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andy6026 01-17-2013 02:36 PM

Starting Equipment With Room to Grow
Hello everyone! I'm Andy and I've been lurking here for some time while I research how to home-brew.

Having spent about a year doing batches of beer at the local U-brew I'm finally ready to bring the operation home. I've decided to go with a 15 gallon kettle with built in thermometer and ball spigot which should easily accommodate the 5 gallon ready-made recipe kits, and then once I'm confident enough, graduate towards all-grain with potentially larger batches (I suppose up to 10 gallons, but more likely in the neighborhood of 7-8 gallons). However, assembling the equipment hasn't been the cheapest undertaking, nor is researching what is most suitable to my desires always clear-cut and obvious. So, if I may tap into the expertise of others, I'd appreciate some advice.

1) I'm thinking that the 6.5 gallon buckets (both fermenter and bottling) that seem to be standard with the 'starter kits', although ideal for 5 gallon batches, don't provide the room to grow. So should I instead go for a plastic fermenter and bottling bucket that are in the neighborhood of 8-10 gallon capacity? The 'starter kits' to seem to be fairly cost effective so I'd rather not have to buy everything individually unless I'm destined to replace most of the components 6 months or a year down the road. On the other hand, an idea that struck me is that I could buy a starter kit and use the 6.5 gallon buckets while learning the basics, and then convert them into a mash-tun when I'm ready to get into all grain bewing - at which time I could then buy 8-10 gallon fermentor bucket and a bottling bucket. What do others find to be the sensible thing to do?

2) Propane burners. I've thus far looked at a small range of burners. Thus far they seem to range 55k btu, 65k btu and 105k btu. I'm guessing that 105 seems a bit overkill while 55k seems a little underpowered? Would I be satisfied with 65k btu if I were to eventually do a 10 gallon batch? I'm also concerned about the stability of these units. Are they really designed to hold up a giant kettle with that much liquid in them or are they very precarious, requiring the purchase or construction of some kind of stand? I have a 5 year old daughter that I obviously don't want to scold in some freak event (nor myself or others) due to poor product design or me not doing things properly. That said, I have no desire at present to weld my own stand together. Given that I'm having to shop for these online and can't really assess their sturdiness, how concerned should I be that this might be a problem if I don't shop carefully enough?

3) Last, and probably most trivial question... bottle cappers - hand or bench? Big difference in efficacy, efficiency, comfort of use, etc?

Thanks everyone!

TopherM 01-17-2013 03:44 PM

1) Stick with the 6.5 gallon buckets. It's important that the CO2 produced in a fermentation fill the empty space of the fermenter with CO2 and displace all of the oxygen out of the fermenter. If you tried to ferment a 5 gallon batch in a 20 gallon fermenter, that fermentation may struggle to displace all of the O2. Most people who do 10 gallon batches will actually ferment it in two separate fermenters. Not many people have 10/15/20 gallon fermenters unless they exclusively do larger batches. Most everyone with a 10+ gallon capasity still does MOSTLY 5 gallon batches. I have the capacity to do 15 gallon batches, but still do about 85% 5 gallon batches.

2) My Blichmann burner is 72K BTUs, and wayyyy outperforms my old 105K BTU SQ10. Efficiency is much more important than the BTU output, and most of the more inexpensive burners are wildly inefficient, so don't just trust the BTU number. Both units I own will easily heat 10+ gallon batches to strike temp in under an hour.

Get a Blichmann burner or one of the Bayou Classic burners with the Banjo burner oriface (same oriface as the Blichmann). That 72K BTU burner will heat 5-10 gallons to strike temps in less than 20 minutes, and they use 1/2 the propane of the cheap burners to do it. There are Bayou Classic burners with the Banjo Burner oriface starting at about $70. You recoup the difference in price in the propane savings in about 15 batches.

3) If you are talking about "room to grow," you should have a kegging setup as a long term goal. With that goal in mind, just get the normal cheap hand capper. They do the same job for about 1/4 of the price of a bench capper. By the time you move to kegging, either capper will be sitting collecting dust, so don't invest there.

