through the valve

A tri-clamp or tri-clover ball valve’s inlet and outlet ports are simply tri-clamp connections, making easy connection and disconnection of the valve possible. 

To open or start the flow of the beer, water, or wort, simply turn the handle stem. This turns the ball and allows the liquid to flow through the valve. To slow or stop the flow, turn the handle stem back toward or to the off position. 
 

The Three-Way Three Piece “L-port” Tri-Clamp Ball Valve

The standard three-piece tri-clamp or tri-clover ball valve’s big brother is the three-way tri-clamp ball valve. 

Again, you have a ball-and-stem in the center, except this time, there are three tri-clamp connections, allowing for the inlet and outlet of more than one flow. 

Here’s a drawing of a three-way “L-port” tri-clamp sanitary ball valve in action, with the blue showing the flowing liquid through the ball valve.

Three Way Valve Flow Patterns

Now that we’ve discussed how tri-clamp sanitary ball valves work, let’s take a look at the best uses for them in your homebrew setups.

Putting Tri-Clamp Ball Valves to Work in Your Homebrewing

There are many uses for both kinds of sanitary ball valves in your homebrew setup. Here’s a shortlist of how other homebrew enthusiasts use them:

  • To control the flow between the mash/lauter tun (MLT) and the brew kettle (BK)
  • To control the flow between the hot liquor tun (HLT) and the MLT or BK
  • To control the flow between the water source and the HLT and/or MLT
  • To recirculate mash in a no sparge setup

Just remember, standard ball valves can be shut off, allowing for absolutely no flow of wort or water. Three-way ball valves always have wort or water flowing through them. Make sure to use the proper valves in the proper places to avoid brew day disasters.

How We Can Help With Your Ball Valve Needs

We carry three types of tri-clamp ball valves:

All of our tri-clamp ball valves are made of food-grade 316L food-grade stainless steel. They come in a range of sizes small enough for any home brewer’s needs, all the way down to ½ inch OD. And they can handle temps from -4 to 393F.  

All of our valves are at “full port” when in the open position. A full port ball valve means that the hole in the ball that allows the liquid to flow through is the same diameter as the inlet and outlet openings, creating unrestricted flow.

Check out all our tri-clamp ball valves, and all our tri-clamp homebrewing fittings in our catalog. You’ll be your own superhero come brew day.