Category Archives: Reviews & Top Posts

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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Can You Save Money Homebrewing Your Own Beer?

Pictured: MoreBeer’s BRKIT100 Homebrew Starter Kit

A driving factor for a lot of homebrewers to pick up this great hobby is… saving money.  After all, if I make my own beer at home, it’s got to be cheaper, right?

Let’s find out.

Ground Rules

These are estimates and assumptions.  Actual costs are going to vary.  This scenario assumes you drink quality craft beer.  Along those lines, for estimation’s sake, let’s say you like a popular style like a mildly hoppy pale ale and you’d generally spend about $7 or $8 or so on a 6 pack.  Shipping charges will be considered $0 as free shipping options are usually available at certain thresholds.  Taxes will be considered $0.  This scenario assumes an extract brewing technique.

Let’s get started…

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Hands on Review: Kegland BlowTie Diaphragm Spunding Valve!

A Spunding Valve allows you to maintain a set pressure. If pressure in the vessel exceeds the set point, it is expelled. It generally consists of an adjustable PRV valve, a tee, a gauge and a way to connect to your keg.

Why a Spunding Valve?

There are loads of homebrew related applications for a Spunding valve ranging from pressurized ferementation to naturally carbonating to fixing over carbonated beers and lots more.  Check out our resource post on the subject.  It’s arguably the go-to resource on the Internet on the subject

Hands on Review Kegland BlowTie Spunding Valve

The BlowTie Spunding Valve assembly consists of the BlowTie, a DuoTight Tee Fitting, a DuoTight to flare fitting, a DuoTight pressure gauge and two small pieces of EVABarrier Tubing.

Here’s a look at each component…

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Parts lists for putting this together on your own can be found toward the end of this review

The BlowTie is the heart of this build.  It has DuoTight Push to Connect connections on both side as well as an adjustment knob to set pressure. Continue reading

Hands on Review: Brewers Hardware Tri-Clover Sight Glasses

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 Sight Glasses

A large sight glass on a brew rig set-up can legitimately be classified as a luxury. There are various ways to assess your wort clarity during your brew session. During recirculation of the mash, or during vourlaf, you want to know when your wort is running clear and free of grain debris. Connect a sight glass into your recirculation loop and you can easily see the wort clarity without having to look for grain bits in a recirculation spray. It’s just right there in plain view.

Sight Glass showing cloudy wort during recirculationSight Glass showing clear wort during recirculation

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Hands on Review: Brewers Hardware Quick Clean Take-Apart Ball Valves

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 Take-Apart Ball Valve

Up until now, I’ve known of two types of ball valves- 2-piece and 3-piece. The key difference between them being that the 3-piece can be disassembled for full cleaning. When I first started buying gear, I figured I’d go for the 3-piece because the idea of being able to take it apart and clean it sounded like something I should probably do. After seeing the complications of needing to use 2 wrenches at a time, while holding the body of the valve stable, I quickly concluded my 3-piece valves would never experience the joy of a ‘deep cleaning’.

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Quick Clean Take-Apart Ball Valves at Brewers Hardware

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Hands on Review: Blichmann Engineering RIMS Rocket

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 RIMS Rocket

I heard the term ‘RIMS’ long before I really knew what it was. The decoded acronym ‘Recirculating Infusion Mash System’ didn’t help much, either. In hindsight, the acronym has all the info in it to describe what it is. It’s a system to control mash temperature by adding heat to your recirculating wort. You use a pump to draw wort out of your mash tun, push it past a heating element, and then return that heated wort back to your main mash tun. Connected to a controller, a temperature sensor monitors the temperature of your recirculating wort and turns your heat source on or off based on the measured temperature, as compared to your target temperature. And since this heating element is outside of your mash tun, a RIMS can be used whether your mash tun is a plastic cooler or a steel pot.

Connected to a RIMS Controller and Mash Tun

Blichmann offers two levels of RIMS. The first is a 120V system that has a 2000-Watt heating element, and the other is a 240V system with a 3500-Watt heating element. The 120V system is designed for up to 10 gallon batches, and the 240V system is up to 20 gallons. To get an idea of the heating potential, Blichmann provides a formula on their website to calculate the heating potential.

