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.