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The Grainfather: Zero Hour

2018 June 12
by Mad Alchemist

I’ve been eyeballing the Grainfather and similar all-in-one brewing systems for quite some time.

My first electric brew was in an apartment over 8 years ago. I’d been brewing for years, but had been limited to partial mashes and cooktops for my own setup (and had to go elsewhere to do all-grain).

I bought an electric turkey fryer and some mesh from the hobby store and brewed in a bag. After refining the process to work fairly well (Reflectix insulation, smaller batch size, small sparge, etc.), I ditched it like a bad habit the moment I lived somewhere I could use propane again.

It was an experience that left me cold to electric brewing. Back in those days, there weren’t any great off-the-shelf solutions for electric brewing.

The Grainfather recaptured my interest. A custom tailored system to brew indoors with a proper batch size, mash steps, reduced effort, and less cleaning?

That had me intrigued. Back in the old days when I really updated this site frequently, I would brew at least monthly, if not multiple times a month. In the past few years since having a kid, I’ve brewed once or twice a year. It’s such a hassle!

The single vessel mash/boil system and theoretically-reduced effort really was appealing.

But, the cost of entry was prohibitive. I’ve refined my technique and equipment for years. $1000 for a new mash and boil setup seemed exorbitant. I could buy a nicer kettle, burner, mash tun, pump, and other odds and ends for the same price.

The Grainfather maintained my peripheral interest over time, but never really grabbed me enough to buy it. Then, other electric brew systems started showing up. Most seemed to be pretenders. Inferior imitators. Some of the others that looked good were multi-vessel. No thanks. I have propane for that.

The Robobrew came out and I darn near bought it. But I didn’t. Probably because I wanted the Grainfather. It was proven, and New Zealand accents are cool.

But $1000!

The Grainfather conical came out. I was impressed. The double wall insulation and other considerations really meant that they get it. At least to me.

I’ve never gone to conicals over the years. I’ve used all manner of buckets and carboys. I have a chest freezer and built a PID temperature controller ~7-8 years ago that’s still going strong.

But the Grainfather conical… Ugh, that thing looks good. Arguably it looks way less cool than a conical from SS, Spike, Stout, or others, but the functional design speaks to me.

My biggest hang up is chilling. I can lager and carefully control my fermentation temps with my existing setup.

Then I saw their simple cooling kit. It isn’t glycol, so it couldn’t be as good as my freezer. Would I even be able to lager? Cold crash? Hrm…

Fast forward to last week when everywhere had the Grainfather for $200 off, and I looked at the system again. The Connect came out since the last time I really looked at it, and that looks pretty impressive. You can even import Beersmith recipes to it!

Crap. Goodbye expensive headphone gear, hello hobby cash. I decided to overhaul almost my entire homebrewing system in one go.

I pulled the trigger and bought a Grainfather Connect. Then I bought the Graincoat. Then I bought a Hot Rod Heatstick to heat strike water and supplement the boil if needed.

Then I bought the Grainfather Conical Basic Cooling Edition. This one has me the most worried, to be honest, since I can already control fermentation temperature tightly.

My plan for cooling: I added a collar and insulation to my fermentation freezer. I cut holes in it for the cooling tubes. I plan to use a glycol solution and keep the liquid below freezing to cool more effectively. I might also add a stainless wort chiller submerged in an ice bank for the return liquid (to cool it down and offset some of the BTUs).

We’ll see how that works. I’m confident I can manage ales, but I’m not sure I can lager with it, especially in my garage. Should lagering prove impossible, I’ll temporarily continue to use carboys in my chest freezer for that purpose and will invest in a Grainfather Gycol Chiller later on when it’s available in the USA.

Yeah, I’ve gone full Grainfather. Everything arrives soon (the Conical is delayed by a week or two).

I’m excited but more than a little worried about so many process changes at once. I also hope I don’t suddenly feel disconnected from the process with the automation capabilities of the Grainfather.

I’ll try to document my experiences here, and possibly in a video after I get things up and running. If all goes well and this helps kick-start my brewing habit again, you can expect more posts at Mad Alchemist over time.

Wish me luck! And any tips on using the Grainfather Connect or Conical are welcome.

Here’s a beauty shot of my keezer/chiller, complete with a paintjob by my 4 year old son:

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