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General Category => Equipment and Software => Topic started by: galapagos jim on June 12, 2013, 09:35:49 PM

Title: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: galapagos jim on June 12, 2013, 09:35:49 PM
After last Saturday's brew session I'm about ready to trash my kettle, and probably also the burner, and blow a ton of money on a Blichmann set up. Talk me off the edge of this cliff or egg me on.

I've had the kettle for about a year. It's an el-cheapo thin SS 10 gallon model I got from an online HBS, who pre-drilled holes and included a weldless ball valve and thermometer. It's actually worked pretty well, all things considered.

The big problem is the evaporation rate. The kettle is low and wide so it loses something like 20% an hour. That means increasing my pre-boil volume, which for 90-minute boils puts me on constant boil-over watch.

But the catalyst of my ire this past weekend was judging the liquid volume in the kettle. This kettle has some coarse gallon markings (2/4/6/8 only) embossed into the side. My pre-boil calc for this long-boil batch was about 9 gallons, and I had a terrible time guesstimating where that was. I must have overshot it a lot when draining the MLT because my OG came in about 10 points short. (Oddly, my SG was on target, though I think I get to blame that on better-than-expected mash efficiency.)

I'm aware that I could solve the volume problem by installing a sight glass. I'm not keen on attempting to drill through SS, though. Metal fab is not in my skill set.

There's one other problem with this kettle that annoys me. The hole that the HBS drilled for the valve is so low that it extends into the curved corner at the bottom of the kettle. Net result is that the valve points downward from horizontal, maybe only by 5 degrees, but enough that the kettle doesn't sit flat, it sits resting on the barb.

All this combined is making me dream of a new kettle, a tall, narrow one with little evap rate and welded fittings. Having looked at the Blingmann shinies, I'm pretty well hooked. One thing I'm not sure of is what size to get. I make 5 gallon batches, which in practical terms means 6 going into the fermenter, and I don't see myself going larger anytime soon. That said, the cost difference between the 10 and 15 gallons kettles is relatively small but there are complaints on the 15 gallon model that the thermometer is mounted at 6.5 gallons and not useful for smaller batches. I think I'd be OK with the 10 gallon model as long as the evap rate is reasonable and don't have to worry about boil overs so much.

Hey, that's a lot of words. I guess typing this mostly helps me sort out my own thoughts. But let me know what you think. Always good to get advice from outside one's own head.
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: Jeff M on June 12, 2013, 09:47:06 PM
From what i have read secondary mark sight glasses are garbage.  I would honestly suggest in putting some cash into getting a blichmann.  if you do long boils i would go with the 15 gallon kettle fi you going to do 5 gallons.  otherwise if you plan on going to 10 gallons in the future spend the short money and get the 20 gallon.

Cheers!
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: thebigbaker on June 12, 2013, 10:13:21 PM
If you decide to go with a new kettle and burner, I would highly suggest the Bilchmann kettle and burner.  I don't have the kettle (yet ;)) but do have the burner.  The burner is great and I can add it to their Top Tier Brew Stand if I decide to go that route in the future.  The people I know that own one love their Blichmann kettles.  I'm currently happy with my 8 gal kettle, however if I decide to get a larger one, I will be getting a Blichmann kettle.  I only do 3 and 5 gal batches, so I will probably go with the 10 gal kettle but it's tempting to go ahead and get the 15 for just a few more $$.

One thing I did to measure my boil volume is to make some marks w/ a sharpie on one of my ladles.  Works great and you don't have to drill into your kettle. 
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: repo on June 12, 2013, 10:24:09 PM
Too high evaporation- add back a gallon or so of water after 60-75 minutes
Can't read volume- make a measuring rod/ stick , mash paddle 
Won't sit flat - put the barb in only when you want to use it, or shorten it if that will work.

Drilling into stainless steel is not hard, just expensive if you mess it up...

Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: HoosierBrew on June 12, 2013, 10:28:32 PM
+1 to the measuring rod/stick.  Low tech and reliable.
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: klickitat jim on June 12, 2013, 10:41:38 PM
Once upon a time I considered sight glasses but cleaning changed my mind. And the thought of breaking it and having a spill or having to wait for a replacement to arrive.marks on my stir spoon work just fine. Now I don't even use that. I can tell by looking when I've got enough
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: gsandel on June 12, 2013, 11:02:09 PM
If you have the cash, and you are in the "I just want it to @#@%!^$ing work" camp, Blichmann, Stout Tanks, or Sabco all have nice stuff.  (Full disclosure: I have a Stout HLT w/HERMS, and use Sabco's false bottom in my mash tun keggle.  I have a few Blichmann pieces parts, but nothing substantial to comment on...all works as nice as advertised).

