Brewing With The Grainfather, Batch 1: English ESB

I’ve been brewing on and off since 2010, when a friend of mine brought up the idea of trying out the whole homebrewing thing. We gathered some cash, purchased a stock pot and carboy, and settled on doing an extract wheat ale kit from a local homebrew store. As a last minute purchase, we picked up a bottle of blackberry extract. After checking the instruction about a million times, dealing with a boil-over, and waiting for what felt like months (it was actually just 2 weeks), we had beer, and it was pretty good.

As the years moved on, I moved on the trying other extract kits, to finally moving to all grain about 3 years ago. I had been using a Bayou Classic pot to boil, a converted insulated cooler to mash, and usually a big bucket of ice water to cool. Then we bought an immersion chiller, but our warm Florida tap water made that only a marginal improvement. I’ve brewed on my stove-top and propane. I’ve done BIAB and the cooler method. I’ve done enough that I wanted to move into something that was electric, temperature controlled, and had everything that I needed.

That’s where the Grainfather entered. A straight-forward, compact, all-in-one electric RIMS brew system. So I bought one.

grainfather-logo

It was delivered to my office at the beginning of December and found its way home with me that day. It wasn’t too heavy of a box, but still slightly large, and fit easily into the back passenger seat of my small-ish Toyota car.

Unpacking was simple. The unit was mostly put together save for the many pipes, screens, and accouterments that accompany this fantastic device. As you can tell, I have been quite impressed with this machine since day one.

Time would tell, however, if it would live up to the hype I built it up to in my head. After all, I spend nearly $1,000 on a piece of hobby hardware (I purchased the Graincoat as well to help keep the kettle insulted. I was aware of the power limitations of the USA version [by my own country’s power grid design], and wanted to keep every joule in my wort!).

For my first beer I wanted to keep things simple and light, as well as challenging. I settled on brewing up a style I have always wanted to do, but never really managed to go for: The English ESB. I opened up Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing and utilized his Tire Biter Bitter recipe, with very minor adjustments.

Evil Scheming Brit ESB

  • 8 lbs (3.62 kg) Maris Otter Pale
  • 1 lbs (0.45 kg) Caramel/Crystal 40L
  • 4 ounces (113 g) Biscuit

  • 1 ounce (28 g) Challenger at 90 minutes
  • 0.3 ounce (8.5 g) East Kent Golding at 60 minutes
  • 0.7 ounce (19.8 g) East Kent Golding at flameout

  • Pitch Wyeast 1968 London ESB and let it do its thing.

In hind sight, the Challenger should have waited until 60 minutes, as it gets completely over isomerized (a point a BJCP judge I shared this with would share).

I wanted something subtly malty and biscuity but sessionable.

grainfather-parts

I invited my brewing partner over for the day, and the brew day commenced. After a thorough washing the night before, the Grainfather was ready to be heated up to mash temps. Except for a slight leaking out of the temperature probe gasket as I filled up the unit (it was not tight enough, user error) it went expertly.

It took about 40 minutes for my 78F tap water (South Florida taps are warm even in the winter) to reach my mash-in temp of 150F.

grainfather-heating-lid

grainfather-recirculating-wort

The pump is a new-fangled toy for me, having previously utilized only the Earth’s gravity and simple physics to transfer wort and beer around. The process of recirculating produced incredibly clear wort and settled the grain bed well.

After the simple mashing process, it was time to lift and sparge. The idea with the Grainfather is that when mashing in complete, you simply lift the grain bed out of the vessel and rest it on a metal channel that sits above. This lets the sweet wort drain forth into what has now become your boil kettle.

grainfather-more-sparging

With this first brew, I sparged terribly with pots of water I heated on the stove. In the next batch, I realized I could heat the sparge water ahead of time and just use my old cooler mash tun. Reusing and recycling!

The boil commenced for 90 minutes. It did take almost an hour to reach a boil, which is my only real concern with this piece of equipment. I’m looking into heat sticks (~1000W elements to submerge) to remedy this issue.

grainfather-hot-break

grainfather-stiring-hops

One thing we screwed up on was being a bit… overzealous on our stirring of the wort with the hop additions. We accidentally dislodged the hop filter from the bottom, leaving it to stumble around at the bottom of the bot during the majority of the boil. The silicone tube gets hot and loose, and I don’t trust it anymore. With brew #2, I simply clamped it on with a worm gear clamp.

The counterflow chiller works like a charm. One of the big things I loved about this system from the get-go was the inclusion of a chiller. As I shared previously, chilling has been a flaw in my old setup for a while, so I was ecstatic to see the chiller in action; and the results are mind-blowing. After circulating through for about 10 minutes to sanitize the insides, we turned on the tap water and our wort was near instantly chilled to the proper temperature. Wort coming out the end was cool to the touch, while the warm water outlet hose spit hot fire. Thermodynamics at work.

grainfather-chillinggrainfather-filtering-after-chill

I had to filter out the hop particulate because of the aforementioned filter mistake, but we were used to that.

So that was basically that. We pitched the yeast and tossed it into the fermentation chamber.

Cleaning was simple, as well. A quick rinse of the insides took care of a majority of the crud, while a 45 recirculating soak of PBW after that took care of all the insides.

In the end, the hardest thing to do with the Grainfather is wait. At least with the US version, it takes some time to heat up to the proper temperatures. Still, it took us about 4 hours and 30 minutes to brew (excluding cleanup) with a 90 minute boil.

But the important question is, ‘How did it turn out?’

grainfather-english-bitter

Biscuity, graham cracker-forward with some earthy hop presence. Because our efficiency was low, we hit about 3.2% ABV, but you wouldn’t know it from the flavor. It’s extremely sessionable, and I think it’s a recipe that I want to pursue again.

Up next is an English Brown Ale. Hopefully we’ll get all the kinks out. Cheers.