Review Through Brew
When I wrote about the More Beer Digital BrewSculpture V4 system previously, I had said that a true review would be an ongoing endeavor. I still stand by that statement. This system is a collection of different pieces so distilling it into something small and bite sized is not an easy task. That having been said, I’ve assembled a compartmentalized review of all the major parts. If you are considering getting one of these and have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out or comment. Additionally, I’m assembling a video review, which will be available soon.
Digital V4 Breakdown
It’s a lot to go through, I know, so feel free to skip ahead to the parts or pieces that most interest you. It’s all here.
Packaging: When ordering a full brewing system like this, you can count on it not fitting into a small box. In the case of the MoreBeer BrewSculpture V4, it came palletized on the back of a FedEx semi truck. A wooden bracing cage had been constructed around the system which was itself mummified in plastic wrap. Nothing was loose or in danger of damage. In other words, the packaging was great. The burner base was delivered upright and unboxed. Each pot and accessory, however, was packaged securely in variously sized boxes.
Shipping: Free Shipping!
Having it shipped to you is pretty convenient, but if you live close enough to a local store and have a large enough truck, you could probably pick it up direct. I had mine delivered and boy am I glad my neighbor has a forklift.
Weight: We needed a forklift to get it off the truck, but if the truck had had a lift gate and a pallet jack, that would have worked too. Once disassembled, everything is entirely manageable.
Price: $6,495 – 10 Gallon / $6,995 – 20 Gallon
This isn’t a simple system and its constructed out of stainless steel. The difference in price between the 10 gallon and 20 gallon is not substantial considering what you are getting. The system I received, the one pictured, is the 20 gallon version with 30+ gallon pots. Ideal for batch sizes of 15-20 gallons, this system can likely be pushed to 25-30 if you plan it right.
Is it worth the price tag? Yes. It’s a pro-grade home/pilot system outfitted with almost everything you need to make advanced beer.
Stainless: Stainless! It’s shiny, sturdy, and awesome.
Touchscreen (Robot Head): This little touchscreen is the new hotness. I’ve nicknamed it the “Robot Head” and this More Beer digital touchscreen will become the new standard for their digital brew sculptures. Previously, everything was controlled by a Ranco-like temperature controller. Now, everything is contained in the robot head. Automated HLT, automated mash, automated sparge float, and touchscreen pump control make setting up your brew a sinch. The process becomes more manual as you move towards the boil and as it’s in the boil kettle, it’s pretty much all up to you to finish the process.
USB Cords: I never thought I’d see a place to plug in a mouse on my brew system. It just so happens that there are a quite a few locations to do this on the V4 robot head. Each USB leads to a different probe or controller. Don’t worry, it’s all color coded so all you have to do is match like cord with like cord. It does require another layer of spacial awareness when you are moving things around. Delicate electronics + fire + water + sugar + heavy things = increased risk
Base & Burners: The V4’s base is very solidly constructed. Each stand is fitted with 2 wheels located under the HLT side. On the boil side is a collapsing handle which can be extended when the stand needs to be moved. Moving it is like moving a long wheelbarrow. The welds are nice, clean, and each burner frame is designed to completely support a full pot.
You have the option of a propane or natural gas set-up, I chose natural gas. The 90,000 BTU burners are thirsty and beastly. Gas piping is solidly constructed and clean. Only one burner is automatically controlled, the one under the HLT. It has a pilot light that you’ll need to set prior to getting started (prior to putting the HLT on top). The other two burners are manual requiring the brewer to turn the ball valve and use a bbq lighter.
HLT: The HLT is a BrewBuilt 30+ gallon stainless pot with tri-clad bottom. The magic happens in the HLT, which sports a herms coil and a digital temperature probe. You’ll start off your brew day by lighting the pilot under the HLT and then setting the HLT temperature. As soon as you reach HLT temp, the robot head sends signals to recirculate the mash through the herms coil. The burner and pump are automatically throttled.
Mash Tun: The mash tun, another BrewBuilt 30+ gallon pot, has a false bottom with a rubber gasket and a side thermowell for the temperature probe. Older MoreBeer mash tuns had about 3-5 inches between the mash tun base and the false bottom. This extra space meant brewers needed to adjust for the extra water needed. The new design is more efficient. Distance from false bottom to base is about 1 inch and the rubber gasket reduces the amount of grain particulate pulled into the line. Additionally the pickup tube is fitted with a quick disconnect and a custom cover cap designed to again reduce particulate grain matter in the line.
