Category Archives: Reviews & Top Posts

Hands on Review: Blichmann Engineering Riptide Brewing Pump Upgrade Kit – Upgrade Your March or Chugger Pump

This review is by Homebrew Finds Reader Benji S.  Benji has been brewing for 10 years.  His favorite style is Festbier.  He’s an all grain brewer and member of WIZA (Whidbey Island Zymurgy Association).  Check him out on Instagram at neon_hop

Tell anyone that you spend hours cleaning as part of a hobby, and you’ll probably get a few odd looks. Unfortunately this is our reality as Homebrewers. Planning, prepping, cleaning, and waiting take up large percentages of any given batch. We often chase new ingredients, techniques, equipment, and short cuts in an effort to reduce the time we spend on these areas. Sometimes introducing new equipment into your process can make some parts of these tasks easier, while introducing new steps to others.

Pumps help move around lots of liquid in a short amount of time, reducing the need to lift heavy kettles or pots. They also introduce some additional planning needed for connecting vessels in a loop of hosing and cleaning after use. This has essentially been the summary experience I’ve had with my Chugger X-Dry [Hands on Review]. In the never ending quest for reducing the time and effort needed to use it, I looked at what changes I could make to my setup to make using it even simpler.

Blichmann Engineering is well known for high quality and well designed equipment targeted at Homebrewers. It should be no surprise then that their Riptide pump is a fairly feature packed model compared to others on the market. Particularly their TC clamp attached pump head with built in flow control and priming valve. In recognition of their audience, Blichmann also produces an upgrade kit that offers these same features to anyone with a Chugger or March pump.

Upgrading my Chugger X-Dry with their kit seems like a perfect way to take a good pump and make it even better, hopefully shaving some steps off of the prep and cleaning process in the meantime.

Criteria

My original criteria when looking for a pump were largely satisfied by the Chugger X-Dry, but there were a couple of criteria that were lacking, namely:

  • Head assembly should be fairly easy to take apart to aid in cleaning]
  • Flow control valve for use when sparging
  • Easy and intuitive to prime and get started

As the Riptide conversion kit is meant to solve many of these things, it made a natural candidate for trying out an upgrade to see if I could improve the usability experience. Additionally, my experience with the X-Dry suggested it was fairly easy to get into a state where it was cavitating. My hope was that the purge valve would help alleviate, or solve, this issue.


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Hands on Review: Brewfather App – Recipe Formulation, Calculators & Brew Day Tools

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.

Brewfather App

Depending on your brewing personality, you might take notes on paper, do no recipe calculations at all, or use brewing software. I started using BeerSmith when I moved to all-grain brewing, since there were more variables to control when making a recipe and more process steps to keep track of. I’ve been using BeerSmith 2 for the past 5 years, and that’s established my baseline expectations of brewing software. That’s the perspective used when I evaluated the Brewfather software.


Give it a Try!

Brewfather offers a free full feature trial.  After the trial period, you’ll still have access via a limited, non-expiring account

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What I’ve found with BeerSmith is that it pretty much has everything I need, but some features are a bit more cumbersome to use than I would like. Although there are limitations or some awkward features, it works and I know how to use it. And more importantly, my entire recipe history of all-grain exists within it. So when someone told me about Brewfather and suggested I check it out, I was apprehensive. I felt like I had so much time invested in BeerSmith, and I didn’t want to have to go through re-learning everything again in a new software. But I tried it anyway.

The Basics

Brewfather isn’t a software that you load on your computer, the software exists on Brewfather’s servers. So there’s nothing to install or configure. You access it through a web browser interface, but it’s much fancier than that. You have the exact same interface and full toolset whether you’re running it on a laptop, a tablet, or a smartphone. Once you’ve created an account, your login credentials work in all of those environments to seamlessly give you access. And since it’s running off a server, all of those devices have access to the same information at the same time. If you change a recipe on your phone, it automatically shows up on your laptop. If you’re running a brew timer on your laptop and then close that down, you open it on your smartphone without missing a beat. And in these settings, it also allows you to work offline and then sync your data when you get back online.

Brew Timer in Action

Because it’s a server-based software, it stays funded by users paying a licensing fee. You can have full access to the calculators for free, but the free membership only lets you store 10 recipes, and doesn’t allow certain features. To go beyond that, you have to pay for the Premium Membership, which is $2/month, or $20/year if you pay for the full year at once.

