I receive a lot of mixed responses from other homebrewers and professional brewers when I mention that I brew on a Brew-Magic system. They range from awe, comments about having money to burn, even some very snarky suggestions that suggest a real homebrewer builds his/her own system. Truly a mixed bag, and I am sensitive that so many brewers biggest challenge really is their budget. That said – I am proud of my Brew-Magic, it’s a fine piece of equipment, but hardly makes me a better brewer than anyone else.
When I struck out into all grain, I became EXTREMELY frustrated at adjusting and maintaining mash temperatures. Of course, this was complicated with poor measurement tools and practices, as well as a lot of misunderstanding (and over complicated ideas) of brewing science. For example, I never considered mash pH, other than dipping a strip into the mash and giving up because the color of the wort blew away the color strip. I decided I needed a 3 tier brewery – and drooled over all electric systems (Kal’s electric brewery is jaw droppingly stunning!) or something more practical.
In this process, I struck out to find the best system with a track record in commercial brewing. I looked at everything from Blichmann (also stunning premium quality – for the record) to MoreBeer to random custom stands (usually bring your own kettles, etc.). I spoke with several local brewers, and even was offered a 2 barrel system that one was planning to retire. I always had my eye on the Brew-Magic.
So it finally came down to a Blichmann Top-Tier system versus the Brew-Magic. I went to price the Top-Tier out at AHS… and fully kitted (15 gallon kettles) it was (at the time) well north of $3500, and with the addtions of a pump and third burner, closer to $4000. Someone in the shop owned a Brew-Magic, and I sat with him for a half hour and compared the two. He convinced me the Brew-Magic system was worth the extra bucks.
There are three key features that tipped me over – and was worth the extra couple of grand:
- Repeatability. Which, while I admit I do not use this feature as often as I expected, gives me a tremendous tool in comparing batches. Where and when did I change the mash schedule, were temps the same, and so forth.
- Direct Fire and RIMS controls. This really has a lot of advantage over a pure direct fire system. Blichmann has since released their “Tower of Power” system that looks very interesting, but at the time – RIMS and HERMS were largely a DIY engineering exercise.
- Completely featured. All parts included. That meant that within hours of receiving the palettes, I was running a test cleaning cycle and preparing to brew! Despite the daunting task of laying so many parts and pieces, it all went together perfectly. Nothing missing, and no frustrations! This is a high quality and extremely well engineered system.
So now, after 3 years of brewing on the Brew-Magic system, I am thrilled with the choice I have made. By eliminating some of the more frustrating variables – I can brew with confidence that the equipment will be reliable and consistent. I can focus on brewing practice, recipe creation and fermentation.
I am not saying there are no cons, and to be fair, I should review these:
- System sits high. Not as high as a Top Tier, but I am 6′ 5″ and it is still uncomfortable to work in place (like for cleaning). I would recommend a bench stool. Sabco has created a metal step for this purpose.
- Keggles are a PITA to clean. All of the rolled tops, edges and other nooks and crannies catch malt dust that can get wet and drip down onto the burners, and sometimes the edges, though smooth, catch your fingers and nails while scrubbing. Smooth walls and simple handles would be nice. Still – these do look pretty cool.
- Pump issues. Of course, this is not so much a Brew-Magic problem, and more the nature of brewing pumps. There are too many ways for air to lock up the pump, and doubly so when dealing with a sticky mash. Fortunately, there is a bottom valve that can help relieve the air lock. I have the same issue with my ChillWizard and spare March pump.
- Whirlpooling. Since these are “keggles”, the dip tubes connect through a false bottom to the very center of the kettle. So traditional whirlpool techniques don’t work, and using pellet hops becomes a serious challenge. I have to bag them or use a hybrid recirculation and chill process through a strainer bag. This works, but is less than ideal. I still get trub into the fermenters – not a huge issue, but there are times when I wish the wort was brighter. I have an idea that might allow me to whirlpool with a modified false bottom – but will save that for another day.
- Valved liquor/wort distribution. In my mind, there has to be better a better valve choice. I am sure they would cost a ton more, but repeatability is somewhat dependent on speed of recirculation, sparging, etc. Without calibrated valve settings, this is tough… and a very picky nit on my part.
I should also add, that I bought the ChillWizard, mentioned above, Brew-Magic Fermenter and Select Sanke. These two make up my Belgian pipeline, as I ferment at room temperatures with them, as well as condition in the sanke. Easy to clean and sanitize. Just put a gallon or so into the fermenter after a good cleaning and set it on the stove to steam.
What would I do different? At this scale, probably not much. I have avoided replacing the boil kettle with a Blichmann, but that is an option or find a settling /chilling tank or trub filters. I really would like to whirlpool properly! More likely, I would like to step up to a 1 barrel system or larger, but that would require more fermentation space and a lot of friends to help dispose of the product!
All of this is to say, the decision was a very carefully calculated one. I even sold a sports car to fund the purchase. I am hoping (as many home brewers do) that my experience on a commercial pilot brewery could translate into a head start if I should start my own commercial brewery some day. Matt French and the whole team at Brew-Magic are incredibly supportive and provide amazing customer support!
7 thoughts on “Brew-Magic V350MS Review”
I just recently purchased a Brew Magic V350 and brewed my first batch. For the most part things went well but I did have a few issues. Maybe you can give some advice regarding the issues I have had.
1) The siphon in the mash tun seemed to be too long and had a very poor flow rate. I ended up using a hack saw to cut of 1/4″ or so. Still had some issues when actually brewing and transferring the wort. Had to lift up on the siphon a few times to get it flowing properly.
