RoboBrew, Grainfather etc

Mike Morley

Barley Legal Member
#1
Does anyone have one of these all in one units? or something similar?

I'm looking to downsize and curious what people's experiences with these products are.

Thanks!
 
#3
I know @Jason James has a Grainfather, too.

I'm interested as well because I haven't had time to brew on my full rig in a while, and the whole electric and able to do it inside (either in the house or in my garage) under lights after work is highly appealing. Brewing on my single tier outside after work sucks, I hate cleaning up in the dark.
 

Mike Morley

Barley Legal Member
#4
@Chris Smith My reason exactly, I want to brew in the basement. Plus I rarely make 10 gallon batches. I'll talk to Bob and Jason hopefully tonight.

Since I'm cheap the Robobrew @ $479.99 is appealing even cheaper is the Brewers Edge Mash & Boil without a pump it's 299.99. I have 2 chuggers already, so another option. There's been some issues with the Robobrew but apparently corrected with V3.1.

Last option is build my own, though rather just open a box and go.
 
#6
Nick Mariano has one (now living in Colorado) and he loves it.
I've been thinking the same thing, either adding my own pump to a Mash & Boil, or going all out for the Grainfather.
When it's crappy outside I do brew indoors on my gas stove and it works just fine, but I like the idea of fewer vessels to cleanup.
 

John_Francis

Barley Legal Member
#7
Last time we were in PHO NJ, Jimmy was casually brewing in the mash and boil. Looked really simple and can ferment directly in the kettle.
 

Michael Dempsey

Barley Legal Member
#13
I just bought a Grainfather. Just have one brew under my belt with it so far. I'm happy with it. Makes brew day a lot easier. No more worries about getting my strike water temperature right.
 

Michael Dempsey

Barley Legal Member
#14
I have a little more time now than I did when I made my first response, so I'll expand on my (limited) Grainfather experience.

My setup before my Grainfather was an Igloo 5-gal cooler mash tun, a Coleman beverage cooler for sparge water, a keggle and an immersion chiller. I used this for years and years. I had my process down pretty good. But still, a brew day was a big time-suck for me. It was getting to the point where I didn't want to brew because I didn't to burn an entire weekend day. My kegerator became empty because my enthusiasm to brew had waned. But... I don't want an empty kegerator.

I wanted something that was closer to "set and forget" which could allow me to do other things while I brewed. Also, with just a 5-gallon mash tun, I couldn't brew any big beers without involving malt extract, nor could I do temperature stepping . My federal tax refund came in, and I decided to go Grainfather.

For mashing, you heat up your strike water to the desired mash-in temperature, put in a basket with a perforated bottom and add your grain. Since its a RIMS, you don't heat up to a higher temperature to account for temperature loss when you add the grain. The recirculation gets the temperature back up to where it needs to be fast. No more worries about getting your strike water right. I usually hit my mash temperature with my traditional setup, but not always, and this takes that concern away.

I'm still working on how to design recipes for this. For my traditional setup, I used BeerSmith to design my recipes. BeerSmith comes with an equipment add-on for the Grainfather (supplied by the Grainfather folks themselves), but discussions on HomeBrewTalk and Reddit indicated that the equipment profile wasn't really correct. The inner bucket that holds the grain doesn't go all the way down to the bottom of the Grainfather, so you have some extra volume of liquid that's sitting under the grain. I downloaded an adjusted BeerSmith Grainfather profile from Reddit, but I didn't really use it. On the Grainfather website, there is a calculator which will tell you how much water to add for your mash, and how much water to sparge with. If you want to use the Bluetooth enabled Grainfather Connect feature, you need to put your mash and boil schedule in their website, and then, using an app on your phone, you send the mash and boil schedule to the Grainfather. Supposedly there is a way to import BeerSmith recipes to it via XML files, but I haven't tried it yet. I just stuck to the Grainfather website for this first batch.

