Want to upgrade part of my system, not sure what to focus on.

Discussion in 'Homebrewing' started by GeeL, Jun 13, 2018.

  1. GeeL

    GeeL Initiate (180) Aug 27, 2008 Massachusetts

    Hi. I'm often looking at ways I can upgrade my brewing equipment, and every once in a while bite the bullet and do it. I've been brewing since mid-2008 and have about 165 batches under my belt. In short, my brewing system is as follows: I create starters in a 32-oz Nalgene-style water bottle, mash with a 48-qt cooler, use the batch sparge technique, add O2, ferment in plastic fermenting buckets (the kind you get in a starter kit), have a pretty solid way of controlling fermentation temp, then auto siphon into keg.

    Three areas for upgrade would be 1) stir plate and flask for starters, 2) controlling mash temp because the cooler often loses 5 deg during an hour mash--sometimes as much as 10 deg--but I know most the conversion is done in 20 min so haven't been really concerned, and 3) new fermentors (eventually need two because I usually brew in pairs)

    While I'm leaning toward a mash tun, I also know the temp loss is minimal the first 20-30 min which is most crucial. So, I'm curious how much a difference a stainless steel fermentor (such as SS Brewtech Beer Bucket) would make. I know the plastic is O2 permeable, but beers are rarely in there more than a few weeks. Depending on the beer or how busy I am, it might be up to a month before I transfer to keg.

    So, your thoughts: is money better spent on stir plate and flask, mash temp control, or fermentor(s)?

  2. GeeL

    GeeL Initiate (180) Aug 27, 2008 Massachusetts

    If there's a concert about O2 permeability with the plastic bucket, I should clarify that the buckets are in a bin water (I control temp with an aquarium heater and pump). They're usually at the same depth as the beer, which likely reduces the O2 penetration. When I open it to take a sample for a gravity reading, I flood the headspace with CO2 before closing.
  3. ssam

    ssam Aspirant (282) Dec 2, 2008 California

    A steel fermentor is like 20x more expensive than the other things on your list, isn't it?
  4. MostlyNorwegian

    MostlyNorwegian Zealot (500) Feb 5, 2013 Illinois

    Conical fermentation over everything else.
  5. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (3,756) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    Yup, HDPE buckets work just fine (for the reasons you mentioned).

    A shiny stainless steel fermentor sure does 'show' nicely if that is worthwhile to you.

  6. Prep8611

    Prep8611 Aspirant (254) Aug 22, 2014 New Jersey

    Why not get a fermentation freezer with inkbird?
  7. Ten_SeventySix_Brewhouse

    Ten_SeventySix_Brewhouse Initiate (131) Jul 20, 2016 Arizona

    A stainless fermenter is likely one of my next "investments", but I would place it near the bottom of the list of things you mentioned. Fermentation temperature control is absolutely my recommendation. A free/cheap cheap fridge/freezer from Craigslist and a $35 Inkbird controller will improve your beer quality more than the other things you're considering, in my opinion.

    While you're at it, look for a big 1/2 or 1 gallon glass jug you can salvage for starters. It'll get you making bigger starters and more yeast without spending more than maybe a couple dollars, if any at all. Otherwise, a homemade stir plate is very cheap as well.
  8. VikeMan

    VikeMan Meyvn (1,475) Jul 12, 2009 Pennsylvania

    You can't beat stainless for airtight fermentations and transfers. I use a MoreBeer Conical, with a fitting that holds a corny gas post. The post is used to connect to a spunding valve (in lieu of airlock/blowoff) and for pressurized closed transfers. If you go stainless, make sure the vessel can handle whatever pressures you're going to subject it to. IIRC, I think I've seen pics of a Brewtech Bucket in posts from @TheBeerery, so maybe he can comment.
  9. PortLargo

    PortLargo Devotee (436) Oct 19, 2012 Florida

    My cooler (mash tun) loses about 1 degree every 15 minutes . . . when I stir I add boiling water to keep temp constant (cost zero).

    An Erlenmeyer flask is under 20 bucks, a decent stir plate is about 40 . . . neither will make your yeast healthier but they look nice and make the job much easier (and faster).

    A SS conical fermenter let's you minimize oxygen exposure and gives a host of advantages, basically you brew like a pro for an entry price somewhere around $300 - 600. For me the decision would be easy.
  10. GeeL

    GeeL Initiate (180) Aug 27, 2008 Massachusetts

    By the way, my comment just below the post should have said "concern", not "concert". I'm guessing most you all figured that out.

    Regarding the cool/showy factor of stainless, I don't really care. I just want to know if it makes a difference in my beer.

    Regarding ferment control, I don't have a lot of space, and I don't know if I can convince my wife that I need another chilling device (kitchen fridge/freezer, dorm-size beer/wine fridge, full fridge kegarator, storage freezer).

    Looks like next upgrade is yeast starter: bigger jar and a stir plate.
  11. VikeMan

    VikeMan Meyvn (1,475) Jul 12, 2009 Pennsylvania

    Of course, "show" isn't the only advantage. It's not even an important one IMO.

    - unmatched O2 impermeability, even better when used with a spunding valve.
    - pressurized closed transfers
    - durability/sanitation
    - ability to dump trub (conicals)
    - sampling valve

    - cost
    - takes longer to clean
    - may not fit in your freezer (if applicable)
    telejunkie likes this.
  12. telejunkie

    telejunkie Aspirant (240) Sep 14, 2007 Vermont

    Still love my at least 10 year old stirstarters.com plate
    But plenty of good DIY builds available you could build for cheap.

