Now that we have had a chance to run the Grainfather Unit through several brews, here is our review.
Out of the box, theres a few minutes work to do before the fun begins. You will need to check everything and make sure all the parts are there, so read the instructions. They're better than the IKEA ones. The process is painless and a good opportunity to have a beer. Then there is a cleaning cycle to run through while you have another beer.
BUILD: Everything that matters on the unit is 304 grade Stainless. There are a couple of brass threaded inserts on connectors that aren't directly in contact with the beer and the chiller is copper, other than some of the fittings. The Grainfather Unit consists of a 30L (Actual is around 36L) Boiler with a concealed 2000 W element, under a heavy stainless plate. There is a retainer at the top that acts as a rest for the internal grain pipe for draining and sparging. The stainless grain pipe has solid sides and a removable top and bottom screen to allow adequate flow through the grain bed. Total size of the grain pipe is 430mm x 265, which gives it a volume of around 23.7L for the grain bill to fit into below the handle. More than adequate for a 23L batch of most beers. If making huge Russian Imperial Stouts or Barley wines, you'd be able to make smaller batches, such as 15-18L comfortably.
PUMP: The unit comes with a 6watt 1800RPM self-priming pump for recirculation during the mash, providing excellent clarity (as per the pic) on most beer styles and it is used for the chilling process and later, transfer to the fermenter, post boil and chilling. It has been stress tested in heatwave conditions with boiling water running for hours and performed flawlessly. The pump inlet has a cylindrical shaped perforated stainless shroud that acts as a pre-filter. We tried desperately to foul it and haven't yet succeded, though with one particularly large hop load, the flow did slow to about 2/3 of the norm. Retaining the hops in a hop sock or fine ss mesh insert would alleviate that issue.
WORT RETURN ARM: Once mash in is achieved, the wort return arm is attached at the top of the wort return pipe, via a threaded fitting, which has a seal. The seal needs to be checked to ensure it is straight and seated properly before attempting to screw on the arm. When the arm or the chiller coil are not attached, there is a brass cap that sits over the outlet. A snap lock ball valve would have been a better choice, but we can't have everything in this price range.
CHILLER: The counterflow wort chiller is neat and tidy and we found it quite effective, though the unit included did have some QC problems with loose clamps and ordinary finishing on the chillers hardware. Though it was easily rectified, we still received one of the newer versions overnight which has a much better fit-out, with decent clamps and fittings. These will accompany all future releases. Post boil, the chiller can be placed on top of the unit and sanitised by running near boiling temperature wort through the unit for several minutes without water (good time for a hop stand). We've experienced water temperatures of around 33 deg C here during the test period and have managed to get the full batches wort down to 35 deg C in around 12-15 minutes. A short pre-chiller of about 4Mx1/2" copper pipe will drop it to pitching temperatures quickly by immersing a pre-chiller in some icy cold water with salt. I believe it could be in the pipeline for those who want an off the shelf solution. For everyone else, knock yourselves out at Bunnings.
The chiller sits on top of the tempered glass lid post boil and the wort return pipe goes down though a hole in the middle. This doesn't create any issues for DMS since you would have boiled long enough to not cause hassles. Beyond that, the chilling process is pretty effective and connectors are included to fit all standard threaded domestic taps, laundry taps or snap on hose fittings.
TEMP CONTROL: The Temperature Controller is an STC 200. The control module is removable and the mount becomes a handle for use when the unit is empty. It's got a clear Perspex splash guard over the keypad, pump and mode switches. It wouldn't have been our first choice of controller, but within a budget, it does the job pretty well and is very simple to use. I found the Perspex lid annoying in that it goes up enough to operate the units without fear of moisture damage, but could open further. Plus the black on black pressed labelling is a pain in the arse for old blind blokes like me. While everyone could operate it blind after the first few uses, labelling could have been done better. Each temperature step is entered as required, when required, but leaves you free to get other stuff done. Use of a smart phone timer makes it easy to get about and do other stuff for the time poor. We've been brewing at work in a hectic retail environment and at home getting beers ready for a family influx at Christmas. Given we only get 1 day off a week, there's always heaps to do on a half acre block and managed to get an APA, an AIPA, build a raised garden bed, rake the rubbish out of the car, clean the pool and get some pruning done. Started at 6.30 am and was all cleaned up by 4.30pm and enjoying a pale session beer by transfer of the second beer to the fermenter. By comparison, 2 beers done on my 3V HERMS system would have finished at around 9.00pm. I can live with that. On our wish list for the unit was and still is a PID controller and I believe (not 100% confirmed yet) it will come as an option later for those who wish to have ultimate control and programmability plus an ability to use the unit for sou vide cooking, if so inclined.
STEP MASHING: throughout our testing, we ran a bunch of brews through with various steps and found the rise time was about 0.9 Deg C per minute when using the high setting. Maintaining the temp on the 500w mash setting is effective, while using the higher power for elevating on 2000w while recirculating is also effective.
SPARGING: Sparge water can be pre-boiled and placed into an insulated SS Fermenter for use later, but may need a jug or 2 of boiling water. Alternatively, your sparge water could come from an urn, a second boiler or just a cheap ss pot on the stovetop. For the trials, we've just been using an urn.
THE BOIL: Boil is certainly bold enough to do the job. I will try to get a video up. Ramping to the boil while the last of the sparge water flows through will save a bit more time. You will need to attend to the boil for a few minutes to ensure you don't get a messy boil over. Good time to have another beer. As usual, boil off rates vary but in normal conditions, you could expect to boil off around 2.7-2.8L for a normal 60 minute boil and around 4.1 L for a 90 minute boil.
