I recently reviewed the Ss Brew Tech Brew Bucket, a 7 gallon stainless steel fermentation vessel for home brewing. The bucket came complete with a conical bottom, a ball valve, locking lid, and airlock port, but other than it’s sturdy construction, it’s just a stainless bucket. If you’re thinking of upping your home brew game or searching for small piloting equipment in your nano-brewery, you may want to look at Ss Brew Techs line of conical fermentors, or Chronicals as they call them. In this review, we’ll be looking at Ss Brew Techs Half Barrel Chronical, a 15 gallon (17 actually) fermentation vessel which takes home brewing to the next level.
Ss Brew Tech (Recap)
A small start-up out based out of Irvine, CA aims to change how home brewers think about fermentation. Relatively new to the scene, Ss Brew Tech has been in operation for over a year, shipping it’s first round of products in late 2013. Their goal: to bring innovative, affordable, and high efficiency fermentation gear into home breweries.
The team at Ss Brew Tech sells 7 & 15 gallon “Chronical” Fermentors and 7 gallon Brew Buckets using 304/316 stainless steel. Soon the fermentation expert will be launching their line of kettles, FTSs – fermentation temperature controlling device, and a upgraded models of their base fermentors.
Ss Brew Tech: Half Barrel Chronical
I’m going to break this little gadget into pros and possible improvements. This will be the easiest way to let you know what to expect. Like the Brew Bucket I’ll talk about what I liked and what I feel could be improved. One thing I’ll also mention is how much I respect the customer service for Ss Brew Tech. They listen and when improvements are suggested, they act. They have already begun work on improving the Brew Bucket and Chronical designs after receiving feedback. One thing to note is that the 7 gallon and Half Barrel Chronicals are essentially the same sans the capacity. So most of this review will be just as relevant to the smaller fermentor, just in case 15 gallons is too much capacity for your brew set-up.
Packaging: The Chronicle arrives in a large branded cardboard box with ample padding. The outer brown cardboard box protects an inner white packaging box, which houses the fermentor. It’s not hard to unpack although having a second person around may help, but you can easily get the job done solo. You’ll find the fermentor, lid, and accessories all ready to go inside.
Price: In the world of home brewing gadgets, money is most certainly an object. It’s important to make sure you are spending your hard earned dollars on equipment that’ll last and not gadgets that you’ll never use. The Half Barrel Chronical retails for an impressive $595, including free shipping to your door, which makes this a great buy.
Stainless: 304 Stainless construction. The stainless a medium thickness, which is perfect for home brewing. Personally, I would love to see it just a tad bit thicker.
Weight & Legs: It’s easily portable when empty. The Chronical includes two handles located on the sides, just like the brew bucket, which makes this something you can move from place to place. The legs are sturdy enough to support the full weight when the vessel is full of fermenting beer.
Lid: Like the brew bucket, the Chronical lid uses a spring steel latch, which makes it easy to put on and take off. The top Tri Clover porter is 1.5 inches, which is plenty big for dry hopping with pellets, but not big enough for a 5 lb bag of Kumquats, which is what I did. I was able to remove the lid easily, throw the kumquats in, and then latch it back closed. (I made sure to fill the head space with a co2 before and after opening the lid. It’s convenient.
Thermowell: There is an included thermowell which can be fitted with your own temperature controler or Temp Display Module for Chronical Series Fermentors. Just order one of these when you buy the fermentor – they are cheap enough ($25) and come with a temp resistant silicone housing.
Cleaning: When you get your Chronical for the first time you may be tempted to clean it with PBW and then StarSan, but this is actually not the right way to do it. Each chronical, like the brew bucket, come with a thin layer of machine grease, which needs to be removed with Trisodium Phosphate (TSP). One you’ve soaked it in this degreaser, it can then be washed with PBW, and star san. If you really want to be cool and save water at the same time, consider grabbing a Mark 2 Keg/Carboy Washer. The fermentor can be placed over pump to create a mock CIP system. You could also look into getting a spray ball, but the Mark 2 method has the added advantage of helping you clean your carboys and kegs when it’s not cleaning your fermentor. I cleaned 6 kegs and the Chronical with a little over 3 gallons of water.
Cone: Having a cone collects the yeast into a centralized area. Rather than having a layer at the bottom of your carboy or bucket that covers the entire bottom, you’ll have a concentrated mass right in the center. This will result in cleaner beer. The Chronical, unlike the Brew Bucket, is fitted with a port on the bottom, which allows you to drop yeast and trube as well as fill from the bottom.