    Ferm temp control with a free or cheap fridge which you can try to find at a local appliance shop from some homeowner that just wanted a fridge to be gone from their house, rigged up with a cheap temp controller...
  13. hoptualBrew

    hoptualBrew Zealot (587) May 29, 2011 Florida

    What do you have in mind for mash temp control? That can get pricy... HERMS vs RIMS.

    I am looking at a RIMS setup. $500. Plus need pump and sparge arm. Roughly $650-$700 total.

    I like the sound of stir plate and flask. Cheapest option. Next would do conical fermenter. Then lastly mash tun.
  14. GeeL

    GeeL Initiate (180) Aug 27, 2008 Massachusetts

    As of now, ferm temp control isn't an issue.

    I'm more wondering about mash temp control and the other options (fermentor, stir plate). Clearly, the stir plate is the cheapest. For some reason I didn't realize how inexpensive they can be. I think at some point I saw one that was really pricey and just figured that's what they cost.

    To answer the question about the mash tun, I was considering something along the lines of SS Brewtech or Chapman.

    Though I'm an avid brewer, I feel like a conical is a little over the top. They look cool, but a lot more complicated to clean, and more parts (hoses, etc.) Plus, they'd never work with my ferment control system. I'd have to rework a lot.
  15. NorCalKid

    NorCalKid Initiate (99) Jan 10, 2018 California

    Computer fan stir plate, as fancy as you build it! YouTube
  16. Ten_SeventySix_Brewhouse

    Ten_SeventySix_Brewhouse Initiate (131) Jul 20, 2016 Arizona

    Sorry, I misread your second point. MASH temperature control. Got it.
  17. Push_the_limits

    Push_the_limits Initiate (30) Feb 8, 2018 Antarctica

    if you like your fermentor style/size, get new ones of the same type with spigots. Might as well get new hoses. Also it's fun to use an infrared thermometer on these buckets, you can point it all over the bucket, and get ambient temperatures, ie the adjacent walls, flooring, etc. Also really good for contact-free temp measurement of starters. Not to mention a thousand other things.

    You say it's only a month before you start kegging..do you you have the co2 tank? maybe upgrade to a larger size, fill it up, get a good regulator. Refurbish the keg.
  18. epk

    epk Initiate (166) Jun 10, 2008 New Jersey

    Personally speaking, this is probably my #1 advantage. Pull sample, spray valve with sanitizer, done.

    On a side note, you mentioned the spunding which I have considered, but there is something about that bubbling that I love to see and hear.

    For OP, I think controlling the mash temp would be a nice upgrade. We built a RIMs in a box years ago which I still use. Since it has the pump integrated, it pulls double duty and I use it to recirc during cooling as well.
    #18 epk, Jun 13, 2018
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2018
  19. hoptualBrew

    hoptualBrew Zealot (587) May 29, 2011 Florida

    @epk , how much was your RIMS build if you don’t mind me asking? I’m budgeting about $650 for mine.
  20. Granitebeard

    Granitebeard Initiate (97) Aug 24, 2016 Maine

    I grabbed the 10gal SS Brewtech Mash Tun. Maybe not the best choice for you, but I love it. I was just BIAB in my kettle before hand which I could never keep consistent. Now I basically use the bag in the tun. It took a few tries, but once you learn the pre-heat or what temp you need your strike water at, the thing won't move more then a degree or so in an hour. Pricey but I am no longer fiddling with lighting my burn during a mash every 10 minutes. And in my opinion, this thing is a breeze to clean.

    I can not comment on the others, but I have been eyeing the ss brewtech brew bucket...
  21. epk

    epk Initiate (166) Jun 10, 2008 New Jersey

    I actually didn't build it, my friend who I brewed with at the time and his dad did a handful of years ago. I just sort of threw my buddy some money (whatever he asked for at the time). It's something like this - RIMS in a toolbox - but with a longer tube mounted on the backside and simple on/off light switches for the pump and element.

    Sorry I don't have a cost, but in that same Reddit thread I linked, the OP linked to his parts list. He notes it cost him $730 all in but I thnk he does have some extras. For instance, mine has no emergecny stop or the fancy buttons, and seems to get along just fine with only the heat sink and no fans.

    There are also now some affordable pre-wired control boxes out there that I have been eyeing for if I finally ever go completely electric and move everything into my basement.
  22. fuzzbalz

    fuzzbalz Disciple (313) Apr 13, 2002 Georgia

    Might think about doing smaller batches, I only do 2.5 gal batches (biab). Induction burner and 5.5 gal pot (about 1-2 degree temp loss for 75 min mash, burner off and pot warped in towels), and I get about 72% eff, I also use a 3 gal corny keg to ferment inside a mini fridge and an inkbird temp controller with a spunding valve.
    Disadvantages to doing 2.5 gal batches....well less beer for the same amount of time spent brewing and you'll run out of beer quicker, BUT you get to brew more often!!
  23. GreenKrusty101

    GreenKrusty101 Crusader (733) Dec 4, 2008 Nevada

    I think someone already mentioned it, but if you don't have spigots on your fermenters, I'd start there...if you plan on brewing more lagers get the stir plate... or save the minimal $ and spend it on ingredients...imho
  24. ssam

    ssam Aspirant (282) Dec 2, 2008 California

    Would spigots on fermentors be fine even with the water submerged method of temp control the OP describes? How reliable are the seals on a run of the mill spigot?
  25. GreenKrusty101

    GreenKrusty101 Crusader (733) Dec 4, 2008 Nevada

    I've been submerging buckets with spigots in Walmart tubs for a decade now with no leaks (both plastic buckets and ss). Just make sure the spigots are snug and the valves shut :grin: A QA check after each use is about all I do other than CIP.
    ssam likes this.