I’ve been brewing beer for 10 years now, and very rarely have I brewed on the exact same equipment on a consistent basis. Like most homebrewers, I tinkered around with my equipment for a few years before settling in on something. Then, as luck has it, my situation changed time and again, causing me to brew on whatever I could get my hands on. Then I inherited a full all grain system from a dear departed friend, Steve Vallancourt. My brewing partner Aaron and I used that for a while, then modified it much to Steve’s chagrin. He chided us for exploiting the system and robbing it of it’s ability to make multiple batches at once while remaining simple. The ultimate evolution of that system is the simplest electric 10 gallon system on the planet residing at Aaron’s house.
I don’t get to hang out at his house that often anymore, having moved to Geneva. So my brewing has been done at a 2 gallon level on my stove, all grain, with a Pic-2 induction burner and a 2.5 gallon pot.
I’m out of beer a lot.
I drink a lot. Therefore by the transitive properties of my desire to drink, my desire to brew and the inverse of my bank account I needed to find something that allowed me to still actually brew beer, not just push buttons, but small enough and powerful enough that it can be done almost anywhere.
The Grainfather so far is it, for me. We got to see a lot of so called all in one systems at NHC this year, and the only one that met my price to performance ratio while still allowing me to make the beer I want was the Grainfather. All of the other ones were either too big, too expensive, not robust enough, too automated etc. They all had at least one thing that made no sense on them, and in my mind could inhibit me using it the way I want to.
I’ll admit, the GF also has a few things that make no sense, but they at least let me do what I want to do.
My brew day started out at 7pm EST, a bad decision on my part since I’d never used this equipment before and had a full day of work the next. However, undaunted (read: already drinking), I took the GF to task. I used water from my sink, as I’ve tested it and there’s no chlorine or chloramines in it and the taste is better than most Florida water. Here’s a pic of the system and my all grain ESB batch:
Here’s a pic of part of what I drank that day, all from a gas station less than a mile from my house. Not bad at all for being in the woods, huh?
Here’s the first thing they don’t tell you in the manual that I received, the thing is shipped reading Fahrenheit in the US, but the read out was designed to read in Celsius, so it looks like the third number is a decimal point.
In trying to get it up to an appropriate temp to clean it the night before, it wouldn’t go past 23, because that was actually 230. So having looked that up, I knew that despite the weird look, it was okay. The instructions said to dough in at mash temp once that was achieved, I said screw that and dumped my grains in at 117 and ramped up to sac temps. One thing I will tell you is that in making this adaptable for US kitchens at 120 volt and moderate amperage, the sacrifice in power of the heating element is felt during the ramp up to boil, but it’s totally worth it. Ramping up to mash temp didn’t take very long. Plus, the way I mash, most of the beta activity is handled at the lower end, not wasting their half life teetering beyond the gelatinization ceiling but allowing enough to take place for conversion, so although I probably was done at sac temp at 30 minutes I let it run for an hour and made some amazing steaks on my grill. In other words, I didn’t worry and had a homebrew.
The boil itself took a while, but I have to say, I’m amazed at how well the mash went. It recirculates via a pump, attached arm and hose.
It was the most worry free and trouble lacking mash I’ve EVER done. The mash tun itself works very well at keeping the grain in the tun, and the pre-filter to the pump gets the rest. That being said, I’ll be using a hop bag from now on as the pre-filter got clogged with a modest amount of hops in this recipe, an IPA would kill it I think.
Time to sparge, which I did by heating 2.5 gallons of water to 168 on my stove, as there’s no way to really do this in the GF. Not that big of a deal in my opinion. Sparging went fine and fast, and I say I could probably even skip it, but I like keeping the volume of water in the mash at my 1.25 quarts to pound of grain, so this was fine. I flipped the mash switch at the bottom, which keeps a much more consistent temp at mash level and effectively cuts power to the heating element, back to boil while collecting my sweet, sweet wort.
Once boil was achieved, and it did take about 40 minutes, things were great. Except that I was about here on the beers:
Then, all of a sudden, it hit me…I’m drunk! Also, I have to set up the chiller, it’s 55 minutes into the boil and I just threw in the finishing hops and Whirlfloc! I know from research and practical experience that any time your hops are in a liquid solution with a relatively fair amount of sugars in them above the 180 degree mark, you’re isomerizing. Meaning, your aroma hops are becoming bittering hops. So I need to chill, and fast.
I clumsily set up my gravity rig, forgoing using a pump to help push the water through the included counter flow chiller.
So yeah, full disclosure, I own said Homebrew Shop. Having the resources I have, I set up that mash tun 4 years ago with a serpentine nightmare of kettle screens and t-unions that now resembles your kids favorite tentacle hentai. So when I threw in the ice, the manifold I built inside it froze up somehow and gravity was no longer my friend. In an attempt to better utilize said force of nature, I picked the mash tun over my head, moving the beer in line from the kettle to the floor in the process. That’s cool, bro, just a half gallon of cool sweet wort. It’s almost midnight, I’ll have time to clean that up after.
When I got to 80 degrees I gave up and ran into my carboy, pitched the yeast and put the batch in my temp controlled fridge. Then I looked at the mess I created in the kitchen and said “That’s not my problem, that Future Me’s problem” and hit the sack. I hate present/past me so much. Had to wake up early to clean up the mess before we get ants, so that was cool.
All in all, I enjoyed the Grainfather and used it again this past Saturday to make an Oktoberfest batch for the first time in a few years, and I’ll us it tomorrow to make a Saison. I’m so excited that I can brew in my kitchen, I’ll be brewing a lot more often now. With a closed but upgradable (by the user or by buying GF approved parts) system my process will be a lot more streamlined and consistent. I’m planning on using a submersible pump from now on to help chill, and am looking at a cheap heat stick to help decrease the time to boil, but other than that, it’s a win.
The case on the front of the control panel has already broken off and never fit quite right anyway, but it sets on it during transfer enough to protect it, so I’m not overly concerned. Clean up is simple; it’s stainless so I scrubbed it out and rinsed it then went with the recommended clean and rinse cycle using the pump and a handy 3/8 inch plastic T to tie the recirculating arm to the chiller for an all in one clean and rinse.
All in all, at a price point of $890, considering that the pump is fantastic and super quiet; it comes with a color coded counter flow chiller and is easy to use, I think it’s worth the price. I’m looking forward to brewing more and more again, as the simplicity of this has really reignited my passion for brewing without dreading the set up, the cleaning before and after…all that. I can even multitask, which is my favorite. Yeah, doing multiple brews in one day is not this things strong suit without additional equipment, but I’ll brew more often with how simple a brew day can be with this thing. Huge thumbs up. We are planning a day of electronic brew systems soon, for comparison, so we’ll keep you posted.