Awesome compact brewing system!
Great little brewing system! Bought this because I live in a high rise apartment, so propane or large multi-vessel systems are not an option. Despite being compact, it brews great! My first batch was a traditional Hefeweizen. I added rice hulls because of the large wheat content, and had no trouble with a stuck sparge. The pump and constant heating element effectively makes this a RIMS system. It takes a little time to heat 6 gallons of mash from a rest at, say 110 degF, to 152...I think mine took around 15-20min. But it doesn't feel "underpowered" like some have said (remember, it's only 1600W vs 2000W). I do have the graincoat, so I can't speak to the "bare" Grainfather, but I would recommend the added insulation, especially with the US model.
The assembly and instructional videos provided on YouTube are great, and should definitely be viewed before the first brew day. It isn't terribly complex, but some of the piping and how to use them isn't immediately obvious without seeing the explanation.
The temperature consistency was actually very impressive. I double checked with a meat thermometer probe, and they agreed spot on! The controller also does a fantastic job of preemting your target temperature and starts ramping down the heating element power output as you approach your set temperature. You can see the percentage output on the screen, and of course on the app too! It reminds you of every step along the way, both on the controller and in the app. Really makes your brew day easy.
Another great feature is of course the website with recipe tools and calculators (brew.grainfather.com). It estimates the color (EBC) based on your grain bill, as well as original and final gravities, and ABV, and even calorie content! My gravity calculations were actually very close, and the color swatch looks pretty darn close too! It directly drives the controller on brew day to simplify the process, but you can customize or override basically every aspect as you see fit. For example, I increased my water to grist ratio because I was brewing a wheat beer and had rice hull additions.
You don't need to really worry about strike temperature; I only lost a few degrees mashing in, and that heat is quickly recovered because of the recirculation! Yet another thing to not have to really worry about! Yaay.
One thing I will mention; not really a downside, but an observation. I live in Denver where water boils at 203 degF because of our altitude. There is a setting in the app to account for this. However this means during the boil, it will only apply heat to maintain 203 degF, which results in a fairly weak boil. I was able to simply increase the target temperature to 208 and monitor the increased power output on the screen, until a decent rolling boil was reached. Of course, physics will never allow the temperature to actually really 208, so in this case it "thinks" it hasn't attained a boil, and it will not prompt you for the boil additions. I believe there is an additional setting to increase the power output during boil, without affecting the target temperature, to reach a more rigorous boil, but I have not figured it out yet (only brewed once though). Just something to think about.
One final thought. The counter flow wort chiller is great, and beats an immersion chiller hands down. However, the included tap adapters do not allow the tubing to twist while connecting to your faucet. It really is not physically possible to attach the cooling water inlet tube to your faucet, without first detatching the other end from the wort chiller. Once the blue tube is completely free, you can readily twist it around as you hook up to your faucet. It's easy to take the chiller end out; it's a simple nut that can be finger twisted, and wrench tightened. That being said, I am trying to find a quick connect adapter from Home Depot or Lowes.
Overall, this thing is worth every dollar. I know there are completing similar products from other companies, but I can't imagine they're as thorough or effective/efficient as the Grainfather! The app and website tools are a huge bonus, and really integrate with your controller seemlessly on brew day to make the whole thing a very stress-free and fun process. That means more time to have another beer while watching your mash circulate - mmm, that sweet cereal smell.
Happy brewing and cheers!