Friday, November 28, 2008

Choosing a brew kettle

Choosing a Brew KettleFor people who are just getting into homebrewing beer, selecting the right equipment to use for making your brew may seem to be an intimidating task. There are so many choices out there for items to make beer with. So before you go out and buy equipment you've got to do a little homework before you buy. One of the first pieces of equipment you'll need to buy is a brew kettle and depending on how and what you want to brew will determine which brew kettle is right for you. I've done some research and thought I'd post some findings during my search for the perfect brew kettle.

Consider your batch size first

I plan to make small batches initially, up to 5 gallons at a time to start out with. I want to get a brew kettle that can grow with me and big enough to avoid boil overs. A 5 gallon brew pot is essentially too small to boil with, particularly if you want to do a full boil. So a bigger brew pot is definitely in my scope.

Brew kettles come in all sizes and are generally measured in quart capacity. There are 24 qt (6 gal), 32 qt (8 gal), 40 qt (10 gal), 60 qt (15 gal), 80 qt (20 gal) and some as big as 220 qt (55 gal). In considering the right size brew kettle for my budding young brewing career, I fear that a 15 gallon brew pot might be way too big for what I plan on doing for the first year or so. I could easily get away with using a 40 quart (10 gal) kettle. Yet, several homebrewers I've talked with tell me that eventually I'm going to want to brew bigger batches and may as well consider a 15 gallon pot to start out if I could afford it.

The thinking is, if you buy a larger brew pot now, you won't have to go back later and spend a lot more to get a bigger pot. I suggest you get a kettle that can grow with you. Some manufacturers recommend buying a pot twice the size of your desired finished batch size so that you can account for evaporation loss and avoid boil over.

You want to have a big enough brew pot so that you can do a full batch boil, if you want, plus have enough extra room to add in more water to make up for the evaporation that will occur. If your kettle is too small, you'll eventually run into a situation where your wort will boil over the top of your kettle as it foams up. So adding some extra boil space is highly suggested.

I can envision eventually having a nice semi-professional brewing system in my garage where I can have three large kettles for sparging, mashing and boiling, so perhaps for me a 15 gallon kettle is the size to start.

Evaluating the different brands of kettles

So what are the popular kettles on the market these days? Most of the stainless steel brew kettles sold today are typically made with 18-8 gauge stainless steel and have thick bottoms to help distribute heat evenly. However, there are some thinner and cheaper alternatives out there. Here is a rundown of what I've found. The majority of the brands evaluated will be the 15 gallon size.

Blichmann Boilermaker

Blichmann BoilermakerThis is probably considered one of the top of the line brew kettles. They come in sizes ranging from 10 gallon up to 55 gallon sizes. Blichmann kettles come with a stainless steel lid, a spigot for draining wort or hot water, a built-in temperature gauge and a capacity gauge to see how much liquid is in the kettle. Prices range between $330 all the way up to $670. The 15 gallon size costs around $395 and must be ordered through a retailer and shipped from Blichmann directly. This can take up to 3 weeks. The 15 gal kettle is about 16" wide and 19" tall. Option accessories include: false bottoms, screen filters.
Price a Blichmann kettle.

Polarware

Polarware KettlesPolarware brew kettles are also a popular stainless steel brand sold by many of the popular homebrewing supply stores. This brand is typically found in 10.5 gallon or 15 gallon sizes. You can buy these kettles with or without a spigot and can have a thermometer added later if desired. This kettle is wider than others measuring 19" wide and 15" tall and may or may not come with a stainless steel lid (check before ordering). With a spigot added, a 10.5 gallon kettle goes for around $239.00 and a 15 gallon kettle retails around $299. These can be ordered directly from many brew stores. False bottoms are also available separately from between $60-$80.
Price a Polarware kettle.

MegaPot

Megapot kettlesAnother popular brand with home brewers are the line of MegaPot brew kettles. MegaPot comes in 8, 10, 15, 20 and 25 gallon stainless steel sizes. These pots range in price from $159 upwards to just over $345 with ball valve and thermometer. These pots typically come with a spigot and an optional thermometer that can easily be adapted to add one if desired. The 15 gallon MegaPot with spigot and thermometer retails for about $273 (as shown). You can save up to $37 if you buy a pot without a thermometer. This brand is built well and can save you a few dollars over the Polarware or Blichmann. This brand is a bit more difficult to find a retailer for.
Price a MegaPot.

Sabco Keggles

Sabco converted kegsFor those of you interested in brewing from a converted beer keg, then Sabco may have a line that will interest you. Sabco takes either new or used kegs and converts them into professional quality brewing kettles. These converted kegs can also have all of the same features as the other retail brands. These converted kegs do come at a premium price however, as their 15 gallon "keggles" typically run between $279 to $519 depending on accessories and newness of the keg. Considered by many to be the perfect kettle and well worth it, if you can afford it.
Price a Sabco Keggle.

Other brands

Other brew kettlesFor those on a more tighter budget, there are some cheaper alternatives. There are a line of Italian kettles (shown right) with a 15 gallon pot starting at $220. Bayou Classic makes a no frills stainless steel 15 gallon pot for $119. Winco USA makes a nice kettle for $190. Be aware that some of these brands may have much thinner walls than other pots.

You may also consider getting an aluminum pot. Aluminum is known for better heat distribution but also rumored to possibly change the taste of your beer a bit. 15 gallon aluminum pots range in price from $55 (Thunder Pot) up to $160 for a pot found on Amazon.com. Aluminum pots typically have walls between 4mm to 6mm thick.

Stock pots can also be used as brew kettles. Amazon has one that that will do the job: 44 Quart Stainless Steel Stockpot.

Please note: prices on all kettles are subject to change at any time. Please check retailer's prices carefully before making any purchases.

Build your own kettle

Convert a kegFor those who are extremely handy with a welding torch or know a friend who is, you can pick up a used clean keg very cheaply (some as low as $15 on Craigslist or at your local brewer) and convert it into a kettle yourself. Add all the accessories you want and you can have a nice 15 gallon brew kettle for well under $100.

Please note, most empty kegs are the property of a local brewer and cannot be purchased from liquor stores. Always check with your local brewery first for used kegs they no longer wish to use. In some cases they may part with a decent one for less than $50.
View a video on how to convert a keg into a kettle.

Summary

Hopefully, this information has given some of you food for thought in considering which brew kettle to buy. I recommend shopping around for the best value and checking out the various homebrew forums on the Internet to get more opinions on certain brands before pull out your wallet. Once you've obtained your 1st brew kettle you're well on your way to getting ready for brewing day. Happy Homebrewing!

Suggested vendors for brew kettles
- Williams Brewing
- Northern Brewer
- Austin Homebrew Supply
- High Gravity Homebrewing
- Morebeer.com
- Amazon.com
- Your local homebrew supply store.

Once you select a brew kettle you might also want to get a good copper coil immersion chiller to cool down your wort with.

Last updated: March 21, 2014.

Related articles:
- 15 Awesome Holiday Gifts for Homebrewers.
- Putting together the home brewery - Part I.
- Getting back into homebrewing.
- My humble homebrew beginnings.
- Colorado homebrew clubs listing.
- Colorado Homebrew Supply Stores.
- Testing the 15gal. Blichmann Boilermaker.
- Choosing a fermenter for your homebrew.

This article came from FermentedlyChallenged.com
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