This review is by Homebrew Finds Contributor Brad Probert. Brad is an engineer, expert homebrewer and experienced reviewer. Grab a link to Brad’s website at the end of this review.
Brewer’s Edge Mash & Boil
I reviewed a number of electric all-in-one brewing systems a little over a year ago. As a collective group, these systems offer a lot to the homebrewer. They provide the flexibility and control of brewing process of all-grain, and the equipment simplicity of brew-in-a-bag. The fact that they’re electric gives you the ability to brew inside and convenience of not having to chase propane tank fill-ups. The electric systems also have the ability to set a target temperature and control to it, giving you better control of your brew day. All of these combine to create a more streamlined and less stressful brew day.
Each system has its own strengths and they all span a wide price range. The units I tried last year ranged from $470 at the low end to $2,500 at the high end. When I saw the Brewer’s Edge Mash & Boil coming in at $300, I was intrigued to see how this unit would work and if you really could go all-grain with an electric system at such an affordable price point.
The Mash & Boil (M&B) runs on 120V power, so you have wide flexibility on where you can use it. 240V is definitely faster to heat and has a stronger boil, but it limits your possible brew locations. The M&B has two heating elements, allowing you 3 different levels of heat at 600W, 1000W, or 1600W. Different than the other all-in-one units, the M&B does not have a pump for recirculating wort. This is one obvious difference from the others, but by skipping the pump, there are less parts to clean and it keeps the price lower. The unit does have an easy to operate spigot valve at the bottom that allows you to transfer wort, or manually recirculate your mash using a pitcher.
There is a malt pipe that sits inside like a big sleeve, with a steel false bottom built into it. This makes it a Brew In A Bag (BIAB) set-up where you pour your crushed grains into this malt pipe for mashing, and then simply raise it up out of the wort for sparging. Built-in feet free up your hands for pouring sparge water through it.
Most impressive is the double-walled main unit body. The double wall serves many purposes like keeping your mash at a good steady temperature without requiring continuous heat addition, supporting a good rolling boil with lower power heating elements, and making your brewing area a bit safer by preventing inadvertent burns when you touch the outside of the unit. It also helps give the unit some robustness and strength. And unlike some other all-in one brewing units, it comes with welded-on handles to make transportation much easier. Sometimes the little things make a big difference.
The build quality on the M&B really is notable. In most scenarios in life, you get what you pay for. You find something cheap, and it’s typically poorly made. The M&B proves that you can’t always judge quality by the price tag. The fit & finish of all of the parts is top notch. Things fit together well, there are design features and manufacturing processes added to ensure no sharp metal edges at seams. Welds are clean and neat. Metal gauges are all sufficient to keep things sturdy where needed and not suffer bending and flexing.
The M&B has a simple controller. It has + / – buttons to change the set temperature, and a very cool feature of being able to set a timer for when you want it to come on- up to 24 hours in advance. The delay timer brings in great options of getting your strike water to temperature while you’re coming home from work, or overnight so you can jump right in when you get up in the morning. And everyone who brews can appreciate time-saving features that shorten your brew day!
The temperature sensor for the controller is at the bottom of the unit. This makes it prone to reading differently than the average mash temperature, and I actually found it reading a few degrees low (more on this later). However, there are drawbacks with almost anywhere you put the sensor, and this tendency to read low can be counteracted by circulating mash water/wort- either by stirring with a spoon, using a pitcher and the built-in spigot, or hooking up a wort pump and a length of hose.
Hands on Trials
The more years that I brew, some parts of my beer-making process get more complicated and need more equipment, and others I strive to simplify. Water salt additions and multi-step mash temperature profiles- count me in. Brewing equipment that’s complicated to clean, or requires extra trips of hauling stuff to my brew area- you’re killing me. The M&B fits within this “brewing profile” nicely. The simplicity of the whole brew session being contained in one piece of equipment is great- both when it comes to number of trips lugging stuff around and to the clean-up at the end.
I did run into 2 problems during my brew trials. One I was able to overcome with some research/trials, and the other was a user-induced error that I plan to not make again. First I’ll cover the user error. One brew session I was plagued by an ER4 error code that shut me down by kicking off the heating elements and not letting them come back on. One of the reasons the temperature sensor is on the bottom is to avoid someone leaving their heating elements on but with the unit dry. I wasn’t running dry, but I did spill some grains out of the malt tube during my mash. These ended up getting stuck at the bottom and scorching there (since that’s where the heating element is). This created a local hotspot that the sensor picked up on and shut down the coils. I had to transfer the batch to another vessel to finish it off, but that error wouldn’t clear until I cleaned up my mess. So I learned a valuable lesson to be careful with my grains during mash.
The other issue I had that I was able to overcome was also related to the temperature sensor being on the bottom. During my first brew session, I monitored the temperature of my strike water and mash with my own thermometer and compared to the LED readout on the controller. I found the LED was reading 3 – 5 degrees low. For me, a digital read-out and the ability to set the temperature on the controller meant just that- I wanted to control the temperature to the degree of accuracy shown on the LED.
I did some temperature trials simulating heating strike water, both in a smaller volume and larger volume, representing a 2.5 gallon batch and a 5 gallon batch of beer. I found the same temperature error high like I did on my brew day, so I went about collecting data at different temperature points, to make a temperature adjustment line. Knowing that there can be significant temperature variations in standing water, I stirred it up well while I was taking readings with my manual thermometer. I found that just by doing this, I was able to keep the water circulating by the temperature sensor in the bottom and the LED readout came in to match my thermometer within 1-2 degrees.
So I concluded I could either use my adjustment line to just set my controller lower by the 3 – 5 degrees, or I could circulate the water. The simplest way of course is just with a mash spoon. Another is by drawing off liquid through the spigot and pouring it in up top. Since I own a wort pump, I tried a 3rd method, which was to hook up my pump to the spigot with a length of high-temp hose, and then send the output in on top of the grain bed. The pump worked pretty slick for me and I plan to go that route next time. Since I already use a pump when I use my counterflow chiller at end of brew day, it doesn’t increase my burden of either stuff to clean or stuff to haul around.More Trials
My overall impression of the M&B is that it is a great unit. At the price point of $300, you literally can’t beat it with what’s on the market today. And although the creator (Bill Moore) told me that it was targeted to the new brewer to make an affordable entry step to all-grain brewing, I think they’ve got something with a much broader appeal. It definitely hits the mark for new brewers to go all-grain without buying extra kettles, coolers, false bottoms, etc. But this unit is great even for more advanced brewers that want to apply their extra resources to fiddling with mash pH rather than extra hours being a dishwasher at the end of their brew day.
Thank you to BrewCraft USA for generously providing a unit for evaluation.
Check out Brad’s website – beersnobby.com
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