Recipe generation is straightforward, with a large database of grains, hops, and yeast to pick from to build your recipe up. As you add ingredients, a recipe graphic shows how your recipe measures up against the beer style guidelines that you’ve picked. As you add your grains, you can either add the amount and see the resulting % of mash and OG, or alternatively, you go into your grain list and select the percentage of the malt bill you want each grain to make up and it automatically calculates the weight. Or even better, you select the OG you want, and it will ratio up your grains to meet that OG and keep the percentages the same. Hop additions have similar tools where you can select the IBU and it will ratio your hop weights to hit your target IBU. When you select your yeast, there’s a pop-up calculator where it will calculate the particulars for a yeast starter where you can customize things like pitch rate and yeast age easily. A water calculator is integrated into the recipe builder for easy adjustment of target water profile and auto-calculated mineral additions to hit your target.

Water Adjustment Tool

After you’ve built your recipe, brew day features are built in. With the brew timer directly fed from your recipe, it maps out your brew day with step-by-step instructions. It starts by telling you the strike water volume and temperature and prompting you to get that going. When you click to tell it you’ve reached strike temperature, it spits out the list of brewing salt additions and grains. You confirm that you’ve mashed in, and the timer starts for the mash time you had set up in your recipe. An alarm with pop-up window tells you when the mash step is over, and tells you the next target temperature. When your mash steps are complete, it guides you through sparging and tells you how much wort to collect for the pre-boil volume. Stepping into the boil phase, it prompts you for boil additions at the appropriate time, and even post-boil whirlpool additions. And as I mentioned before, this is all synchronized on whatever device you’re looking at (even if simultaneously open on a laptop in one room and your smartphone in another).

To list all of the features and functions within the software would be exhausting and would just turn into a replicate of the owner’s manual. You can import and export recipes, so if your BeerSmith veteran like me, you can pull over your favorite recipes. You can build equipment profiles and customize them for fill volumes, lost volumes, etc. The equipment profile has a tool to precisely characterize the thermal properties of your brew rig for infusion mash additions with a simple experiment. You can customize water profiles, ingredient profiles, beer styles- pretty much everything.

Hands on Review

First and foremost- bug free. I discovered no glitches, no weird “just click on it twice, even though you shouldn’t have to” bugs, and the transitions from laptop to phone and back were likewise flawless. I loved the ability to start my recipe at home on my laptop before going to work, finishing it up on my work computer, and even tweaking it while at the homebrew shop when I found they didn’t have the particular hop I was planning to use. I didn’t have to take a note somewhere and go back to update the master copy, I had access to the master copy anywhere I went. I was even impressed that during my brew session, when I realized I hadn’t set up the mash profile to what I wanted, I was able to go in, edit it, and jump back out, all without disrupting the brew timer, and instantly incorporating that tweak to the active session.

Brew Session Data Entry and Realtime Statistics

Recipe creation was great. Not that I ever found it that hard in BeerSmith, but Brewfather made it somehow easier, and felt more flexible. But by far, my favorite feature was the “Batch” concept. You build your Recipe, and that becomes your “master copy”. When you’re ready to brew, you click on a button within your Recipe to start a Batch, which copies your recipe as the starting point. But if you want to make a 5 gallon batch this time instead of a 2.5 gallon batch, you change it in the settings for that Batch, and the recipe master remains untouched. If you are brewing your favorite recipe, but in a new piece of brewing equipment, you handle that in the Batch. If the AA% of the hops you’re using are slightly different than your recipe, you change that in the Batch and let the software adjust to maintain your IBU. If you want to experiment with a different yeast this time, you do that in your Batch. All of these brew session variations off your master recipe are stored together as a subset of your recipe. You don’t have multiple copies of a recipe strewn about with minor variations. This is perfect for those of us that try to perfect a certain recipe, or want to keep detailed notes of all the minor set-up variations from batch to batch.

Adding Brewing Notes on Brew Day- Typos OptionalTilt Data Logging Linked to Batch Record – Tilt Hydrometers  – Hands on Review

The other thing that grabbed my attention when I heard about Brewfather was the integration it has with Tilt (or other various brewing devices). Every batch I brew, I track fermentation progress with a Tilt Bluetooth hydrometer. With Brewfather, it gives me an http:// address to type into my Tilt App settings and then it sends all of its gravity & temperature logging data to my Brewfather account. In my Batch tracking, once brew day is done, I can move it into the fermentation stage and then tell it which Tilt is tracking fermentation. Then within that Batch record, you can pull up the exact fermentation profile. Without Brewfather, I map my Tilt to write data to Google Sheets, then print out a hard copy later and tape it into my brewing journal. Having the complete history in one online dataset, seems like a great record-keeping process. And being able to record gravity readings, pH readings, volume readings, and any other notes in one Batch record in the midst of my brew session, pretty much makes my brewing notebook obsolete (in theory).


