Replacing BEERMKR with Traditional Brewing Equipment
When talking to homebrewers doing it the old fashioned way, we usually get the question: “why use a BEERMKR instead of using [enter your favorite piece of traditional brewing equipment here]?”. The answer is easy: because no other piece of brewing equipment combines every aspect of brewing like BEERMKR does.
In this article, we’re going to unpack that question and that answer and see how much equipment you really would need to do everything BEERMKR does for you and your brews. We’re going to look at all phases of the brewing process and lay out what pieces of traditional brewing equipment you will need to accomplish each vs simply using a BEERMKR.
To summarize what BEERMKR does:
- It mashes your grain and hits all the enzyme activation temperatures along the way
- It pasteurizes everything to ensure no germs survive
- It cools the wort to yeast pitch temperatures
- It monitors CO2 production during fermentaiton and heats or cools to maintain the fermentation temp you set for each fermentation stage: pitch, lag, primary, rest, crash. Or just select a yeast profile temp preset.
- It automatically progresses the fermentation temperatures based on yeast phase.
- It crashes and clarifies your beer
- Oxygen and germ free transfers to the BEERTAP.
All in all, you'll be spending 10 to 15 minutes of your time on each brew. 5 to set it up, another 5 at yeast pitch, and another 5 while transferring to the BEERTAP. Cleanup is a snap - just toss your brewtub in the dishwasher and recycle the plastic brewbag.
Now let's see what it will take to replace this process with traditional brewing equipment!
Mashing is the process of converting the starches of your grain into fermentable sugars. There are also various enzymes which can be activated along the way to do different things, like break down beta glucans and proteins producing a higher quality, more fermentable wort. Achieving the right temperature also dictates whether you’re be producing a mash with an alpha-amylase bias, responsible for complex unfermentable sugar production, or a beta-amylase bias, responsible for simple fermentable sugar production. Temperature control during the mash is key to producing a healthy, fermentable wort. Some methods, like brew in a bag, are near impossible to control the temperature to any degree of reliability. Others like insulated cooler mash tuns provide the temperature stability, but lack controllability in changing the temperature. RIMs and HERMs systems use pumps, temperature controllers, and multiple heating vessels to control the temperature of the mash and are far better than just cooler mash tuns or stove top brew in a bag setups. Finally there are the integrated mash and boil devices such as Mash & Boil and Grainfather. These are all in one RIMs systems that make temperature control easy, but come with a hefty price tag.
Brew In A Bag
Brew Kettle: $89
Brew Bag: $10
Mash Tun Cooler
Mash Tun Cooler: $200
Brew Kettle: $89
Heat Exchange Coil: $89
Temperature Controller: $50
High Temperature, Beverage Grade Pump: $120
Brew Kettle: $89
All In One Mash and Boil
Automated Mash and Boil System: $299-$999
A Note On Extracts
You can use extract to skip this step, but extracts usually leave a certain “extract taste” that you’ll never find in commercially produced beer, so for the purpose of this article we’re going to ignore extract because the results just aren’t as good as all grain mashes.
This part of the process is relatively straight forward. In the case of the Brew In A Bag and the All In One methods of mashing, you'll simply remove your grain and crank up the heat to get it to a boil. This is the major benefits of these systems since you won't be transferring your wort to a boil kettle because you'll just boil in the same vessel. Both the RIMs and the cooler mash tun will need a pump or gravity to move the wort into a boil kettle.
After your boil is complete, you'll need to remove the heat somehow. Some brewers will transfer to their fermenter while the wort is still hot. This isn't great to do because it introduces oxygen to the hot wort, potentially oxidizing compounds in the wort which can produce off flavors in the glass. Therefore brewers use a wort chiller to cool the wort down in temperature. Wort chillers are large coils or plates that wort and cold water pass through to exchange the heat out of the wort. They are often plugged into a garden hose.
Coil Wort Chiller
Coil Wort Chiller: $75
Fermentation is where beer is made. The old adage goes "brewers make wort, yeast make beer". And that is largely true. However the job of the brewer is by no means done when fermentation begins. Temperature control and yeast management is critical to the beer coming as the style you set out to make that is free from off flavors.
Fermenters range from flat bottomed buckets all the way up to temperature controlled conicals. Buckets do work well, however the lack of cone on the bottom makes yeast removal difficult. Conicals are wonderful because the yeast gathers in a tight cone on the bottom of the vessel, allowing them to be easily separated from your finished beer.
Flat Bottomed Buckets
Flat Bottomed Bucket: $14
These include inexpensive plastic conicals all the way up to multi-thousand dollar stainless steel conicals.
Fermentation Temperature Control
Without temperature control, you're leaving your finished beer entirely up to chance. Fermenting a few degrees above or below the ideal temperature range for a yeast can render off-flavors that will make your beer taste like bad homebrew instead of pro-quality beer you find at the store. Most ale yeast require a temperature between 65º and 68º to make off-flavor-free beer. Lager yeast need to be fermented between 50º and 54º. Saison yeast need to be at 78º-84º. Kveik needs to be at 100º. Stray just a few degrees above or below these ranges and you'll get noticeable off flavors.
