Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fermenter's Favorite from NorthernBrewer

I'm back! This time with a review of the Fermenter’s Favorites Essential All-Grain Brewing Starter Kit-10 Gallon from Northern Brewer

My buddy Bret decided he wanted a mash tun cooler with false bottom, etc etc. But the costs of such a beast were... well, high.
To piece one together out in Poland it'd certainly run him over $100, and this kit comes with two for $200. Well, he doesn't need two! Who does he know that could use one? Hmmm...

So long story short, I waited on it a tad and he waited for a deal to pop up. Sure enough, I'm gettin mine for about $50 and he's in for less than it'd cost to make in Poland. I'll arrange to ship him his, and I get an awesome cooler.

First up, unpacking!

As you can see, two big (purpose built) 11.7gal coolers. The plastic spigot/valve set is inside the cooler in a plastic baggie, which I'll probably set aside and forget about forever. No big deal. In the box balanced between the two there is a false bottom, tubing, couple weldless valve/spigot kits and some misc. other stuff listed on their site. The important thing is, it's all definitely there.

Boxes are fun!

Ayva decided the box is her toy. We'll see how long it holds up to her creative abuse of boxes.

Ok. So the real important part of this as far as the initial setup is the valve, bulkhead, spigot setup. The opening in the cooler is perfect, this thing fits like a glove.

Little teflon tape (provided in the kit) on the threads, put the spigot on, insert in cooler and finish the install from the inside of the cooler. Cool. I thought "hey that was easy. Probably too easy. Let's take it outside and see!"

Well, it was incredibly easy. But not in a bad way at all, as there were zero leaks.

With the leak test so rapidly taken care of, I was able to progress right on to the mash.

This is where the only complaint I have comes in. While the strike water and initial mash temps were 100% where I wanted (166 strike to 156 initial mash temp) it was down at 152 after an hour in. A four degree drop. I had less drop using blankets over my kettle! But I don't really blame the cooler entirely. I had a lot of dead space, and the absolute only place I felt any heat coming off it was the lid. The sides were cold to the touch throughout. The lid is not insulated, but it does screw down. The solution then is fairly straight forward: Insulate the lid. I shall, and I believe this will fix the problem. I'll certainly update next time on that one.

All 'n all, this cooler is an amazing value and frankly made my brew day much more enjoyable. At $200 if you're looking to get into 3 vessel all grain brewing, it is a steal. If $200 is a bit steep, maybe hold out for the next sale. Seriously. These are well made purpose built coolers that may need a bit of insulating in the lid, or just some foil over the mash to reduce the dead space issue. Or just brew more beer to fill up the dead space. Ultimately that one problem is fairly insignificant considering other options, the ease of the DIY fix and the amazingly convenient and easy to assemble product you receive.

Using my five star rating system:
Ease of use/assembly: 5
Temperature stability: 4.5
Awesomeness: 5
Value: 5.

Update 7/14/14: Pre-heated the cooler this time, as well as added a layer of foil over the mash to take care of the dead space. Problem solved. Temp dropped approximately 1F over the course of an hour, which is perfectly acceptable far as I'm concerned.

Updated rating:
Ease of use/assembly: 5
Temperature stability: 5
Awesomeness: 5
Value: 5.

I would highly recommend this setup. Especially if you've got a friend that brews and you can go in on it together. Can't go wrong.

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