Related, Review Continues Below:

Hands on Review: Tilt Bluetooth Fermentation Hydrometer!


Tilt Data Plot on Smartphone with Data Smoothing On

Conclusions

Overall, the layout is well thought-out, with all the various calculators and brewing tools integrated in at logical points rather than having to go search for functions. The operation was flawless for me, which of course is super-important since you don’t want a brew day timer to freeze up on you in mid-batch, or risk losing a great recipe that turned out great. The ability to track Batches off of one Recipe is a feature I really loved, as well as having full access with whatever computer/smartphone I wanted to use. And lastly, being a big Tilt user, it’s great to be able to have this functionality integrated with all my brew records rather than a separate set of data/graphs. So even though I hate the concept of having to pay for software on an on-going basis, with all of this functionality stemming from its server-based operation, I’m on board.


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More Photos

Brew Timer on SmartphoneRecipe Builder with Visual Beer Stats vs Style GuidelinesYeast Starter Calculator Pop-up

Special Thanks Brewfather for access to their software for evaluation in this review.

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

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Hands on Review: Oliso SmartHub for Small Batch Brewing

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.

Oliso SmartHub for Small Batch Brewing

If you don’t know what a sous vide machine is, that’s forgivable. I’ve only met one person that’s used one. He raved about it so much that I had to investigate it. “Sous vide” is French for “under vacuum”. In sous vide cooking, you vacuum seal your steak (or whatever kind of food) in a bag, then place it in a pot of water that’s controlled to a specific temperature. The sealed bag keeps the meat from getting wet in the cooking water, and lets all the juices stay inside and not dry out. Depending on the “doneness” you want, you set the temperature of the water, throw your pouch in and then it cooks to the exact level you want.

Now getting us back to homebrewing, Oliso has a sous vide cooker that has features that support homebrewing. They combined the temperature control features of a traditional sous vide machine with the high power capability of an induction cooktop. The induction cooktop functions as the base of the machine, and when you set the SmartHub top on it, electrical contacts are made that change the induction top over to a temperature control machine. The tub has a built-in sensor that it uses to monitor the temperature of the liquid and adjust the power level accordingly.


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Hands on Review: Chugger Pumps X-Dry Series Homebrew Pump!

This review is by Homebrew Finds Reader Benji S.  Benji has been brewing for 10 years.  His favorite style is Festbier.  He’s an all grain brewer and member of WIZA (Whidbey Island Zymurgy Association).  Check him out on Instagram at neon_hop

Making beer is all-together extremely fun, rewarding, messy, and labor intensive. Want an example? Look no further than the need to transfer large volumes of liquid, at varying temperatures, between and through multiple containers. Mashing, sparging, boiling, racking, and cleaning all require gallons of liquid transfer. Liquid is both heavy and resistant to being easily moved around en masse. Introducing new equipment into your brew day can often mean finding new and interesting ways you now have to fight against both of these obstacles. Having recently acquired a Spike CF5 conical, I’ve found myself in this exact position, often wondering “How do I even fill and clean this thing effectively?”. In terms of equipment, adding a Brewing pump to the equation has become the de facto ways to help answer these questions.

My Homebrew Pump Selection Criteria

I’ve been brewing for well over a decade, but using a pump in the process is new to me. Approaching a new piece of equipment requires some evaluation of what you want it to do, what expectations you have for how it will work, and what your budget will be to balance against. The feature set I arrived on during my search largely came down to this:
Stainless Steel head to reduce the chance for plastic pieces from rubbing of the propeller
Head assembly should be fairly easy to take apart to aid in cleaning

  • 1/2” NPT connections on the ports, as I already had 1/2” connectors to convert them to quick disconnects
  • At least 3” of cord length as the power outlets tend to be a bit far away where I typically brew
  • Needs to be 115v
  • Price range of $100-150
  • Targeted Uses (in order of importance): CIP cleaning of my conical, transferring from the kettle to the conical, fly sparging

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Chugger X-Dry Series Pump  Stainless Steel via MoreBeer


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Hands on Review: Brewers Hardware Tri-Clover Sample Valve

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.