Boil off rate is a combination of surface area and temperature.  You can do a moderate rolling boil and still be okay (it doesn't have to be super vigorous)...sight glass is nice, but you do have to clean it.  Drilling stainless is relatively easy with a step bit (cone shapped bit).....but the bit costs $15 (add to cost of sight glass).

Let us know what course you take and your impression of the outcome!  good luck.
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: euge on June 12, 2013, 11:38:10 PM
My opinion is one has to be consistent. I measure from my fermenters' markings and don't worry about kettle volume. Only thing that matters is what ends up in the fermenter. I've made marks in my kettles based on what I've poured in from my fermenters, but they are for quick reference usually.

What is the big deal with a 20% boil-off rate really? Compensate. Your ten gallon kettle should handle a five gallon AG batch just fine. Maybe turn the burner down a bit- and use some anti-boil-over drops... Boil for 60 minutes not 90. On and on.

Appears to me that you just have the itch to buy some different equipment.

Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: Hokerer on June 13, 2013, 12:05:41 AM
Appears to me that you just have the itch to buy some different equipment.

You say that like it's a bad thing :)
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: jamminbrew on June 13, 2013, 12:54:45 AM
Boil for 60 minutes not 90.
If he's using pilsner malt, then a 90 minute boil is a good thing.

As for a measuring stick for volume, I just use an old racking cane that had cracked. I poured water into my kettle at half gallon intervals, and made marks on it using a permanent marker. 45 brews later, I still use the same device. Hit my volumes right on, every time.
Title: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: In The Sand on June 13, 2013, 01:08:20 AM
Buy a 20 gal kettle because you'll be doing half-bbl batches soon enough :)

Scribe some graduations in the inside of the kettle (but make sure to always clean good) or scribe some marks in a metal stirring spoon.

Happy brewing!
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: tcanova on June 13, 2013, 03:50:46 AM
Just to add, I love my Blichmann.
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: Slowbrew on June 13, 2013, 02:20:41 PM
I marked my 12g kettle with a finishing nail - center punch in 1 gallon intervals.  I used a 1 gallon distilled water jug to add 1 gallon at a time and made a small dimple with the punch and a hammer at the water line.  I just count down from 11 until I reach the bump where the wort is.

I also live with a 20+% evap rate.  I just adjust my starting volume to accommodate it.

The pre-drilled port sounds like it is too low to me.  If it can't sit level on a table that would really bug me. Out of the 3 this would be my reason to petition the goddess of household finances for a replacement.  I would most likely look around for a different valve first though, because I'm cheap and the petition documentation is grueling.   ;D

It's all a personal decision.  If you want a new kettle/burner and can afford them, buy them.  It's your hobby, it shouldn't be frustrating.

Paul
Title: Re: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: klickitat jim on June 13, 2013, 02:35:49 PM
[quote author=Slowbrew link=topic=16115.msg1#msg1 petition the goddess of household finances for a replacement.  I would most likely look around for a different valve first though, because I'm cheap and the petition documentation is grueling.   ;D

[/quote]

Hilarious stuff!
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: weithman5 on June 13, 2013, 02:55:09 PM
Too high evaporation- add back a gallon or so of water after 60-75 minutes
Can't read volume- make a measuring rod/ stick , mash paddle 
Won't sit flat - put the barb in only when you want to use it, or shorten it if that will work.

..
+1.  also could partially cover your kettle, and you could reduce the heat input, once you are at boiling, the higher the heat input the faster the boil off and vice versa. you should be able to control this with a gas burner.or electric with a pwm.  i have a 1500watt element. slow boil off. if i put in a 2000w element, without a pwm it would just get boil faster and boil off more water.
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: euge on June 13, 2013, 03:11:48 PM
I'm not sure pilsner malt requires a 90 minute boil. Once you see the break the timer is started the boil can be whatever time length you choose. We mainly do this for hop utilization.   
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: denny on June 13, 2013, 03:51:53 PM
I'm not sure pilsner malt requires a 90 minute boil. Once you see the break the timer is started the boil can be whatever time length you choose. We mainly do this for hop utilization.

I go back and forth with a 90 min. boil for pils malt.  I've never had DMS problems with a 60 min. boil, but I've read so much about it that I've started getting paranoid.  I do a 90 min. boil will all pils malt worts most of the time now.  I think it depends omn the particular malt.  I need to set up an experiment to test this somehow.
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: AmandaK on June 13, 2013, 05:17:46 PM
Honestly, it sounds like you've already made up your mind. But like other posters have said:

- 'calibrated' stick for measuring volumes. I use a very large spoon.
- a partially covered boil or lower heat will reduce evaporation
- you can get weldless plugs, plug it up and drill a new hole. Get a new spigot.

