Our beer-brewing equipment arrived today! The packaging was not robust — every box had some fairly substantial damage. There’s a dent inside the kettle and one of the fermenters has a pushed in section (supposedly this will pop right out when we fill it). My first surprise was that we got a DigiBoil in a box and the mash upgrade kit in another box. The kettle is even branded as DigiBoil. Which … from a manufacturing / material standpoint makes sense. Why would they have two different sets of packaging and product labels? And three different SKU’s — DigiBoil, DigiMash kit, DigiBoil Mash Upgrade. It was a better deal buying the DigiBoil package — the DigiMash 65L was $259.99 and the mash upgrade $89.99, so we saved ten bucks ordering
We saw a DigiBoil at the local homebrew shop when we stopped by to pick up yeast. Scott had been pricing out a three-kettle system with pumps (along with some sort of table) and it wasn’t cheap. The DigiBoil was about 200 bucks. I took a quick picture of it to research later. Quickly discounted it as an option because it’s just a big pot with electric elements to boil water. We needed something for mashing too.
At which point we decided to shop around and see what other options were available. There’s the Grainfather — super expensive and, if I wanted to walk away while it cooked, I’d want to go farther than Bluetooth range. We came across Brewzilla — the software controls of a Grainfather minus connectivity, but 650 bucks is a lot more reasonable for a 65L brewing platform. Unfortunately, the 3.1 version starts the timer when the elements kick in to reach that temperature. Version 3.1.1 systems change this logic so the timer starts once the temperature is reached. The control board can be swapped out, but I really don’t want to blow fifty bucks upgrading something I bought this week. And, while there were some 65L 3.1.1 Brewzilla’s hit the US at the start of 2020, suppliers are all awaiting delivery “late summer 2020”, “late September 2020”, or “Autumn 2020” … which I took to mean “we don’t know when”. Understandable, but pretty much put the Brewzilla out of the running.
I came across a Mash & Boil — a 35L system with re-circulation pump is about 350. Decent price, but there’s no 65L system. Same with the Anvil Foundry — where a 6.5 and 10.5 system are available.
In looking at the Brewzilla, I found a mash upgrade kit for the DigiBoil. And a kit which includes both the mash upgrade and DigiBoil called a DigiMash. Both a 120V and a 240V 35L DigiMash are available, as well as a 240V 65L system. At around 240 bucks for the 240V 35L system, it’s a great deal compared to a three-kettle system. Because we frequently do double batches and potentially recipes with larger grainbills, the 18 pound capacity was limiting. At 340 bucks for the 65L DigiMash, it sounded like a great deal. No re-circulation pump, but it’s easy enough to hook a pump up to the output valve. Brewzilla has a port in the bottom of the vessel that goes down to a pump under the unit — a short silicone tube connects to the pot and another short silicone tube that connects to the metal fitting through the side-wall of the vessel. On the video we found, that tube was pretty cruddy looking … which isn’t exactly a selling point.
DigiMash doesn’t have the software-control of Brewzilla — you can set a 158F mash temp and come back and hour later, but you cannot perform step mashing. Which … not something we’ve done. And, really, you could. You’d just have to change the temps manually. It sounds like an interesting experiment to put together an ESP12e and a few relays to control the elements. Potentially, we could turn the DigiMash into an open source customizable controllable (and WiFi connected) brewing system.
Not really — but we’ve had a random week of nightly freezes since the hop plants arrived. Instead of planting them outside and keeping them covered, I’ve got them in the pots I use for seed starting and we’ll get them planted in the middle of this coming week. It was also a bit of an experiment — can you keep hop plants in little pots for a week?
Hops + 2 days
Hops + 5 days
They’re not growing anything like the hops out in the ground that we’re covering at night … but they appear to be doing well. And they should be happy enough until Wednesday when it looks like the cold snap ends.
I ordered some hop plants from Great Lakes Hops — these are awesome. They ship actual plants, which are much more robust looking than the rhizomes I ordered years ago when we started growing hops. They came packed in what looks like wheat chaff – I assume it was moistened when they shipped the plants, but it was quite dry by the time I opened the box. The plants were a little wilted, but they perked right up when I got them into temporary pots with some more dirt and watered them. I love that the packing material can all be composted!
The best part? A free plant 🙂
We siphoned our mead with the 47b yeast into a new container and pulled some out for Christmas dinner. It is really good – a slightly sweet young tasting white wine. We’ve got a gallon left that we’re going to let age. I’m hoping the 71b batches are this good.
We are experimenting with different honey concentrations and different yeasts to make mead. We’ve got 71b to make a dry mead (with different concentrations of honey) and then 47b to make a slightly sweeter mead.
Researching the process, we decided on three nutrient additions – a blend of 50% Go Ferm and 50% Fermenaid K. Added 1/4 teaspoon of nutrients shortly after the yeast was pitched. Added another a couple of days later … and then couldn’t figure out when the almost-done state was and failed to add the third addition.
Now we’re just waiting for it to ferment.
We are about to make mead (we got near 30 pounds of local honey!). In researching mead-making, different yeasts have different alcohol tolerances … so you make a dry mead by using a yeast with an alcohol tolerance at or above the level your starting gravity would yield if it were fully fermented. A sweeter mead means you have a yeast whose tolerance is lower than that value … the greater the difference, the sweeter the mead. We are going to make a dry mead with Lalvin 71b-1122, a just slightly sweet mead by adding a little more honey but still using Lalvin 71b-1122, and a sweeter mead using Lalvin D-47.
71b-1122 has a very broad temperature range (59-86 F – and how cool is it that Google returns a yeast profile summary if you search for “71b-1122 temperature range”). D-47 is more particular — a published range of 59-68 F, but reading through homebrew sites has us wanting to stay around 63 degrees. Our sub-grade level is cool, but not that cool. Especially as fermentation warms up the fluid.
Scott is developing a home automation controlled fermentation “chamber”. The beer refrigerator is now plugged into a smart outlet. One of the Arduino kits we got has a temperature sensor. We can have a temperature probe monitoring the must and cycle the refrigerator’s power to keep it within a degree or two of our target.