Brewers Hardware TC Sample Port

There are different types of valves, suited for different purposes. On a fermentor, it is useful to have a valve that has the ability to pull small samples for gravity readings or taste samples, but also able to flow well when it comes time for transfer to a keg. The sample port valve provides fine adjustment to flow rate, allowing you to vary between a slow trickle for pulling a sample or a higher flow rate for gravity transfer to fill a keg.

Valve Handle with 2 O-rings and Silicone Seat

The sample port valve has a fine pitch thread to allow for small adjustments to the opening of the valve. With the Brewers Hardware sample port valve, you can feel while turning the knob that the threads and the stem of the valve are machined to tolerances for a precise fit and without slop or wobble. The valve stem has 2 O-rings to keep beer from sneaking out or air sneaking in. And the tip of the valve has a silicone bumper that gets compressed onto a seat for a secure fit to prevent leaks when closed. Silicone is non-porous, making it easy to clean and not harbor stow-aways from one ferment to another. And its elasticity allows it to conform to the valve shape for a good seal, yet spring back so it can be used over and over again to seal and unseal.

The overall quality of the valve from Brewers Hardware was top-notch. The surfaces were smooth-polished stainless steel, and the ridges on the adjustment knob were cleanly machined for grip with no sharp edges. Turning the adjustment knob, it felt precise with no slop or wobble, with a tight seal. It’s difficult to give justice to the fit & finish of the part with just words or a couple pictures, but it really stands out.

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Convert a Keg Into a Fermenter!

Cornelius Keg Lid for Secondary Fermenter

Kegs has some really distinct advantages as vessels, in general…

  • They are made from stainless steel
  • They are well built
  • They are pressure capable
  • They are generally well made, many times designed for years-long tough commercial use

How about we convert these into fermenters?

One economical way to do this is to remove the gas post and put a small, tight fitting piece of tubing over the top of the male threads.  Many times such a piece of tubing will also snugly accept an airlock.

A purpose built solution, pictured above, is also available that’s basically a modified keg lid.  That comes with a right-sized stopper to allow you to put an airlock in the modified lid.  Both Austin Homebrew Supply and Adventures in Homebrewing sell these.

These lids should work equally well on standard ball lock and pin lock style homebrew kegs.  See: Ball Lock Kegs vs Pin Lock Kegs – What’s the Difference?

Sizing: A five gallon keg isn’t really suitable for a primary fermenter for a 5 gallon batch.  You could use it as a secondary for a full 5 gallon batch, as a primary fermenter for smaller batches (maybe 3 to 4 gallons max) or you could split 5 gallon batches between two kegs.

There are 10 gallon ball lock kegs on the market.  Find one of those and you can do all the same stuff with a 5+ gallon batch.  10 gallon ball locks are difficult to find.  Your best bet is probably ebay.  Try this search, but don’t be surprised if nothing shows up in the search results.

Fun with keg fermenters!

  • Swap the fermenting lid out for the regular lid and use a trimmed dip tube and you can transfer under pressure.  The trimmed dip tube is essential to leave behind trub and avoid clogs.  You could also use William Brewing’s Top Draw Beer Pick Up Tube instead of trimming a dip tube.
  • Ferment under pressure using a Spunding Valve
  • Naturally carbonate in the keg using a Spunding Valve

Related: Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation & Best Sellers in Lab Erlenmeyers – via Amazon | StirStarter Stir Plate | Yeast Starters and Fermentation Resource Page

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Hands on Review: Spike Conical Fermenters

spike conical review

This review is by Homebrew Finds Reader Benji S.  Benji has been brewing for 10 years.  His favorite style is Festbier.  He’s an all grain brewer and member of WIZA (Whidbey Island Zymurgy Association).  Check him out on Instagram at neon_hop

After well over a year of evaluating, I splurged recently and got a Spike Conical (the CF5). I’ve seen quite a few others going through this debate period, so I wanted to provide a hot take to help others in their own decision making process. So far I’ve assembled and prepped it for my first brews, but haven’t actually used it yet. Most of the points here will be about equipment quality/features rather than practice.

For context; I added on the temp control bundle with heater, leg extensions, casters, extended bracing shelf, and a few other nice to haves. So some of these will cover things that aren’t part of the “core” conical package.