I brewed a hefeweizen with 3 mash steps: a ferulic rest at 110 for 10 minutes, regular mash at 151 for 60 minutes, mash out at 167 for 10 minutes. I never had the capability to step mash before so this was great. Once you add the grain, the Grainfather does all the work with the step mashing. You can walk away and do whatever else you want to do. It does take a little bit of time, because it can take a while for the electric heater to step up the temperature, but its ok because you don't have to dote over it. With 20 minutes to go in the mash, it notifies you to start heating your sparge water. Then it notifies you when the mash is done.

I put in 168 for the mash out, but it used 167 anyway. I suspect that this is because the Grainfather is designed to use Celsius and Celsius degrees aren't as fine as Fahrenheit.

Sparging is the one part you do have to tend to, and it is kind of weird. For most of my brewing "career", I fly sparged, with my sparge water coming out of my Coleman cooler and sprinkling it into my Igloo mash tun via an aerator. Since my coolers are fitted with ball valves, I could control the flow into and out of my mash tun, so I could do a nice slow sparge. I can't do that with the Grainfather. Sparging is a kind of weird hybrid of fly and batch sparging. You lift the inner bucket out and the bottom rests on some bars near the top of the rim of the Grainfather. The bucket will drain because the bottom is perforated, and you can't control how fast or slow that happens. So I can't use my aerator. I just put the hose from my hot liquor tank straight onto a perforated "cover" that goes on the top of the grain bed, and let it rip. So the sparge didn't take long. My pre-boil gravity was actually a little on the high side, so I guess the sparge worked ok.

As you sparge, Grainfather will start heating to boil. The app will notify when its time to put your hop additions in. I have a hop filter I used with my keggle and I used it here too. Since I was brewing a hefe, I only had one hop charge at the beginning of the boil. You do need to stir when the wort reaches boiling, but after that you can walk away and let it boil. No need to watch it. I bought a Graincoat to go with it, and I got a pretty good boil. Not rolling as much as my keggle, but ok.

The counterflow chiller that comes with the Grainfather worked well. The pump that comes with it isn't super fast, so it takes a few minutes to drain the Grainfather, but considering it took a good 15-20 minutes for my immersion chiller to get the temperature down, I still saved some time compared to my traditional way of chilling/draining.

Cleaning is easy when all is done. Just give the Grainfather a rinse, then put in some PBW, recirculate it, then put it some clean water, and recirculate that. This may be where the biggest time saving was for me, as I didn't have a million things to clean up.

My process was definitely more streamlined with the Grainfather vs my propane setup, which is what I was hoping for. I'm hoping it will get even more streamlined as I gain experience with it. I'm happy with it, and I'm looking forward to getting that kegerator filled.

For those just getting a Grainfather now, I would suggest doing a "dry" run using just water first. I did that and I was glad I did. It helps answer any questions you may have, and its better to know what you are doing before using for real.

My tent was next to Bob Thompson's at last year's BBD, and at one point his Grainfather fell and got dented. This is a $1000 item, so, sorry, not bringing it to BBD. Maybe someone else will? For "mobile" brew days like BBD, I'll be sticking with my propane and keggle. I don't care if my keggle gets dented.
 
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Bob Thompson

Barley Legal Member
#16
Yes I do. Great system, brew day and cleaning are a breeze. Really helps being able to repeat a brew over and over when it comes to mash temp. As long as you are ok with batch size limitations. So 10g batches are not really an easy thing.

The notes below should be taken as tips and warnings. These are items that must be accounted for in order to get the system to work for you.

Big thing to keep in mind when getting one is a water source and connection for the counter flow and where it will drain to. The hoses provided are not long at all so keep distance in mind. Also while it states all in one a second vessel is needed for the sparge. I use a bucket heater on an Inkbird to hold temp while bringing strike water to temp and mashing. This takes some trial and error it will take for you. Plus this is an additional power draw so tripped breakers are a possibility. The GF is almost twice as tall when sparging so keep elevation in mind if not using a pump.

I recommend a brew jacket or diy-ing one to help speeding up to the boil. I have read of some using a stick heater to help speeding up the boil. My boil has never been vigorous and when using a hop spider I feel the need to help wort exchange faster by jostling or dunking the spider a bit.

Read watch the video tips people have made like how to place the filter is helpful, as well as some secondary uses for the system.

Reach out if you have any detail questions
 
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