Reader and friend Keith C. hit me with this Russian novel of a question – slash – very enviable first-world homebrewer problem, and I’m recruiting you citizens to chime in with your answers in the comments section. Let’s dig in:
I’ve had a basic pieced-together all-grain system for about 5 years and next year my wife has basically said I can drop up to $3,500 on any system/gear I want/need. This was great at first but after looking at a few options I’ve become paralyzed with fear and choices. I usually give up looking and just consider sticking with my same old system – but I don’t want to do that.
I was going to ask how you like your top tier system – with non-blichmann pots, etc — as well as your burner/pump setup (number of burners, number of pumps, placement of levels). Is there anything you would change? I’ve found some old BTV footage when you brew on that system and you do discuss it a bit (pumping sparge water from boil kettle up to HLT). Basically just wanted to know if you can tell me what your system is – what you have/use, etc…and if you would tweak anything. Or — what system you would suggest to someone in my position. I really don’t wanna look like a douche with a bright shiny wacked out system that I have trouble using. I’ve basically ruled out temp control…and I like the manual aspect of brewing. I’ve never used pumps – but figure that would be a good choice. Do you use a pump to recirc your mash or do you just fly sparge? How do you chill? Do you have any temp control issues with your mash tun – or do you just goose the burner a bit to keep it at temp?
I guess I should also add that I’m leaning toward the Blichmann Top Tier with 2 or 3 burners — and maybe those new megapots from NB. I would like to do 10 gallons batches. Do you recommend 15 or 20 gallons pots for 10 gallon batches. Or do you find you like different sized for kettle, MT, and HLT?
My current setup is basically that of Don-O’s – i.e., cooler for MT – 10 gallon pot – burner – chill wort with coil – ferment in cooler with ice bottles.
First, let me congratulate you on being a lucky dude.
Secondly, I’m going to hyperlink this older post which walks through my itemized setup, with photos. That, and the comment section below, contain detailed answers to a number of your questions.
Third, lightning round for a couple of the specific questions:
- I do use a pump to recirc the mash and transfer it from MLT to boiler
- Sparging – I fly sparge, but it’s still punk rock
Fourth, what would I change? That’s tough to answer … my assemblage of gear has been pieced together over many years, so if I suddenly had to start over from scratch, I’m sure it would look a bit different, but barring a custom-built room or outbuilding, I think I’d keep the ergonomics and layout pretty similar. MoreBeer has been making sculptures forever, the Sabcos have been around a while too, and the Ruby Street systems seem nice as well.
Fifth, one item of unsolicited advice: earmark some of that budget for a chest freezer and external overriding thermostat. Your yeast cells will thank you by pooping out beer of increased deliciousness.
I hope that’s helpful – please let us know how the shopping goes!