The robot head can be programed in several different ways for mashing. Single Infusion, single infusion + mash out, or multi-step. Many of my recipes are multi-step. Regardless of what process you like to follow, you have some pretty good options here. It would be relatively easy for you to compare a recipe made with multi-step vs. single infusion…you may discover you don’t need all 50 rests. For the multi-step mash, the system recirculates the mash through the herms coil to hit your rest targets and it does this very efficiently. I was blown away by how fast this process went..and with NO SCORCHING! For mashing out, you can let the system try to handle it or you can give it a boost by lighting the burner under the mash tun. I’ve experimented with both and have found lighting the mash burner, while keeping it on low, helped to speed the process up. Mashing recirculation with this herms coil setup and the automated HLT is, hands down, one of the most efficient mashing processes I’ve ever experienced.
Sparge/Lauter: At this point, we’re starting to edge into manual territory. The sparge/lauter step is controlled by a float that identifies when the liquid level has dropped below your ideal level. It’s standard to maintain two inches above the grain bed. When float detects a drop below that level, the pump is triggered, which then sprays hot water on top to keep the level consistent. This is automatic, but activating the pump to transfer everything to the boil kettle (lauter) is manual. Press the button, adjust the flow on the ball valve, and then sit back and relax. The robot head starts a timer when you begin your sparge so you track how fast you are lautering.
I appreciate how this stage was engineered. In the previous step you forced the wort through the herms coil to bring the mash up to temperature. In this stage you are forcing hot liquor (165-175) through the herms coil throughout the duration of the lauter. By the end of the sparge, the inside of the herms coil is nice and clean having been washed over a 45 minute period with 175 degree water.
Boil Kettle: Welcome to the BrewBuilt boil kettle. 30+ gallons of stainless with a tri-clad base. In addition to the hanging temperature probe, the boil kettle is fitted with two valves plus a quick disconnect whirlpool pickup tube. The boil kettle is heated by a manually lit burner, but addition timers can be programed into the Robot head. Total Boil time along with each addition are entered in individually and as soon as the timer is out, the brewer is alerted with a loud and repeating beep.
The whilrpool pick-up tube is nicely designed to create a very vigorous whirlpool when recirculating wort through the pump. Previously, my whirlpooling has consisted of me taking a spoon, heavily stirring the pot, and waiting 10-15 minutes. The MoreBeer method is leaps and bounds above this. The ferocity of the whirlpool created forces a tremendous amount of particulate into the center cookie additionally compacting it. When you start racking your beer through the cold line, the cookie really doesn’t move.
Cold Line: Here’s where your previous cooling system comes into play. Plate, counter flow, and immersion chillers do not come packaged with this system. That being said you could definitely repurpose the herms coil as an immersion chiller if you wanted to, which would be pretty effective if you are without a counterflow chiller.
I use a Blichmann Thermonator for my cold line and flush ice water through the counter flow port.
Brew Kettle → Pump → Thermonator → Fermentor
Not Without Analog: Each of the kettles used in the BeerSculpture are fitted with an analog More Beer thermometer. Additionally, each kettle comes with etched volume marking on the inside. I used to prefer a sight glass, but have found it more convenient to look at the internal volume markings.
Efficiency: This is a longer term metric that I’ll need to monitor. That being said, with the first two batches I brewed, I hit my marks nearing 80-85% efficiency. One thing that I didn’t prepare for is the burner under the boiler. It’s a monster and the evaporation rate was significantly higher than that of my previous system. I boiled off 2.5 additional gallons, which required a water adjustment at the end. This is part of the process. Repeated brewings will make my calculations on output more exact.
Pumps: More Beer BrewSculptures come with high temperature march style impeller pumps. They are workhorses. Depending on the model you get you may have one or two pumps. Mine came with two along with mounting brackets.
Hoses and Quick Disconnects: This system comes with numerous male and female stainless quick disconnects.
