Oh, what the search engines will make of that title …
A while back, a reader requested a buyer’s guide-type of piece on equipment – my gear, what I like and don’t like, etc. Here’s to wish fulfillment!
Because I live on disclaimers and hearing myself talk, two things before we start:
1. This is just my stuff, and I’m not here to convince you to buy anything, or to do things my way.
No less a personage than Jamil Zainasheff said to me while watching AHA governing board members and all-around good dudes Justin Crossley and Jake Keeler talk trash over a mash tun:
“You don’t need fancy equipment. If you’re a good brewer, you can make good beer in a pickle bucket. But, if you’re a good brewer and you brew a lot, there is a lot of stuff that makes brewing more pleasurable and ergonomic, and makes it easier to make good beer consistently.”
I’m paraphrasing a bit, but that’s the gist of it, and I agree. On average, we all tend to start from a common place (5 gallon extract with partial boil) but end up all over the spectrum. And it’s apt to change over a lifetime, with constraints of time, family, space, or what kind of beer you want to make and how you prefer to make it.
2. Speaking of change: this is how I brew now, but it’s not the way I did it in the past, and it’s likely to be different again in the future. It’s been cobbled together piecemeal over the span of … damn, decades now, and it’s named Slave 1, which my wife thinks is in poor taste; but since she couldn’t pick a Mandalorian out of a lineup of Ewoks I think she’s missing the point. Representational bias, I guess.
Blichmann Top Tier
When I was young and single, Mike Fredericksen, one of my personal homebrewing gurus, gave me this advice:
“If there’s a piece of gear you think you might someday want, buy it before you get married.”
I took it to heart and acquired my brew kettles, a mill, keg system, chest freezer, nitro dispense system, and a bunch of other stuff in the years leading up to my wedding. However, there’s an exception to every rule and fortunately for me I married a woman who loves beer, and who actually was the one who encouraged me to pull the trigger on a Top Tier.
It has two burners, mounted just below waist height on me, east-west and just offset, for a direct-fired MLT and a boiler. The HLT sits on a shelf on the north, and gravity-feeds into the MLT. I have a March 809PLHS pump at the base of the tower on the south – that transfers heated sparge water from the boiler up to the HLT, and also moves wort from MLT to boiler, and from boiler through chiller.
When I was younger and marginally dumber, I did a lot of lifting of heavy and/or scalding-hot and/or heavy, scalding-hot materials in the course of a brew day – this is now obviated.
Pump and plumbing
My brother the electrician helped me put an outlet and on/off switch on the top of the south face to run the pump, which has elbows, polysulfone QDs, and a 1/2″ ball valve on the outflow. Hi-temp 1/2″ ID tubing with matching QDs connect the pump to the valves on the kettles for underletting.
I moved to 10 gallon batches a few years ago because, like I imagine it is for most of you, brewing time can be hard to come by, and this yields 100% more beer in roughly 25% more time.
I have had my Polarware kettles for a very long time. They predate the Top Tier by many years, and two of them are actually from back in the days before they came with 1/2″ ball valves – my boiler and MLT both have 3/8″ valves that I’ve fitted with 1/2″ barbs to match up with the rest of the plumbing. The HLT and MLT are both 10 gallon kettles, and the boiler is a 15 gallon.
I used to use cooler mash tuns, but I moved to a stainless because I do enough multi-temp mashes that I like the capability of direct-heating the mash instead of continually diluting it and/or running out of capacity with hot water infusions.
The MLT and boiler both have Blichmann Brewmometers in the MPT ports and Polarware false bottoms inside. False bottom in the boiler because I use at least some whole hops in every batch to keep my plate chiller from clogging.
Crush isn’t the only factor determining mash efficiency, but it’s a big one, and I really, really, really value the control of setting the gap spacing myself and millling the grist while strike water heats.
I started out with a Schmidling Preset mill – it was pretty much the only game in town back then, and if I hadn’t moved up to 10 gallon batches I might still have it. I upgraded to a Monster MM3 a few years ago and have appreciated the adjustability, three-roller crush, and bigger hopper.
Blichmann Therminator. I like it, it has worked great for me for many years. I still have my old immersion chiller that I bust out for the odd smaller-volume BIAB batch.
I will say that, after using a communal Therminator for a few years, a plate chiller (whatever the model or make) is not a commitment to be taken lightly – the grodiness remaining in the lines after an insufficient cleaning is a sight to behold. It’s a big blind spot in the sanitation process and punishes shortcuts. Mine gets immersed in Star San right before use, then an immediate backflush after use, recirc with PBW, and another backflush before drying and storage.
That’s the rundown on the hot side; thanks for reading this far down the page.
How about you? What’s in your brewhouse?