Friday, December 18, 2015

Chapman Brewing Equipment 7 Gallon Stainless Steel Fermenter

Chapman's 7-Gallon Stainless Fermenter
Recently, I found the Chapman Brewing Equipment 7-gallon SteelTank stainless steel fermenter on sale on Amazon for approximately $110.  That's about half the price of the other stainless steel fermenter I own, Ss Brewing Technology's Brewmaster Bucket.

In fairness to the Brewmaster Bucket, the Chapman fermenter lacks a number of features.  The Chapman has no legs underneath it.  It's not designed to stack multiple fermenters on one another.  It has no thermowell or thermometer.  It doesn't have a conical bottom to catch yeast and sediment.  It also doesn't have a spigot you can use for bottling.  So the extra $100 buys a few features you're not getting here.

That said, there is nothing wrong with this fermenter.  It seems very well made from 304 stainless steel.  There are good strong looking handles.  The gasketed lid can be clamped down for sealing and safety when carrying.  It even ships with a 3-piece airlock.

Bear in mind as you read the rest of this review that I do nearly all of my brewing either as extract batches on the kitchen stove (a technique I am phasing out rapidly) or as all-grain batches in The Grainfather RIMS system.  I transfer directly from the kettle to the fermenter using gravity in the case of extract batches on the stove, or via the Grainfather's excellent counter flow wort chiller and pump in the case of the all-grain batches.  I typically don't transfer from a primary to a secondary fermenter unless I believe the beer will improve in quality and flavor from the transfer, which isn't often.  On some occasions I may bottle directly from the fermenter (using carb drops as the priming sugar) or I may do a gravity transfer from the fermenter to a plastic bottling bucket with priming sugar and possibly rehydrated bottle conditioning yeast.

The ideal fermenter for me will have these features and capabilities:

  • Easy to clean stainless steel
  • Handles to make the fermenter easy to carry
  • The option to install a blow-off tube in the case of very active fermentations or higher gravity brewing
  • A lid that clamps on easily and seals well, so there's little risk of contamination
  • A lid that removes easily for cleaning
  • Ability to monitor fermentation temperatures inside the vessel so that I can apply heat or cooling as appropriate to maintain the desired fermentation temperature
  • A valve that works easily so that gravity transfers and bottling are easy to perform with it
The Chapman meets most of those requirements, so I'm going to focus the rest of this review on three features it doesn't seem to have out of the box.

Thermowell Not Included

First, there is no thermowell on this fermenter.  That means you'll either have to modify it to add one, or do without it.  Right now, I'm doing without.  This is a feature of the Ss Brewing Technologies Brewmaster Bucket that has been a big help when maintaining fermentation temperature using a fermwrap and digital controller.  

The Valve

Next, the valve on this fermenter is designed for a traditional tiered pump-through setup.


Make no mistake, this is a heavy-duty, well-made ball valve.  When it's not connected to the fermenter, it's a hefty item to hold in your hand.  It's attached to the kettle by a threaded fitting and rubber O rings.  As with any weldless design, it's important to avoid over-tightening this valve.  If you over-tighten, you're likely to see leaks.

Note the line of water leaking out from under the valve
Chapman includes Teflon tape to help better seal the valve.  I recommend using that and being careful not to over-tighten. You'll also want to fill the fermenter with tap water deep enough to cover the valve and leave it for a while.  This will tell you if there is a leak before you lose valuable wort.

As I said, it's a nicely made valve.  It's also pretty stiff to turn.  Opening and closing the valve will flex the sides of the fermenter a bit.  I'm betting with lubrication and use you can loosen it up a bit.

The valve allows for a very nice rate of flow, as you can see here:

High rate of flow
Ultimately, though, this valve is overkill for my needs.  I'm actually planning to downgrade it to something better suited to bottling and gravity transfer between vessels.  I tried using one of the same plastic valves I've used on bucket fermenters

Bottling spigot - too large a diameter for the fermenter

The only spigots I had on hand were from bottling buckets and were too large a diameter to be used with the Chapman.  I've ordered a couple from Amazon and hope to try those soon.  I know I could probably have visited a hardware store and gotten fittings to add to the factory ball valve to adapt it to my needs, but I think it would have added to the already bulky nature of the valve.

Update 12/20/2015:  I ordered two spigots from Amazon.com. One was a nice metal one, but didn't seal properly due to the rubber gaskets included with it.  The other spigot worked well once I got it to seal properly and has been installed on the fermenter.  I'm hoping it will make bottling easier than the large factory valve pictured above.

Clear, Large Markings

One thing I really do like about the Chapman is the embossed volume marking inside.  They're large, very easy to read, and won't be rubbing off or fading.

Large, easy to read volume markings

There's no question how much wort is in this fermenter and I don't need reading glasses to find out.

The Lid and Handles

Like the Ss Brewing Technologies Brewmaster Bucket, the Chapman has a gasketed stainless steel lid that can be snapped into place with built-in clamps.  This should prevent the lid from coming off accidentally or leaking wort during transport.

Unlike the Brewmaster Bucket, though, the hole in the lid of the Chapman is gasketed and designed exactly to fit a standard plastic airlock.  You won't be adding a large-diameter blow-off tube to this fermenter (unless you choose to modify the lid to accomodate that).  Since I do a fair number of higher-gravity beers (8 to 12% ABV) this could prove problematic for some batches.  Time will tell.

The handles seem strong and solid, and able to carry the bucket when full.

Overall Comments and Conclusion

This is a good quality, well made fermenter.  No question about it.  It feels as well made as my Brewmaster Bucket, and I expect to get a lot of use out of it.  I'd like to see a thermowell, a different valve option, and the ability to install a larger diameter blow-off tube out of the box, but I don't consider those deal-breaking features at the price.

If you're looking to get away from plastic fermenters and are tired of lugging around heavy, breakable carboys, this seems like a good option.  It has an entry-level kind of price, but it's not entry-level quality.  The steel is reasonably thick, the handles seem sturdy, the lid appears to seal well, and the factory ball valve seems to be a good one as well.

I can't say that I like it as well as my Ss Brewing Technologies Brewmaster Bucket, but it's hard to honestly say that I like that fermenter enough to say it's worth twice the price of this one.  I like the Brewmaster Bucket's conical bottom, its valve, its ability to stack on top of another Brewmaster Bucket, and its blow-off tube option... but are those worth $100 more?  I don't know.  

All in all, the Chapman 7-gallon fermenter is a good product and I expect to use it often.  If you're interested in getting one for yourself, they're available on Amazon.com and from the manufacturer's web site.  A 14-gallon model is also available.

2 comments:

  1. Outstanding blog post, I have marked your site so ideally I’ll see much more on this subject in the foreseeable future. valve foundry

    ReplyDelete
  2. Fantastic blog you have here. You’ll discover me looking at your stuff often. Saved! https://yolongbrewtech.com

    ReplyDelete