Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Don't call it a comeback, I've been here for years

Excuse me while I clean up the cobwebs around this place.

("*sneeze* *cough* Honey, look, it's all that old brewing equipment I used to use so regularly. Wonder what can I do with it. Has it really been boxed up all this time?")

After a four year hiatus, we're back in the homebrewing swing here at Fork and Hay, and this post is going to touch upon why and how.

The why was unexpected. Amy and I attended the Baldwin Barbecue and Beer Fest put on by the Fairhope Sunset Rotary Club back in March. (Oh yeah, during the hiatus we moved to Fairhope. Should have mentioned that. Sorry.) The event included a homebrew competition, and the beers being offered were all really good. We had some great conversations with the competitors, and got soaked to the bone by the rain that ended up cancelling the Roman Street performance we wanted to see.

As we were leaving (slogging through ankle deep mud), Amy turned to me and said "We should enter this next year. We can win this. We can make beer that good." My first instinct was to scoff. All you have to do is read the old posts on this blog to know why.


None of those brewers we talked to were professionals, and they were beginners once. Why couldn't we make something that would be competitive next year? (Aside from little things, like the aforementioned packed-up equipment, of course.) I was all set to go back to basics and revive my manual heatstick-based equipment but Amy had other ideas. She went on a Googling rampage looking for fully automated systems.

Technology has certainly advanced while we've been away. Many of my past posts talked about wiring up sensors and writing control or monitoring code -- and the failures resulting therefrom. In 2016, I don't have to do that anymore. If I want to roll my own system I could go with any of a number of ready-made control systems based on Arduino, Raspberry Pi, or an STC controller. Prebuilt waterproof DS18B20 probes are available. Moreover, the number of turnkey all-grain systems available for purchase is astonishing.

We looked at several gas and electric three-tier systems before finding a relative newcomer to the US market - the New Zealand-based Grainfather. The Grainfather is a single vessel electric brewing system sized for 5 gallon batches. It implements a recirculating mash with its onboard pump, and the included control box can run the heating element in PID mode or fully on for boiling. It's all stainless steel, and includes a counterflow wort chiller as well. After watching a number of YouTube videos and reading the positive comments on the related Reddit community and at HomeBrewTalk, we decided to order one.

We have now brewed three batches with our Grainfather, and I'll share our experiences in another post.The system is easy to use, and it's pretty easy to clean afterward. Our biggest issue at present is the layout of the utilities at our new home - the water and the GFCI outlets are on opposite sides of the house, for example. It's safe to say though that the overall brew day routine is much simpler than I recall my old process being.