I purchased my Grainfather in September of 2014, so I had one of the original run of 200. I bought mine from Hauraki Homebrew in Auckland. I’ve always been very impressed with their service. They’re friendly, efficient, and they have a lot of great products. Shipping is free once you get over $30 worth. This meant that the Grainfather was free to ship down to me here in the South Island.
The Grainfather is basically a glorified Brew in a Bag system, similar in some ways to the Speidel Braumeister, and similar in other ways to the big urn that heats water at church lunches. It has a malt pipe in the centre that the grain goes in and then heated water is circulated through the grain, out the bottom and back in the top. The water is heated as it circulates, keeping the whole lot at a specified temperature. You can see how it works and how it’s all put together by browsing the instruction manual.
The heat and circulation has couple of big advantages over my previous brew in a bag system. Changing the heat gives me some control over the amount of fermentable sugars in the wort. Mash low (63°C or so) and the wort contains many fermentable sugars. These get converted into CO² and alcohol, and don’t hang around in the beer to increase the body and mouthfeel. Mash at a high temperature and you get more unfermentable sugars, which DO hang around in the finished wort making the beer a little sweeter and giving it a bigger mouthfeel. Or you can mash right in the middle and get a middle of the road result. Different styles call for mashing at different temperatures, or even stepping through a range of different temperatures. This is possible with a brew in the bag rig, but it’s difficult. It happens on the Grainfather by setting a temperature up on the little temperature controller on the front. Once done, the Grainfather will keep it there (within a degree or so) as it mashes.
Once the mash is over, the malt pipe is lifted out and rests on some clever little stops on the top of the unit. This allows the wort to drain out of the grain and down into the main body (which has just changed from being a mash tun, to a boil kettle!). You then “sparge” the grain by flushing through with hot water to extract the last bits of sugary goodness. Once the draining has stopped, you take the malt pipe off the top and boil the wort. The Grainfather has a 2000 watt element, and it’s reasonably quick to bring the wort up to the boil. Hops are added at various stages during the boil, sometimes one addition, sometimes more.
Once the wort has boiled for 60 mins, you chill the wort down as fast as possible. The GF comes with a counter-flow chiller. Cold water feeds in the bottom, where it meets wort flowing in the opposite direction. This rapidly drags the heat out of the wort and you can then direct the cooled wort into a sanitised fermenter. Depending on how fast you feed the wort through the chiller depends on how cool it gets (and how much longer it takes to empty the kettle). You use the same pump to push the wort through the the chiller as to circulate during mashing.
Advantages over Brew in a Bag? It’s a lot quicker, easier and cleaner. You get better control over the temperatures. You can brew inside.
Disadvantages over Brew in a Bag? Cost.
The Grainfather is over NZ$1100. You could set yourself up with a Brew in a Bag system for well under NZ$200. I brewed a lot of good beer in my big pot and grain bag, but I’m very happy with the Grainfather too, and glad I bought it. Because the brew days are so easy and stress-free I find myself doing a lot more brewing. And I think, because the process is so straight forward, my beer has improved too. If you’re looking to up the ante from Brew in a Bag, and move to something a bit more sophisticated (complicated?) then the Grainfather makes sense. It’s a good deal cheaper than similar systems—the Braumeister is about NZ$3500! If you build your own system then you could spend more or less than $1000 but you have to factor time and skill levels into the equation. My skill levels are too low for such a project 🙂
If you live in Nelson and want to see it in action (or just come and have a yarn while I brew) then get in touch via the comments or the contact form. You’d be more than welcome and I love meeting fellow brewers.