Sunday, February 14, 2016

Brewing with The Grainfather, Part 3 - Cleaning and Overall Thoughts

In Part 1 of this series, I introduced The Grainfather and discussed how to use it for mashing and sparging.  In Part 2, we talked about boiling and chilling the wort with The Grainfather and its included counterflow chiller.  In this final segment, we'll discuss cleanup and overall thoughts about the device and its usage.

Cleanup

Once you've pumped the wort from The Grainfather into your fermenter and pitched your yeast, you're well on your way to a delicious batch of homebrew.  Unfortunately, you've still got some cleanup work to do.

The cleanup process in my experience will take 20-30 minutes.  It involves the following tasks:

  • Removing and discarding the grain from The Grainfather's grain basket
  • Cleaning the grain basket, kettle, recirculation tube, and wort chiller
  • Cleaning all the other implements used in brewing (scale, scoops, mash paddle, etc.)
At the end of the brewing process, there will be hops bags (if you used them), grain and other residue, and usually some leftover wort in the bottom of The Grainfather kettle.  

Cleanup will involve clearing out all this!
I'll begin by removing the bags and anything I can easily scoop out of the kettle and tossing that away.  Then, I'll hose down the inside of the kettle with my food-grade hose.  I'll dump this into the sink and down the drain.  Then, I'll fill the kettle with about 3 gallons of water and 3-5 ounces of Powdered Brewer's Wash (PBW) and set the controller to heat the water to 130F.

As the water heats, I'll use a green scrubbing pad and/or sponge with the PBW to clean off any residue inside the kettle, especially on the area where the heating element is found.  (The blackest area in the above photo shows you where the heating element is.

Once I've scrubbed things down as well as I can get them, I attach the recirculation arm and let the pump circulate PBW solution through the kettle.  After a few minutes circulating the 130F solution through the recirculation arm, I'll pump the hot cleaning solution through the wort chiller and down the drain.  

While this is recirculating, I'll discard the grain from the grain basket and rinse it out as best I can over the sink.  Then, I'll insert the grain basket into the PBW solution in the kettle.  At some point, I'll lift it up and scrub the inside and outside.

After all that, I'll turn off the pump, disconnect the chiller, and dump the remaining cleaning solution down the drain.  

I'll hose off the kettle interior and dump that water.  I'll fill the kettle again with a few gallons of cold water and set the controller to heat the water to 130F again.  As with the PBW solution, I'll run this clean hot water through the recirculation arm and wort chiller for 5-10 minutes to ensure that all the cleaning solution is rinsed out.

Yes, you can actually get it clean again!
The remaining items, which typically include the kettle I rest the grain basket in, the stirring spoon, the scale, and various other small containers and bowls, I'll carry up to the kitchen.  I'll clean and dry these and bring them back to the basement.

All steps considered, it takes me 20-30 minutes to clean up the mess and discard the used grain.  The Grainfather is then ready for the next batch.  When I'm ready to use it again, I'll typically rinse it once more and pump clean water through the recirculation arm and chiller just to flush it again.  This only take 5-10 minutes.

Overall Notes and Recommendations

The Grainfather has been a good purchase.  If you had asked me that during my first 3-4 batches with it, I might have told you differently.  Compared with extract brewing on my kitchen stove, all grain brewing with The Grainfather takes a lot longer.  I used to be finished with a batch of extract based beer in 3-4 hours (including cleanup).  All-grain batches with The Grainfather have taken twice that amount of time, especially if things go wrong in the process (like tripping the thermal cut-out).

It's vitally important to review the instructions in the manual every time you brew, until they're a habit.  Most of the problems and complaints I had early on were due to my unintentionally missing a step in the manual or doing it incorrectly. Other problems have been overcome with experience and changes in the way I do things (as noted in these posts).  My very last batch had only one problem, which was hitting the target post-boil volume and gravity.  I believe I can solve that by adding a hop spider to my equipment setup.

Depending on your needs and budget, I recommend the following additional items if you don't already have them, when brewing with The Grainfather:
  • A kettle with a diameter large enough to hold The Grainfather grain basket.  This will allow you to let the basket sit there until you're finished brewing.  If you just place the basket on the floor, it'll drain sticky wort everywhere.  If you have a sink close enough to your brewing location, you could place the basket there instead.  My basement sink is kind of dirty, so I don't like to have my brewing equipment in there if I can avoid it.
  • A long stirring spoon or mash paddle to stir the grain during brewing and stir in adjuncts or other ingredients during the boil
  • A hop spider, so that you can easily add hops during the boil and remove them if you need to extend the boil to hit your target gravity.  Removing the hops will avoid over-shooting your bitterness target.
  • If you don't have a hop spider, food-safe twine and muslin bags so that you can pull out the hops if you need to extend the boil.
  • A good digital kitchen scale so that you can accurately measure ingredients
  • A refractometer to help you monitor gravity and efficiency
  • A smartphone or tablet with The Grainfather application on it, or a cheap stopwatch timer, to help you know when to add items during the boil or change steps during mashing
  • A large container of PBW for cleaning
  • A large container of Star San for sanitizing
  • A stainless steel fermenter, airlock, and blow-off tube.  Although these are more expensive than carboys or plastic buckets, they're much more durable and easy to clean.  I've found them worth the investment.  The stainless fermenters are also not breakable and probably lighter than their glass counterparts.
  • A kettle and heating device capable of holding at least 3 gallons of sparge water
  • A grain crusher, so that you can control the level of crush and prevent kettle residue that can cause the thermal cut-out to trigger
  • A crude wooden stand made from three pieces of framing lumber in a "U" shape, on which to rest The Grainfather when in use.  If the thermal cut-out triggers, you can easily reach under the unit to reset it, rather than having to tip it full of boiling hot wort and reach under it.
Although I've not had the opportunity to brew with a Picobrew Zymatic, I have to admit that I've wondered whether that device would have been a better fit for my brewing needs.  I would love to be able to measure the ingredients, put in the recipe, and leave the machine to it.  The repeatability would be great, too.  On the other hand, that device is more than twice the price of The Grainfather and reportedly can't handle grain bills quite as large.  The Grainfather can handle a grain bill of up to 20 pounds.  The Zymatic grain bins reportedly can't handle a grain load that generates a beer over 7% ABV.  That would probably rule out the Tripels and Quads I like to brew.

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