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As of this posting, Spike’s Bargain Cave has the CF5 available.  Bargain Cave selection and availability can change very quickly.  Check the Bargain Cave for current selection and pricing


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Spike Conical Fermenters


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Hands on Review: Keggle Brewing Pump and Chiller Stand

This review is by Homebrew Finds Contributor Tom Brennan.  Read more about Tom and grab a link to his website and YouTube channel below.

Keggle Brewing Pump and Plate Chiller Stand

After opening the box that came from Keggle Brewing I noticed that this stand was built to last. And it should, considering the abuse most homebrewers put into the equipment…OK maybe that’s just me. It was constructed of mostly aluminum parts and was well welded. It was not difficult to put together, but an addition of instructions would be welcomed.


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This is available in two versions.  Just the stand and the stand complete with pump and chiller.


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Build a DuoTight CO2 Gas Manifold! – for Kegland EVABarrier Tubing

Kegland’s DuoTight Fittings are designed to work with their EVABarrier Tubing.  They offer quick, reliable connections, easy implementation, a variety of fitting options and work with double wall EVABarrier tubing.  These are push to connect and require no tubing clamps.  Combine these features with their generally low price and this system and tubing are a game changer for kegerator/keezer owners and builders.

As of this posting, the system has no native manifold option available.  No need to fear, this post details three DuoTight manifold options that you can put together yourself.

Finding DuoTight Fittings and EVABarrier Tubing

Build 1 – Convert a Flare Based Manifold to DuoTight

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Hands on Review: Kegtron Smart Keg Monitor

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.

Kegtron Smart Keg Monitor

Let’s face it, some homebrew gear is purely a luxury item. You’ll hear people ask, “Yeah, but how does that make your beer better?” Sometimes you can rationalize your flashy gear because it allows your brew process to be more repeatable, or take less time. Kegtron doesn’t make your beer taste better, it doesn’t improve your brew process, and it doesn’t make your brew day faster. But it’s something more than just brewery bling.

When I first saw the Kegtron keg monitor, it seemed just like a silly way to part homebrewers from their money. It looked cool, but it definitely didn’t seem like something I’d get excited about. And then I tried it.

Kegtron sells 2 models. One for a single tap, one for a dual. The measurement is done by some fancy digital flow meters inside the housing of the unit. There is a circuit board that keeps track of how much beer goes through the flow meters and stores that data on the board. It also has a Bluetooth transmitter that broadcasts this information to an app on your phone/tablet that you’ve paired through the app.

Since the flow meters just keep track of how much beer goes past them, you have to enter into the app how much beer you start with. You hook up your keg, tell it how many gallons are in it, and it tracks from there, deducting beers each time it measures 12 ounces has gone by. It’s customizable, so if you want to count beers by the pint (U.S. or Imperial) instead of 12 oz. bottle, you can do that. The display on the app tells you how many “drinks” are left in the keg. And since you also input to the app what size your keg is (2.5 gallon, 5 gallon, 1/2 barrel, etc.), along with telling you how many beers are left, it has a colorful graphic to show what percentage of your keg is left.

In the app, you can name each of your beers, so if you have more than one Kegtron tap being monitored, they all show up on your screen and you can keep track of each beer with its own space on your display. Since the data is stored on the Kegtron unit itself, and it uses Bluetooth to communicate to your app, if you leave the house and get out of Bluetooth range, you don’t see your beer lists. So it’s intended to be a display at home next to your kegerator, or on your phone so you can direct your underlings to run downstairs and fetch you what you want from the comfort of your couch.


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Kegtron Smart Keg Monitor – Dual Tap Expansion Unit | Track Your Keg Levels From Your Phone | Upgrade Your Taps – via Amazon, multiple versions available


Hands on Review

Kegtron provided me a single-tap unit to try out and review at home. I saw it on display at Homebrew Con in Portland, displaying a club’s list of taps and their various stages of keg emptiness. I wasn’t sure that in a less busy setting it would provide the same value. What I found was it got me excited about what I had on tap (like I needed help). It was cool watching it accurately count down the drinks with each glass filled. I have a 4-tap keezer, and I found myself gravitating to whatever I had on the tap with the Kegtron just because it was fun. After a couple weeks I found myself wanting it on all of my taps. It was just so cool, and suddenly seemingly useful to know exactly how much beer was left in each tap. I was a convert.

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