By Joshua Rosenthal
Whether you are just starting out home brewing or a veteran looking to upgrade your brew kettle, trying to find the perfect kettle can be a daunting process. There are multiple variables to consider: batch size, construction, and unique features. All truly depends on where you are with your brewing process.
Kettle Size = Beer batch size
When you begin researching your kettle, make sure you know how many gallons you will be brewing, batch size. If you are just starting out with small batch maybe consider a five-gallon kettle for your stovetop or burner. If you were considering brewing in a bag (BIAB), all grain brewing, extract, then maybe eight gallon and above would work providing you with plenty of headspace for compensate for boil overs.
Kettle Shape - Big and Tall
Kettles do come in different sizes and it all depends on your space. If you are using a stovetop, you may not be able to use a tall kettle but a short one and vice versa if you are using a propane burner and have space. A tall kettle can assist in reducing evaporation loss and prevent boil overs. In some cases, short brew kettles are the perfect solution when space is limited.
Kettle Material - Not all Kettles are Created Equally
If you are just starting and looking for a cheap brewing kettle, then chances are you looked into aluminum kettles. Sure aluminum is great for absorbing heat and being able to transfer the heat into the wort. But it’s also not as durable as stainless steel and requires a layer of oxidation to help prevent off flavors. Aluminum kettles can also be compromised by abrasions, use of hash chemicals, and by deep scratches. You need to be cautious when cleaning (using acids, alkalis) as the metal can have a reaction to cleaning products.
Stainless steel is extremely durable, corrosion resistant, and lightweight. It is more expensive than aluminum, but you know the old saying “you get what you pay for”. If you want to meet in the middle with weight and strength of both, then choose a stainless steel kettle with a tri-clad bottom. The tri-clad bottom offers a layer of aluminum that is between two layers of steel to increase durability, remove reactivity, and increase thermal conductivity.
Kettle Bottoms - Shape matters
In some cases, kettles will have a step bottom vs. a flat bottom, allowing trub to collect in the lower center section of the kettle and giving opportunity for the pickup tube to pull from the clean raised area on the bottom of the kettle. The only drawback to this type of bottom is having some dead space.
Kettle Pickup Tubes - Get every last drop
Pickup tubes also known, as “dip tubes” are hoses that usually attach to the back of the ball valve or spigot assembly in the brew kettle. It is designed to pull clean wort through the spigot leaving the trub behind. Some kettles will have pickup tubes positioned on either side of the brew kettle or center. If you whirlpool your wort or stir it, the side pickup tubes is perfect for avoiding siphoning of any unwanted material from the hot or cold break, excess hop residue. However, on the other hand the center pickup tube positioned underneath a hop screen or false bottom can pull filtered wort from the center of the kettle without any contamination.
Kettle Ports - Welded vs. Non Welded
What is the difference? Welded ports are considered stronger and have been known to be safer as they won’t spring a leak in mid boil. Not that non-welded will leak, but there is always a slight chance, so why worry? Both are easy to clean as the non-welded can be pulled apart and each section (item) can be cleaned separately. If you don’t like cleaning, then welded would be ideal, not so many parts. One major benefit and feature of a non-welded kettle is being able to customize, you can drill into your kettle and install a non-welded bulkhead.
Kettle Measurement Markers - Internal vs External
Some kettles will come with internal (built-in) volume markers that represent either liters or gallons. There are kettles that will also have a slight gauge, giving you the opportunity to see how much volume you have in your kettle.
Sight gauges are considered more accurate as you they are external on the kettle and you can see the amount visually with out lifting the lid. You can either add a sight glass to your kettle or buy a kettle with on built in.
The preference is entirely up to you, but if you are tired of using a wooden dowel or back of a mash paddle, it may be time to upgrade.
Kettle Thermometers - What is the temperature?
There are kettles where you can find an analog dial thermometer installed at the bottom third of the kettle. Inspect the insertion point, as you want to make sure the thermometer is far above the heat source, as it will not distort the internal temperature of the wort.
Having a built-in thermometer on your kettle, will allow you to use your kettle as a hot liquor tank as well. You will be able to heat your strike water or sparge water to the right degree without using a hand-held thermometer and risking injury of burning your hand or steaming your face.
If you have an immersion chiller, just make sure the thermometer does not conflict with coils when it is submerged. If it does, not a problem, purchase a counter flow chiller or plate chiller to assist in cooling your wort.
Beer Brewing kettles
These are just some variables to keep in your mind while buying your first brew kettle or considering an upgrade. Consider the size (wort amount), space (where are you brewing), and the multiple of features that you need in order to keep your brew sessions safe, fun, and easy.