Sunday 2 January 2022

KegLand BrewZilla 3.1.1 - Review

After over a year of ownership of our KegLand BrewZilla 3.1.1, and with the impending release of the next iteration, the BrewZilla Gen 4, we wanted to do an in-depth review of our experience with the 3.1.1 version after a number of (successful) brews.


BrewZilla 3.1.1


The BrewZilla is an all-in-one electric beer brewing system - aimed squarely at the homebrewing market. Targeting those who are looking at moving on from extract or "kit and kilo" brewing into the wonderful world of "all grain" brewing. It can of course still be used for extract or kit and kilo brewing, but it's really designed for brewing all grain. It's available in 35L and 65L versions as well as 240V and 110V powered versions to suit different world wide markets and residential power supplies. This review will be looking at the 240V 35L version.

Out of the box we have everything we need to get brewing. There are, of course, other additional add-ons that can be purchased to make things faster, better or more efficient (we'll get to these later). But there was obviously an emphasis from KegLand to keep the price point very sharp, which meant keeping the kit as minimalist as possible. At under AU$400, we can't complain about the price, and having other add-ons available means it's the perfect gift, as subsequent birthday's, christmas's, fathers (or mothers) day presents can be taken care off with other compatible accessories.

The base BrewZilla kit comes with the following;

  • BrewZilla main unit including dual heating elements, built-in recirculation pump and digital display
  • Glass lid
  • Top Screen
  • Malt pipe, handle, bottom mesh screen
  • False bottom
  • Immersion chiller
  • Ball valve tap outlet
  • Recirculation pipe with camlock fitting
  • Recirculation arm

It also includes a 3 year warranty which is impressive and gives great peace of mind.

There are no instructions included in the box - most likely another cost (or environment) saving measure, but they are available online from the KegLand website. The instructions cover how to put everything together, but don't really give much of an explanation on how to brew with this thing. Thankfully there's a heap of YouTube videos, Facebook groups and blog sites with detailed instructions to get you going with your first brew.

Getting underway is as simple as filling the vessel with water, using the embossed graduated markings on the inside for volume measurements. There are both litre and gallon markings to cater for both imperial and metric systems. Then turn the unit on and set the desired target temperature, enable both heating elements using the dedicated 500W and 1900W switches and away you go. 

Graduated volume markings are visible on the inside - markings are in litres and gallons

The in-built display and controller has the ability to set step timers and more advanced functions for fancy mashes but this isn't something we've ever bothered with using as we just haven't needed to. One handy use case for this (besides step mash functionality) might be set a timer the night before your brew day, so your water is at target mash temperature first thing in the morning ready for your brew day. Adjusting the temperature as you go is easy enough, although this leads us to one of the biggest problems with the 3.1.1 BrewZilla.

BrewZilla 3.1.1 - built in display and control buttons - located at the base of the unit

The display is mounted at the base of the unit. This was perhaps a logical (and economical) place to put it, so all the electronics are hidden and together in the base of the unit. The location proves to be an ergonomic nightmare, as even reading the display when the unit is situated on the ground requires squatting down on all fours to view it at the right angle. Making adjustments and using the display requires the same which gets old pretty fast and would no doubt prove difficult for those with bad knees or back problems.

Sitting the BrewZilla up on a stand of some sort is a logical workaround, but having it situated too high up would make lifting the malt pipe difficult without some kind of pulley system. The display should really be mounted as close to the top of the unit as possible to best overcome these problems.

Our unit came with the fine-mesh bottom screen, which we stopped using after the first brew, and from what we understand isn't included in the BrewZilla kit any more as it's simply not required and is more likely to lead to stuck sparges and stuck mashes.

The malt pipe is the steel tube that slides into the main unit and holds the malted grain. It fits together and slides in easily, but you just need to be aware of where the 'feet' are so they don't catch on the wire rim at the top of the unit (which is used to sit the malt pipe on when sparging). 

