I recently got a new piece of brewing kit, an electric BiaK (brew in a kettle) system from Anvil Brewing Supplies and Blichmann Engineering called the Foundry. I purchased the 10.5-gallon unit, capable of doing full-size 5-gallon batches or homebrew.
The base model is essentially similar to a coffee urn, in that it is a tall stainless steel pot, with a heating unit at the bottom. The heating element is ultra-low density — which helps prevent scorching of the contents — and supports both 120v and 240v operation. The kettle itself is double-walled for insulation. There is a conveniently-located control panel for dialing in desired temperature and power settings. A large metal basket with perforations at the bottom, known as the mash pipe, allows the grains to be removed from the unit after mashing, which allows this single unit to take on the functions of both a mash tun and a boil kettle, and arguably a hot liquor tun, all in one. Welded-on fins on the mash pipe can be positioned to rest on a bent "basket support ring" that in turn rests on the lip of the kettle, thus allowing the mash pipe to drain into the kettle after mashing and sparging.
The unit I purchased also comes with the optional recirculation kit, which is basically just a pump, hoses, clamps, a little metal tube for delivering the pumped wort back up to the top of the unit, and a top plate for dispersing that wort over the underlying grain in the mash.
The whole concept of the electric all-in-one BiaK unit was invented (as far as I can tell) by brewing pioneers Grainfather, a New Zealand company. Their design is a bit long in the tooth, and still very pricey, though, and several companies have come along and innovated in this space, or just copied and made cheaper units. Thus the Foundry is more evolutionary in the BiaK product line, but it offers quite a few features that were well-designed, and at a very reasonable price point. This is their second rev of the product, with some improvements incorporated from customer feedback on the first generation.
Because of COVID-19, shipping on my unit was delayed significantly, but it eventually arrived, and there were no surprises during the unboxing.
I did my first brew session with the unit Saturday, and thought I'd share my experiences. While I have a lot of experience doing brew-in-a-bag (BiaB) style brewing, as well as more traditional three-vessel brewing, I have as of late been on a small batch kick, trying lots of different recipes with a lighter brewday time investment, using PicoBrew products: first a Zymatic, then later their PicoZ. But my beer fridge had run out of my most popular "house brew" — Plague of Kali Rye IPA — so it was about time I stopped messing around and did a proper full-size batch. To my surprise, it turns out that the day I chose for brewing happened to also be National Homebrew Day, so serendipity reined supreme...
I had prepped a yeast starter and milled the grains before the brewday, and of course had pre-washed the unit to remove any manufacturing oils, so the brewday started with measuring water into the vessel, adding the empty malt pipe, plugging it in and cranking it up. I set the control panel to the strike temperature (160°), and while it was heating up the water, I weighed out the hop additions into hop socks. It took just over an hour for 6.2 gallons of water to be heated from 70° to 160°, which in my opinion is not at all bad. With help from my son (who stirred with a wooden mash paddle while I poured in the grains) we mashed in without much effort.
Setting up the pump for recirculation was a breeze, with the pump priming accomplished by gravity feed through the valve. I set the flow restrictor to heavily restrict, erm, the flow, so as to avoid overflowing the grain basket due to a stuck sparge; given that this recipe contains a high percentage of rye, I had also used 8 ounces of rice hulls to further prevent any stuck sparges, and that combination of efforts seemed to work well. Raking the mash every 15 minutes was slightly complicated by the need to shut off the pump and lift both the lid and the perforated disc inner lid, but it wasn't that big of a deal; it would be nice if there were a way to rest those things on the lip or handle, though. Once the mash was complete, I ramped up to 168° for a mash-out, then hoisted the mash pipe out of the wort and let it drain on the basket support ring while I sparged with 1 gallon of 168° sparge water (heated separately on my kitchen stove). While draining, I increased the heater temperature and power for a boil target.
Once the mash pipe had finished draining, I set it in a bucket (doesn't quite fit...) and transferred the spent grains to a trash bag. I'll be going up to the mountains to my friend Josh's place to trade spent grain (and an extra hop rhizome I have) for eggs tomorrow. All contactless, of course, given the current Coronavirus social distancing.
