California Common – The First American Craft Beer

Written by Edward Salse

The California Common.

While technically it has been brewed in some shape or form since the 1850s Gold Rush, the version we are familiar with is from the 1970s. This version is considered the first American ‘craft’ beer and is made by one of America’s oldest breweries, Anchor Brewing.

It should be noted that California Common is more widely known as ‘Steam Beer’ because that was what it was called for so long. Anchor revived the style and trademarked ‘Anchor Steam,’ thus creating the need for a different style name.

California Common did not pop out of nowhere, though. Steam Beer has been made by many breweries in and around the San Francisco region for some time now, exactly where Anchor is located. Anchor was one of the only breweries to survive from the 19th century and, in fact, revive the style, so I think we can let them keep the original name.

Image of a Coolship at Anchor Brewing for fermentation of a California Common Beer. Image courtesy of https://thomas.cizauskas.net/Anchor_Brewing_tour2.html
Image courtesy of thomas.cizauskas.net

Where did the name Steam Beer come from? It is widely known that Anchor was one of the few American breweries to continue to employ what is called a ‘coolship’. This is a large, shallow tray for pouring your hot boiling wort into. This tray was so wide, and located on the roof of Anchor’s brewhouse, that it had the effect of rapidly cooling the wort by exposing so much surface area of it to the cool Pacific Ocean breeze in San Francisco. Thus letting off a lot of steam. 

California Common is an amber colored, malty, moderately bitter, standard strength beer. What makes it truly unique, however, is that it uses lager yeast. Yes, this makes it a lager, but the process derives more flavor than your typical clean fermented lager.

Anchor ferments their Steam Beer with lager yeast, as would have been typical of many German immigrant brewers. They would bring their bottom fermenting lager yeast over to the States, but they do so at ale temperatures. This means that the typically clean, somewhat sulfury lager, is now sulfur-less and has a just perceptible fruity ester character to it. This makes it taste more like an ale, but a far more subtle one. 

It is meat and potato time. 

BJCP Guidelines for California Common

The BJCP Style Guidelines list the stats of California Common as the following:

IBU: 30 – 45

SRM: 9 – 14

OG: 1.048 – 1.054

FG: 1.011 – 1.014

ABV: 4.5% – 5.5%

Perfect Brewing Supply's Recipe Image for Chicago Steam. Wood grain background and a train with steam as the image

Chicago Steam Recipe – All Grain

Here is our recipe for a Cream Ale called Chicago Steam:

Grains: 9.75 lbs 2-row

.5 lbs Caramel 80

Hops: 2 oz Northern Brewer

Yeast: WY2112 California Lager

For hopping, California Common, being as old of a style as it is, does not use any of the newer American, pine/grapefruit hops like Cascade, nor does it use any of the even newer citrusy/juicy hops like Citra. You want a classic old world hop, like Northern Brewer, which has evergreen, wood and mint characteristics. It is the exact hop used in Anchor Steam, which is exactly why we use it in our recipe too.

You’ll notice again that this recipe uses the more flavorful 2-row barley malt, as opposed to the 6-row malt that would have been much more common pre-prohibition. That is because we are following the more modern interpretation of a California Common from the 1970s. If you want to match the gold rush era Steam Beer, then I would suggest substituting out the 2-row for 6-row for a more rustic beer, and probably adding a lb of flaked corn.

Additionally, our recipe comes out at a light amber, whereas the style should be decidedly amber. This is a personal choice and how our recipe has been written since its inception some seven plus years ago. If you want that solid amber color along with adding some complexity in the form of toasty flavors, I recommend adding in a half pound of an amber (20-27L) malt and a half pound of a crystal light malt (38-44L).

A Final Note…Current Status of Anchor Steam

Before I go, I want to cover some current events regarding the California Common, or indeed, Steam Beer. Rather unfortunately, if I were to go looking for Anchor Steam at my nearest bottle shop, I would be unable to find it.