MILLING for the GF Unit & Efficiencies: In trying to wreck everything, we ran grain bills through a range of sizes from 2 passes over an 8'' mill and a 4'' 3 roller at 0.7mm through 0.75mm 0.8mm, 0.83mm and .9mm. 2 passes at 0.83mm yielded the best average brewhouse efficiency and we peaked out at a crazy 88.23% on a beer (Boston Lager Clone) made with Roger D without any problems encountered along the way. The lowest efficiency encountered was at 0.9mm (single pass on Maris Otter) at 72.3% and the average was around the 75-82%. Impressive. There were variations between the 4'' 3 roller mill and the 8'' 2 roller & as expected, every mill is different. Really fine malted wheat milling of a 50:50 hefe grain bill did manage to get a very slow recirc and certainly, on most systems a couple of hands full of rice hulls would resolve those issues. The 26% Rye IPA grain bill presented no issues at all. Rye was milled at 0.5mm x 2 passes and the 2 row at 0.83 x 2 passes through the mill. BH Efficiency was a tad over 76%.
There's no point in comparing a Grainfather to a Braumeister, just as there's no point in comparing it to an urn and a bag. I think the Grainfather unit presents a good value, functional package that will get someone into grain brewing for a number of reasons:
Space. It's a tidy unit that doesn't take up much space for those living in homes where space is at a premium. It can be run on the kitchen or laundry floor, but you'll need to source an understanding wife from a third party supplier.
Functionality. It does the job, does it with relative ease and does it a whole lot more simply than most 3V systems out there. While there's folk out there who feel you can only make a decent beer with a PID controller, there's a thousand more soldiering on with coffee thermometers and a stocking. A PID would be preferable and for those who find it an absolute necessity, then it will become available as an option. In the meantime, the supplied controller works just fine for what it is.
Time saver. For folk who work stupid hours like me and then have domestic duties obligations following that, it's a hell of a lot simpler to put this thing on the floor near a tap and a power point and run it while there's other stuff that needs attending to. Brownie points WHILE you brew, not Brownie points so you can brew.
Price. Beyond a pot or an urn and BIAB, it's likely the most cost effective piece of brewing kit we'll see for some time to come.
Quality. It is not a $2500 German Made piece of brew porn. It is a functional stainless steel brewing system, with pumped recirculation, digital control and cooling.
Over the last couple of weeks, we've obsessed over it, turned it on it's head and done just about everything humanly possible to wreck it or at least make it stop working including some 3 brew days and nights running demo's (and yes, we paid full price for ours). We turned up a few minor items we felt could be done better with a slight bump on price. Yet, straight up out of the box, the Grainfather unit represents an excellent way for brewers to get into grain brewing single batches or for those looking to simplify their processes.
They're not "perfect", but for a RRP of $995, the overall functionality and capability of it is pretty damned good compared to anything else out there that we've seen and used.
*Update from 14/09/16 . We have continued our review of the Grainfather over several months now, having completed around 300+ beer brews. The unit has been road transported over 8000 klm without packaging and frankly, it hasn't been treated with due respect. All part of the punishment & trial it's been subjected to. We experienced a minor leak on the CFW Chiller on brew (i think) 67, which was quickly and easily resolved and was more due to equipment abuse than anything else. We also trialled a number of possible improvements for small batch brewing with small grain bills (Longer hose was the answer) This has been included in the package we offer now as a free inclusion. We are on target to get 10 years of average use on the one unit within the first year. Our opinion and findings haven't altered. Indeed, the Grainfather continues to impress. Recommended Retail is AUD $1150 now as a Ball valve disconnect has been added along with some other improvements and the AUD has lost vaue significantly in recent year or so. The Grainfather continues to be outstanding value for money. The RRP with the new Grainfather Connect Controller is likely to be around the AUD $1349 mark.
Basic review on the Grainfather Connect Controller (Beta Version)
The Grainfather Connect Controller about to be released in Australia, has been on a bit of a road trip and we were lucky enough to score one for some quality time & brew sessions with it.
NOTE TO BREWERS: This was a Beta test unit, not the final release version of the controller.
There have already been a number of changes to the programming and there is at least one physical change to the controllers mounting/case to make it more durable.
I have to say up front that I am in no way some techno-IT-computer geek and if it goes beyond pushing buttons, then I’m way out of my league. If you can work out how to print a document or send a text message, then you will be fine with the new controller.
The Grainfather connect app is compatible with IOS and Android. Andrioid software will need to be 4.3 or higher and hardware will need to be Bluetooth Low Energy (LE/Bluetooth Smart). Iphone/Ipad software will need to be iOS8 or higher and the hardware will need to be iPhone 4S or later. The app isn’t compatible with Windows operating systems)
iMake are currently also working on a new recipe creator for their website which will sync with the app. (No forecast date for release yet). To import recipes from your current program to the Grainfather Connect Control Box you can simply export the recipe in Beer.xml file format from programs.
The actual process is very simple
Export your preferred recipe in beer.xml format to google drop box
Open your smartphone/tablet/ipad open the Grainfather connect app. Select the recipe from your drop box and import it.
Prepare water in the Grainfather and either set your timer for when you want to brew, or click start.
I like the simplicity.
For Australian Brewers, the controllers will be available from your favourite Home Brew Shop either late October or November 2016. We have a stack of stock on pre-order and we will do our best to ensure there is enough to go around.
Please note, this is not meant to be a full review of the new controller. Once we have the final public release production model, we will be better placed to offer a full and unbiased review as everyone expects from us.
To see a video with flow through the grain bed during sparging, go: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWfkFiTJrjo
More Details on the Grainfather Brewing System can be found HERE