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Considering upgrade to Blichmann BrewEasy - questions...

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DuffBrews

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I'm 2 extract brews in (Brewers Best English Pale Ale and Belgian Dark Strong, bottling the latter in a few days). I've queued up a partial mash kit for a month or so from now because I want to move out of extract into all-grain. I can also see some equipment upgrades in my future, so I've been spending a lot of time on here and elsewhere on the web. I'm intrigued by the Blichmann BrewEasy, but I have some questions that maybe some BrewEasy users can answer.
1) Can this system, which is basically a mini-kit of various Blichmann components by my estimation, later be expanded into a full 3V horizontal system pretty easily?
2) I need to get out of my kitchen, and I'm not ready to bust a 240V lead into my garage. I eventually want to though! For the next few years, though, the gas option is making this unit particularly attractive over other similarly priced electric systems. Can anyone with experience on the gas system comment on whether it's a bad move if the bigger plan is to move to a big electric system?
3) I'm not afraid of pumps. I know there are some strong opinions around here about avoiding them - that debate is for another thread. My question: Is the pump in this system a good one?
4) I hate to open this wide open, but I guess I will. In the $1,500-$2,000 range, should I be considering other systems? I'm not looking to burn money just to burn it - I'm trying to avoid dropping smaller money on coolers and econo-kettles and building out with the "end in mind." I also have 2 small children at home and a wife who has somewhat reluctantly gone along with this endeavor so long as it's not smelling up the house or pulling me away from family time excessively (this is another reason the Blichmann is attractive - no separate sparging activity).

Let 'em rip, friends...
 

bobeer

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I can't answer your first 2 questions as I'm still stuck in the dark ages of homebrewing with a 3 vessel gravity fed system still but I have used the BrewEasy a handful of times. It's been a few years but I can tell you I did not like the pumps on it. IDK if it was just me or what but it was always time consuming for me to get the flows right between the pumps and the ball valves without exposing the heating coil in the kettle under the mash or a pump's flow alarm going off. Through trial and error I think I found out I just needed to mash with more water than what I was used to. This helped maintain the flow and helped with mash out to get any decent efficiency but it took about 3 or 4 brews to get it right. The pump alarms would still go off though every now and then.
The tower of power was pretty easy to use and the learning curve wasn't terrible. However, a lot of guys in my brew club have the grainfather and really like it. If you have the money to spend, and want a mostly automated turn key system, I'd go with something like that.
 
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DuffBrews

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Thanks, Bobeer! I appreciate your insight and experience. I’m a tad worried that the learning curve will be too steep for me going the old school route and I’ll lose steam and stop brewing. The “hi tech” stuff will keep me engaged, so that’s one reason I’m going that route.

I was really intrigued by SS Brewtech stuff for a while (ooo shiny), but I recently realized expandability is actually a bigger factor than I originally figured. I’ve done some more homework and learned that both the breweasy and the 3 vessel Blichmann Herms rig use the same basic pot for HLT, BK, and MLT. So if you buy the right sizes, the system looks to build out nicely - albeit pricey. Plus, going blichmann will let me buy piecemeal and use every piece along the wa

Of course, you can probably do all that with odd assorted parts from other manufacturers. So why pay the Blichmann premium? They have the only controller (that I’ve found) that will run gas burners. Once I found I could run a 3V herms rig off gas, the decision calculus all changed. My panel is pretty tapped as it is; pretty sure I don’t have room for multiple new 240v circuits. But I do have convenient access to a gas line outside my kitchen door.

To the reader thinking “don’t be lazy - build your own controller for those gas burners,” I’m just don’t have that kind of time to invest learning and troubleshooting it. I’m happy to pay someone whose already figured it out.

Any other input is greatly appreciated. It’s very hard to access people with experience doing this, especially now.
 

Jim R

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I just watched this mini-review of the BrewEasy system (below).