In the Summer of 2023, Anchor Brewing was shut down and waiting liquidation from the holdings of Sapporo. Fear not, however, in late Spring 2024, they were saved by the CEO and founder of Chobani, who purchased the brewery and is set to revive Anchor Steam, again! This marks another chapter of stubborn persistence for the California Common, but even without Anchor Brewing, as homebrewers, we can carry on the style’s truly American legacy in our pots, fermentors, and stomachs. 

To Steam Beer!

The Classic American Beer – Cream Ale

Written by Edward Salse

The Cream Ale.

One of the few completely unique to America beer styles. This style has been brewed since the late 19th century. It was invented here with a purpose, rather than taken from England and then using American ingredients. Much like Munich breweries invented the Helles Lager to compete with the pale Pilsner beers coming out of Czechia in the mid-1800s, the Cream Ale was created for the sole purpose of competing with the American Lager.

19th century painting of a group of people standing and sitting at a table with a white table cloth discussing cream ale beer

As we will explore further in the other entries in our Brewing In America series, German immigrants brought with them Lager brewing techniques and yeast. They created a tour de force of a brewing culture here that the original Ale/Porter brewers from Britain were struggling to compete against.

Using large amounts of the abundant 6-Row barley found in North America, new malting methods capable of creating paler malt, and a plethora of corn, ale brewers were able to produce a straw-yellow beer. This beer had fewer malty toast aromas than their pale ale and porter cousins across the pond in Britain. The softer and lighter malt flavor mimicked the cracker and white bread flavors found in continental 2-row pilsner malt. This was evident in the American Lager that was taking the continent by storm. Yeast selections changed to ale yeasts that are ‘cleaner’ and impart fewer of their own flavors during the fermentation process.

All of these decisions led to the creation of a beer style (still an Ale) with a light cracker/white bread and slight corn flavor. It had little hop character and a clean yeast flavor. This beer was actually light and crisp enough to give the American Lager a run for its money. It also had a high carbonation level. When combined with the light corniness, it earned itself the moniker “Cream Ale.” Thus, a truly American beer style was born.

Now let’s brew one.

Perfect Brewing Supply Simone's Golden Promise Cream Ale Kit image with a gymnast image made out of red, yellow and white spots showing a jumping image

Brewing A Cream Ale – Simone’s Golden Promise

The BJCP Style Guidelines list the stats of Cream Ale as the following:

IBU: 8 – 20

SRM: 5 – 20

OG: 1.042 – 1.055

FG: 1.006 – 1.012

ABV: 4.2% – 5.6%

Stats are all well and good but we need some meat and potatoes, or malt and hops rather. 

Here is our recipe for a Cream Ale called Simone’s Golden Promise:

Grains: 8.5 lbs 2-row

0.5 lbs Flaked Barley

0.5 lbs Flaked Corn

Hops: .75 oz Willamette

Yeast: Omega West Coast Ale I (OYL-004)

You will notice our recipe uses all 2-row instead of 6-row. This was a decision we made since, despite the historical accuracy, we found that batches of this beer made with 6-row had too little flavor and body, and were not as enjoyable to drink as the maltier version. We also added flaked barley to increase the body and give a creamier mouthfeel, to really lean into the name.

For hops, we went with a historically used American hop, Willamette, a daughter of British Fuggles. There is just enough hops to balance out the malt sweetness, and largely keep hop flavor to a minimum since that is not what this style is about.

Lastly, we chose a super clean American yeast, known as the ‘Chico’ strain since it hails from Chico, California. It’s a super neutral strain, that imparts little ester character to the finished beer, despite being an Ale yeast.

That is the essence of a cream ale. I hope you enjoyed this little excursion into one of the few truly American beer styles. This is one of a series of four. As we lead up to the Olympics, sit back, drink a true American beer, and cheer on our incredibly talented athletes!

Gift Buying Guide for your favorite Home-Brewer

Written by Tristan Fanning

Pro Recipe Kit

Give the gift of great beer this year! T Don’t make a “clone recipe” from some of the other guys, these are the real recipes directly from the pro-brewers out there.

Give the gift of kegging

Someone tired of bottling? Why not check out our keg starter kit?  Our kit includes everything to keg and serve 5 gallons of home-brew.