°F/minute = 0.0068*(Wattage/gallons of wort).

So with 6 gallons of wort in your mash tun, the 2000W/120V system can heat at about 2.3 degrees/minute. The 3500W/240V system on the same 6 gallons can heat it 4 degrees/minute.

The heating element sits inside a stainless steel canister that holds about 0.75 gallons of wort. With the heating element’s large corkscrew design, it has a lot of surface area to transfer heat to your wort without scorching. There are 1/2″ NPT fittings on the inlet and outlet of the canister. On the outlet you need a Y-fitting so you can install a temperature sensor to monitor the temperature of the wort as it exits the RIMS Rocket.

The heating element connects through Blichmann’s custom heating element connection. The large, robust connection ensures a solid electrical connection and grounding to the housing for safety. You disconnect your cable to make cleaning and storage easier, so you don’t have to drag the cord around like a tail. And although not waterproof to dunk in a bucket of water, it has a good-sized splash shield to protect the connection from the splashes that come with the wet sport of brewing.

Smooth Machined Inside of Housing

The inside of the housing is machined and designed to be free of crevices or cracks. This is important since mash recirculation is practically guaranteed to have some level of grain particles passing through that you don’t want to get stuck. The heating element built into the base seals to the main cone of the housing with a large O-ring. And it is held together and tightened with a circular band clamp with a threaded nut/bolt combination. This clamp makes for fairly easy disassembly to clean inside as often as you’d like.

Finding the RIMS Rocket, Review Continues Below

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Hands on Review: Anvil Bucket Fermentor Cooling System

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.

Anvil Bucket Fermentor Cooling System

Blichmann created the Anvil line of equipment to provide good gear at an affordable price. Across the line-up, you can find great quality stuff that’s notably cheaper than other high-end brew gear. By making it more affordable, it allows more homebrewers to step up their equipment. I reviewed their 7.5 gallon stainless bucket fermentor a little over a year ago. It was a great product, but it wasn’t compatible with my existing fermentation temperature control systems. So I was excited to see they came out with a custom system. And as per their formula, it was upper tier brewing capability at an attainable price.

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The system is targeted to those looking to control their temperatures in the 50-55F temperature zone where lager yeast provides its cleanest flavors. It comes with a neoprene insulating jacket to insulate the walls of the bucket, a cooling coil & thermowell mated to a special stopper, a submersible pump and cooling lines to circulate your cooling water, and a digital controller. The neoprene jacket is custom-made for the Anvil fermentor, with cut-outs for the handles, the lid clamps, and the spigot.

Plot of Cooling System Performance

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Hands on Review: Spike TC100 Temperature Control System!

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.

Spike TC100 Temperature Control System

Controlling the temperature during fermentation is key to getting the right flavor profile out of your yeast. Sure, you can still make good beer without it, but you’ll be limited. It’s like walking vs. driving a car. Sure, you can get some cool places just by walking. But when you increase your mobility, you can explore more places that were out of reach when you were only walking. Getting back to fermentation, if you’ve got a cool basement and a heat wrap + controller, you can get control of ale fermentation. Add to that a cold water source and a method to circulate that water within your beer, and now you can also get control of lager fermentation, too.

Flex Fermentor [Hands on Review] with Neoprene Jacket

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Hands on Review: Brew-Control Electric Mash Tun/RIMS (Recirculating Infusion Mash System) Tube Controller

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.

Brew-Control 120V Controller

Electric brewing systems are great. I’ve been a convert for a few years, loving the ability to control temperature precisely/easily during mashes, and the “set it and forget it” aspect that helps support multi-tasking with other household duties while brewing. Of course the thing that makes this all possible is the brew controller. It does all the hard work in the background so you don’t have to think about it.

