Outdoor BrewOutdoor Brew

Spent part of Monday brewing outdoors. The first time I’ve done that. I purchased a Blichmann floor burner from Grape and Granary a few years back and just hadn’t gotten around to using it; well, now I can say that I have.

The burner is fantastic and connects to a propane tank. It puts out 72,000 BTU’s per hour which translates to a whole lot of heat for fast boils. I am used to brewing in my kitchen where I use a standard gas range. The time to boil was a great delay in the brew day for me. After lautering and sparging and collecting the wort into the boil kettle, the time from that 160 or so degrees to 212 was too much. It could take nearly an hour just to get to boil. I didn’t time things out specifically, but I would swear that the Blichmann was heating water at around 10 degrees every five minutes, maybe even faster. So in approximately twenty to twenty-five minute it was boiling. It happened so fast, in fact, that I had my first boil over in years, even with fermcap. But it was outdoors, so only the ants were pissed (and me later, when I had to scrub the pot).

Another upshot with outdoor brewing is that I just ran the hose to the kettle and used the hose to connect to the Blichmann plate chiller that I have. The excess water that comes in chilling the wort went straight into the garden beds for the very thirsty pumpkins, cucumbers, and peppers. The main drawback was that the water temperature was very difficult to get down, with the nearly 100 degree heat, so I could only chill the wort to 77 degrees, which is a bit high for pitching (but I did it anyway).

I brewed a Brown Ale with lots of Cascade and Nugget hops. The Nugget came straight from my backyard, circa 2011 (vacuum sealed in the freezer). It was a low gravity extract beer which I am using as a yeast starter (essentially) for an all-grain Imperial Red (Nosferatu clone) that I’ll brew in a week or two.

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Grainfather all-in-one brewing systemGrainfather all-in-one brewing system

Grainfather all-in-one RIMS system, looks like a stainless steel hot water boiler. Grainfather. RIMS.

In 2017 I purchased a Grainfather in an effort to move beyond the earlier approaches I’ve used to brewing, i.e. the orange, 10-gallon Rubbermaid cooler (mash tun) with the copper manifold, spigot, etc.

While that mash tun works, and I appreciated the brews that I made on it, it really only worked for single infusion mashes, or mashes that included one or more decoction steps.

So, in late-2016, early-2017 I started looking for a system that I could direct fire (or heat). I also wanted a system that would re-circulate when mashing. Obviously, I also wanted something that could be temperature controlled, preferably by electronic (and remote) means.

At the time, I recall narrowing my options down to either the Grainfather or the Braumeister. Alternatives were expensive: for instance, a three-tiered brew systems. I felt intuitively that my wife would murder me if I spent that much on one system. Some of the options that are available today were not available when I was looking in 2016/2017.

Features

I’m not going to go into all-encompassing detail on features. There are plenty of youtube videos, as well as the Grainfather company site, to which to refer for specifics. What I’ll discuss is what I have found to be most enjoyable/useful about the system.

Grainfather connect, bluetooth connection device for brewing.

Recirculation

Yes, I know that recirculating infusion mash systems (rims) aren’t new, but they are to me. The system has a magnetic drive pump (6 watt, 1800 RPM). It isn’t the strongest pump in the world, but it’s better than dealing with gravity, tubing, and 212 degree wort.

Pump filter

There’s a filter in-between the interior of the Grainfather and the pump. This vastly improves the your chances for not getting a stuck sparge, as when your grain bed is sitting on your slitted manifold.

However, the filter sticks out into the Grainfather like a wart off someone’s chin, and at least one time I’ve hit it with my mash paddle where it had the effect of a straight razor on said wart. When the filter comes off the pump, you’re screwed: unless you want to stick your arm down inside boiling wort.

I purchased a hop spider, which greatly reduced the likelihood of a stuck sparge. The pump filter has large enough holes that the detritus of pellet hops slips through.

Grainfather connect

Grainfather connect allows for a bluetooth connection from your phone to the controller, so you can control all aspects of the mash timing, from your phone.

