Brew Biz: Werts and All: The Grainfather, Final Assessment

 Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay, Clarksville Carboys and Music City Homebrewers, who has been writing on beer-related topics and interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast, for over 20 years.

Written by Ken Carman

 I have been looking for the original article on this, but can’t find it. So I wrote it as a Brew Biz because it’s a product review.
 How you brew matters here. If, unlike me, you’re brewing weekly your experience may be different. I would think it should be better. “Should be,” being a big qualifier. I brew 3 or 4 times a year. If the craft scene had been around, as vibrant, when I started brewing in 79 I might have been just like those who hopefully worked out the kinks, and probably went into being a pro-brewer. But that was not me back then: the stage called, my own, odd, stage, and I gleefully went there.
  For ME it’s been a hobby, and occasional obsession. I don’t want it to be my life, especially not at 65.
 Maybe you can learn from my mistakes. I started late using the GF because by the time I got it I had a mess at home with mold. Then the southern very early summer invasion of bugs. Summer really starts in May sometimes in the south. I also found out I didn’t have the facilities sink-wise.
 So when I headed north to our two places in the Adirondacks I brought it with me. It usually hovers around the 70s up here. Despite that my first problem was temp: maintaining it in the unit. My second problem: hooking up the wort cooler. I had to buffer the brewing with heating wort on the stove and fighting to maintain temp and clamp the hose to the wort chiller so it wouldn’t pop off and give me a bath. I’d already had one. I figured that last one out once I found that sweet spot where I didn’t even have to use a clamp. Slowly raise the flow and, first time, you might get wet.
 ”I spent almost a $1,000 on this?”
 I had several suggestions from the GF Facebook page, like buying a heat stick. Good suggestion: if it ever was going to be in stock. And why am I spending even more for what I considered an expensive unit to begin with?
 Earlier this summer it was even worse. The mash and the boil simply didn’t work at all, and I had forgotten something from the year before. So using my old small mash tun I exchanged wort back and forth, made one hell of a mess, and managed to “get r done” 5 hours later. I had figured out the cooler by then: remove an adapter on my sink and replace it with the adapter the hose goes on. I just leave it on the sink. It works as well as the other way and I never need to worry about losing it.
 If you are like me: poorly organized and a fly by the seat of my imaginary carpet, that advice might serve you well.
 Here is what I forgot after 6 months of not brewing: there’s a reset switch on the bottom of the unit. I realized half way through the first batch, but what is this elderly gentleman with severe back and neck issues supposed to do? Risk lifting it and dropping five gallons of wort on the floor?
 Second batch this summer I set the unit edges on two chairs with space between to check the reset switch. I also did something I had never done before: warmed up the water first. I know: the manual says something about that. Did I mention I’m NOT Mr. Organization and tend to fly via my creativity-based magic mental carpet?
 The unit worked flawlessly. The operator not so much. Never forget to switch the switch back on your Fast Ferment before you take off the ball. Make sure your false bottom and top are stable before you get the unit filled with hot wort and the upper tube drops down into the wort. The glass top is very, very, very, very, (Did I type “VERY?”) hot. You don’t want to break that. I didn’t, but I came $%#! close.
 I have read there are issues with weak heating elements, and those elements burning out, and the company isn’t always that cooperative when it comes to such things. I gleefully await those misadventures, sarcasm intended.
 I am still having a horrible problem with sludge, but that’s NOT GF specific. I was having it before. I think it’s because stores are pulverizing the malt. It’s supposed to be cracked. I do have a mill, but I need a better one. I went cheapo and hand milling is a pain, I know my drill wouldn’t take how much torque is needed. I’ll figure it out. Last time I used grainbags for most of it and, so far, not much better. But we’re early in the remove the sludge phase. We shall see.
 So. yes, with caveats I recommend the Grainfather. Ask a lot of questions. There is a Facebook support page. Use it. These folks are helpful. But remember: it depends on how you brew. I am curious: my latest is a Rhubarb Ale that’s lighter gravity, hence not all the grain. I also have some Super-Kleer finings I haven’t used before. Maybe the trub will lessen, or be more manageable.
 One hopes.

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   Brew Biz : Werts and All,` is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing, and commenting on, beer-related topics including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the brew business, and discussions regarding all things beer.
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