Brew-Magic V350MS Review

I receive a lot of mixed responses from other homebrewers and professional brewers when I mention that I brew on a Brew-Magic system. They range from awe, comments about having money to burn, even some very snarky suggestions that suggest a real homebrewer builds his/her own system. Truly a mixed bag, and I am sensitive that so many brewers biggest challenge really is their budget. That said – I am proud of my Brew-Magic, it’s a fine piece of equipment, but hardly makes me a better brewer than anyone else.

When I struck out into all grain, I became EXTREMELY frustrated at adjusting and maintaining mash temperatures. Of course, this was complicated with poor measurement tools and practices, as well as a lot of misunderstanding (and over complicated ideas) of brewing science. For example, I never considered mash pH, other than dipping a strip into the mash and giving up because the color of the wort blew away the color strip. I decided I needed a 3 tier brewery – and drooled over all electric systems (Kal’s electric brewery is jaw droppingly stunning!) or something more practical.

In this process, I struck out to find the best system with a track record in commercial brewing.  I looked at everything from Blichmann (also stunning premium quality – for the record) to MoreBeer to random custom stands (usually bring your own kettles, etc.). I spoke with several local brewers, and even was offered a 2 barrel system that one was planning to retire. I always had my eye on the Brew-Magic.

So it finally came down to a Blichmann Top-Tier system versus the Brew-Magic. I went to price the Top-Tier out at AHS… and fully kitted (15 gallon kettles) it was (at the time) well north of $3500, and with the addtions of a pump and third burner, closer to $4000. Someone in the shop owned a Brew-Magic, and I sat with him for a half hour and compared the two. He convinced me the Brew-Magic system was worth the extra bucks.

There are three key features that tipped me over – and was worth the extra couple of grand:

  1. Repeatability. Which, while I admit I do not use this feature as often as I expected, gives me a tremendous tool in comparing batches. Where and when did I change the mash schedule, were temps the same, and so forth.
  2. Direct Fire and RIMS controls. This really has a lot of advantage over a pure direct fire system. Blichmann has since released their “Tower of Power” system that looks very interesting, but at the time – RIMS and HERMS were largely a DIY engineering exercise.
  3. Completely featured. All parts included. That meant that within hours of receiving the palettes, I was running a test cleaning cycle and preparing to brew! Despite the daunting task of laying so many parts and pieces, it all went together perfectly. Nothing missing, and no frustrations! This is a high quality and extremely well engineered system.

So now, after 3 years of brewing on the Brew-Magic system, I am thrilled with the choice I have made. By eliminating some of the more frustrating variables – I can brew with confidence that the equipment will be reliable and consistent. I can focus on brewing practice, recipe creation and fermentation.

I am not saying there are no cons, and to be fair, I should review these:

  1. System sits high. Not as high as a Top Tier, but I am 6′ 5″ and it is still uncomfortable to work in place (like for cleaning). I would recommend a bench stool. Sabco has created a metal step for this purpose.
  2. Keggles are a PITA to clean. All of the rolled tops, edges and other nooks and crannies catch malt dust that can get wet and drip down onto the burners, and sometimes the edges, though smooth, catch your fingers and nails while scrubbing. Smooth walls and simple handles would be nice. Still – these do look pretty cool.
  3. Pump issues. Of course, this is not so much a Brew-Magic problem, and more the nature of brewing pumps. There are too many ways for air to lock up the pump, and doubly so when dealing with a sticky mash. Fortunately, there is a bottom valve that can help relieve the air lock. I have the same issue with my ChillWizard and spare March pump.
  4. Whirlpooling. Since these are “keggles”, the dip tubes connect through a false bottom to the very center of the kettle. So traditional whirlpool techniques don’t work, and using pellet hops becomes a serious challenge. I have to bag them or use a hybrid recirculation and chill process through a strainer bag. This works, but is less than ideal. I still get trub into the fermenters – not a huge issue, but there are times when I wish the wort was brighter. I have an idea that might allow me to whirlpool with a modified false bottom – but will save that for another day.
  5. Valved liquor/wort distribution. In my mind, there has to be better a better valve choice. I am sure they would cost a ton more, but repeatability is somewhat dependent on speed of recirculation, sparging, etc. Without calibrated valve settings, this is tough… and a very picky nit on my part.

I should also add, that I bought the ChillWizard, mentioned above, Brew-Magic Fermenter and Select Sanke. These two make up my Belgian pipeline, as I ferment at room temperatures with them, as well as condition in the sanke. Easy to clean and sanitize. Just put a gallon or so into the fermenter after a good cleaning and set it on the stove to steam.

What would I do different? At this scale, probably not much. I have avoided replacing the boil kettle with a Blichmann, but that is an option or find a settling /chilling tank or trub filters. I really would like to whirlpool properly! More likely, I would like to step up to a 1 barrel system or larger, but that would require more fermentation space and a lot of friends to help dispose of the product!

All of this is to say, the decision was a very carefully calculated one. I even sold a sports car to fund the purchase. I am hoping (as many home brewers do) that my experience on a commercial pilot brewery could translate into a head start if I should start my own commercial brewery some day. Matt French and the whole team at Brew-Magic are incredibly supportive and provide amazing customer support!