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Brewing Equipment Guide
Home brewing has become increasingly popular in recent years, and with this rise in popularity has come a proliferation of brewing equipment options. But there's one kind of beer brewing kit that's really stealing the show right now - single kettle, brew in a bag (BIAB) systems. This style of brewing utilizes a single kettle as well as mesh filtration and a pump and hoses to make beer. It's a newer style of brewing that is now more or less the standard for home breweries.
In this article, we will be comparing and contrasting four popular 10-gallon electric home brewing systems:
- Clawhammer Supply's 10 Gallon Electric Home Brewing System,
- Unibräu's All-In-One Electric 10 Gallon System,
- Blichman's Brew Easy Compact, and
- Spike's Solo System
Specifically, we will be focusing on the 10 gallon 120v version of each system. And if you're familiar with brewing, you'll probably recognize that these are all "brew in a bag" systems.
Brewing System Overview
Before diving into the specifics of each system, it's important to understand the basics of brewing equipment. In order to brew beer, you four key pieces of equipment:
Heat Source & Temp Control
The brewing process requires liquid to be heated to cook grains. It is then boiled for pasteurization and hop additions. Truth be told, beer can be brewed in a kitchen pot on top of a stove. However, to make really great beer, temperature control is important.
The two primary heat sources for brewing equipment are gas and electric. Particular brewers often prefer electric heat sources with digital temperature control because this allows the most precise control. All of the systems reviewed here feature just that.
As we mentioned, most modern home brewing systems utilize a single kettle. The most important feature of the kettle is the size. To brew a 5 gallon batch, the kettle should be at least 10.5 gallons. Other important features include the number and type of ports included in the kettle.
A good pump is important for making beer because the last thing you want is for one to get clogged during the brewing process. So when it comes to a pump, the most important thing is durability. Also, some pumps also work faster than others, but the volume of liquid in the brewing process is small enough that speed isn't really a huge concern.
After the boil is completed during the brewing process, the wort (unfermented beer) needs to be chilled down to room temperature before being transferred to the fermentation vessel. This should happen as quickly as possible. Also as with the pump, chillers are susceptible to getting clogged. So, the two most important features of a pump should be efficiency and durability.
Integrated vs. Modular Brewing Systems
Some systems combine some or all of these elements into a single unit. For lack of a better word I call these types of systems non-modular or "integrated systems." Other systems, like the ones I'll be discussing below, include all of these elements, but they're separate, stand-alone items. These systems are referred to as modular systems.
Most integrated systems have their essential components built into the top, side, or bottom of the kettle, making them more compact and generally less expensive than modular systems. This may sound appealing, but there are some potential drawbacks to consider. For instance, what happens if the controller or pump on an integrated system fails? Can these components be easily repaired or replaced? And what if you find that your integrated system's pump isn't fast enough or is prone to clogging? Can it be upgraded? The reality is, that in many cases, the answer to these questions is "no."
If you're a veteran brewer you've definitely damaged or broken something during the brewing process. In fact, if you use anything hard an long enough, it's going to wear out. With this in mind, modular systems don't generally combine critical components like a brew kettle and a pump. Because when the impeller breaks on the pump you don't want to have to run out and essentially buy an entire system to replace it. You just want to fix or replace the pump. Pumps are cheap and serious brewers often have a couple laying around. So in some cases, you just pause the brew day and swap in a different component from your quiver.
Another advantage of modular systems is the ability to upgrade. If you find that your pump isn't powerful enough or gets clogged easily, you'll want the ability to upgrade. Or, what if you're perfectly happy with your pump, controller, etc, but just want a larger kettle? Modular systems allow upgrades like this to be made. Clawhammer's brew system lineup is completely modular from beginning to end. In fact, our starter brewing system is just a paired down version of our complete system. This means that you can buy the starter and start brewing in your stovetop, then once you're ready, upgrade to the full system with a single click.
Sometimes you'll just want the ability to use something different. For example, I brewed a lavender IPA not too long ago and needed to add lavender flowers straight into the boil kettle. I knew they would clog the plate chiller I usually use so I swapped it out for a counterflow chiller. And by the way, neither of the chillers used were proprietary pieces of equipment made by the brewing system manufacturer. They were off the shelf units that you can buy just about anywhere.
In short modular systems offer the ability to replace, repair, swap, mix, and match all of the equipment used in the system. They cost a bit more, but the versatility, the additional utility, and the longevity this will provide is worth it in our opinion.
