Using a three vessel brewing system for the first time.
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!
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).
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.
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
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.
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