Give the gift of knowledge: Brewers University

Give a person a beer and they will drink for a day, teach them how to make beer and they will be happy for a lifetime! Looking to expand your brewing acumen?  Why not sign up for one of our new classes Starting in January.  
Want to be the hero of the office or family get together? Contact the shop and schedule a private brewing event, we have several different package option available

Homebrew Starter Kits

Get Started with one of our 3 starter kit options.  Our Standard kit gets you everything you need to get started. The deluxe kit upgrades your fermentation options by adding a PET carboy and finally the Ultimate option adds in a wort chiller making guaranteed to make your homebrewer smile on the big day!

All in One Electric Brewing

Electric Brewing has never been better.  Check out our selection of all-in-one electric from Anvil.  They are available in either 6.5 or 10.5 gallon systems.   Order soon to ensure that they arrive in time to get under the tree.

Shop our full gift guide here

DIY Compact Glycol Chiller build

Written by Tristan Fanning

Controlling fermentation temperatures is a major improvement homebrewer’s like us can use to make better beer.  Some use chest freezers or refrigerators to control temps but if you want to do what the pro’s do you need a glycol chiller.  Commercial examples usually start close to $1000 but you can build your own for around $200.  Some of the other homemade examples can be big but this guide shows you that they don’t need to be.

Materials list for your DIY glycol chiller

5000 BTU Air Conditioner with knob controls (not digital)

Anvil Submersible pump

17 QT cooler (or any size that’s taller than it is wide and will fit the coil of your A/C unit)

Temperature Controller

Power Strip (anything that will split the output of the temp controller to 2 outlets and can handle 15 amps)

2 foot by 4 foot ½ inch pressure treated plywood (we will cut this down to the size needed later)

Caster Wheels

Drywall screws

Pipe insulation for ½ inch pipe

2 Gallons Distilled Water

1 Gallon Glycol

Wire nut and Electric tape

Tools

Phillips Screwdriver

Saw that will work on wood and plastic.

Step 1 – Dis-assemble the air conditioner

Before taking the A/C apart move the knob for fan or AC to the max cool setting.  Remove all of the screws that are holding the plastic housings on the front of the air conditioner. You may need to remove the knobs as well to get the front face off the Air conditioner,  you wont be using this piece again so no need to be gentle with it.

Also remove all the screws holding the back cover on and remove the back cover.  You should now have something that looks like the picture to the right. 

Step 2 Disable the thermostat on the air conditioner

We are going to be using a temperature controller, so we need to bypass the thermostat built into the air conditioner.   First be 100% sure the air conditioner is not plugged in.  Then find the 2 wires at the back side of the thermostat, remove them from the thermostat and use the wirenut and electric tape to connect the 2 wire together.  (If you have never used a wire nut before here is a guide).

Step 3- Layout the cooler and cut plywood to size

Start off by placing the A/C unit and the cooler on the plywood then trace around them leaving a few extra inches on all sides so you have space for securing everything, castor wheel mounting etc.. then cut the plywood to size.

Step 4 – Cooler prep

You are going to need to make a few cuts in your cooler.  First remove the lid and at the back of the cooler (the part that will sit closest to the A/C unit) you need to cut a notch for the A/C condenser lines to go into the cooler while still allowing the top to close (see picture to the right).  In addition you need to cut some holes into the lid for you glycol lines to run to your fermenter.

Step 5 – putting the A/C Condenser into the cooler

I put the Air Conditioner on the edge of a table for the next step.  Carefully bend the copper pipes that hold the condenser (the radiator looking part on the front of the A/C unit) so that it goes from being horizontal to vertical  with the pipes facing up.  Next slide the cooler up under the condenser and push the Cooler and A/C back onto the table (this limits the amount of bending you need to do to the copper pipes). 

  One Tip:  when bending pipes don’t try and bend them by moving the pieces they are attached too,  bend them by grabbing the pipe in 2 places and bending (you could also use a pipe bender). This decreases your chances of causing leaks.  

Step 6 – Fasten things down and attach the castors

Next up make it so the A/C and cooler do not move around,  I did this by screwing small blocks of wood on all sides of the cooler and A/C.  I also installed the caster wheels at this time.