Brewing Equipment Comparison
Let's take a closer look at each of the best selling single kettle brew in a bag homebrew systems to compare their features and capabilities.
Clawhammer Supply's 10 Gallon Electric Home Brewing System
The Clawhammer Supply 10 Gallon Electric Home Brewing System is a high-quality, all-in-one brewing system that is designed for both beginner and experienced brewers. It is made from food grade 304 stainless steel, which is both durable and corrosion-resistant. It's designed to be easy to use and maintain.
The system features a 10-gallon stainless steel kettle with two 1/2" NPT ports and a 1.5" triclamp port. It also comes with a lid which has an opening for a spray valve (used during mash recirculation). The kettle contains a removable stainless steel basket which is 100% mesh for better draining and increased efficiency. In fact, because of the mesh basket design grain can be crushed as fine as .025" (the setting on most mills) with zero issues, which will maximize efficiency.
The kettle is also outfitted with a secondary bazooka screen filter to make absolutely sure the pump doesn't get clogged. Additionally, the system includes a removable stainless steel hop basket, also 100% mesh, for better hop utilization.
At the heart of the system is a 110v digital electric controller with GFCI safety built in. This controller plugs right into any household outlet and powers a 1650 watt element, which is the maximum power outlet available from a standard receptacle. Pump power and control is also built into the controller.
To recirculate wort during mashing a pump and hoses are included with the system. The hoses utilize quick disconnect fittings which can be attached and removed instantaneously. To chill the wort after brewing, the system utilizes a flat plate heat exchange with 20 plates. In our experience, flat plate heat exchangers are quick and reliable and with the right filtration, rarely get clogged under normal circumstances. In fact, we've only had this happen once in the last 5 years, and we brew a lot of beer!
Overall, the Clawhammer Supply 10.5 Gallon Electric Home Brewing System is a well-designed and well-built system that is perfect for both beginner and experienced brewers. Its electric control panel and false bottom make it easy to use and maintain, while its durable stainless steel construction ensures that it will last for years to come.
Here's Clawhammer's full line of brewing equipment.
Unibräu's All-In-One Electric 10 Gallon System
Similar to Clawhammer's 10.5 gallon electric brewing system, The Unibräu All-In-One Countertop Brewing System from Unibräu is a versatile and compact brewing setup for all types of brewers. The web listing for this product specifies 10 gallons, but the manual states a 10.5 gallon capacity. It's made with 304 stainless steel and can be used to brew batch sizes ranging from 3 gallons (12L) to 15 gallons (60L).
Included with this system is a 10 gallon kettle and solid steel grain basket with a perforated bottom and a perforated ring around the top of the basket. Because the perforations are quite large and are limited to the bottom of the basket only, Unibräu suggests only crushing grain somewhere in the rang of .039' - .049". They state that this is necessary to avoid a stuck mash, which every brewer knows is something you want to avoid at all costs. They also state that a larger crush will increase efficiency.
The general consensus is that a finer crush increases efficiency. That's been our experience as well. Perhaps it works differently with their system due to the basket design, but that one is a bit confusing, to be honest.
The equipment is powered by a 15 amp, 120 volt controller with a plug end that plugs into a standard household outlet. The 1650 watt element connects to the brewing element and power cord by way of a L6-30P plug located at base of the brewing kettle. This type of connection is not waterproof, which worries us because electricity and water don't mix very well.
A boil over (when the liqiud boils so vigorously it spills over the edges of the kettle) could splash power cord connections located near a kettle. As we mentioned, this presents a safety issue, as combining water and electricity can be dangerous. And as of May of 2023, the system does not come with a GFCI plug, which means that users must be sure to plug the system into a household outlet protected by GFCI in order to reduce the risk of electrical shock. Also, this creates a durability and longevity issue because exposure to water or hot wort will corrode the element connection at best and destroy it at worst.
The system includes a pump, which attaches directly to the kettle with a tri-clamp. We actually really like this design feature. It also includes a counterflow chiller, which appears to be stainless steel. I'm a fan of using stainless when possible and have recently been seeing a lot of counterflow chillers made with interior housing constructed of 100% copper. In our opinion using pure copper tubing for counterflow chillers is not a great option due to the possibility of copper salt formation in the lines.
The system also has a built-in whirlpool port which is a nice feature. However it does require the purchase of a whirlpool add-on kit - one of several premium accessories offered by Unibrau.
Overall, this system is a sleek looking, well thought out piece of brewing equipment that is probably well worth the $1489 asking price.