4) If you want to start with equipment with room to grow, I'd highly recommend starting off with a 10-15 gallon stainless steel boil kettle. That's about the best long term investment you will make. Buy a good, bigger pot now, and you'll still be using it in your setup 10-20 years from now.

Good luck!

hoppyhoppyhippo 01-17-2013 04:02 PM

This is what I recommend for almost everyone.

Complete Beer Making Kit

Now, there are other kits, this is just the kit I received and short of AGstuff like a mash tun and lauter tun, and the burner and kettle this has it all. And nothing you can't use down the line. Want to make fruit beer or dryhopped IPAs, you have the carboy. It comes with an auto-siphon which I recommend 10 times out of 10 over a racking cane. Includes a hyrometer which is pretty worthless for extract brewing outisde of practice.

If you get that kit, a good burner and a good kettle you'll be set for some time and as you expand you will use almost all of the equipment that you have.Spend money on the pot and the burner, get a relatively cheap kit. You can upgrade to bigger and better fermenters down the road.

unionrdr 01-17-2013 04:19 PM

Or this one from midwest,$10 cheaper; http://www.midwestsupplies.com/brewing-starter-kit-w-better-bottle.html

hoppyhoppyhippo 01-17-2013 04:24 PM

Yup, that's another choice. Only thing it's missing the other kit has is a mash paddle which is kinda silly, but I've used it and been happy. I would just recommend one with the autosiphon that's a must for me, and having a carboy so you can learn how to secondary a beer if necessary. I recommend the kit I recommended cause I got it for myself :rockin:

unionrdr 01-17-2013 04:44 PM

The one from midwest has a fermtech autosiphon in it. And secondaries are just about useless unless adding fruit,oaking,or the like. I even dry hop in primary. It would be good if you have only one fermenter. But he wants to brew enough to fill two at a time,& a 5G BB or carboy is too small for that. I have that mash paddle from midwest myself,24". Doesn't cost much. And this one has a DVD to show what to do.

hoppyhoppyhippo 01-17-2013 06:18 PM

Who needs DVDs when you have How to Brew and the Complete Joy of Homebrewing books? :rockin:

No the Midwest Kit is nice, for me it's not even close to a debate as to which one I'd buy cause I live like 10 minutes from love2brew and as a member of NJCB I get 5% off any purchase. So aside from saving money because I'm not dealing with Shipping, I'm also saving money with my craft beer discount thing. So for me it's a no brainer, LHBS>Ordering online.

unionrdr 01-17-2013 06:28 PM

Well,in your case then,it's a no brainer. But for him,we should give a few options to choose from. I thought that to be best.:mug:

hoppyhoppyhippo 01-17-2013 07:08 PM


Originally Posted by unionrdr (Post 4796139)
Well,in your case then,it's a no brainer. But for him,we should give a few options to choose from. I thought that to be best.:mug:

True that, nothing better for the homebrewer than choice :mug:

martiniw2olives 01-17-2013 07:53 PM

I have the following non-recurring set-up that I feel “just gets the job done” if you have 2-3 batches going, not including brew pots and burner. Trust me you will be doing this sooner rather than later once the addiction sets in.
• (1) 6.5 gallon glass carboy My preferred fermenter
• (3) 6.5 gallon bucket assemblies Sanitizing, racking, secondary, bottling buckets, etc
• (1) auto siphon
• Carboy brush
• Bottle brush
• Bottle wand
• (2) each 2 and 3 foot 5/16 in tubes
• Long and large stainless spoon
• Rubber stopper for the carboy
• Bunch of 3 piece airlocks (they break easily)
• Extra spigots (they break easy)
• Cheap bottle capper
• 12” high thermometer
• Digital thermometer A must in my opinion
• (4) Femomters
• (1) each large and small funnel
• Grain bag for extract brewing
• Refractometer
• 10 gallon Mash Tun Easy to make yourself

I know i missed something

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