The Grainfather: A bargin or a bust?
After brewing up three batches of beer on my new Grainfather I can now say whether all my pre-purchase research (documented here) was worth it. Quick answer: yes! I am pumped about this thing and it’s inspired me to get back to brewing. While It’s not perfect it hits everything I was looking for in an electric homebrew system. Let’s dig into this system and find the good and the bad.
First thing I was excited about when the Grainfather arrived was the size and portability. It shows up in an easily movable and not too heavy box. Taking this thing to a friend’s house would be a breeze. One bad thing though, the black plastic ring at the base of the unit cracked and a small piece broke off. This has no impact on the system, just a little bit of an appearance bummer.
Putting it together
Most of the Grainfather is already assembled when you pull it out of the box. The only thing you have to do is put in the temperature controller, setup the discharge pipe, and put in the thermometer probe. Done. I think it took me 30 minutes maybe (half of that was fighting with the silicone seal on the false bottom).
The false bottom slides into the inner basket with a piece of silicone keeping it tight. I hated this when i first tried to slide the thing into place. The silicone kept slipping right off the false bottom. ARGH! It turns out that this is easily overcome with washing out the inside of the basket and the false bottom with hot water. THIS IS SO MUCH EASIER. I should have looked this up instead of spending 15 minutes trying to do this and getting angry. Once you have everything assembled and in place, mashing is easy. Just toss in your grain and set the temp. There are two elements in the system and when mashing you use just the 600 watt element, which is a nice way to keep the temperature steady without getting too hot. The small pump starts makes a recirculating mash easy and with the false bottom that goes on top of the mash it seems like you get a nice even spread of the wort and an even temperature throughout the grain.
I don’t love that the temperature control is clearly for celsius (the third digit is in subtext). It’s not a big deal, just sort of annoying. Also, it’s sort of annoying that we still use fahrenheit anyway. I am too lazy to convert my temps to celsius. Oh, one other things about the control box, when you open the cover it doesn’t actually fit so it ends up lifting up the whole box when you open the lid.
The recirculating arm easily pops off and then you lift your grain basket up and twist 90 degrees and let it sit on top of the kettle and drain. Drip, drip, drip. I haven’t quite come up with a good solution to the sparging process. You do need to prepare your sparge water while you are mashing. I have been using a 5 gallon kettle on my gas range to heat up my sparge water. It isn’t elegant, but it does the job. I think I might try a no sparge or light sparge option with future batches just to see how that works out. The basket is fairly easy to move around. I highly suggest being near a sink where you can set the grain basket to let the grain cool and continue to drain.
This is not a high-powered system, which has the advantage of not requiring a 220v outlet. On the downside it does mean it takes a bit longer to get up to boil temperature. I would also say, if you're used to a gas burner, you will miss the big rolling boil that you are used to. Either way, it gets the job done. Also, scraping the bottom of any stuck proteins helps speed up the heating.
The fact that the Grainfather came with a counterflow chiller made it all the more attractive when comparing it to other systems. I am surprised more all all-in-one systems don’t include something like this. The Grainfather’s chiller is easy to use and plugs right into the sink. One thing I don’t love is that it sits on top of the kettle. I would rather keep the kettle open to help speed up cool down and avoid accumulating any DMS. I don’t think the DMS risk is crazy high (you’ll lose most of it during the boil), but when using pilsner as a base malt I would prefer an open cool down. To achive this, I have switched it up a bit and placed the chiller on a stool next to the kettle and left the lid off. The stool has worked great and is actually a little easier to setup.
I have run into hop material building up on the pump filter and slowing the flow rate down to a crawl and has required a bit of scrapping with the mash paddle. I do wish that, with all the features already built in, that a whirlpool was designed into the chill down. It seems like this would be fairly easy feature to add to future version of the system. I’ve been playing around with the return hose to create a weak whirlpool for the time being. I might have to play around with this for a bit more.
This is where the Grainfather crushes my outdoor gas system. I mean DEVASTATES my outdoor system. Clean up is crazy easy. You don’t have a ton of parts, so right off the bat you have less to do. When you are done brewing you can just throw in some water and PBW and fire up the heat and pump. Ten minutes later the thing is spotless. I love it.
The most important questions is: how does the beer taste? Delicious! I’ve brewed up a bitter, a saison, and a second saison is boiling right now as I write this. Both beers have fairly simple malt bills and yet produced great malt flavor. The recirculating mash does make a big difference. Check out the head quality in those pics! Pretty looking beer, right? The Grainfather has also made mash temp control a breeze compared to my outdoor system. It was easy to dial in both of these beers and hit the right medium-full body on the bitter and the light body that I was looking for in that saison. Tasty!
If you are looking for an affordable electric system the Grainfather is hard to beat. The equipment is solid and well designed. You are not going to find the highest quality of materials/parts--for example, Blichmann kettles feel solid though and through--but the Grainfather feels like just enough to get the job done. I appreciate both. And with a tight wallet at the moment I am happy to give up on thicker stainless steel and a fancier control box.
The most important thing is that the Grainfather has made for a fun brewday and I’ve already brewed as much this year as I did all of last year. I also don’t feel like I am giving up the fun of a brewday by letting the machine do all the work. You are still very much the brewer when using the Grainfather. This thing rocks. Look for one at your local homebrew store or find it online at MoreBeer!