Brewer’s Edge Mash & Boil

MandB Cream Ale

That’s right everybody, I’m documenting my brewing again!  But fret not, I will not be dragging this on for an entire week.  This time I will just be reviewing my first experience brewing with the Brewer’s Edge Mash & Boil.  Before I make any personal observations, I will include the description of the Mash & Boil from the Williams Brewing website:

• Simple to use
• High quality components throughout for dependable operation
• Versatile – Mash, Boil, and Distill with optional Distilling package
• Two Year Warranty

Do you want to get into mashing but want something simple? The patented Brewer’s Edge® Mash & Boil makes it easy. No need for an outdoor burner, complicated brewing stand, or a 220 volt special circuit – it plugs into any 110 volt GFI household outlet. The Mash and Boil’s exclusive double wall stainless construction conserves heat to achieve a rolling boil with only 110 volts and 1600 watts, and its precise thermostat and internal sparging basket lets you mash and boil in the same vessel. Protected by U.S. patent D819,385 S.

A typical brew day with the Mash & Boil begins with formulating your 5 gallon all grain recipe (up to 16 pounds of crushed grain can be mashed), and then heating your strike water to 162° F, the preset heat temperature. After 40 minutes or so, your strike water is 162° F, and you mix your crushed grain into the sparging basket already inside the Mash and Boil. The mash will cool to 152° or so, and then you set your thermostat to 150°, cover, and let mash for 1 hour. During this mash time you will need to separately heat 3 gallons of sparge water to 175° in a separate pot you provide. A thermometer hole is provided in the lid, in case you want to monitor the temperature of the top of the mash with any long probe analog or digital thermometer.
After one hour, lift the sparging bucket and lock on its included legs, and let the malt sugar drip into your Mash & Boil, which has now became a boiling pot. Turn the thermostat up to 218° F. and give it about 40 minutes to heat to a boil. During this time, ladle one gallon of hot sparge water at a time into the top of the sparging basket until you get to 5½ gallons. Now remove the grain basket, and when the boil begins, add your hops as per your recipe. Boil for 1 hour, and then cool with a suitable wort chiller (not included, our item E81 works well as does any immersion chiller that is up to 11″ in diameter). Or use the stainless valve with ½” hose barb to run the wort through your external chiller. 

The Mash & Boil features an adjustable thermostat with a range of 45° F. to 218° F. (switchable from Fahrenheit to Centigrade) with an adjustable run time preset at 3½ hours for safety. It also features a delayed start timer, so you can program the Mash and Boil to turn on up to 24 hours after setting. For example, load it with strike water, and have it set to be hot when you come home from work to save time. Intended for 5 gallon batches, maximum capacity is 7½ gallons. 28” tall closed, 40” tall with basket, 14” wide. A 5′ power cord is included.

Fortunately electric brewing systems like the Grainfather, PicoBrew and Mash & Boil have been out for a few years now, so a lot of the kinks have been worked out by previous owners.  Knowing this, I read a lot of reviews and watched videos of people using the system before I even ordered it.  The general consensus seemed to indicate two main drawbacks: 1) at a maximum 1600 watts the heating time is slower than other, more traditional, brewing methods and 2) the location of the temperature probe at the bottom of the kettle makes for inaccurate readings.  For my purposes, neither of these was a dealbreaker.  First of all, I am almost never in a hurry when I brew, so a slower heating time is not really an issue for me.  Even if it were, the fact that I can set the timer to start heating my strike water ahead of time eliminates that initial delay.  Secondly, it’s very easy to stir the mash and take a reading from the top to verify the true temperature.  That way I’m not relying on the built in probe.  Additionally, once I have brewed on the system 3 or 4 times, I will have dialed in where my system settings need to be and won’t need to check the mash every 15 minutes for confirmation.  The one other recommendation I took advantage of was to use a BIAB bag inside the sparging basket.  Some people had reported that the mesh screen bottom of the provided basket would occasionally allow stray grains to escape and land on the heating element at the bottom.  The result would be to shut off the system and give an error message that couldn’t be reset until everything was emptied out and rinsed off.