How big of batches do you want to brew? For me, I would only spend $2k for a system if I could see some major advantages over my simple and much cheaper cooler mash tun / brew kettle system (5 gal system). For example, I would consider it if I need to go to 240 volt to brew inside, if it would allow me to make 10 gal or bigger batches with no weight / lifting issues or if it would save me considerable time with brewing and clean up. I can't figure out how the BrewEasy would do any of this for me. I think my brew day would be even longer with the BrewEasy with all the connections to clean.

I do have a Blichmann Hellfire burner and it is extremely well built. I am sure the BrewEasy is the same.

 

bobeer

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I just watched this mini-review of the BrewEasy system (below).

How big of batches do you want to brew? For me, I would only spend $2k for a system if I could see some major advantages over my simple and much cheaper cooler mash tun / brew kettle system (5 gal system). For example, I would consider it if I need to go to 240 volt to brew inside, if it would allow me to make 10 gal or bigger batches with no weight / lifting issues or if it would save me considerable time with brewing and clean up. I can't figure out how the BrewEasy would do any of this for me. I think my brew day would be even longer with the BrewEasy with all the connections to clean.

I do have a Blichmann Hellfire burner and it is extremely well built. I am sure the BrewEasy is the same.

Ahh yes how can I forget cleaning that thing! It did take some time.
I brewed the same beer on it every time i used it so I could see if any tweaks I did worked. It was a rye ipa, 5 gallon batch 12 lbs of gain id say. Someone else tried a barley wine on it and got terrible efficiency. Not sure if they mashed out properly or what but they were bummed with a 1.050 barley wine.
 

brewdude88

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That's a lot of coin for something you can do with a kettle and a bag, especially when you're only a couple brews in!

IMO, much larger gains can be made by investing in the cold side (stainless fermenters, temp control, closed transfers...)

Don't get me wrong, the system looks cool, but over the years, I've learned that simplicity rules in wort production. Just the thought of cleaning that thing would be enough to make me skip a brew day at times...
 

Sammy86

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Don't go gas when you can go electric. I went from cooler mash tun and a BK/HLT either stove top/propane burner to a Brewzilla 65L. My first brew day on it was easy...all in one system was easy to clean too...fill with water run PBW through everything and let it air dry and put it away.

The Blichmann and SS Brewtech stuff is great don't get me wrong...but is it worth it when like said above you can do the same thing in a BIAB or electric all in one?
 
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DuffBrews

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Thanks, everyone! I'm pretty convinced now that this blichmann escapade is a poor choice at the moment. Something didn't sit right about investing close to 2k on the hot side only to sit the stuff in carboys in my basement closet (smart......)

Now for a pivot: I definitely hear the poster re cold side gear being a better investment. For my personal situation, though, getting out of my kitchen is priority and I want to get away from extract kits at the same time. Right now, I'm thinking ~65,000 BTU turkey fryer and a 15 gallon econo pot for a BIAB system. Alternatively, anvil foundry 10.5 (i don't want to go with 6.5 because people seem to generally recommend going bigger across the board). Seems like, in my position, i'm spending at least like 250 either way after I get a chiller, a pot, and a heat source. Guy at my LHBS like the Brew & Mash, not sure the internet like its quality (not sure I do either...).

After that stuff, then the focus would def be some kind of better fermenter or a temp control fermentation setup.

Further thoughts? Thanks again for everyone's input!
 
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DuffBrews

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Haha - “brew & mash”....

I meant the brewers edge Mash & Boil.

trying to develop a new hobby with 2 kids is a challenge...
 

brewdude88

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I'd vote for the Anvil 10.5 if you have the ability to set it up for 220v. that's a reasonable all-in-one hot-side investment.

I use an old robobrew 35L, and the 120v works, but is painfully slow. Due to that, I use it as a mash tun and boil over gas.

You are right to go bigger, the 35L is just big enough for what I usually brew, and limits me a tad on bigger beers (there are ways around that though)
 
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DuffBrews

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I'd vote for the Anvil 10.5 if you have the ability to set it up for 220v. that's a reasonable all-in-one hot-side investment.

I use an old robobrew 35L, and the 120v works, but is painfully slow. Due to that, I use it as a mash tun and boil over gas.