Tri-Clover/Clamp Customizable: This is the real reason you’re buying the chronical isn’t it? 1.5″ Tri-Clover fittings which can be attached in any witch way. Like home brew legos, tri-clover fittings allow you to do many things while maintaining a sanitary seal. The Chronical comes standard with tri-clamps and ball valves, but I upgraded to butterfly valves and bought some extra accessorize at Brewers Hardware, which is a great and very cost effective source for commercial grade sanitary fittings. The Brewers Hardware online store is fantastic.
*Note: Tri-Clover sanitary fittings are expensive, but they are also very strong and durable. You will likely never need to replace these pieces so it may seem expensive at first, but it’s worth it. I really like these 1.5″ Squeeze Trigger Butterfly Valves. These are the same exact valves we use on our commercial fermentor at Ohana Brewing Co.
Capacity: Total capacity is a little over 17 gallons, which does not include the head space. You can safely ferment 15 gallons of beer without worrying about too much blow off. My batches are between 10 and 13 gallons, which makes this vessel more than ample. Being able to ferment your entire batch, if you’re doing 10-15 gallons at a time, in one vessel, makes a huge difference in the final product. I personally love the idea of split batching with different yeasts in two carboys, but they you have to clean them and depending on how your pitched your yeast, you may have one carboy that gets more than the other resulting in differing attenuation/results. With the half barrel Chronical it’s one vessel only.
Racking Arm: The racking arm included in the set has a small o-ring seal that fits into the tri-clover side of the racking ball valve. You’ll be able to rotate the arm while it’s attached while maintaining a sanitary seal. This makes transferring and sampling your beer incredibly easy.
Pressure: The Chronical can be pressurized up to 5psi and has an emergency pressure relief valve located on the lid. I was able to take samples, protect my beer from oxidation during secondary fermentation, and safely transfer my beer to kegs under a happy blanket of co2. Again, this is a game changer if you are coming from the world of carboys and auto-siphons.
Customer Service: The team at Ss Brew Tech is incredibly responsive. If you have an issue or question, the solution is only an email away. Add in that these units ship for free and you’ve got yourself a winner.
Walls: I would love to see the stainless be a tad bit thicker for longevity and sturdiness. It’s great as is, but slightly thicker construction would be great, especially when using some of the heavier sanitary tri-clover fittings.
Ball Valves & Racking Arm: I’m not a fan of ball valves and the included racking arm needs the included ball valve to function. Ball valves are not completely sanitary, which is incredibly important to me. That being said, the included one is fine, but I would love for there to be a butterfly valve option that has no threads or one similar to the assembly more beer sells. I’m thinking that this may be added to the Ss Brew Tech accessory page sometime in the future.
Lid: I love how the lid is so easy to take on and off. It makes dry hopping a breeze. I do wish it was thicker, which Ss Brew Tech has informed me is already being worked on. The current lid is fine, but when you have a heavier tri-clover assembly on top like an elbow and butterfly valve, there is is some flexing that occurs when pressure is applied to the valve. A slightly thicker lid would reduce the flexing.
Legs: Moving it while full may be problematic. I would love to see leg extensions and/or casters available, but the threads are standard enough to where you can upgrade the leg length on your own in a pinch. It’s just nice when you can get it all in one place. I prefer to install butterfly valves, yeast catch, and elbow on the bottom port, but I have to re-rig this a bit to account for the height. It’s fine as is, but I would love to see sturdy leg extensions as an accessory.
I love the Half Barrel Chronical. All criticisms and nice-to-haves aside, this is a great piece of equipment at an extremely affordable price. Upgrading my fermentation setup to tri-clover/tri-clamp sanitary fittings has improved the form and function of my home brewery considerably. The fermentor is designed well and works like a charm. I especially like the thermowell, removable lid, and 5psi pressure rating. I’m excited to keep using my new Half Barrel Chronical and I can’t wait to see how future brews turn out.
If you’re looking for a smaller capacity vessel with tri-clamp fittings, be sure to check out the 7 gallon Chronical or the 7 Gallon Brew Master Bucket (Brew Bucket with weldless thermowell). Ss Brew Tech is also releasing a line of brew kettles (10, 15, 20 gallon capacity) and a temperature controller FTSs device. The FTSs is an immersion chiller circulation system which will allow brewers to attach a glycol chiller or refrigeration unit to keep wort at optimum fermentation temperature. For more information Ss Brew Tech and their entire product line, visit their website at ssbrewtech.com
*Special Side Note: The first beer I brewed in my Half Barrel Chronical, a Kumquat Saison, just took 2nd place in the Pacific Brewers Cup 2014 in the Fruit Beer category! If this isn’t proof that the fermentor works like a charm, I don’t know what is.