Step 7- Reattach the back cover of the AC unit

You will want to re-attach the back cover of the A/C unit,  it helps keep moving things covered and keeps some of the moving parts of the A/C unit stable. Also having the cover on makes it look better!

Step 8– Temperature control and pump

Set your temperature controller probe into the cooler.  Also place the Anvil submersible pump into the cooler (this pump keeps glycol circulating while chilling keeping the temperature even inside the cooler). Plug your power strip or power cube into the cooling outlet of the temp controller,  finally plug the A/C unit and the plug for the Anvil submersible pump into the power strip.   This pump circulates the glycol around the cooler anytime the A/C is chilling which helps distribute the cold.

Step 9-mix the glycol solution

Pour in 2 gallons of distilled water and one gallon of glycol into the cooler (make sure the A/C condenser is mostly covered).  One item of note you can safely go up to a 50:50 mix of glycol to water so if you want extra margin against freezing go for it.  

Step 9 –  Fire it up!

Its time to test it out.  Plug the power stirp into the temp controller, in the temp controller and set it for 30 degrees.  also set the compressor delay to 5 minutes to protect the AC unit.  Your glycol should drop from room temp to 30 degrees pretty quickly (mine took 10 minutes or less).

Congratulations you now own a glycol chiller that will help you make delicious beer!

Chilling out: The exciting world of Homebrew wort chillers

Written by Tristan Fanning

The most common upgrade a new brewer gets after making a few batches of beer is a wort chiller.   There are of course DIY methods of chilling your wort such as submerging your boil kettle in a sink with ice water or sticking it out in the Snow during the winter months.   These methods get the wort down to yeast pitching temperature eventually but it’s a slow process.  In addition you don’t get as much “cold break” or stuff you don’t want in your beer falling out of suspension which happens when you chill the wort quickly.   A wort chiller is a heat exchanger that you put in contact with the wort and chill using cold tap water. Depending on your brewing system, budget and needs there are a few different types of chillers with their pros and cons to consider. 

Immersion Chillers

This is the most common and simplest to use chiller.   It’s a long coil of copper tubing that you submerge in the wort.  We like to occasionally stir the wort during chilling to help speed up the chilling process.  These can be purchased here or you can buy copper tubing and make your own.

Pro’s

Clean up is easy, just spray off with water when your done.

The most economical chilling option

Con’s

This is the least efficient at transferring heat so you will use more tap water chilling

Immersion chillers usually are only good for 5 to 10 gallons of wort.

Counterflow chillers

Counterflow chillers have one small tube that carries wort that is surrounded by another tube that carries cold tap water.   You will need to use a brewing pump to pump the wort through the chiller.  The counterflow chiller pictured to the right in from Spike Brewing and includes a temperature sensor so you can tell the temperature the wort is exiting the chiller.   Having a temperature sensor allows you to transfer straight from a very hot boil kettle into your fermenter by throttling the speed the wort goes through the chiller.

Pro’s

More efficient heat transfer than an immersion chiller (less water used)

Cleaning is still relatively easy (just pump PBW and water through the chiller when done)

The pipes in most of these chillers are large enough to cope with some hop matter being passed through the chiller

Can transfer straight from hot kettle into a fermenter.

Con’s

You need a brewing pump to use this type of chiller. 

More expensive than an immersion chiller

Plate Chillers

A plate chiller is made up of a lot of very thin plates of metal where cold tap water passes on one side of the plate and you pump hot wort on the other.   Plate chillers are very efficient at cooling however the passages in a plate chiller are very small so you can not pump a lot of hop matter through a plate chiller without it getting clogged. 

Pro’s

Most efficient chiller (lower water usage)

Priced similarly to counterflow chillers

Can transfer straight from hot kettle into a fermenter.

Con’s

Small passages cant handle large amounts of hop matter without clogging

A pump is needed to use a plate chiller

If you don’t flush your chiller at the end of a brew-day and wort dries in the chiller it can be a pain to remove.

Conclusion

Wort chillers are one of the first upgrades most brewers consider making to improve their beer quality and brew day experience. There is a chiller out there for every need and budget you just need to decide which fits your set up the best. 