You are right to go bigger, the 35L is just big enough for what I usually brew, and limits me a tad on bigger beers (there are ways around that though)
thanks for the input! I hear split opinions on 120V systems - some say it’s fine, others long for 240V. Despite my earlier insistence that 240V would be a struggle, I could just unplug my dryer in the basement or tap off my car charger (yea, I’m one of those people).I think I really wanted a setup that would work on my patio so I could multitask (probably also a pipe dream), but reality always seems to knock. I’ve had little success with brew multitasking to date (the beer was good, just nothing else got done)

while I seem to have people’s attentions, what do you all think about the first cold side upgrade? It seems like I should get an old fridge or chest freezer and put in a controller for cheap temp control. I’m not in a rush to brew lagers, though, and a basic conical with a valve seems like a big convenience upgrade. Seems like chilling systems are expensive and people prefer the fridge/freezer route in early stages.
 

ducati

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I think you are asking the right questions. I went through a similar process, not to say what you want is like what anyone else wants. I ended up with the 220V 5-Gal BrewEasy. I have a dedicated space, and don't have to move equipment every brew session. Originally, I wanted to do what you suggested- add a HLT and another pump to have a more traditional setup. However, after dialing in the process, I found myself happy with what I have and no longer plan to do that.

YMMV, but I find cleanup with the BrewEasy is, well easy. Again, that's what I chose, there are other great products out there. Check out as many as you can. Brewers are generally willing to share their experiences.

You said you want to eventually install a 220V outlet in the garage. So, does investing in a nicer gas-fired system make sense to you? Maybe it does, but this time of year, you will find many places cutting prices on portable turkey fryers, maybe even find one on Craig's List. Just a thought as a more affordable bridge to where it seems like you want to go.

Improvements on the fermentation side will provide immediate benefits. This should be high on your list. I still have a chest freezer with temperature control. It serves me well for both fermentation and serving. No, its not perfect, but does what I want.

Good luck, and welcome to the hobby.
 
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DuffBrews

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I think you are asking the right questions. I went through a similar process, not to say what you want is like what anyone else wants. I ended up with the 220V 5-Gal BrewEasy. I have a dedicated space, and don't have to move equipment every brew session. Originally, I wanted to do what you suggested- add a HLT and another pump to have a more traditional setup. However, after dialing in the process, I found myself happy with what I have and no longer plan to do that.

YMMV, but I find cleanup with the BrewEasy is, well easy. Again, that's what I chose, there are other great products out there. Check out as many as you can. Brewers are generally willing to share their experiences.

You said you want to eventually install a 220V outlet in the garage. So, does investing in a nicer gas-fired system make sense to you? Maybe it does, but this time of year, you will find many places cutting prices on portable turkey fryers, maybe even find one on Craig's List. Just a thought as a more affordable bridge to where it seems like you want to go.

Improvements on the fermentation side will provide immediate benefits. This should be high on your list. I still have a chest freezer with temperature control. It serves me well for both fermentation and serving. No, its not perfect, but does what I want.

Good luck, and welcome to the hobby.
Thanks for the perspective. Do you find the 5 gallon size to be limiting? I’m steering away from systems advertising 5 gallon batch because I don’t want to be stuck with like 10lb grain bills. Ideally, I’d like to be able to run a 19 or 20lb grain bill. I’m not interested in brewing large volumes of beer (I don’t drink it fast) so much as being able to brew 5 gallons of whatever I want, including bigger beers.

I respect that cleaning can be a real hassle. But I live with 2 small children - cleaning doesn’t really scare me.
 

Jim R

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After that stuff, then the focus would def be some kind of better fermenter or a temp control fermentation setup.
I use the SS Brewtech Brew Bucket Fermeter ($200) with this Home Depot Mini Refrigerator ($180) and an Inkbird Controller ($35) - see the link below. It works perfect for temperature controlled fermentation and also holds two 5 gal kegs.

Are you kegging yet? If not, that is another great addition to home brewing and not that expensive. If I had to screw around with bottles, I would have quit this hobby long ago.