So how did it all work for me?  To begin with, I did a test run with 7 gallons of water a few days before actually brewing.  My goal is to stick with the no-sparge method I have been using for the past year, so I filled the kettle to the easily-readable 7 gal. mark, set my target temp to 158F and let it go.  I know the included instructions say 162F, but the larger starting water volume of the no-sparge method requires a slight temperature adjustment.  It did take a full 45 minutes to reach temp so, yeah, it’s not the fastest method.  During my actual brew day, however, I can use the timer to start heating before I’m planning on doughing in.

On Saturday morning, before I left for work, I did exactly that.  I filled the kettle to the 7 gallon mark, inserted my nylon mesh bag into the sparging basket and set the timer to start heating to 158F half-an-hour before I expected to get home.  The timing was perfect.   By the time I got home, milled my grains and laid out my boil additions the strike temp had been reached.  At this point, I’m not sure how I feel about doughing in to a tall, narrow container with the bag inside.  It is very difficult to stir in the grains without getting wrapped up in the bag and the grains don’t soak up the water and drop down quickly enough on their own.  Even without the bag, I have never been a fan of pouring grain with one hand and stirring with the other.  I suspect that I may have to rethink my no-sparge method with the limited space.  If I start with less water then I will have plenty of room to add my grains without overflowing the basket.  I also learned that it drains very quickly, so a sparge with this system will not significantly increase my time.

The temperature setting was right on.  I took a reading after stirring up the mash completely and it came up at 152.2F.  I then lowered the temp controller to 152F.  I continued to take readings at 10-15 minute intervals throughout the mash and found that it maintained a fairly consistent mash temp of 150F-154F.  The variations occurred at the low end before the heating element would kick on and at the high end before it turned off again.  The proof, however, is in the conversion.  After one hour I took a refractometer reading and found that my post-mash gravity was 10.2 Brix (1.040 SG).  BeerSmith estimated a 1.042 SG post-mash.  (see M&B Cream Ale recipe link above ).  Close enough for me.

As per the instructions, I re-set the temp controller to 218F.  After 35 minutes more I had achieved a boil and started a timer for 40 minutes.  You may notice that I did not make any hop additions.  I have not had a water test done, but through experience I suspect that my water is high in sulfates because my hoppier beers often have a slightly harsh bitterness.  Therefore I have recently adopted Josh Weikert’s recommendation to forego the traditional bittering hop addition and make my first hop addition at 20 minutes remaining.  At the same time I insert my immersion chiller to sterilize it.  With this beer, I made a final addition at 1 minute and then began chilling.  I found that this is one area in which the Mash & Boil is much faster than my shorter, wider pot.  Due to the geometry of the M&B, there is almost complete contact between the wort and the chiller, so I get from boiling down to 75F in about 15 minutes without counterflow or a prechiller.  With a carboy, oxygenation stone and tubing sanitized and ready to go, I transferred the beer, added 1 packet of US-05 and put the soon-to-be-beer into my fermentation chamber with the temp controller set to 60F.

My overall impression is that I’m quite pleased with the purchase.  What I consider negatives are the aforementioned difficulties doughing in and the height of the system which requires brewing on a low shelf in order to have enough leverage to be able to lift out the sparging basket.  As a result of the low brewing surface, I then have to lift the system with 5-plus gallons of wort onto my regular workbench in order to gravity feed into the carboy.  It’s really no big deal now, but for anyone who isn’t physically able to lift 50 pounds or so, I would highly recommend pump transfers.

The positives are the timer, the single vessel brewing and, perhaps most importantly for me, the stupidly quick and easy clean-up.  Also, one of the common complaints from previous brewers was how much of a variation there was between the thermostat and the actual wort temperature.  I did not experience it.  Perhaps the manufacturer improved the thermostat.  Perhaps I just got lucky.  Either way, it wasn’t an issue for me.  I hit all of my numbers and was pleased with how easy it is to use.  If you are considering an all-in-one mash and boil electric system, I would highly recommend the Brewers Edge Mash & Boil.  It is relatively inexpensive, easy to use, easy to clean and accurate.

Happy Brewing!