The built in overflow pipe is another good feature and provides a safety net to ensure that when recirculating using the built-in pump, the 'dead space' underneath the false bottom doesn't run dry which can lead to problems with the pump and the heating elements. Once you become more comfortable with using the BrewZilla, the overflow pipe can be removed/deleted, by either upgrading to the "Pro Screen" or plugging the hole it screws into the bottom screen using a bolt and nut. We opted for the pro screen after a few brews and haven't looked back as we found the overflow pipe a bit of a nuisance when attempting to stir the grain bed but it's a good thing to use when starting out.

The tall and narrow design of the BrewZilla means it has a narrow foot print - this is great for storage and homebrewers with limited space, but it also means there's a discernible difference in temperature between the bottom of the unit - where the heating elements are, and the top of the grain bed. The temperature probe is located at the base of the unit - as mentioned previously - to likely keep all the electronic components together. In our experience we've found discrepancies of several degrees (celsius) when comparing the temperature on the built-in display with a separate thermometer reading from the top of the grain bed. Thankfully this can be easily compensated for by adjusting the target temperature a couple of degrees over your target temperature - but we also found patience is required to let the temperature 'normalise' through the unit when making adjustments.

Measuring the temperature with a separate thermometer at the top of the grain bed

One of the best features of the BrewZilla has to be the built in pump. The inlet for the pump is located in the base of the unit (next to the temperature probe) and allows for the wort to be recirculated from the bottom back to the top of the grain bed which acts as a filter as the wort flows back through it. Recirculating aids in increasing efficiency (ie. how much sugar is extracted from your grains), helps regulate water temperature (as the heated water drawn from the bottom is pumped back up to the top), and can also be used to transfer the wort from the BrewZilla to your fermenter. There's also a valve control that allows you to easily regulate the flow of the pump, as well as a dedicated switch at the base of the unit to easily turn the pump on and off.

Transferring wort from BrewZilla to fermenter using the built-in pump

The pump outlet has a standard camlock fitting that the included recirculation arm connects into. You can also get other attachments like the whirlpool arm, but we've found the locking arms a little flimsy and can come loose with only the slightest bit of disturbance or pressure on the arm. Definitely not ideal as this could lead to hot wort spraying from the connection if the pump is on - but can be easily circumvented by wrapping a looped cable tie over the locking arms to prevent them raising up. Crude, but has worked very well for us.

A looped cable tie helps to secure the camlock fitting locking arms in the down/locked position

Regulating the temperature can be more accurately managed by using the dedicated switches for the 1900W and 500W heating elements. We had good results by having both elements on for heating up to mash or boil temperatures, and using only the 1900W element to maintain mash temperature. This will likely vary for others, depending on other factors such as ambient air temperature. The switches all have splash proof covers as well meaning the inevitable splashes or dreaded boil overs shouldn't cause any problems.

We found the heating elements sufficient for doing full volume boils but did notice a surprising improvement in heat up times to mash and boil when using lower volumes. A vigorous rolling boil was also easily achieved by having both heating elements switched on.

At the end of the mash the malt pipe needs to be lifted out and sits on the top of the main unit. Some care needs to be taken when doing this as the malt pipe needs to be oriented a particular way to ensure the feet on the malt pipe don't catch on the wire support. Once lifted out the malt pipe then needs to be rotated so the feet do sit on the wire support - this allows for the grain to be rinsed - a process called 'sparging'. One complaint we do have with this is the poor malt pipe handle design - which needs to be inserted into two opposing holes at the top of the malt pipe. Our handle only just reaches and has made for some nerve wracking malt pipe extractions. The handle has slipped out of these holes on multiple occasions, thankfully before the malt pipe was too high, so splashing was minimal but if this were to happen when the malt pipe was higher up, the splashing of hot wort could be quite dangerous.

