The Grainfather showing all included equipment.
A Quick Disclaimer
I’ve been brewing outside for 6 years and the vast majority of the beers I’ve made were 10 gallon batches on a gravity fed system with a Coleman X-Treme mash tun and a DIY copper manifold into a 15 gallon kettle from Restaurant Depot. I fly-sparged with an Igloo water-dispensing-type cooler from Lowes and a DIY CPVC sparge manifold. I was getting good efficiency and good results.
So I was skeptical of all-in-one brewery units and asked Grainfather for help trying one. They connected me with a helpful rep who provided one to try. In exchange, I’m making this video to explain my impressions. No other compensation was offered, asked for, or accepted, and I’m returning the Grainfather upon completion. I mention all that in the interest of honest disclosure. I felt no obligation to make a positive or negative review. These are my thoughts and are not necessarily the views of Grainfather or anyone else.
Again, I’ll start by mentioning that I was skeptical. I was even a bit embarrassed to tell people I was brewing on one. It flies in the face of the DIY nature I’ve always employed while adding equipment. You can see an example of that on my YouTube channel while adding a ball valve to my brew kettle. Without knowing the exact Grainfather process, I may have even considered it “cheating” to use an all-in-one system like this.
I still consider it “less than brewing” when I see advertisements for pod-based systems. Some of them even label themselves as Keurig or Nescafe-type devices. I was wrong to group The Grainfather in with those type of machines.
The truth is, I’ve really enjoyed brewing on The Grainfather and it’s changed very little of my brewing process. Brew days still feel like brew days without a few hassles that I’ve just assumed were part and parcel with brewing all-grain. In fact, I have friends just starting brewing and my suggestion to them is to skip piecing together a system and just jump right into a Grainfather. Not only do you get all the equipment you need to make all-grain wort, but you get an instruction manual, an app, and a community that are specific to your equipment.
As with any product, there are pros and cons and I’ll give you mine, but there are hundreds of videos on YouTube or threads on HomeBrewTalk to go through them. What I’d like to focus on is the feeling of brewing on one. I’m talking to the people who look at it like I did, as something that takes away some of the allure of the brewing process. I want to show you what a Grainfather brew day looks like for me and then you can see if it’s right for you.
If you are purchasing a Grainfather, please consider a Local Homebrew Shop in Buffalo.
Niagara Tradition Homebrew: Located in Tonawanda. Bert tends to keep one in stock during most of the year.
*neither of these are affiliate links, just my LHBS and worthy of your patronage. Each can be ordered online.
Some of the links is this article are affiliate links. That means that if you purchase something through them, I receive a small commission on the sale. The price and experience aren’t changed on your end.
My normal system is a three-tier gravity system that requires some set-up and tear-down.
To start, the day before brewing is exactly the same. You could pick up an all-grain kit from your favorite homebrew supply shop, you could find a recipe online, or you could come up with your own recipe and input it into the Grainfather app via their website. For me, I do a little research, plan out the recipe based on what I have or what I’m trying to achieve, and input the recipe at brew.Grainfather.com. I normally use BeerSmith, and the Grainfather website allows me to import my recipes via beer.xml files.
Using my three-tier system, I get up at 6:30 with my kids and start the striker water on my stove. I let my wife sleep in on brew days, it lessens the guilty feeling I have for spending 7 hours tending to my burner outside. I dough in inside our mud room and normally by the time the mash is done, my wife is up and I head outside to set up the tables to feed the system via gravity. I use my propane burner to heat sparge water and then to bring my wort to a boil. This puts me outside with my equipment to make sure I don’t overshoot or run out of propane. In the summer, the kids can come right outside with me and we can hang out in the backyard while I brew. In the winter, I’m all alone.
Either way, I clean as I go and put things away when dry. It’s a fun time and I’m used to it.
With the Grainfather, I open the app to find out the amount of water needed and fill it up the night before. I set the timer to start heating while I’m still sleeping. When I wake up, I can dough in right at 6:30. It takes me about 10 minutes in my basement and that includes starting the recirculation. The Grainfather keeps the mash at the set temp. This leaves me free to still be in my pajamas, have a cup of coffee, and make breakfast. Again, all things I already do with my gravity-fed system, but with the Grainfather, the strike water is pre-heated and I don’t have to dump the water into a second vessel and try to hit my temps through calculations.
When the set mash steps are done, it alerts me via bluetooth that it will begin raising the temp to mash out. It then holds the set mash out temp for whatever length of time I’ve set it in the recipe. All this can be done manually on controller, but I think the bluetooth controller is the biggest advantage this unit has over other electric brew-in-a-bag systems. It keeps me upstairs with the family and still in total control over what’s happening in my mash.
During the last 20 minutes of the mash, the app alerts me to start heating the sparge water on the stove and tells me how much and how hot. Grainfather sells another product that heats the sparge water for you so it’s available when you need it, but it’s such a small thing to just throw it on the stove, I can’t imagine ever going for something like that.