Brew Easy Compact
The Brew Easy Compact is a single kettle brew in a bag system from Blichmann Engineering. This system is a bit more expensive than the Clawhammer and Unibräu systems, but it includes some unique features to justify the price. Also, if you've been brewing beer for a while you'll recognize the Blichmann name, as they're a well established company and have been serving the homebrewing community for over 20 years.
The Brew Easy compact consists a 10-gallon stainless steel kettle and a removable mesh basket. We like the all-mesh basket design, which is similar to the Clawhammer system. In our opinion, mesh is the way to go. You'll never get a stuck sparge and the mesh will offer the highest efficiency possible. However, the basket appears to be quite small. It'd be interesting to know the grain capacity. As is, i'm guessing that this system is only capable of brewing low to medium gravity beers.
The Brew Easy equipment is sold a la carte style, which is helpful if you've already got some equipment and don't necessarily need a new pump or chiller. and speaking of the pump and chiller, the pump that Blichmann offers is a custom high volume "Rip Tide" pump. It ain't cheap but will move a couple gallons more per minute than most brewing pumps and can also operate at head pressure up to 21 feet. Is it overkill for a 5 gallon batch of beer? Perhaps, but if that's what you're looking for, this its the pump for you.
The Brew Easy uses a 40 plate chiller. It's similar to Clawhammer's but is twice the size. Does size matter? In some situations, yes. Is a 40 plate heat exchanger necessary for brewing 5 gallon batches? No, absolutely not. Again, this is over-engineered, but as we've already established, some folks are into that.
The Brew Easy controller is a 120 volt model that plugs into household outlets. It has the ability to program step mashes temperatures and times and even a boil. Though, like the Unibräu system, it has a plug connection at the kettle that doesn't appear to be 100% waterproof. The controller also powers a "boil coil" which is a non-standard element. I'm guessing that a replacement for this can only be purchased directly from Blichmann.
Some additional features include a sight glass / flow meter, a "direct deposit" return, a rotating dip tube, and the ability to upgrade the system with a whirlpool kit. Though, it should be noted that we aren't sold on the necessity of a sight glass and it's definitely going to make cleaning more difficult. The rotating dip tube does appear to be quite a bit smaller than the drains on other systems and i'm wondering how easily it will clog, as well as whether or not it will bottleneck the high powered pump.
One final note is that the NPT version of this system utilizes "weldless fittings." This is generally considered a step down from welded fittings, which all of the other systems i'm reviewing here use.
All in all, the BrewEasy Compact is an interesting offering and can be purchased for $1688.
Spike Solo System
The Spike Solo System is a compact and efficient brewing system that is designed for both novice and experienced brewers. It is made from high-quality stainless steel and features a modular design that allows you to customize the system to your specific brewing needs.
The core system consists of a 10-gallon stainless steel mash and boil tun with a perforated basket and a digital electric controller. They offer a pump, hoses and a chiller as upgrades.
Spike sells the core system for almost $1600. With the addition of the pump, chiller and hoses the total comes to $2400. You'll notice that this is the most expensive we're reviewing here. For a frame of reference, it's almost 2.5 times as expensive as Clawhammer's system. Why? Well, Spike boasts the thickest kettles on the market, they only use triclamp fittings, the pump is extremely high volume, and the chiller is counterflow (as opposed to plate).
Is it worth it? That's up to you to decide. Aside from the kettle thickness difference, we see one key advantage with the Spike brewing system, which is the pump volume. Cleaning a brewing system isn't all that difficult and only takes a few minutes, but their pump is strong enough to use a "clean in place" CIP fitting ($40 upgrade). This is a slick feature which makes cleaning even easier because the CIP valve will spray down the interior walls of the kettle for you. In theory, this could be done with the BrewEasy as well, but they don't have a CIP upgrade kit.
Perhaps the most interesting feature offered by Spike, which no other system has in this category, is the bottom drain option. This will set you back another $400, but it will make cleaning the system even easier.
Homebrew System Price Comparison
To help you compare the features and capabilities of each system, we've created a brewing equipment overview video, which includes a cost analysis. How much does it cost to start brewing beer at home? This video provides pricing for the top four single kettle digital electric homebrew systems on the market.These are only four of dozens of different homebrew systems to chose from. However, in our opinion these are some of the best. These four systems offer a great starting point for beginners and also a high quality, compact, solid option for experienced brewers.Each system has its own unique features and capabilities, and the best system for you will depend on your specific brewing needs and preferences.