Brewing a Big Beer (Brewer speak for high alcohol beers)

Written by Tristan Fanning

There is no such thing as strong beer only weak drinkers,  at least that’s why we refer to high alcohol beers as “big”.  You may have dabbled with making Pale-Ales maybe an Irish Stout or a Red ale but you long to equal those commercial breweries that make imperial stouts, imperial IPA’s, or Imperial everything!  Its not hard to make an Imperial beer but there are some things to take into consideration before you order 30 lbs. of Marris Otter from our store and dive in.

Yeast

Most homebrew packs are good for 5 gallons of beer up to a gravity of about 1.060.  But 1.060 beers are for the lawn-mower, we want beer at 10%+ alcohol content which requires a starting gravity of about 1.100 or greater.  The yeast need some help by making a yeast starter so you have more cells to ferment that big beer.  As an alternative you can purchase additional yeast packs. 

Use a starer for a high gravity beer

 Boil Considerations

This applies for both our All-grain and extract brewers.  High gravity beers have a higher chance of boil overs so watch out when that wort start to boil.  In addition your hop utilization (how much each ounce of hops contributes to bitterness) is reduced with these big beers which mean you need to use more hops than normal.  We recommend using brewing software or one of our made to order recipe kits so you end up with a delicious well balanced beer.

Wow that’s a full Mash Tun!

When we increase the alcohol content in our beer we also up the amount of grain.  In addition to increasing the amount of grain we also extract less sugars from that grain.  We usually experience an 8-10% drop in efficiency making big beers which requires even more grain.  This all adds up too crunching the numbers (or making a guess!) to make sure your grain bill will fit in your mash tun. 

Fermentation

Fermentation is likely to be more vigorous than your smaller beers. This vigorous fermentation causes a few problems you need to be prepared for.  First use a blow off tube instead of an airlock so that any Krausen that makes it up to the top of the fermenter doesn’t fill the airlock.  Second leave some extra headspace at the top of your fermenter so that Krausen has somewhere  to go.   Also you can expect a significant temperature rise during your fermentation because your yeast are working overtime.  You can put a wet t-shirt over the fermenter  or set the fermenter in a kids pool to help keep it in the correct fermentation range.

In Conclusion

Big beers are fantastic beers to make and drink and you now know what to expect when you make them! If you have any questions give us a call we are happy to answer any of your brewing questions.

Check Our Imperial beer kits

Unboxing and Set-up of the Spike Trio homebrewing system

Written by Tristan Fanning

Un-boxing and setting up of a three-vessel homebrewing system probably only happens once in a lifetime for most people and I am going to share my experience setting up my 10 Gallon Spike Trio system.  The system I decided to order is the Spike Trio 10 gallon with Pipe Thread fittings and the counter flow wort chiller.  I decided to go with the Spike three vessel system over other 3 vessel offerings because I liked the single electric panel and only needing to have one outlet to run the system. 

Un-boxing

The Trio system showed up at Perfect Brewing Supply in five big boxes about a week after I ordered it.  The first box I happened to open was the one that had all the three piece ball valves and quick connect fittings,  there a lot of fittings!!!! The other boxes quickly followed and there is no wasted space every kettle was full of parts. 

 The final piece I unboxed was the electrical control panel which controls the heating elements, pumps, and it has readouts for temperature of the HLT (hot liquor tank), mash tun, and boil kettle.  The instructions from Spike say you should open the panel up to make sure nothing was knocked loose in shipment, check out how professional and organized the electric panel looks inside!

Plumbing and Kettle Assembly

Its time to take this collection of stainless pots and fittings and turn it into a brewing machine!  Spike has a well written set of instructions (you can view the instructions here).  There are a lot 3 piece ball valves and quick connect fittings on the outside and on the inside are push to connect fittings for the dip tubes and HERMS coil. Each kettle has a temperature sensor that also needs to be installed with pipe tape.  The only problem I had through the entire process was putting the dip tube into false bottom of the mash tun was challenging.  Spike tells you to install the false bottom then slide the center pick up into its fitting then pull on it and twist into place this didn’t work that well on this size kettle so after some finagling, I eventually got it into place.  Everything else was smooth sailing and I moved on to electrical next.