There, you just saved ~$500.
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: kramerog on June 13, 2013, 05:29:53 PM
I use a $3 measuring stick then consult a chart for volume estimation to a tenth of a gallon or better.  The R&D side of me got the better of me.

I think that a 90-minute boil is unnecessary with the highly-modified pilsener malts that are prevalent nowadays and especially if you have a vigorous boil.  I hedge my bets though and do a 75-minute boil if my grist is mostly pilsener malt. 
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: galapagos jim on June 13, 2013, 10:30:19 PM
Thanks for the replies, all.

Mostly I guess I was venting in public. That's what forums are for, right? ;)

> Too high evaporation- add back a gallon or so of water after 60-75 minutes

This had never occurred to me. But it feels too much like partial-boil. Wouldn't this affect hop utilization rates?

> +1 to the measuring rod/stick.  Low tech and reliable.

I guess the reason I haven't done this is because the kettle had _some_ markings.

One comment: I'm paranoid about using a permanent marker on the kettle or any kind of stick. What kind of chemicals are in the ink, and will they get into my wort?

> also could partially cover your kettle, and you could reduce the heat input, once you are at boiling, the higher the heat input the faster the boil off and vice versa.

Partial cover had also not occurred to me, having been taught to never cover the boil. I have tried to vary the heat input, but something is funky with either the regulator or the burner. (Never been fully satisfied with those, either.) There's a very fine line between full-rolling-boil and not-quite-boiling that I've got to park the knob on.

> Appears to me that you just have the itch to buy some different equipment.

Maybe. Maybe just distracted by shinies. Never been 100% happy with this kettle, though. Too many compromises.
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: morticaixavier on June 13, 2013, 10:32:21 PM
If you use a wooden stick as your measuring device you can carve the marking in and then you don't have to worry about the marker. I use a yard stick and measure from the surface of the wort to the top lip of the pot so it never actually comes in contact with the wort, or barely. That works to.
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: hopfenundmalz on June 14, 2013, 01:04:20 AM
Keep the kettle. You might start reducing first running a. You might start doing decoct ions, or cereal mashes. You might do a big batch and want to split the boil. You could use it as a grant if it has a valve.

Do not ask how many pots and kettles I have in the garage!
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: maxieboy on June 14, 2013, 01:15:56 AM
Do not ask how many pots and kettles I have in the garage!

A pic will do.  ;)
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: garc_mall on June 15, 2013, 04:51:21 PM
> Too high evaporation- add back a gallon or so of water after 60-75 minutes

This had never occurred to me. But it feels too much like partial-boil. Wouldn't this affect hop utilization rates?

This is how I usually manage my boils. I have a 7.5 gallon turkey fryer, and do 5-gallon all grain batches.

I run off about 6.5-7 gallons into the fryer, and run an extra 1-2 gallons into a 5-gallon brewpot that I got with my original kit. (I boil off about 1.5 gal/hr). While the boil is going, the extra wort is kept at a boil (or close) on my kitchen stove. Once I get down to about 5.5-6 gallons in the kettle (usually about 45 minutes in), I pause my timer, add the rest of the (near) boiling wort to the kettle, and then restart the timer once the wort gets back to a boil. My tongue has not noticed any hop utilization problems. 
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: Jo Diesel on June 25, 2013, 02:04:22 PM
The first thing I would do is buy an adjustable propane regulator http://www.ebay.com/bhp/adjustable-propane-regulator-hose . You are wasting a lot of money if not turning your flame down after boil starts And for a larger kettle I bought mine from Sams.com. It is aluminum and works just fine and is lighter and a lot Cheaper than stainless. http://www.samsclub.com/sams/the-backyard-classic-pro-outdoor-stock-pot-100-qt/prod2540475.ip
Why are so many people stuck on 5 gal batches. Does not cost that much more to step up to 15 gal and basically takes the same amount of time.  Still do 5gal for Barley Wines and Stouts and Tripples 
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: euge on June 25, 2013, 07:35:03 PM
That's a damn good price on the kettle.
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: jeremy0209 on June 25, 2013, 08:38:55 PM
I've got a 10 gallon pot that loses about 2.25 gal per hour to evaporation.  Preboil is about 7.5 gal (which I measure with an oak dowel that I marked with Sharpie..works every time)....I use Fermcap-S to control the hot break and foaming.  I also back the flame off so it doesn't foam as much while it's boiling.  I'd love to have a 15-20 gallon Blichmann kettle and burner, but I make great beer with what I've got.  We as brewers have to adapt to our equipment, somewhat.  BTW, I think you're going to find that evaporation rates of well over 20% are fairly common.
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: HoosierBrew on June 25, 2013, 10:03:33 PM
I've got a 10 gallon pot that loses about 2.25 gal per hour to evaporation.  Preboil is about 7.5 gal (which I measure with an oak dowel that I marked with Sharpie..works every time)....I use Fermcap-S to control the hot break and foaming.  I also back the flame off so it doesn't foam as much while it's boiling.  I'd love to have a 15-20 gallon Blichmann kettle and burner, but I make great beer with what I've got.  We as brewers have to adapt to our equipment, somewhat.  BTW, I think you're going to find that evaporation rates of well over 20% are fairly common.
+1 to making the most of what you have.  I have the same size pot and brew similarly , including the wooden dowel which helps with volume accuracy. I'd love a Blichman but I doubt I'll ever bother.
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: galapagos jim on June 26, 2013, 12:42:30 AM
> The first thing I would do is buy an adjustable propane regulator