 

NGD

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This may not apply to you but one issue I’ve come across with AIO systems lack of ability to produce smaller batches. The Blichmann system appears to be particularly difficult to brew a small batch on. I’m sure you’ve taken this into account already however just in case I found this webstore had some one of the better descriptions of the brewEasy’s limitations.

Blichmann BrewEasy All-Grain Brewing System, Gas Powered
 
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DuffBrews

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This may not apply to you but one issue I’ve come across with AIO systems lack of ability to produce smaller batches. The Blichmann system appears to be particularly difficult to brew a small batch on. I’m sure you’ve taken this into account already however just in case I found this webstore had some one of the better descriptions of the brewEasy’s limitations.

Blichmann BrewEasy All-Grain Brewing System, Gas Powered
Thanks, NGD. Looks like the BrewEasy is still a very "hands-on" system on brew day (Bobeer made this point earlier), aside from the long list of pros and cons. If I'm being realistic, I think something more "hands-off" is probably where I need to be for now. Factor that in with the price, the all-in-one options for me right now seem to be circling the grainfather or the brewzilla/anvil foundry. I thought I was feeling solid with a brewzilla or anvil foundry until I read some stories from grainfather brewers about how they particularly like the app so they can be doing other things while the brew is going. If that is is at all accurate, that's huge for me. That's worth the $500 premium to me

With all these options for hot-side equipment swirling around - lots of good points have been made on this thread and I'm glad I started it - Jim R's cold side setup may be my first move. That's about $350 and my cold side is pretty set for some time. I definitely want to move over to kegging at some point. I just don't hate bottling enough to figure it out yet, though.
 

ducati

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Thanks for the perspective. Do you find the 5 gallon size to be limiting? I’m steering away from systems advertising 5 gallon batch because I don’t want to be stuck with like 10lb grain bills. Ideally, I’d like to be able to run a 19 or 20lb grain bill. I’m not interested in brewing large volumes of beer (I don’t drink it fast) so much as being able to brew 5 gallons of whatever I want, including bigger beers.

I respect that cleaning can be a real hassle. But I live with 2 small children - cleaning doesn’t really scare me.
I normally use 10-12 pounds of grain in my 5-gal system. There is plenty of space to increase that, I just prefer that strength of beer. Using the manufacturer's guideline of 2.25 to 2.5 quarts of water per pound of grain, and working through all the losses, I do think this system possibly can handle 18-20 pounds. 20 pounds of grain = a minimum of a total of 11.25 gal water. The limiting factor is likely the 7.5 gallon MT being pretty full with all that grain, plus the water to keep it all wet during mashing. I have never pushed it that far. Remember, one of the downsides to these kinds of systems is the hit to extraction efficiency, so you might need a wee bit more grain than you are used to for the same OG.

I've never used more than about 12 pounds, so keep in mind these are just my thoughts, and I could be missing something. It can surely go well over 12 pounds. I've also never used the Grainfather, but it seems more space limited to me than the BrewEasy but does get good reviews.

I do think you will be well served and happy to address the cold side first.
 

NGD

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Sounds like you and I have somewhat similar goals with brewing. Enjoy the process and results but not the time it takes to achieve due to other obligations. Between kids, mtn biking, trail running and other things a 5-6hr brew day is not at the top of my priority list. Plus my alcohol intake is moderate so a 5 gal batch lasts me quite awhile. It was one reason I decided to stick with extract. I do 20 minute boils.

Since your looking for something a bit more hands off I was going to suggest something like the Picobrew. It appears as if they are in receivership. Plus I‘Ve noticed that most grainfather owners appear quite pleased with it.

I agree with the cold side suggestion. Having control of ferm temps really helped up my brewing game. I have a similar setup to @Jim R and it works great. Only possible downside is if you want to ferment more than 1 beer at a time. If you think you may want to have more than a single brew going then a small chest freezer and inkbird may work better.

Good luck and look forward to seeing how it works out. That setup seems solid and should provide you with years of enjoyment.
 
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