Here are the options to control temperature:
Second refrigerator and temperature controller
Temperature Controller: $50 - $100
Extra space in your house to hold a second refrigerator: YMMV
Place your fermenter into this bag, then add a few frozen 2-liter bottles. The frozen 2-liters will absorb heat inside the airspace of the bag and keep your fermenting beer 5º to 10º below the ambient temperature of your room. This is very hard to control the actual temperature of your fermenting beer, which allows off flavors to still be produced, and you'll have to swap frozen bottles once every day or two.
Insulated Bag: $69
These glycol chillers are miniature versions of their commercial counterparts that circulate cold glycol through a coil inside your fermenter (costs extra) or a special jacket wrapped around your fermenter (also costs extra). They are extremely accurate and produce high quality fermentations.
Glycol Chiller: $699-$1999
Fermentation Progress Monitoring
To properly manage your yeast temperatures, you must know what stage of fermentation they are in. Unless your fermenter is a clear carboy, you won't be able to tell by looking at it. Commercial breweries have fancy real time gravity and alcohol sensors in their tanks they can use to understand how fermentation is progressing, or they can take a sample and measure it manually. For homebrewers, taking a manual sample can be an option, but there are also tools available to help make that process automatic and safe by use of wireless communication.
Sanitize the spigot and pull a sample into a glass and measure the gravity with a hydrometer. You can then use this information to change the temperature of your fermenting yeast.
This floats inside your fermenting beer and it measures the buoyancy of the device. The more buoyant, the more sugar is present. The less buoyant, the less sugar is present. It then connects to your smart phone via bluetooth to give your real time readings. The real problem with these is they are information only and it's up to you to use the information to make changes to your fermentation.
Floating Hydrometer: $149
There are many options to serve your finished beer, ranging from bottles all the way up to your own kegerator system. Bottling is very labor intensive but the portability of bottles is undeniable. Kegs are extremely convenient, but are bulky and expensive. There are smaller portable options, but they only hold 1 gallon at a time.
Bottling requires bottles, caps, a capper, a bottling line, priming sugar, and a bottling bucket. The beer needs to be transferred to the bottling bucket to be mixed with the priming sugar which will allow the remaining yeast to ferment in the bottle producing carbonation. The challenge with this method is you do it in the presence of oxygen which can cause infections and oxidation in your bottles
Bottling Wand: $12
Bottling Bucket: $18
Bottle Caps: $5
1-Gallon Portable Kegs
1-Gallon Portable Keg: $150
Bottling Wand: $12
Kegerator, Kegs, and CO2
By far the most luxurious beer serving setup, it's your own bar in your basement. Or garage. Or living room. Or wherever you can find place to stash it. Plug in the keg, set your pressure, and wait for it to carbonate. Pull just a little bit at a time to taste or pull a series of pints for friends.
CO2 Regulator: $70
Corny Keg: $100
Cleanup is the drag on every brew day. Every piece of equipment you see on this page needs to be cleaned somehow. These are also large items so you'll need to use specialized cleaners such as PBW which dissolve beer gunk and will have you running hoses or putting all this stuff in your bathtub to get hot water. It's not uncommon for brewers to spend over an hour cleaning their equipment, and there are even automated systems you can buy to make the process a bit easier.
What's The Cost?
Lowest Price Without Temperature Control: $353
Choosing all of the least expensive options above will get you a Brew In A Bag mash setup, a wort chiller, a brew bucket, an insulated fermentation bag, a hydrometer, and bottles. This method will be 100% up to your skill as a brewer to manage all of the temperatures, cleaning, and sanitation to produce off-flavor free beer. While it's certainly possible to do, chances are high you will run into bumps in the process that can generate off flavors.
Lowest Price with Temperature Control: $674
Choosing the equipment that will give you the ability to control the temperature on the hot side and on the cold side will add a decent about of cost, but it will allow you to produce defect free beer if you can also manage to keep the beer from oxidizing and getting infected during transfer. This also requires 6-8 hour brew days and manual monitoring of the whole process. This includes a mash tun cooler, brew kettle, fermentation buckets, a refrigerator with temperature control, a hydrometer, and bottles. Swapping out the mashtun cooler for a low priced all in one mash and boil unit is advised as they're not too much more expensive and you get some automation on the mash side.
Adding a draft system: $766 - $1,364
Just swapping out bottles and adding a Kegerator to above will drive the price north substantially. It's arguable that a kegerator will be a nice accessory for your home, which is undeniable, if you have the space for one. The portable 1-gallon draft system is a great middle ground between bottling and true kegging, but it will only handle 1 gallon and most of this equipment specializes in 5 gallons.
Adding a conical: $846 - $2,363
Conicals give you freedom to manage the yeast like the pros. Add yeast to the bottom or harvest yeast easily. These vessels go a long way to giving you the tools to make great beer.
With BEERMKR, all of these things are built into one convenient countertop device that costs just $649. It takes 5 minutes to set up a brew, it monitors temperatures and CO2 production, and manages the yeast automatically through CO2 monitoring. The end result is pro-quality beer that you didn't need to spend hours of labor and countless pieces of equipment to produce.