Downsizing the brew system

After 5 years of using a 3-kettle, all-grain, gas-heated brew system, I decided I needed to downsize. When I first started brewing 15 years ago, it was with a friend. He had all the equipment and over the years he now has the capability to brew 20 gallons at a time! Typically, we get 3-4 guys together and share the batch.

For the first 5 years, this was a fun and cheap way for me to have a good day with friends and walk away with some quality beer. The 2nd 5 years of my brewing journey were spent learning the craft: grain varieties, hop alpha acids, yeast strains, starch conversion, water chemistry, and other topics.

Finally, after 10 years of brewing and learning, I decided to build my first brew system. By then, I knew what I wanted: a 10g, all-grain, single-tier system. Behold:

My first brew rig!

I built the wooden brew stand myself. Yeah, it’s a little clunky, but it worked like a charm. For 5 years, I brewed several batches by myself, and with friends.

However, I’m now at a point in my life where my brew system had some ignoble qualities:

  • The system was taking far too much space in the garage
  • Brewing and cleaning a 10g batch by myself was too much work
  • I was tired of refilling propane tanks before every brew

I listed my equipment on Facebook marketplace and was able to sell the entire system for a reasonable price. Next, I needed to find a replacement brew system. I knew I wanted the following characteristics:

  • 5 gallon batches
  • Electric
  • Smaller footprint

I began my search for a smaller, self-contained system and quickly found some very popular systems:

  • Brewer’s Edge Mash & Boil
  • RoboBrew
  • The Grainfather

While these systems fit the bill, I was concerned about the fact that all the major components (pump, heating element, control system) were integrated into a single part of the system. If one of these components failed, I’d have to replace the entire system. I’m looking for a long-term brewing system, and decided I needed to spend more money on a higher quality system.

I found 2 brew systems that fit my requirements for a modular, high quality brewing system:

The Clawhammer Supply brewing system runs $900 for the complete setup: electric brew kettle, stainless steel basket, pump, heating element, plate chiller, hoses, and fittings; everything you need to brew a quality all-grain beer.

However, after using Tri-Clamp fittings on my previous system, I felt that the quick-connect fittings on the kettle were a bit of a downgrade. I also felt the controller unit was a tad too large for my space concerns. However, their spray nozzle for the RIMS return is a very nice feature and will ensure consistent mash temperatures. This feature could also be used for sparging; although you’ll need a hot water vessel that can connect to the pump.

The Unibrau V3 system runs almost $1200, but has some very important features that make it stand out:

  • Tri-Clamp fittings on the brew kettle
  • Pump is directly mounted to the brew kettle (one less hose to clean)
  • PID controller is smaller, and looks more professional

I really like the fact that the Unibrau has an interior grain kettle, and not a basket (or bag). This will force all the water down through the grain bed during the RIMS mash. I’m thinking this may result in a higher efficiency of starch to sugar conversion. Also, that interior kettle looks like it will last a lifetime, an important consideration for this purchase.

I made my decision last week and I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of my Unibrau. While I was waiting, I build a new brew stand. It measures only 29″ x 29″, has casters, and is located directly below a winch lift. This will allow me to raise the grain kettle with no effort and will also allow me to transport the system to the front end of the garage for the chilling process.

I did opt for an immersion coil as this is only a 5g batch. I’m also interested in upgrading to their whirlpool adapter kit to remove as much protein from the wort as possible prior to pumping into the fermenting vessel.

Expect a full review the Unibrau system next week!

Posted in Brewing.