Got one. The experience I've had with my setup is that there's a very fine line between boiling and not. If I leave the flame too low the boil will occasionally just stop. If it's in the mood it will start again without intervention. I suspect it has more to do with the burner, which has no wind shield on it.

> It is aluminum and works just fine and is lighter and a lot Cheaper than stainless.

I started with an 8-gallon aluminum kettle. Nice jobby that I bought at a restaurant supply store for a decent price. It's now nicely pitted inside because I left it filled with PBW for far too long.

Stainless is more expensive but it has advantages. My current kettle is lighter than that old aluminum one because it is much thinner. And you almost never see welded ports on aluminum.

> Why are so many people stuck on 5 gal batches. Does not cost that much more to step up to 15 gal and basically takes the same amount of time.

For me it's because I don't drink my homebrew very quickly. Let's do the math: 1 beer drinker in my house x 1 pint per day (on average) x 90 pints in a 5-gallon batch = about 3 months to drink a batch IF that's the only beer I drink. Which I don't. Got 3 kegs running and a cellar full of bottles, both mine and from the store.

Eventually I get tired of my kegs being occupied so I take them to the office to have them drained. Point being that the reason I don't make more beer is because I simply don't need that much beer.

> We as brewers have to adapt to our equipment, somewhat

I don't disagree. It's not a universal equation, though. If you have the capability to improve your equipment, either the money to buy it or the expertise to build it yourself, don't you?

I admit to having both perfectionist and gadget-freak shades to my personality. Frustrations like my boil kettle tend to become opportunities to play with new toys.

BTW, after doing some research on kettles, I find that Blichmann actually comes out OK for value. When you add up all the cost of all the bells and whistles, there aren't many feature-equivalent off-the-shelf solutions at a better price. Been talking with my LHBS, though. They do welding and might be able to put a deal together for me.

Still searching for my perfect kettle...
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: klickitat jim on June 26, 2013, 02:16:51 AM
Blichman may (may) have a resale bump too. Kind of the Harley of homebrew equipment (kind of)
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: jeremy0209 on June 26, 2013, 11:12:05 AM
90 pints in a 5-gallon batch
God, I wish my 5 gallon batches had 90 pints in them...mine only have about 40. :o
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: HoosierBrew on June 26, 2013, 12:14:33 PM
90 pints in a 5-gallon batch
God, I wish my 5 gallon batches had 90 pints in them...mine only have about 40. :o
+1 !
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: euge on June 26, 2013, 02:34:07 PM
90 pints in a 5-gallon batch
God, I wish my 5 gallon batches had 90 pints in them...mine only have about 40. :o

Hey, he's just ahead of the curve. He's talking about the new pints that brewers and sellers will be offering- much like the four-packs that the craft brewers are so proud of...
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: galapagos jim on June 26, 2013, 08:48:09 PM
90 pints in a 5-gallon batch
God, I wish my 5 gallon batches had 90 pints in them...mine only have about 40. :o

Yep, I fudged up that math quite well. Why is there no facepalm emoticon?

In any case, point being that I simply don't go through my kegs very quickly, at least not without help.
Title: Re: I'm ready to trash my kettle
Post by: jeremy0209 on June 26, 2013, 10:24:44 PM
90 pints in a 5-gallon batch
God, I wish my 5 gallon batches had 90 pints in them...mine only have about 40. :o

Yep, I fudged up that math quite well. Why is there no facepalm emoticon?

In any case, point being that I simply don't go through my kegs very quickly, at least not without help.
you need help going through your kegs?!?!?!  Well, why didn't you say so.....I'd be happy to help.  ;D