Hands on Review: Blichmann Engineering AutoSparge

blichmann autosparge review

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.

Blichmann AutoSparge

The Blichmann AutoSparge is an ingenious device that gives you “digital like” control precision, but uses no electronics to accomplish it. Its function is to automatically maintain a water level in your mash tun during sparging or recirculation of wort. If your brewing process uses sparge water transfer or recirculating wort, the AutoSparge turns this into a hands-free operation where you set it up once and then can go worry about other things (or RDWHAHB).

The AutoSparge uses some cool engineering principles to maintain the liquid level in your mash tun. The main function is a slider piston valve that uses hydraulic pressure to let liquid flow into your kettle. This screws into a 1/2″ NPT port on your kettle. With fluid pushing on the valve (either from a pump or from a gravity feed), it pushes the valve back and lets beer in the kettle. There’s a barbed fitting and a length of hose that comes with it to take circulating wort from the top of your kettle down to the grain level. Attached to the other end of the valve is a long rod and stainless-clad hollow ball. This ball floats on the water level in your kettle. As the fluid level rises, the ball floats up and pushes the slider valve closed, shutting off the flow of wort into your kettle.

The rod and floating ball is adjusted simply by a wing nut you loosen and adjust the float to sit at the level you want, then hand tighten it down. With laws of physics and lever arms, the ball can easily contain the high flow rate of a recirculating pump you may have hooked up. Another nice detail is the hose that delivers the wort down to your grain bed has its own little floating ball. In this way, it will sit on the top of your fluid level, and not be buried down in your grain bed blasting its own trench.

Once you have your float level set, you just let your pump(s) run. As you pull wort out from the bottom of your mash tun, the fluid level goes down in the kettle and the float arm opens up the valve and lets more wort come in. If you’re pulling fluid out slowly, the wort level drops slowly and therefore the valve only opens a little bit to replace that wort slowly. If you’re pulling out wort quickly, the level drops more quickly and the valve opens up more.


Finding the AutoSparge, Review Continues Below


Hands on Review

I have a 2-vessel system where I have a standard mash tun next to an electric brew kettle. The heating element is in the brew kettle, and if I need to heat up wort for a stepped mash profile, I have to pump wort from the mash tun to the brew kettle continuously, while pumping back heated up wort from brew kettle to mash tun. This recirculation process between the kettles requires 2 pumps. And as you can imagine, without a device like the AutoSparge, it required constant monitoring and adjustment. If I had more going out of the mash tun than coming back in, the wort level would drop in the mash tun and I’d have grain sitting exposed above water level. If I had more going into the mash tun than going out, I could get wort levels low in the brew kettle and expose the heating element to the air while heating, causing scalding. It was a real pain.

Recirc Output Hose Mini Float

blichmann autosparge reviewAutoSparge Running at Mid Level

For my process with the Auto Sparge on my mash tun, I would add the strike water and dough in the grains. With the pumps not running, I would then set the float level to be at the top of the water level and have the AutoSparge valve fully closed. With the wing nut tightened down on the AutoSparge, I would kick on the pumps. And that was it. I was back to an automatic level control and I didn’t need to monitor it. There were no swings in water level, it stayed steady where set. I would leave the pump that was flowing into the mash tun fairly unrestricted, and just control the amount of recirculation by the pump attached to the output. I didn’t have to fiddle with the AutoSparge, I could just open up or close down the ball valve on my pump output and the AutoSparge would let the incoming flow keep the wort level where I set it. This same process worked for a vourlaf cycle where I just used one pump and recirculated inlet to outlet with just one pump.

Adjusting Nut to Set Float Level

There were small teeth on the hinge of the AutoSparge where you adjust the float ball level. Since I was working with a 15-gallon Spike kettle for a mash tun, I was able to run a longer rod on the float ball than standard. Blichmann has two longer float rods available for larger kettles. This ensures you still have the ability to adjust water level tightly. I found I was able to adjust the level by about 0.5 gallon increments when setting the wing nut on the adjustment.

What Comes in the Box

All of the AutoSparge parts are stainless, so it cleaned easily. I just disconnected the float arm and the output hose for cleaning with hot water and a sponge. I left the valve attached to the side of the kettle and cleaned it in place as I cleaned the rest of the mash tun and recirculated hot water/cleaner through the whole system.

Conclusions

Stainless Float Ball

Overall, I found the AutoSparge to be essential in my brew system setup.  Using simple mechanical principles, it worked effortlessly and smoothly to maintain the water level in the mash tun.  One of the things I love about electric brewing is that it doesn’t require constant oversight like when I was brewing with propane burners.  Before I added the AutoSparge, I felt needlessly chained to my system during mashing just to constantly be adjusting pump flow.  With it in place, it worked reliably and effortlessly so I could go back to multi-tasking.  Like brewing and getting the kids breakfast, or brewing and cleaning up my brew area, or brewing and finally finding time to sit and read that brewing magazine…

Get the Gear

More Blichmann Reviews+Related:

More Photos

Running at Very Low LevelComparison 9″ Rod Accessory vs Base RodFull Water Level, Valve Fully ClosedLow Water Level, Valve Fully Open

Also: All Grain Tips & Gear | 10 Gallon Mash Tun Conversion Kit [Review] | Cereal Killer Grain MIll |  Batch Sparge SpreadsheetBIAB Brew Day Spreadsheet | The Brew Bag – Purpose Made BIAB

Special Thanks to Blichmann Engineering for providing the unit used for evaluation in this review.

By Brad Probert.  Check out Brad’s website – beersnobby.com

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