It's time for me to share a little bit of the love that I have for my Grainfather. Just a little history so you know where I am coming from, the Grainfather was my leap from extract brewing to all-grain. I knew it was a bit more of an expensive option, but after reading reviews, I thought there was value to make it worth while (and Pam still blames Josh Zimmer a little bit). And if you saw my Facebook post recently, Grainfather the company sent me a replacement unit about a month ago after my first unit would not heat to a boil.
I have to say that I couldn't be happier with the Grainfather. There are a couple of additional items that I have purchased that make my brewing easier. In the above picture, you will notice my Grainfather is wearing a jacket that helps keep it warm on those cold brew days. I also have the sparge water heater and a hop spider. The one thing that I do wish I could change, is getting the 220 volt unit. That is only available in Europe and Australia. Here in the USA, we have to stick with the 120 volt.
Where I think you get the most bang for the buck with the Grainfather is mashing. The pump that recirculates the wort keeps the temperature steady. The ability to step mash is done with the push of a button; in fact, the new control box allows you to program up to 4 steps that will happen automatically for the pre-determined times that you add. It doesn't get easier than that.
Sparging is what I have heard called a fly-batch sparge process. Essentially you are lifting the grain basket above the wort where it rests at the top of the unit. This allows the wort to drain through those grains that it had been mashing in for the past 60 or so minutes. You then pour whatever the amount of water needed over the basket to get the final rinse of those grains and capture any remaining sugars for the boil. It's about a 5/8 amount of water for the mash and then 3/8 for the sparge split. This is why I have the separate sparge water heater to get the sparge water at proper temperature.
I brew 5 gallon batches almost all the time. The Grainfather can accommodate my recipes very easily. I've gotten 20 pounds of grain into the mash basket and didn't have a problem (I was probably pushing the limits, but it worked). It can allow for a 7 gallon batch, but I've never tried. I also have gone as low as a 2.5 gallon batch and I don't think they recommend anything lower than that. So our 10 gallon batch brewers might not be so keen on the Grainfather.
It comes with a counter-flow chiller for the end of the brew and chilling the wort. I just run the connection to my hose bib and I get a much cooler wort in the winter and can pitch my yeast right away. In the summer I need to let my fermenter cool down to pitching temp before adding the yeast. I usually just let the carboy sit overnight in the cooler and then pitch in the morning.
My brew day is about 4.5 hours long. There are steps along the way that allow me to get some cleaning done, but the bulk of cleaning needs to wait until the wort is in the fermenter and the unit is empty. It's important to clean the pump quickly so that nothing dries up and causes the pump to stick.
I've got a few dozen brews under my belt at this point (including today's batch of Bad Santa). I've had really easy brew days and really hard brew days. Almost all of the variance falls on my own errors or changes that I try to make. I hope this review helps you get a feel for what the Grainfather is capable of. If you have any questions, please reach out. I'm happy to share my own experiences and tips that I've found along the way.