The included immersion chiller also does a good job of helping to cool the wort down after the boil. It's made of stainless steel, so not as effective at heat transfer as other materials, such as copper, but we're working to a price point here so it's more than sufficient. The biggest bottle neck with this will be your ambient water temperature - we found cooling significantly faster in winter compared to summer, but also netted improvements in cooling time by running the pump with whirlpool arm attachment (available separately), as well as agitating the wort by gently jiggling the immersion chiller up and down.

You also have the option of sitting the immersion chiller in a bucket/esky full of ice, then running the wort through the chiller to cool it down that way - not something we've tried but we've been lead to believe this is possible using the built in pump.

Buyers should also be aware that there are no fittings included to attach anything (like a garden hose) to the immersion chiller. KegLand do sell compression fittings to achieve this, so you'll need to keep this in mind if you're planning on using the chiller. There is of course the option to forego chilling altogether - by using the "no chill" method. This is becoming increasingly popular and if you opt for this then the chiller is redundant.

Being made of stainless steel, cleaning the BrewZilla is a breeze. We found hosing it down outside the easiest way to wrangle it - it's a little bulky and cumbersome to manoeuvre in a kitchen or laundry sink but can be done. Filling with water, heating, adding some PBW and recirculating via the pump works well for us, then rinsing and allowing to dry.

With regards to third party brewing applications - KegLand have a BrewZilla profile for BeerSmith software available on their website (as a free download). There's also a profile within the free application BrewFather configured for the BrewZilla (both 35L and 65L versions). Software applications like these are almost essential as they take the guess work out of calculating how much water you need for mashing and sparging and really help with overall recipe creation. We've used the free version of BrewFather ourselves and had great results with it.

As previously mentioned, there are plenty of additional accessories that can be purchased to improve the BrewZilla like the ones below;

  • Neoprene jacket - helps regulate temperature and speeds up heating times
  • Whirlpool arm - attaches to the pump outlet via the standard camlock fitting - allows for wort to be whirlpooled during cooling for whirlpool hop additions
  • Stainless mash paddle - a must have accessory and not particular expensive
  • Pro Screen - to delete the overflow pipe - makes stirring the mash easier
  • Hop spider - used to contain your hops to prevent them from potentially clogging up the pump
BrewZilla whirlpool arm attachment


Pros

  • Excellent price
  • Quality stainless steel construction
  • Digital temperature control
  • Built in pump
  • Lots of additional accessories
  • Small footprint
  • Loads of support on YouTube, Facebook groups and other blog sites
  • Fully electric - no gas/burners
  • Volume markings in metric and imperial measurements
  • 3 year warranty

Cons

  • Lack of detailed instructions on how to use
  • Tall, narrow design leads to temperature discrepancies between bottom and top of grain bed
  • Poor display and controller location
  • Malt pipe handle fitting/size is questionable
  • Default kit has the bare minimum to get going - some accessories are really beneficial and add to the cost
  • Camlock fitting comes loose with minimal disturbance

We'd strongly recommend the BrewZilla for homebrewers of any skill level or experience. It's a great way to dive into the world of all-grain brewing - at a really sharp price point, especially when compared to other alternatives on the market such as The Grainfather. The BrewZilla certainly isn't perfect, and there are undeniably a few draw backs and things to be considered - but most of these have ways to mitigate or work around them. Also, with the upcoming release of the Generation 4 BrewZilla, it's entirely possible the price of the 3.1.1 version will drop dramatically, which will present incredible value for money. We've made some great beers on our BrewZilla and expect to get several more years of service from it.


Related Articles

Other Homebrewing Equipment Review Articles

BrewZilla - Beerstone - Deep Clean Stain Removal

BrewZilla - Boiler & Malt Pipe Extensions to Increase Capacity

How to do a Whirlpool/Hop Stand in a BrewZilla

KegLand BrewZilla 3.1.1 - Getting Started Guide & FAQ

BrewZilla - Brew Day - Step by Step Instructions

BrewZilla - Accessories, Hints & Tips

BrewZilla Brew Day - El Dorado Smash



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