Choosing a Kettle For Making Homebrew

Choosing a kettle to make your homebrew is easy, right? Well, it can be, but probably won’t be.

The list is endless, and you first need to decide if you’re going to be a Brew-In-A-Bag (BIAB) full volume system brewer versus a two-pot or three-pot brewer. Once you decide, you’ll probably change your mind countless times. You’ll begin looking and probably get lost down one of the many rabbit holes. 

As a shopper, it pays to do your research and try to avoid knee-jerk purchases. If you can play the long game and plan to buy when the traditional sales occur, you can save yourself a few quid. In any case, It’s always worth looking around to research what suits you, so you get the right kettle. 

If you’re looking for an all-in-one system, there’s a great series of blog posts by Nick Davis on his journey to buying a Grainfather G40

If you’re looking to BIAB and brew with a full volume mash or go to a 2-pot system, you’ll either want to use your kettle to mash in or use a separate Mash Tun. You’ll then use the kettle as an HLT and to boil wort with. 

For the rest of this post, I’ll talk about choosing a kettle for a three-pot system. This kettle will also suit BIAB and 2-pot brewers.

General Considerations

One major consideration you’ll want to make when you pick a kettle for your homebrew, is how you plan to heat it. Before you decide how you want to heat your home brew kettle, you need to understand which pots will work with the heating method. 

Kettle Considerations

For homebrewing purposes, and your own safety, I’d recommend that you stick to boiling large volumes of wort in a stainless steel container. 

A lot of homebrewers make their first kettles out of thick food grade polypropylene buckets and add a 2.4kW kettle element or two. Some even temperature control them with various PID methods and Inkbird ST-1000 controllers. These can (and do) work well, but can not be considered a good long term solution. Once the inner Magpie is fed with shiny vessels, you are forever doomed…

Heating Method Considerations

There’s a number of ways to get your kettle up to a healthy rolling boil. It’s important to get a good rolling boil to drive off various volatiles that you don’t want in your final beer, however low they may be in modern, highly modified malts. 

To achieve a rolling boil, you’ll want to choose from external or direct heating methods like: 

  • Gas burner (Propane or butane)
  • Induction hob
  • Electric elements

Gas Burner

If you plan on using a gas burner, you’ll need to get propane or butane gas. 

Unless you (or a willing family member or friend) have a contract for a bottle, getting a replacement or a new bottle often isn’t possible. Why? There’s a shortage of gas bottles as people are busy selling them on Facebook marketplace for £5-10 a pop. This is probably the most affordable way of getting a cheaper bottle of gas. If you have a bottle to swap, you can get a new gas bottle with few questions asked, without one, you’ll probably be stuck. 

Gas Type Considerations

One consideration to make before you choose your gas is temperature. If you plan on brewing a freezing cold garage or shed, actually anything under about 10C, then you’ll struggle if you use butane as your gas supply. 

Butane is identifiable in blue Calor Gas bottles and has a boiling point of around minus 1C. In real terms, once you use it in the cold of a normal winter, 0C to 10C, then the performance really drops off. You’ll struggle to maintain a rolling boil without shaking the bottle every few minutes. 

Propane is available in red Calor Gas bottles and has a much lower boiling point. Propane remains usable in normal British winter temperatures without any issues. 

Choosing A Gas Burner

You can buy all kinds of gas burners that are capable of running on either of the natural gasses mentioned. 

A quick look on the Malt Miller website and you’ll find a gas burner to suit you. The budget 7.5 kW gas burner and stand works admirably or choose the very sexy 11.4 kW Anvil Forge burner, that offers you all the boiling power you need for larger batches.

Induction Hob

Again, there are induction hobs available to suit your budget. From repurposing a kitchen induction hob to buying a purpose made, single hob unit. You can buy less expensive 2.7kW induction hobs for around £110 (at the time of writing). Or you can also pay more and max out your home plug’s capacity and buy a 3kW Induction hob, like the Buffalo

If you want to use an induction hob, of course you’ll need to ensure your kettle is induction compatible. 

What is Induction Heating  

Induction cooking directly heats a cooking vessel by electrical induction, instead of by thermal conduction from a flame, or an electrical heating element. The cooking vessel must be made of or contain a ferromagnetic metal such as cast iron or stainless steel. This method of cooking is highly efficient. 

How Do I Tell If My Kettle Will Work On an Induction Hob?

To use an induction hob, you need to ensure that your pans are suitable to use on an induction hob. Stainless Steel is durable and easy to clean. Stainless steel kettles are a great choice for induction cooking. However, cooking results can sometimes be uneven. This can be resolved by buying a pot with a multi-layered base, designed to evenly spread the heat. 

Not all stainless steel is magnetic. The best way to check if your pans are induction hob compatible, is to see if a magnet will stick to the bottom of the pan. If it does, your pan should work with an induction hob.

Electric Elements

This is a subject with many solutions, but as with most things liquid and electric related, you really need to know what’s going on. As I’m not an expert, I’m not going to tell you what to do here, other than to seek professional advice. 

Basically, make sure the elements and controllers are properly wired and isolated to avoid imminent death or burning your brew shed/garage/house down. 

Direct Heating

Lots of homebrewers use 2x 2.4kW kettle elements in their kettles and HLTs (Hot Liquor Tanks). This is because they can get away with using a couple of separate sockets on the existing 13A fused plug socket. This is possible on what is considered a standard garage installation, consisting of: 2.5 mm cable and 20A garage supply.

Cautionary notes on garage electrics: Your electrics may be different to anything mentioned here, so get them checked out by a professional. It is important to ensure that you don’t overload your garage electrics. Seek professional advice to ensure that your garage spur is up to the job of handling the load you plan to put on it. It’s essential to ensure the cabling and circuit protection is correct and rated to suit your needs and circuit.

Control Panels For Your Electric Brewery

There are some great control panel projects out there. Some home brewer’s use switched control boxes and PID controllers to power individual 2.4 kW or 3 kW elements. This allows you to run multiple electric elements (HLT/Kettle/RIMS) without overloading the electrics. You do need to consider the total current required by each electrical element and the capability of the electric supply. Only a qualified electrician is in a position to give you the best advice regarding what your garage/brew shed spur is capable of.

If you’re interested, there’s a beginners guide blog post, covering the making of a 3 kW RIMS system set up and PID controller.

Round up

What have you learned? There are lots of options available, and you need to decide which direction you want to go in. Once you’re happy with your choices, make a list of what you want out of your homebrew equipment and narrow the field to find what suits you best.

Good luck, and please, feel free to let us know what you decided to go for.

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