It’s been an exciting year in terms of home brew equipment, and while I didn’t start formally reviewing some of my finds up until recently, it’s been really rewarding to finally put these in electronic ink. Home brew equipment is varied and there are a seemingly infinite amount of doodads and doohickies that promise to make your brew life easier. Sometimes they succeed and sometimes they do the opposite so reviewing is important because one thing home brewing equipment isn’t, is cheap.
Enter Ss Brew Tech, a small business out of Irvine, CA, devoted to simplifying the fermentation and brewing game with stainless gear. I’ve had the great opportunity to be able to pilot and review some of their solutions and have really come to like what I’m finding. They’re making some pretty cool gear, have great ideas for the future, and they listen to consumer feedback.
If you haven’t had a chance to check them out, you can do so at www.ssbrewtech.com and/or look at my previous reviews here for their Fermentation Temperatures Stabilization System, Ss Brew Tech Brew Bucket, and Half Barrel Chronical Fermentor.
In this post I’m going to be looking at Ss Brew Tech’s new brew kettle, which come in 10, 15, and 20 gallon sizes. Because I typically brew 15 gallon batches, I opted to check out the 20 gallon pot, which will be what this post covers. Like usual, I’ll break down the gear by its parts and then talk about potential improvements and my experiences using the kettle. You can check out the video review at the bottom of this post.
The Ss Brew Tech Brew Kettle is a pretty simple piece of equipment. At its core, as you would suspect, it’s a giant pot made of 18 gauge 304 stainless with the sole purpose of boiling wort. Each kettle comes punched with two holes in the face, one for the thermometer and one for the ball valve. The thermometer is a separate purchase/option so if you choose not to buy it, the kettle comes packaged with a stainless plug which can be used until you want to add the thermometer… and you should. Sturdy silicone covered handles, volume markings etched inside the pot, and a trub damn, which we’ll talk about in a minute, come standard.
Assembly: You’ll need to grab some plumbing Teflon tape in order to install the ball valve and thermometer. It’s easy, and there are even pictures in the instructions…PICTURES!
**Note: Installation of the ball valve and thermometer are incorrect in this video. Although it didn’t leak, I accidentally installed it backwards (Doh!). To see the manufacturers instructions please check here – http://tinyurl.com/n4zajp3
Packaging: Like all other SS Brew Tech gear, you’ll find the Brew Kettle in a large white box. The packaging is sturdy, the lid is the first thing you’ll remove, the pot next, and then the hardware, in a protective cardboard sleeve, third.
Tri-Clad: The thick tri-clad bottom retains temperature and prevents scorching. This was one of my chief issues with the Blichmann pot, which is super thin with no insulation. It may take a tri-clad more time to heat up, but the temperature distribution is better and temperature retention, if you are mashing, is better.
Volume Etchings: Like all Ss Brew Tech gear, this kettle come standard with volume etching on the inside. Very handy when dealing with boiling liquids.
Weight: Heavy duty equipment. Not too heavy to lift, lighter than a keggle, but not a feather by any means.
Silicone Handles: The handles are riveted and silicone covered. This means two things, they will support the weight of a full kettle and they will not burn your hands. Why have handles if you can’t use them? You can also hang the lid on the handle.
The Lid: It’s a lid…and it’s a good lid.
Thermometer: Perhaps my favorite aspect of this kettle is the placement of the thermometer. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me the ultra low position of the thermometer means that not only can I brew 15 and 10 gallon batches, but also 5 gallons as well. My Blichmann brew pot has a thermometer is at least half way up so if I’m doing smaller sized batches, I sometimes don’t reach the temperature probe, so I don’t get a reading. Speaking of the probe, it’s low profile so you won’t have anything in the way when you’re whirl-pooling or adding a hop/spice bag.
Pick-up Tube & Trub Dam: The pick-up tube inserts easily via two temperature resistant rubber grommets. Pop it in and you are ready to go. Light years more convenient that Allen wrenching a clamp down at funny angles to make sure the tube stays in place. The temp resistant rubber grommets will no doubt need to be replaced eventually, but that’s not a problem at all. Attached to the pick-up tube is a small metal blade which gets covered by a rubber squeegee. The idea behind this little device is that you’ll be whirl-pooling your wort at the end of the boil and everything will collect in the center of the kettle. When you start pulling wort from the kettle the damn is designed to block the trub cookie from entering the pick-up tube.