While sparging, I tell the Grainfather to begin heating to a boil. It takes a while to reach boiling, and when it does it’s not as vigorous as I’m used to with my propane burner. I’ve seen threads and videos saying that the Graincoat, a sold-separately accessory, will help with the boil. I was initially worried about the low boil, but I haven’t experienced any issues. I entered a munich helles into a local competition and got a silver medal in the Continental Light Beer category. It was 91% continental pilsner malt with a 60 minute boil on The Grainfather. Since it doesn’t seem like an issue, I can’t call the boil intensity a con, unless I were brewing outside, where I don’t think it would have enough power to reach a boil in a Buffalo winter.
Above: #TuesdayReview of my Bayou Classic SP 10 High Pressure Burner.
Below: The Grainfather App
The app times your boil and alerts you to add hops based on your recipe. Here’s another con: The filter at the bottom of the unit to prevent solids from getting into the pump is pretty small and gets pretty covered with any amount of hops. I found that with anything over a small bittering charge should be thrown into a hop spider or bag. It seems I have a use for my Mangrove Jack Hop Spider after all. To make it easier to clean the hop spider afterwards, I use a 1 gallon paint strainer bag from Valu and use the spider simply to keep it open. When I’m finished, I just toss the bag and rinse the spider.
After the boil, the controller shuts off the pump and heater so you can begin chilling. The included counterflow chiller is really nice. Having never used a counterflow, I was surprised how well it worked. It sits on the lid and the plastic bottom fits right into the hole. Per the instructions, you run the hot wort through the chiller for a few minutes before turning on your tap to sanitize the counterflow. After turning on the tap, you can watch the temp on the controller go down but that’s not measuring the output of the chiller, just the temp of the entire 6 gallons. We have very cold groundwater in the winter so it doesn’t take more than 10 minutes to get to pitchable temps. Simply put the end of your counterflow into the fermenter and fill.
During the entire process, I was present when I needed to be, and could be with the family when I would have been watching a boil or cleaning outside. I was able to play with the kids during the mash and snowblow the driveway during the boil. It takes away the guilt of spending 7 hours on a hobby if you can still be present. With weekend time being so precious with little kids, it’s worth the app and the remote control to me.
Cleaning is easy with a pump and heater. Since all of the wort drains from the bottom of the malt pipe, you don’t get any losses apart from the grains soaking some up. It means the grain can be dumped pretty easily and cleanly into a garbage bag or bucket and the malt pipe can get rinsed down. A drain cover to catch stray grains during this part is important. The false bottoms are both cleaned and the silicone rings taken off. The small pieces can be handwashed, the filter cleaned, and the unit dumped. A quick sponge around the hop ring and burner and a rinse, and you’re looking at a clean unit ready to brew again.
The included filter tends to get caked in hop material. I reccomend a hop spider and hop bags to help prevent this
If you’re done for the day, you fill it up with hot water and PBW and let it run for 15 minutes through the recirculation arm and the counterflow, then rinse and do the same with clean water. All this time is, again, time you could be doing something else and timing on the app. When it’s finished, I give it a quick dry and put most of the pieces back in the unit to store until next time. Another small con, there are no handles, which I understand during boil you wouldn’t want to move or lift the Grainfather, but while dry, it would be nice to not have to lift from the bottom.
So, my overall impression is that it made the brew day really enjoyable and easier on the family. It meant that I brewed more than once a weekend and as long as we were around the house, it was barely noticable. All of the parts I really enjoy about brewing are still there, really the only parts that are different are the setup time, the cleaning time, and all of the time watching the process and temperatures. Plus, it adds all of the functionality and convenience of a pump.
The biggest con I have with the unit is it’s size. I like to brew 10 gallon batches and they way the product is designed is for 5 gallon batches and isn’t expandable or customizable. If you are already content with 5 gallon batches and especially if you haven’t purchased all-grain equipment yet, then this is probably perfect for you. Don’t hesitate, it’s a great product. It makes great beer, it streamlines a few parts of brewing, but you’re still in full control of the entire thing. You can grow as a brewer with this, just not into a larger batch size.
I haven’t used the similar setups from other companies, but a noticeable difference off the bat is the Grainfather controller. On it’s own, its easier to use since it’s not at floor level and facing straight out during brewing, but with bluetooth and the ability to control everything from your phone without being right in front of the unit makes it worth it.
It still feels like brewing but it gives me some time and proximity back while being precisely controlled and repeatable.
At my last brew meeting, I was happy to show off some informational materials, beers brewed on the unit and answer any questions. Rather than being embarrassed to use something I didn’t build as I thought i would be, I was able to see who in my group it would be perfect for and recommend it. I’m sad to have to send it back.
Again, these thoughts and impressions are mine, and in the interest of honesty and full disclosure, the batch size means the Grainfather isn’t perfect for me and I’m still looking, but it’s a great product and if it looks like it’s for you, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re watching this because you’re on the fence, stop hesitating, it’s worth it.