I was just reading some post on another blog (electric brewery) and was talking about the benefits of Stout kettles (http://conical-fermenter.com/). I was wishing that I had someone to ask about equipment when we started. We went to out LHBS and their advice was about what they sold (Blickman).
In the other blog, one statement stood out :
"Only a rich man can afford to buy cheap equipment" meaning that you will need to buy it again and again. He was actually talking about buy quality Blickman kettles.
Well, Blickman is certainly not cheap and gernerally well made.
One the other hand, I think there is a better choice.
Why I prefer Stout over Blickman.
1. Lack of threads. Stout uses TC fitting standard and the only threads I have found are on the pick up tube.
2. Ease of cleaning. You can take apart a Stout Ball valve in seconds. It is that easy to take apart and clean. The first time I did, I was amazed at how much stuff was in the valve and this was after running PBW through the valve for 15 minutes. This alone would make me to only use Stout.
3. Heavy gauge. The Stout equipment has thicker walls than Blickman.
4. Welded TC fittings. I have minor leaks on the outlet of both my Blickman Kettles. I filled one with 10 gallons of distilled water one night before a brew day when we were going to make a lager. The next morning it was on the floor from a small leak next to the kettle. You do not have that problem with Stout.
5. You can get the equipment customized. Get what you want. Of course if you are a beginning brewer, you may not know what you want. You will likely start out with a cheaper kettle and I would actually suggest that. You do need a valve outlet for safety. But after brewing a while you will likely figure what you want. The only other suggestion I would make is to get a Stout Combi Kettle with a Sight Glass. If you ever think about going electric, get that fitting as well. Be sure to ask for TC Themowells as well.
You need to know what you want to be customized. As a new brewer, you do not know what you want yet. Experience and this Homebrew talk can help you out there.
Stout takes time as lots are built to order. John normally has the smaller kettles in stock and may even have the electric option available. His price is slightly better that Blickman. You may have to wait for what you want. I find this frustrating but the wait the worth it.
I wish I had Stout from the beginning. I would not buy anyone else again.
I posted this in the Beginning Brewer forum and not the Equipment forum. New Brewers should seek advice about equipment generally in that forum.
Happy Brewing. I love my Stout Kettles and fermenters and they make my brew day better!