Electric set up

The electric panel has threaded screw holes in it that is designed to work with Television wall mounts and that’s how I mounted my panel to the wall which is mandatory because all the electric hookups are on the bottom of the panel.  After the panel is on the wall its just a matter of plugging in the twist lock fittings and plugging in the temperature sensors.  One problem I did run into is the cord that goes to the boil kettle element is very short and with the way I wanted to set up my system the cord wouldn’t reach the boil kettle, so I had to order a longer one from Amazon.  With everything plugged in it was time for the big moment turning everything on for the first time!

Testing

With so many fittings freshly assembled I decided it was a good idea to leak test each kettle by filling them with cold water.  I wanted to do this so if there was a leak it was cold water and not hot wort leaking out.   Nearly everything was leak free with the exception of the heating elements which I discovered you need to support on both sides while you put the tri-clamp on to avoid leaks.  The other spot I found a leak was the push to connect fitting on the HERMS coil, I am really glad I ran this test because had I not run water through the HERMS coil with the HLT empty it would have been a leak that would be very hard to find. 

Auto-tuning

Before your first brew day Spike recommends running the HLT through a process called auto tune where the system learns how to most efficiently keep your HLT at a specific temprature.  After getting the water up to 150 degrees you push a few buttons and auto tuning starts and runs for 30 minutes to and hour.

Boil test

What kind of a test would it be if I didn’t boil some water in the boil kettle. I pumped the hot water from the HLT over to the boil kettle and fired up the boil kettle element.  In a little over 15 minutes I took 8 gallons of water from 130 degrees to boiling! I couldn’t be happier with how fast that went. 

Summary

It took about a total of 5 hours start to finish to go from the system in boxes to boiling water. I tend to be pretty handy and am pretty good at following instructions so your mileage may vary.  Overall I am very happy with how the set up went and cant wait to brew my first batch.  

Grape season 2021 for homemade wine is in the books!

Written by Tristan Fanning

Homemade Wine making season is now in full swing with the arrival of thousands of pounds of fresh grapes! Our grapes arrived last week and all were gone in just 2 days.  A huge thank you to everyone who came out to make our final fresh grape and wine making a success. If you have any questions on how to make homemade wine from grapes or Juice buckets give us a call or check out our post with step by step instructions on how to make your own wine from Juice buckets.

Grape Crushing and Destemming

Our de-stemmer and bladder press were put into overdrive over the weekend processing the grapes for all the Winemakers our there.   And now that the grapes are crushed and pressed that wonderful grape juice is being turned into delicious homemade wine.   Enjoy our photos from our October 2021 grape pick up and don’t forget we sell bottles and corks for the wine sitting in your fermenters. 

Discover where our Equipment is made Spike Factory tour!

Written by Tristan Fanning

Last week I was invited up to the Spike factory in Milwaukee Wisconsin to check out their manufacturing facility and look at their Spike Trio 3 vessel brewing system.   My first impression walking into Spike was like a kid in in a candy store.  Awesome Stainless homebrewing equipment stacked floor to ceiling!

Product displays and testing

The first stop was is their product testing area,  this is where they use and test the products they make.  You can see at least one example of everything in their catalog.  On the hot side the have a 15 gallon Spike Trio three vessel system and the Spike Solo.  They also had the Nano system which is for pro breweries.   On the cold side of things they had their glycol chiller running on a fair number of their fermenters…. These are not just there for eye candy, they do get used because right next to the product test area is a bar for their employees (this no doubt makes for happy employees!).  

On to the factory!   

The factory is sectioned off into a few different spaces.   First up is the fabrication area,  when I visited they were welding some of the massive parts that make up their nano brewing system.

The next stop was where fittings would get welded on to the kettles and fermenters.  One thing we like at Perfect Brewing Supply about spike is that they weld their fittings rather than using weldless fittings which can leak and this is where that magic happens!

The final stop in the factory is polishing.  When you see a spike kettle in person its very highly polished stainless steel and they do all of that in this stop.

