Since we got our 3 BBL system, we’ve started brewing more ten gallon batches in order to have a greater variety of beers on tap. I’d like to run through what we use to do these smaller batches, because I think it represents the best and most economical system for homebrewers. There are better setups available, but in my opinion, there isn’t much of a reason to go beyond these items unless you have money to burn.
Burner: Bayou Classic Double Jet Burner. This burner sounds like a jet engine, but it is so fast, at nearly double the BTUs of standard burners, if you blink you’ll overshoot your temperature. This is my favorite item and makes brewing a small batch so much quicker.
Boil Kettle: We use a keggle (kettle made from cutting the top of an old keg off with a plasma cutter). However, if you don’t have an old keg lying around, please don’t do this with a keg from a store. Breweries charge a deposit that isn’t even close to the value of the keg, so if someone doesn’t return it, they lose money. A better choice is just a 15 gallon stainless steel pot. Avoid aluminum since it shouldn’t be cleaned with caustic cleaners such as PBW.
Hot Liquor Tank: Igloo 10 gallon beverage cooler. Pretty straightforward. Take out the spigot, install a weldless bulkhead and ball valve.
Mash Tun: 70 quart cooler and copper manifold. This mash tun will allow you to brew higher gravity 10 gallon batches, or super high gravity five gallon batches. The copper manifold is easy to build with a sawsall and half inch copper pipe, with horizontal slits cut for drainage. When you need to clean it, just take pop it apart. We’ve never had a stuck sparge, even with heavy amounts of rye and no rice hulls.
Thermometer: Thermoworks RT301WA digital thermometer. Accurate, fast, inexpensive.
Pump: Chugger pump. Not absolutely necessary. Before, we would lift our mash tun or boil kettle onto the top of the brick wall outside and use gravity to transfer. However, you need a pump if you don’t have a second person to help with this. I’ve done it by myself, but usually end up burning myself a bit…having the pump is nice, especially for vorlaufing. This pump has a steel head and is rated to 250 degrees. Get yourself some quick disconnects and hoses, and you’re good to go. An on/off pedal is nice, too.
Fermenter: Speidel 15 gallon plastic fermenter. We actually use 15 gallon conical fermenters, but that’s just because we can afford to splurge on something that in my opinion just isn’t necessary for homebrewers. The appeal of the stainless conicals is that you can dump yeast and transfer under CO2 pressure. However, the limited exposure to oxygen that you will get when transferring the beer out of the Speidel is not really a problem, and isn’t worth spending an extra $400. The Speidel fermenters are made of a much higher quality HDPE plastic than your run-of-the-mill bucket fermenters. They are very air tight, and the racking arm works great. Speidel is a fantastic company that just does a great job on everything they make.
I am not sure if this has finally sunk in with the homebrewer community, but please, skip the secondary fermenter. Totally unnecessary for anything other than a sour. You’re just exposing your beer to more oxygen for no reason. Dry hops, oak chips, etc, can all be added directly to the fermenter.
So, there you have it. That setup will make a nice amount of beer for home consumption quickly, effectively, and for a reasonable price. You can save your shiny Blichmann stuff–it won’t really help you brew better beer. I omitted some extras: a good PH meter, oxygen stone, flask and stir plate are all nice things to have as well, but not essential.