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Tom Hargrave of Brew-Control has been brewing since 1977, and designing and building electric brew controllers since 2012. He openly admits that it took about 3 years and a dozen design iterations until they were producing a quality product. They now offer several different controllers, depending on how you’ll use it. There are boil controllers, which have a simple adjustment dial to adjust output power from 0-100% and on/off pump control. Mash controllers that have a PID controller where you set a target temperature and the PID adjusts the output to match your target temperature. BIAB Controllers that combine both the boil controller function and mash controller into one unit. And other combinations of controllers that add in control of more pumps and more heating elements.

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Hands on Review: Spike Flex Fermentor

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.

Spike Flex Stainless Fermentor

Stainless steel is highly valued in homebrewing because of its durability and ease of cleaning. When used in fermentors, this ease of cleaning means you don’t spend as much time scrubbing yeast crust and dry hop debris off the walls of your vessel when done fermenting. And since your beer spends so much time in contact with the surface of your fermentor, it’s easy for aromas to leech in over time to plastic fermentors. Glass of course doesn’t have this problem, but it does have the problem of shattering if you drop it…

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Spike is well-known for their heavy duty stainless kettles and free-standing conical fermentors. With all that stainless laying around in their shop, it’s no surprise that they’re now entering the category of “stainless bucket fermentors”. These bucket fermentors are smaller in size than the long-legged conical fermentors. What’s surprising to me is the price difference between the stainless bucket fermentors and taller conical fermentors. Even with the same holding capacity, you’re paying a few hundred dollars extra just to get a conical fermentor up on stilts. The stainless buckets offer essentially the same features, they just require you to crouch down- which to me, is an acceptable compromise.

Weld Flange from the Outside
TC Flange Seamless Surface in Contact with Beer

Spike’s new Flex fermentor is a bucket fermentor (crouching required) that has a 7.5 gallon volume, and has a 45-degree angle cone on the bottom. Utilizing the same 1.5” TC flanges that they’ve mastered the welding with their Spike+ kettles, you can interchange pieces from the Spike accessory catalog for a thermowell and a draining valve. It comes with a rack arm when time to drain that can be rotated by loosening the 1.5” TC clamp slightly and turning it. That feature is designed for those that want to take advantage of avoiding the fallen yeast that has collected in the 45-degree cone, but want to rotate the arm while draining to try to get as much viable beer out of it as possible. And the racking arm has a simple but ingenious bump welded onto it so you know which direction the pickup tube is pointing while you’re trying to rotate it from the outside .

Polished Interior with Etched Volume MarkPickup Tube Rotated Down into Cone

The fermentor walls are ultra-polished. While this has a super-glam aspect that’s sure to dazzle your friends, it serves a practical purpose as well. The polishing process eliminates any kind of surface roughness, which makes it even easier to clean. The inside of the vessel contains electrically etched black volume markings every 0.5 gallons, the same as they have on their kettles. The base is supported by 3 sturdy legs with rubber caps on them to keep it from sliding around on floors (or scratching your floor).

Lid Clamped on with Seal Visible

The lid looks like something from a 1920s diving helmet. In the middle of the lid, there’s a giant 4” TC port that holds a polished clear hard plastic window so you can easily see what’s going on inside your fermentor without having to open the lid. The base Flex model has a hole for a rubber stopper and airlock, and 5 latches that hook over the edge of the lid and onto a flange on the base. This base latch and seal set-up is capable of holding 2 psi of internal pressure. The Flex+ model uses a band clamp that goes around the circumference of the lid and tightens down with a screw/nut feature. And the hole for the bung/airlock is replaced by another 1.5” TC port. This ups the pressure holding capability of the unit to 15 psi.

With its short & stout size, the Flex can fit in shorter areas, but it is pretty wide. From the bottom to the top of a 3-piece airlock, it stands 22” tall. The widest diameter, with the stackup of the racking arm and a Spike butterfly valve with a camlock fitting at the end of it, is 21” across. If those dimensions don’t work for your fermentation chamber, Spike also has a version of its TC-100 temperature control system available that makes use of some common components from their unitank conicals and a form-fitted neoprene jacket sized to the Flex dimensions.

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