Often times I don’t have the full amount of time required to have a brew session. Grainfather connect allows me to sit with my family and still monitor a step mash, for instance.

There’s a Grainfather brewing app that allows you to put in your recipes and execute them from your phone, but the app is buggy and you’re better off setting everything up through their website and then running it from your phone.

You can also program the unit to pre-heat in advance (assuming you have the water in it and ready to go), and pre-set mash steps.

Grain basket

The design of the Grainfather in this regard is very good. When you’ve finished mashing, you simply lift the grain basket out and let the lauter begin. The “feet” on the grain basket rest on the interior brackets. You can extend the grain basket to 19.8 pounds. Extending is something I should have done during my most recent brew (to be discussed later). The limit is on mashing in the grainfather (hint: 21 pounds of grain doesn’t work very well).

Counterflow wort chiller

The wort chiller is great. As I’ve posted before, I’ve got the Blichmann Therminator which is a fantastic plate chiller. While the Therminator works better, in my opinion, than the counterflow chiller, you can connect the Grainfather counterflow chiller to the pump, which makes the difference. I’ve also connected my Blichmann Thrumometer to the brew-line-out of the Grainfather chiller, which allows for inline temperature measurements,. The Grainfather chiller works extremely well with only a slight influx of cold water. I empty the hot-line from the chiller into my washing machine so all excess water serves two purposes.

Quirks

There are some clunky aspects of the Grainfather (besides those I mention above):

  • If you want to perform a decoction mash while using the Grainfather, you virtually cannot use the top mesh screen. Absent the top mesh screen, you risk grain spilling into the main tank, which you’ll use later for boiling.
  • The top recirculation arm is very tight against the glass lid. Should you need to remove the lid, you’ll need to take the recirculation arm off to take off the lid. This ensures that hot wort will run down the side of the unit, onto the pump housing, and the floor). The unit can also be touchy in terms of scorching on the bottom.
  • If you fail to remove scorch marks from the bottom of the Grainfather, you’ll have some problems. The scorching will build and trigger an emergency shutoff of the Grainfather as the heating element is on the bottom. Also on the bottom is the reset button. To reset the unit, you’ll have to lift it up. That’s a problem if the unit is filled with a mash or wort. This also goes for any additions you make which could scorch (extract, honey, etc.)

Final Thoughts

Despite my pickiness about a few things with the Grainfather, it’s a positive development in my brewing experience. That I can use one piece of equipment to both mash and boil is great in itself.

The bluetooth remote control, the ease of step mashing, the pump controlled re-circulation and wort chilling, and the ease by which you can move wort into the fermenter makes the brew day nearly effortless–at least in comparison with the old Rubbermaid mash tun, and 8-gallon brew pot.

Cleaning the unit is fairly easy as well. The insulating jacket pulls off, the Grainfather connect unit disconnects, and the recirculation features of the pump can be used to clean the unit and the wort chiller.

Right now, for instance, to clean off some scorching from last night’s brew session, I’ve got the Grainfather set to 140 degrees and some PBW mixed into two gallons of water. I can control the temperature of the water via my phone and can later re-circulate the clean water through the unit and the wort chiller while sitting on my couch.

I’ve included some other photos below.

Conway CloneConway Clone

gravity

Is in the keg. Took the final gravity reading at 1.015, a bit higher than what I expected, especially given the large, highly-active starter that I pitched. But, it has a nice color and taste, even though flat. Now I just wait for carbonation.

Homebrewing surge!Homebrewing surge!

My wife forwarded a good article from Ohio.com about the rising tide of homebrewers, with a nice shot of John Pastor, owner of the Grape and Granary.

Beer in the secondary as photographed by Ohio.com

The photo of Michael Danks in the article shows a pretty similar set up to my own, with the boil kettle and the 10 gallon water cooler. Looks like he’s stirring the mash while a 7 gallon fermenter bucket sits in the back waiting to be filled with liquid joy.

I also just discovered from my wife that one of our good friends works for LD Carlson in Kent, OH. Have to see what goodness that can bring!