Today’s guest post comes to us from Eric, who is a homebrewer in Charlotte, NC. Eric recently upgraded his all-grain brewing system using the Blichmann TopTier and wanted to share his thoughts and opinions with anyone looking to purchase a 3-tier system. To keep up with Eric and his brewing, you can follow him on twitter (@LoopyTrout) or check out his blog, Brewing Experiment.
I started my homebrewing adventures by brewing dried malt extract batches (and steeping specialty grains) in a 9 gallon pot on a single turkey fryer. After a few batches, I decided to get into all grain brewing. This upgrade would require a few more pieces of equipment and some sort of stand or table. After building a table out of scrap wood and creating a mash tun out of a 5 gallon round cooler, I was off to the races. My brew kettle worked double time as the brew kettle and the hot liquor tun. I used the fermenting bucket to catch the wort as I sparged from the mash tun. It was a little cumbersome to brew on this setup, but I made it work and produced some pretty good batches of beer.
Wanting to upgrade to a better system, I started looking into buying a brewing sculpture. My needs were pretty simple; the stand needed to work with my current equipment, be able to transport wort using gravity, and take up as little space as possible in my garage. When researching the different brewstands, I wanted one that could grow with my brewing ability and style. I also was not interested in building something myself or designing one and having it built. I figured that the time I spent doing all of that was time I could be actually brewing. I had researched MoreBeer’s sculptures, a few custom made solutions, and the Blichmann TopTier Brewing Stand. After quite a bit of research, I chose the TopTier.
The TopTier brewing stand is a modular brewstand that, as Blichmann says, is “The ultimate in brewing flexibility”. As a brewer, when you buy this stand, you can configure it to fit your brewing style. If you fire three vessels, you can build it with three burners. However, if you have an all electric setup, you can build it with three heavy duty shelves. You can also mix and match burner tiers and shelves as I did. In addition to the tiers, Blichmann has a handful of accessories that can be purchased from pump and wort chiller mounts to a temperature controller called the Tower of Power (coming in October of 2011). All components will slide in the grooved mast where their position can be tweaked to your brewing needs.
This stand’s tiers (or shelves) are very sturdy as they are rated to hold 240 pounds each. Burners on this stand are a lot bigger than the jet burner i was using. All components are steel with the exception of the grooved aluminum 6′ mast. I was able to tell during assembly that this stand was built to last as everything is very sturdy.
The TopTier met all of my brewstand needs. It can be setup to use gravity to transfer the wort, I could easily add on to this stand when I wanted to upgrade my brewer, my kettles and mash tun would work with the stand, and to fit my last need the stand has a small footprint as it fits nicely in the corner of a garage.
This beefy, 165 pound brewstand was delivered to me in 5 big boxes a couple weeks after I placed my order. Assembling the TopTier took a few hours but it went relatively smooth. Blichmann includes a manual in the delivery. It’s an ok manual but doesn’t cover everything in the install. However, with a little common sense and browsing Blichman’s web site for assembly videos you will find all the help you need to complete this stand’s build. The only thing you need to buy is the gas supply pipe. Blichmann didn’t include this iron pipe because of the stands design; they don’t know how you want to set it up or how you plan to run the gas to the burners. I don’t see this as a reason to overlook this stand as Blichmann doesn’t want to force you into a setup that might not fit your brewing style.
One assembly tip that I would like to pass along to anyone looking to get this stand is to think of your gas manifold location and burner(s) setup when putting the tiers on the mast. The manual mentions this at the very end. So, if you’ve already tightened down and leveled your tiers without putting the manifold clamps on (like I did)…guess what?…you get to take off any tier sits on the side you wish to run the manifold. At about 50 pounds per burner, it gets to be a nice workout if you have to remove and replace them.
So how does this stand perform?
Well, after brewing 5 batches of beer I can say it performs great! Luckily, I only had to tweak the position of my tiers one time after the first batch to make my system run more smooth. The burners are very quiet and super powerful. On a brew day, it no longer sounds like I’m at the airport as these burners aren’t even half as loud as my old burner. They also put out an insane amount of heat!
Setting up the stand is simple; you level the mast (at your brewing spot) and steady the legs and you’re ready to go! That’s it, super simple. I setup my stand in the driveway, so the first time I brewed on the stand it took me about 5 minutes to get it leveled. I brew in the same spot (in my driveway), so the setup process takes me about a minute just to make sure the stand’s legs are steady.
Blichmann touts this stand as being modular, which it is, but one trait they don’t mention is mobility. On my first brew day, we encountered a snow blizzard 30 minutes into my mash’s rest period. Not wanting to get covered in snow, I shut off the burners, pulled the kettles off the stand and moved it into my garage (with the door up). In less than 5 minutes, I was back right where I left off. Of course moving a stand needs to be done with care as the burners stay hot for a few minutes after they’re cut off.
Has anyone else used this particular 3-tier system? Do you use a different sculpture? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the system you use? Let us know in the comments section below!