The wort reached boiling in just a little over a half hour, and hit a nice healthy hot break and a very decent boil. I followed the plan for hop additions, and sanitized the fermenter while waiting between hop additions. With 15 minutes to go in the boil, I submerged the chiller, so as to sanitize it in the boiling wort. At the end of the boil, I powered the unit down, started the chiller, occasionally stirring the cooling wort and replacing the chiller outlet water, which was draining into a pair of buckets (double-buffering, all those years as a audio software engineer pay off, woo-hoo!).
I also disconnected, cleaned, and sanitized the pump, so that when I had reached about 90°, I transferred the semi-cooled wort to the fermenter inside of one of those big blue party tubs, which I then filled with water and ice to complete the chilling. I use a Tilt Hydrometer to watch the temperature, so I would know when to pitch, and once it reached pitching temperature, I pitched the yeast into the carboy using a sanitized funnel.
Cleanup was, as usual, laborious. Brewing is, after all, basically just next-level dishwashing, interspersed with brief moments of alternately cooking and panic... With the Foundry, a lot of the cleanup can be done in the unit itself, which brewers call CIP (clean-in-place), by running hot water and cleaner (PBW - powdered brewers wash) through the unit using the pump, and gently scrubbing the inside of the vessel with a scratch-free scouring pad (Scotch blue bad), followed by another couple of courses of clean water to rinse. The unit is light enough to lift up to dump the initial trub and the cleaning dregs into the sink without trouble. I used a little Barkeepers Friend to scrub the base plate underneath which the heating element resides, but there were no stubborn scorch marks, and it was relatively easy.
Here are my key impressions from the brew session with this new gear:
boil and heating times: on 120v, I was expecting an anemic boil and long waits for heating water, but it performed very well. I think I might forgoe the move to 240v, and stick with 120v...
mash pipe was not as heavy post-mash as I was expecting, even with 14lbs of grain; I've been doing BiaB for years, and always found The Lift to be clumsy, so the mash pipe was fantastic
the pump! Worked great, and lots of fun! The flow restricter is a janky hack, but it works. Priming is easy when on the unit, but less so when not attached (like when sanitizing with starsan). Transfer to fermenter was quick and easy.
cleanup was relatively straightforward and not too much of a pain
controls: they are straightforward, and work. Yeah, it would be nice if I could control the pump, and some automation and/or bluetooth connectivity from my phone would be nice, but hey, they work and are straightforward
stupid lid gasket, furrfu. Started coming off early in the boil, so, I took it off completely, and will likely just leave it off
the lid: I'd prefer glass, so I don't have to lift it off to see the recirc. Also, no convenient way to rest it while raking grains.
gimme a couple more feet of silicone hose... I have more hose on order, but really, they could have supplied a couple more feet, so it isn't so tight
the mash pipe handle. Not loving that the handle doesn't sit well when the snap-in pipe rest thingy is in place. I'd really prefer a hook-in handle, like other units have...
valve is really low-budget compared to other valves I've used. There's a lot of slop in the turning before it actually engages, and the whole thing feels loose and ready to fail. But it worked, so I guess I shouldn't complain (but still will)
chiller... sproungy POS, but hey, it gets the job done... slowly... and with lots of spray from the cheap garden hose adapter...
During this brew session, I was very careful — being somewhat paranoid, expecting leaks — so I babysat it, and took lots of precautionary measures like having a water heater drip pan underneath, brewing near the driveway for easy cleanup and runoff, having buckets and towels handy, etc. None of that was actually needed, and everything went relatively smoothly.
I did have one thing go wrong during the brewday, but it was not with the Foundry. I had been planning to use another piece of new equipment: a Northern Brewer Big Bubbler plastic fermenter, but the lid they sell with it does not work properly, a problem reflected in the product reviews, had I had the foresight to read them before purchasing. But I was able to swap out to a tried-and-true glass carboy, so all is well in the end.
Overall, the brew day went really well, and I'm very impressed with the Foundry. No serious problems, and any obstacles were overcome in the end, and the wort is now happily bubbling away. You go, little yeasties! Do that voodoo that you do so well...
My hop spider arrived via UPS while I was finishing cleaning up... :)
#Gear #Equipment #BrewDay #PlagueOfKali