*(Whole Hop: If you use whole hops make sure you use a hop bag or hop spider)
Cleaning: It’s a giant pot, cleaning is like doing the dishes after a making post thanksgiving turkey soup. You’ll want to wash it with TSP (can be purchased from home depot), then PBW, and finally give it a pacification prior to using.
Price & Capacity: Pricing is on point with other robust brew kettles, although they are substantially cheaper than the chief competitor Blichmann. You are getting a pretty substantial piece of metal with this purchase, it’s not thin or flimsy. The 20 gallon pot is actually 22-23 gallons so you have room to not boil over if you want to take this pot to its limits.
- 20 Gallon ($325)
- 15 Gallon ($275)
- 10 Gallon ($225)
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.
Tri-Clover / Tri-Clamp Fittings: For the hot side of brewing I use stainless quick disconnects – the same ones you can get from More Beer. This makes connecting hoses when things are hot pretty easy. Disconnecting definitely requires gloves. That being said, my experience using our commercial fermentor at Ohana has turned me on to tri-clover/tri-clamps. I use try clamps as much as possible with the Chronicals I have now as it’s the most sanitary… and sanitation is imperative. I’m not a huge fan of weld-less fittings because I’m lazy. I don’t want to take apart the valve, deal with cross threading screw threads, or risk possible contamination sites when my beer is involved. I would love to have a future version of the pot with a tri clover fitting in front so that I can use my tri-clamps. You can buy 1.5″ tri-clover to screw into the ball valve, but I’m looking for welded. Just a personal preference.
Hop Mesh: I really want some sort of Ss Brew Tech hop spider, whole cone hop dam, or mesh covering the inlet so I can use whole cone hops. I get these amazing organic hops from my friends farm up in Oregon and I love using them in beer. If you haven’t used fresh, organic, homogenized hops, you’re missing out. Easy solution – use a hop bag.
Custom Punched Holes: Adding the option for custom/standardized kettle holes would be great for when this kettle is used as a mash tun. I would love to have a punched hole at the top so that I can recirculate my wort. This may also be useful in the boil kettle for true whirlpooling.
Sight Glass: I’m adding this here because some will likely want the ability to see their wort through a site glass. Sight glasses are overrated in my opinion and it’s more trouble than it’s worth when cleaning it comes into play. I’m happy with the inner etchings, but giving people the option in the future may be a plus.
Verdict & Experience
I love so many things about this pot perhaps because it’s so simple. The construction is ultra sturdy, the silicone handles really saved my butt during the brew day, and I didn’t have any issues with scorching. The pick-up tube/trub dam is very easy to install, the thermometer works well, and the kettle volume markings are very convenient. I also like that the thermowell is low enough to deal with 5 gallon batches. I brewed both a 13 gallon recipe and 5 gallon recipe and had a good experience with both.
One thing I’ll note is that using whole cone hops will require the use of a hop bag or hop spider. I get these fantastic organic non-homogenized hops from my friend’s farm in Oregon and so I brew with whole cone pretty often. I have used the Blichmann hop blocker in the past, but it has its own set of problems, mainly that it’s not actually attached to the kettle so if you bonk it during the whirlpool, it gets flooded with hops. I neglected to account for its absence when I started my first brew… whoops. Needless to say, whole cones are a recipe for clogging in any brew pot, but this is easily remedied. My brew partner and I poured the pot (thank god for those heavy duty heat resistant handles) through a strainer old-school style and then ran it through the cold line and everything was back to normal.
In terms of complexity and when compared to the chronicals, this kettle is a cinch. All necessary accessories are included so no need to buy accessory packs that should have been included with the purchase of the equipment (I’m looking at you, Beer Gun). At $325 it’s a great value especially when compared to the competition. I know this kettle will last a very long time, I’m excited for my next brew, and I’m also excited for those false bottoms to be released!