I thought I’d kick off my more serious blog discussions by talking about my equipment; ideally this will accomplish two things: address my own process and force me to inventory everything that is scattered all around.
Thanks to MoreBeer’s order history feature I can state that on January 23, 2008 I purchased my brew kettle. I purchased the Heavy Duty Brew Kettle – With Ball Valve (32 Quart/8 Gallon)– BE308; at the same time I added in the Dial Thermometer (3” Face x 6” Probe)–MT502. The 8 gallon brew kettle has two ports: one for the thermometer and the other for a ball valve, which I also picked up: Stainless – 1/2 in. mpt x 1/2 in. Barb–H618. I’ll put the full equipment list at the bottom for easier reading.
The ball valve obviously makes it easy to get the boiling hot wort out of the kettle and the barb reduces the flow so it can drain into a 1/2” vinyl tube rated for 212 degree temps. Once this hits the wort chiller, which I’ll discuss later, I can quickly get the temps down to pitch temperatures. The thermometer works well and I’ve paired the temperatures it reports against a digital thermometer and they match up. Nice to test analog against digital and get good results! The one thing that’s tricky is you have to have a bit more than three gallons in the kettle in order for the liquid levels to be high enough for the thermometer to register temperatures. And on this note, I’ll also comment that a better design of the kettle would include some internal method of marking liquid measures. As manufactured, there are no gallon markings–markings that are present on smaller stainless pots I have around the house. This forces me to lauter into plastic buckets with spouts to measure what I drain off –and then re-drain the wort into the boil kettle. (All to avoid hot side aeration.) With regard to there being no markings, I have figured out over time that I’ve got about 6.5 gallons in the kettle when the wort level hits the handle bolts on either side.
In October 2009 I picked up a false bottom for the kettle (H111) as I made the move to all-grain and thought I could avoid the construction of a mash/lauter tun. The reality is that the 8-gallon kettle is not suitable for all-grain brewing. The ratios of water to grain that are necessary for most beers make it somewhat perilous and messy to attempt mashing in the kettle. I’m sure that it would work fine for lower gravity or session beers, and I really should try that. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I like to brew big beers–imperials and barley wines, and the grain bill and water ratios just exceed the volume of the kettle. Here I’ll relate and embarrassing tale as well. Early on I thought I could get around this problem by doing two-part mashes and using the first runnings and mix them together for the brew. Of course, the result was that I had two beers with average gravities and mixing them only made one big batch with an average gravity. This demonstrates my mathematical logic at work. The ultimate point, here, being that if you anticipate using the brew kettle for mashing and you think you might make the move to all-grain then you should buy a bigger kettle–probably a 60 quart. If you intend to brew extracts or partials, then the 32 quart kettle should work fine.
Ultimately, the kettle is absolutely solid and I can continue to use it for boils–presuming 5 gallon brews.