In conclusion

A huge thank you to Spike for having me up! The crew at Spike was fantastic, they are very knowledgeable on their products and are very friendly. 

Using a three vessel brewing system for the first time.

Written by Tristan Fanning

Excited, Nervous, then excited all over again.  That’s how I felt the morning I was going to be brewing the Roaring Table Pilsner recipe on the 15-gallon Blichmann pilot system.   This was my first time using what I consider the holy grail of homebrew systems, stainless steel, 3 vessels with recirculating infusions mash and all electric.   After a quick overview of how the system works and pitfalls to watch out for, I was let loose on this system.  

Heating Strike water and Mash-In

The brew day starts like any other All-Grain brew day, heating water up to strike temp which thanks to 240 volts of electric power only took 30 minutes for 7 gallons.   The mash in is where my learning curve started to show, I didn’t account for all that stainless steel, hoses and pumps taking a bunch of heat away from my strike water and Mash in landed about 15 degreed too cold.  Luckily this system is designed to make up for my short comings in planning. I was able to use the Recirculating Infusion Mash (RIMS) which is a fancy way of saying there is an electric coil outside of the mash-tun that the water circulates through to control mash temp.  After 10 minutes all mistakes were forgotten, and we were back at the correct temp. 

With the RIMs system you always have wort circulating from the top of the mash-tun through the grain bed and back through the heating coil.  This constant recirculation delivered my first major quality difference from by Brew in a bag (BIAB) system, Crystal clear Wort!   Not just kind of clear, I am talking finished Pilsner clear!  

Clear Wort through the flow meter

Time to Sparge

After switching around a few hoses, I got the sparge going.  The highlight of the sparge for me is a float valve that controls the level of the water over the grain bed.  This little gadget means I don’t need to babysit a sparge anymore. It’s also far better than my BIAB method of sparging which involved putting a hot water kettle on top of a bucket on top a table for a gravity feed (it might be a little safer too).  

Sparge water flowing into

Rolling into a boil

The boil was standard for anyone who has made a batch of beer.  One difference of note is you can control the percentage of power going to the electric element in the boil kettle, this is how you control how strong the boil is.  

Whirlpool and Chill

The Roaring Table Pilsner recipe I am making has a hefty whirlpool addition of saphir hops.   Using the dedicated whirlpooling port on the kettle and the Blichmann Rip-Tide pumps created a nice strong whirlpool which after 20 minutes I followed with a 15-minute rest period to allow all the hops to drop to the bottom of the kettle. 

Chilling with a plate chiller which is has a lot of little passages that wort passes through on one side and cold water passed on the other was a new experience for me as well.   In about 15 or 20 minutes I had the entire 13 gallons of wort chilled to a couple degrees above the tap water temp and sitting in the fermenter. 

Conclusion

For a brewer that for years has used an electric BIAB system like the grainfather, using the 3-vessel system was not as hard of a transition or having as large of a learning curve as I had expected.   It certainty was less physical work since I did not have any lifting of heavy grain bags.  It was also a very fun experience that I would say you would want to try at least once (Rent the system for a day here).   The real question is would I spend my own money to buy one?  You bet I would, there is a reason 3 vessel systems are the pinnacle of home brewing equipment, and I am considering order a Spike Trio from Perfect Brewing Supply for myself.

Three Vessel Pro’s and Con’s

Pro’s

It looks like a pro-brewery –  ok I know that’s kind of subjective but really all your brewing friend are going to be jealous of this in your brewery.

Control and Repeatability- because of the level of control with this system you can make the same beer time after time which helps you become a better brewer by reducing variables in your process

Ease of use- This is a purpose built brewing system so you are no longer trying to hold things together with chewing gum and duct tape.  This lets you focus more on the beer your trying to make and less on problem solving.  

Con’s

Cost- There is no way around it, this is the pinnacle in homebrewing equipment and its priced like it.  

Lack of portability-  you aren’t going to be carrying this up from the basement to the garage to brew on a nice day. You also need dedicated 240V outlets.

Need dedicated space- If you have space limitations check out the Spike Solo or the Grainfather