2) In my opinion there seems to be too much dead space in the HLT. Do you have any solution for transferring more of the water from the HLT to the mash? Seems to be around a gallon that just sits bellow the outlet.
Also, do you have any experience with water volumes for a 5 gallon batch. In total I put in 11 gallons for a 5 gallon batch. Ended up with 7.25 gallons in the boil and transferred almost all of that (including most of the trub by mistake) and would guess I only ended up with around 5 gallons when I was hoping for 5.25 or so (and that’s with leaving all the trub and hot break behind)… Is it just me or does 11 gallons seem like a little bit too much.
Overall it was a successful first batch. I think I hit most of my targets (though I broke my hydrometer so I only can by one inaccurate reading that I took prior to it breaking). Thanks for sharing and all the effort you put into the blog. It has been helpful!
Well first – congrats on the V350. I do have a couple of questions – is this a brand new system? or an older used one? There are some differences and changes through the years. I don’t have a list handy… but some of the issues you describe seem related to an older system. Mine is one of the early 2011 models. The BrewMagic guys are very supportive, so don’t hesitate to ask them questions.
The dip tube in the MLT should fit with just a small gap to the bottom of the kettle. If you are having siphon issues – you might double check the seal of the gasket and the tri-clamp. Also make sure that you aren’t losing siphon because the BK outlet is open while the MLT return valve (the valve just below the MLT) is open. On my system, the dip tube is identical to the dip tube in the HLT, so the only difference would be the false bottom and the upper inlet port on the MLT.
If I run the HLT till the siphon drops, I only see about 1 cup of liquor left. The dip tube has only about 1/16″ gap to the bottom of the kettle. Perfect on my system at least. That said – turbulence or a whirlpool can break the siphon and cause air to come into the system, leaving behind some water. I really suggest that you plan to leave 1 or 2 gallons behind in the HLT anyway – if you have room. Remember, gravity feed first to prime the plumbing – then pump to create a siphon.
I often do 5.5 gallon batches, however will hand measure the volumes, rather than relying on the site glasses. Make sure that you are setting your water/grist ratio in your software correctly, and as mentioned, keep an extra gallon or two in the HLT for sparging. I have a marked dowel that shows the levels below the site glass so that I can leave behind a precise amount of liquor. My system seems to hold a little more than a quart of fluid in the plumbing – you should calculate that amount as system loss (or MLT dead space in BeerSmith) in figuring efficiency. It is a fixed amount for 5 or 10 gallon batches. You might measure it yourself by flooding the plumbing – gravity feed water from the HLT into the MLT… and then do a short pump over. Close the MLT return valve and the HLT valve, and leave open the valve that feeds the top of the MLT. Grab a graduated pitcher and drain the plumbing dry through the dump valve. That measure is the system loss.
A story stick is a good tool. I have the dowel setup to measure with and without the false bottom in the kettles. So one orientation works well in the HLT and the other works well in the BK with the false bottom installed. I simply carefully measured 1 gallon of water at a time and poured into the kettle. Lowered the stick and marked the level. Kept going until I had 10 gallons of marks. Flip the stick over and do the same for a kettle with the false bottom installed.
Keep brewing – all systems have their quirks. Once you master it – things will run very smoothly.
Thanks for the reply!
So I purchased my system new at the end of December and mine seems to have some differences from yours.
First, my HLT doesn’t have a siphon at all. On the inside of the HLT there is flush hole that leads to a tri-clamp port on the external of the HLT. Since you said your HLT is the same as your BK besides the upper right port I am assuming your HLT has a tri-clamp port on both the inside and outside of the bottom left HLT? If so I might just have to call the manufacturer and see if there is anything I can do about that.
Second, in regards to the siphoning issue in the BK. Bummer is I already took of 1/4″ of the siphon so if it was a seel/tri-clamp issue I might have to get another siphon or just leave behind that little bit of volume. I’ll play with it and see if I can replicate the problem and confirm it was the tri-clam and gasket or if there is something else going on. The one thing I do remember noticing before I trimmed the siphon was that the flow was slow and then if I lifted up on it gently it would flow much better. This sounds like it could be the gasket or the length of the siphon but I ended up trimming the siphon because I could hear the tip of the siphon hitting the bottom of the BK when I stopped lifting it up. I’ll get it squared away with some trial and error!
Third, thanks for the info on measuring water volume. I do think the sight glasses might be off. I thought I noticed them a little high as I was brewing. The graduated stick idea sounds like a good one. I will definitely be making one of those.
Yeah – I would check with Brew Magic on the HLT. I am surprised they would change the design. On my system the HLT and BK are interchangeable – obviously keeping the false bottom in the BK for hop filtering. I am wondering if your HLT is swapped with the BK. The new BK dip tube should be adjustable to allow for a whirlpool at the end of the boil – and can be tilted downward toward the cone.
I have your email – will send you a pic of the dip tube assembly in the HLT.
I appreciate your write-up. I just recently purchased the Brew-Magic V350 and went through the pain staking process of researching what’s out there today. Even though the cost can be rather steep, it does provide you with a full start up commercial grade pilot system, for those who are serious about the next level of brewing.
I agree. I was amazed setting this up that absolutely everything fit perfectly without any cajoling or extra effort. It takes a bit to get sparging down pat, but I do love the system. Worth every penny in my book, and those reservations are pretty picky IMO.
I got a nice note back from the Brew-Magic team addressing some of the “cons” I listed above. Very excited about the possibilities… I don’t have their permission to announce but looking forward to what they have in the pipeline.