I'm going to bump this post from the dead.
I'm in the market for a new kettle and will be getting into all grain very soon. I just finished rigging up my own 10 gallon mash tun Igloo cooler and will be using my current 10 gallon brew kettle for sparge water. I got my current SS kettle off Amazon for only 80 dollars, and it's the most basic of basic kettles. There are a few reasons why I want to upgrade, but the biggest one is that I want a ball valve so I can eliminate the use of my siphon during the brew process (as I have a SS Technologies Brew Bucket for fermenting). I know that several cheaper pots on the market can easily do this, however I've been weighing my options and I really like 10 gallon Blichmann. I want to talk about the pros and cons of the Blichmann for any homebrewer that might share my situation and the alternatives you have.
1. Like others have mentioned on this thread, I don't plan on doing any 10 gallon batches in the future. I'm really the only one drinking the brew and it takes time for me to get through two cases of beer. I like homebrewing because I can experiment with different ingredients to create different tastes and I love a variety - 10 gallon batches don't really loan themselves to variety (unless you decide to pitch different yeasts or throw in different additions during fermenting.) I don't keg (right now) either, so filling 4 cases of beer at once would make my life awful on bottling day. A 15 gallon pot seems a bit excessive for my needs (I haven't come close to boiling over on my current, wider 10 gallon pot either so I'm not concerned about needing more head space). Additionally, a 15 gallon pot can be counter productive due to the fact that the thermometer on a 15 gallon Blichmann doesn't even reach the 5 gallon mark.
2. I still plan on doing extract batches. For all grain brewing, a built in thermometer doesn't pose a big advantage until it comes to wort chilling, however it will come in handy for steeping specialty grains in extract brewing. Obviously a probe thermometer can easily be substituted, but if I'm upgrading, then it's something that would come in handy.
3. What's really appealing with the Blichmann to me is the sight glass. When collecting wort for all grain, it'd be nice to see the volume of my first and second runnings. Again, I know a dowel or plastic spoon with markings can do this for me, however it's an upgrade that seems worth it for my purposes.
Now the question becomes are those things worth $350 dollars (with shipping) compared to what else is on the market?
A great alternative would be the MegaPot 1.2 from Northern Brewer... but for less than 80 dollars, you get the sight glass and dip tube from Blichmann. The way I see it, if you're spending 250+ on a kettle, what's an extra 100 dollars to get all the features you want? I'm sure others feel differently about that, which is perfectly valid.
Spike Brewing (whose links and posts are in this thread) has a 10 gallon kettle with sight glass, however after adding the ball valve and adjustable thermometer, the total is 320 dollars. The advantage here is a welded coupling for the ball valve, however it seems that the sight glass and thermometer fitting are not welded. Also, there is not a dip tube, so for 30 dollars more, it seems that the Blichmann would be the better option.
A more competitive option is a Stout kettle in my opinion. The advantage with a Stout kettle is that the ball valve is welded along with the thermometer, and rather than messing around with Teflon tape and worrying about the threading becoming corroded over time, it attaches with tri clamp fittings which seems unique to the pot.
Again, there is a downfall with this pot as well: the pot (without sight glass) is $290, shipping to the east coast is $45, and a PayPal surcharge (which I've never seen any merchant charge to the consumer) is $8, bringing the total to $343. Additionally, this pot is only 9.2 gallons, does not come with sight glass at that price, and does not include a dip tube. Also, their customer service seems a bit spotty - a gentleman ordered one of their kettles and it leaked; rather than immediately rectifying the situation by sending a new kettle, they asked the customer to find a welder to repair it (http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f11/stou...85/index2.html). As a company, they seem a bit abrasive as well. To quote their website when you hit the "contact us" link:
"We try to answer all emails promptly (within a day), but we aren't always successful. Frankly, it seems like you sometimes all conspire to send your emails all in the same day, leaving us sweating over our keyboards trying to catch up. Meanwhile, the dog demands we throw her now-naked tennis ball and barks until we do. So, if we don't get back to you in a week (or sooner if its urgent), we may have thrown up our arms in despair and run to our kitchen to check on our latest ferment. We won't feel bad if you send another email gently reminding us that we haven't answered you yet. It is also possible you typed in your email wrong the first time, and we did answer, and you never got it."
I get the humor in here, however I personally feel that this is unprofessional. From my perspective if they don't feel like answering your question if they're too busy, then they simply won't.
In summary, the Blichmann Boilermaker seems like reasonable and affordable option if you are honest with yourself when thinking what it is you need out of a brew kettle. It is a weldless system, so over time your o-rings may fail you, which is the biggest detriment in my opinion. Hope this helps those who are deciding on a upgrade. I'm not completely sold and a I have a few months before I have to make my decision, but I will likely go with the Blichmann 10 gallon.