Trying to narrow down options for a new AIO

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May 15, 2014
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Trying to narrow down an AIO to finally get. Any help is appreciated.

Background: I have been brewing for a bit over 10 years now. The last 2 years though I’ve made maybe 1-2 batches. A lot of it is that I have a family now but also the process. I started with extract brewing and quickly moved to all grain. I enjoy making new recipes and seeing how they go. I use a simple/cheap 2 cooler setup for mash and sparge and then boil in a kettle atop a propane burner. Now that AIOs are seemingly very affordable (last time I was looking to upgrade the old RIMS/HERMS 3 kettle set up was still the thing to do/get) I think this will help me brew quite a bit more. Not having to use my bucket heaters and make sure the mash temp is fine all around and then covering the coolers and wrapping towels around them alone should make my day go easier/quicker.

Desires for a new AIO:
  • probably 220 (I can have an electrician buddy install this pretty quick in my garage)
  • 5 gallon batches but with the ability to do heavier beers (ie. RIS)- could potentially just do 4 gallon batches for that if necessary
  • Wifi integration or at least scheduling- I think being able to set this up so start heating up the mash water to strike temp before I even wake would be super nice, let alone integration with an app/brewfather to manage recipes
  • Preferred conical bottom
  • Preferred hidden heating element
  • Easy cleanup
  • CFC preferred- I have an immersion chiller already and while it’s “fine” I think a CFC would be ideal (quicker, less likely to clog compared to a plate chiller)
  • Budget- about 1500 USD and preferably less

Systems I’ve found and researched (please let me know if I’m missing any):
  • Anvil Foundry – no included pump, don’t like the grain basket
  • Blichmann BrewCompact- super expensive, deadspace
  • Braumeister- So, so very expensive
  • Brewhardware- BIAB w/o malt pipe (not sure I want that), exposed heating element
  • Brewtech svbs- Expensive, no chiller included, no wifi/bt
  • Brewtools B40- exposed heating element, middle circulator pipe, touch screen (rather just have buttons), very expensive
  • Brewzilla Gen4
  • Clawhammer- modular but bad grain basket, exposed heating coil, grain basket holding leaves a lot to be desired
  • Grainfather G40
  • Kegland Digiboil- May as well just get the brewzilla
  • Spike- Well made but very expensive
  • Unibrau- Expensive, harder to clean, deadspace, not sold on the grain basket, no wifi/bt

So basically after doing my homework, I think I’ve narrowed it down to (at least out of what I’ve found) the Grainfather G40 and Brewzilla Gen4. Certainly a price difference but they both seem to ticket the boxes I want (and if I go CFC that adds some more money on top of the Brewzilla). The other systems do have some plusses but I’m not sold on them and the “modular” idea that I see bandied about is nice but seems unnecessary for me (ie. I think the grainfather and Brewzilla easily stock replacement parts and the warranty covers for a long time anyhow.)

Am I missing anything? Any systems or any considerations? I like the “buy once, cry once” motto at this point in my life. I think both systems I have narrowed it down to will do what I want and I’m open to comments between them but it seems both will make a fine batch of beer all the same (well, at least if I’m doing it right.)
There's a lot to unpack, but not without some more discussion on what you're hoping to get out of the system.

Chiller choice, I believe is influenced by fermenter choice. Chilling in a CFC direct to the fermenter, puts all the cold break into the fermenter. If you're not using a conical, that can't be dumped before pitching. An immersion chiller such as the Jaded Hydra, is just as fast as a CFC but it easily lets you settle the cold break out in the kettle which will get you clean wort racked/pumped into the fermenter which doesn't need a dump.

Malt pipe vs a bag. If you're not willing to put in an overhead lifting point, I can see wanting to avoid a bag and stick with a self supporting malt pipe. However, all else being equal a bag will flow more and you'll recover more wort with or without a gentle squeeze. It's likely you'll assume my bias is showing here but you'll see some support for this preference of a bag by how many people that start with basket/malt pipe systems and then ultimately buy my BIAB false bottoms to go with bags anyway.

None of the AIO units, even on 240v, have the kind of power an exposed element can deliver. 5500 watts is more than twice as much as Brewzilla's 2400w (and even the foundry's 2800w). It feels like it too. It almost negates the delay start timer advantage but even if you use a controller that has remote/delay start you'll still feel the double power when ramping to a boil or trying to step mash.

I've brewed on all the AIO units as they've come out (not the SVBS) because I need to explain pros and cons to my customers. With that said, I brew on a multi-manufacturer derived system because I can pick and choose which individual components are ideal. If I felt any of the urn style brewing systems were best, you bet I'd be using one.
It is a tough choice. Which AIO has a conical bottom?

Since this question comes up a lot, I have gone to suggesting getting two AIOs or an AITwo! I say this because it allows a lot more optionality (underletting) along with sending clear wort to the boil kettle (can do a lauter). Maybe get one brand that excels with mashing and another for the boil kettle and HLT duties. It would still be easy to clear your $1,500 price target and you have more brewing freedom. I brew on a 3 vessel setup which includes an Anvil Foundry for the mash tun and chiller water holder and an induction burner driven kettle for boiling. Like Bobby, it is a mish mash purposefully put together.
All AIO’s do the same thing, it’s just how many bells and whistles you want to pay for.

Best advice, buy what you can afford and learn how to use it.

I have about $800 in my system. I can brew 5 gallons in four hours and two different 5 gallon batches in six hours.
You forgot the SS Brewtech SVBS. I have one plus and Anvil Foundry. Both do the job but the SVBS is beefier... seems to me to be a higher quality build... has a pump built in to meet one of your requirements but no wifi. However the controller firmware is easily updated. Great malt basket too by the way... sturdy gauge SS and perforations on the entire basket.
I bought the Grainfather G40 two Christmases ago and love it. I make both 5 and 10 gallon batches, but usually make beers in the 5%-7% ABV, so I don't have huge grain bills. I find that the CFC that came with the G40 works well for 5 gallon batches, but uses too much water for a 10 gallon batch. For that reason, I use my Jaded IC for 10 gallon batches.

If you go with the G40, I would definitely recommend a few things:
  • Get a long 220v extension cord so you can move the G40 around
  • Add a ball valve on the bottom outlet and a cam lock fitting. That will let you drain the G40 easily and will let you pump cool wort to your fermenter if you are not using the CFC. I have a 10' hose with a camlock fitting for this purpose.
  • Buy an extra grain basket bottom and use it on top of larger grain bills to prevent grain from spilling out of the basket handle holes.
  • Buy a hop spider. The bottom filter is good, but when it clogs with hops and trub, it can be difficult to get that last 1/4 - 1/2 gallon of wort out using the pump.
  • Save the hot/warm water that is coming out of the CFC or IC in buckets. You can use it to clean the G40 after your have transferred the wort and removed the trub/hops. Just fill the G40 with the hot/warm water, add some PBW, set the heater to 110 degrees or so and start the recirculation pump. Easy way to get a deep clean.
Good luck with whatever you chose.

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