Shopping for the perfect brew kettle can be an overwhelming process. Before you make your purchase, here are a few things that we think you should consider about the type of brewing you want to do:
One of the biggest factors in your kettle decision should be what size batch you want to brew. We suggest that new brewers stick with a five gallon batch size, as the equipment is readily available and recipes and ingredient kits commonly come in this size. How to Brew by John J. Palmer and Brewing Classic Styles by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer are two popular books that focus on the five gallon batch. If you've been brewing for a while and brew often, a larger brew pot will allow you to make more beer so you don't have to brew as frequently and you'll have more beer to share with friends. Larger brew kettles also allow you to split batches to experiment with different finishing techniques. For example, you could brew 10 gallons of wort, then ferment in separate containers with different yeast or dry hop additions.
If you have decided to work with larger batch sizes than the standard five gallon batch, you will need to consider the fermenter volume and footprint of the temperature controlled area you have before you commit to brewing in a larger kettle. Brewing 45 gallons only takes a little more work than brewing 10 gallons, but while a 10 gallon batch can ferment in a closet or in the corner of a room, a 45 gallon batch will take up much more room and the smell of the off gas will be more noticeable in a home. When we ferment our 20 gallon batches, we use four Kegco wide mouth carboys in a repurposed wine refrigerator.
Cost per Batch:
While grain, hops, and yeast are fairly affordable, larger batches mean a greater ingredient cost, especially when purchasing hops and yeast. Your cost per beer goes down, but your cost per batch goes up. Buying your ingredients in bulk can help you keep costs down, but be aware that you will need to dedicate space to properly storing your hops and grains for future use. Another solution is to find fellow homebrewers to split the cost and ingredients when buying in bulk.
Whatever kettle you decide on, you will also need to ensure that you have the appropriate burner for that batch size. If your burner does not produce enough BTUs for your batch size, it can cause excruciatingly slow ramp times that will greatly lengthen your brew day. If your burner is too large, it will be hard to fine tune the temperatures at critical points such as hot break.
It is important to consider the space in which you will be brewing and storing your equipment before you commit to a large kettle. Brewing anything larger than a 5 gallon batch in your home kitchen will be very challenging, so we recommend sticking to the small batch size if you will be doing your boiling on a stovetop. If you are able to brew outside, spaces like garages or patios can be alternative options for larger batch sizes. For the 15 gallon all grain system that we use, a footprint of about 100 square feet of well-ventilated space is required, and everything in that space must be water proof and easily cleanable.
Level of Experience:
Most of the readily available resources for beginning homebrewers (like books, recipes, and equipment kits) focus on the standard 5 gallon batch, so we highly recommend starting with that size so that you do not have to worry about additional complications like converting recipes. For more advanced brewers that want to have the ability to tweak as many variables as possible, going with an all grain system can be a great option. All grain systems generally have multiple brew pots of varying sizes. It may add a lot of time to your brew day, but it also affords you more control over the brewing process so that you can produce exactly what you're looking for in a finished beer. Be aware that this system is very complicated and will take lots of practice to master.
Once you have decided what brewing style is the best fit for you, you should feel much more confident about purchasing the perfect brew kettle.