If you you don’t know what a quick disconnect is, you’d better start doing research. Stainless quick disconnects, cam and groove, and to a lesser extent Tri-Clover/Tri-Clamp fittings may make life easier. I prefer THESE stainless connects for my brewing process. Once we get over to the cold line, I prefer sanitary tri-clover/tri-clamp fittings.
Also standard with each BrewSculpture are pre-cut high temperature silicone hoses. Each pre-cut hose is fitted with a quick disconnect on each side. They come ready to use so there is no assembly necessary. Silicone tubing is ideal for high and low temperature transfers. It’s extremely flexible and can withstand temperatures far beyond boiling. That being said they are extremely susceptible to sharp metal edges.
Hose and pump quick disconnect configuration isn’t one size fits all. Some hoses have two female quick connects and some have a male on one side with a female on the other. The BrewSculpture pumps are fitted with a male quick disconnect on the out and a female quick disconnect on the in. With this configuration, you can connect multiple hoses together if you want to extend their length.
I personally prefer my hoses to have a female quick disconnect on each end. I reserve male quick disconnects for equipment connection points – kettle ball valves, pump in/out, plate chiller in/out, etc. For me, it allows me to quickly connecting hoses with one hand. This is home brew though, there are no right or wrong ways to do these things, just strong opinions.
Cleaning: It’s recommended that you clean your stand after each use to reduce the buildup of char and sticky wort. Keep in mind, I’m talking about the stainless parts, not the burner. Leave your burners alone unless you know what you are doing. I’d suggest using a sponge and PBW rather than spraying wildly with a garden hose. If you want to keep your BrewSculpture in tip top shape you need to be precise.
Customer Service: I feel fortunate in that I was able to talk a few guys behind the scenes at MoreBeer. They were courteous, knowledgable, and quick to respond with feedback. The More Beer website, is also a great resource with plenty of how-to’s, forums, and other resources.
For those interested in instructions, here are the instructions that came with my stand.
HERE ARE MY DEMANDS! Just kidding…I try to be constructive. I know these systems are constantly being improved and added to so here are a few things that I think could make this system even better.
Pilot Electronics Box: The pilot box is out in the open. There are a few wire connection points that you can plainly see connected. Like I said earlier, the burners are 90,000 BTU monsters. I’ve noticed quite a bit of heat propelling itself towards these wires. They seem fine now, but over long term, it may be necessary to replace them. An additional heat shield between the burner and these electronics may protect them. Some sort of shield may also protect these wires from splashing water.
Steel Pumps and Covers: I would love to have the option to choose steelhead pumps instead of plastic, but that’s a want not a necessity. Steelhead march pumps are still fairly new to the market. Additionally, I would love to have an option for a pump cover. Water, beer, grain, and dust all have free reign with the open back of the march pump. Having a shell or shelf protecting the back of the pumps will extend their life and may make cleaning them less complicated.
Wort Chiller Option/Bracket: I’d like to have the option to mount my wort chiller somewhere on the frame. There are a several locations currently that may work, but I would trust the engineering minds behind the BrewSculpture better than my own hack and slash methods. This is one of the only things missing from the sculpture now in my mind and would make it a fully self contained brew house. Perhaps there’s a quick disconnect method that would allow you to sanitize the chiller and then snap it on to the frame when ready. Alternately a CIP version would also be an option. MoreBeer does sell a stand alone Chiller Caddy accessory, but I’d personally like a more permanent option.
Metrics & Tracking: I’d love to have the ability to upload and download data from and too the V4 Robot Head. Being able to track metrics and see if there were any differences batch to batch on the temperature/timing front would be really helpful. It would also be awesome to be able to program individual recipes into a catalogue of sorts. Perhaps even an integrated smart phone app?!
The More Beer Low Rider Digital BrewSculpture V4 is a fantastic high-end system. The price tag is large, but so is the value in what you are truly getting. The construction quality is top shelf. Additionally, the software behind the V4 Robot Head is solidly engineered leading to an intuitive and semi-automated brewing experience. The brew pots are top shelf, the herms coil adds a level of precision, the sparge arm is innovative, and the boil kettle whirlpool attachment is a great feature. The high output gas burners (natural gas version) are efficient and monstrous.
This system isn’t going to fit everyone’s budget, but it is one worth saving for. For pro-brewers, it’s a fantastic pilot system.