Choosing The Right Kettle – Comparison

One of the first pieces of equipment that is usually upgraded is the kettle. With so many manufacturers of kettles how do you know which is right for you?  We decided to take a look at the most popular kettles on the market and do a side by side comparison.  Since we are building a 20gal system we took a look at the 20gal kettles for the comparisons.  Currently (as of June 2016) the more popular manufacturers that are being purchased and discussed (on home brew forums) are Spike Brewing, Ss Brew Tech and Chapman Brewing. We are going to look at each of the kettles and compare the major feature sets of each kettle. Those feature sets will be the Material its made of, where the product is manufactured, the physical features of the kettle, the accessories that are included and the cost.

IMG_4959    IMG_4640

Material

An important characteristic that is commonly over looked or just assumed.  With the large amounts of kettles out there to purchase, the material of which the kettle is made should be part of your decision.  Kettles can be made from Aluminum, Copper or Stainless Steel but all the major Home Brew specific manufacturers use Stainless Steel.   However, there are multiple grades of Stainless Steel. 201, 304 and 316 are the most common and are ranked from lowest grade to highest grade respectively.  Comparing the Kettles: Chapman Brewing is made with 201 while Spike Brewing and Ss Brew Tech are made with 304.  In fact, ALL major home brewing and commercial brewing manufacturers use 304 Stainless Steel. It is the industry standard.  In my opinion, this takes Chapman Brewing out of the competition as it really cannot be compared to the rest as its a lower grade Stainless Steel. 201 has lower amounts of Nickel and Chromium which are the elements that make stainless steel corrosion resistant.  Thats why you see 304 used more in marine applications, its more corrosion resistant than 201.  201 is about 30% stronger than 304 however it is harder to form and weld.  You will see 201 used in the restaurant business because its cost effective. However, 304 Stainless is used across the entire brewing industry.  From the big commercial producers like Stone, Budweiser, Sierra Nevada down to the home brew manufacturers like Spike, Ss Brew Tech, Bru-Gear and Blichmann.  Companies who have Millions of dollars invested in equipment as well as Millions of dollars invested in research and development.  I find it hard to believe that a new company funded from a kick starter has found that 201 stainless is better to use in brewing than the industry standard of 304.  Thats a hard sell. 201 stainless is an inferior metal than 304 stainless and is used to cut down production costs. Period.

Chapman Brewing Spike Brewing Ss Brew Tech
201 ss 304 ss 304 ss

 

 

Origin of Manufacturing

Honestly, everything these days is manufactured over seas.  Kettles are no different.  Chapman, Spike and Ss Brew Tech all manufacturer their equipment over in China and have it shipped here to the US.  The only major difference between all the manufacturers (that we are comparing) is that Spike Brewing fabricates here in the USA.  What does that mean?  The manufacturing process of kettles is fairly straight forward, the walls of the kettle is a single sheet that is seam welded together to make a cylinder.  A circular bottom is then welded to the bottom to form the kettle.  Up to this point all companies manufacturing are done the same way.  Ss Brew Tech has weldless fittings and the holes for the weldless fittings are punched out in China during the manufacturing.  Spike Brewing has welded fittings and those are installed by Spike here in the USA.  Spike cuts the holes where needed (based on your configuration) and then hand welds each fitting.  So, each companies kettles are manufactured in China, Spike has an extra step of fabrication here in the USA.

Chapman Brewing Spike Brewing Ss Brew Tech
China China (Fabrication in USA) China

 

 

Kettle Features

The kettle features are what we really want to compare.  We are going to go through each manufacturer and list out the features that they have on their kettles as well as compare them with each other.  The most important features of the kettles are actual kettle volume, construction of the kettle bottom, welded or weldless fittings, number of ports and volume markings.  Each manufacturer has some additional details or nice to haves which we will list out as well.

Chapman

Chapman Brewing kettles are made from 201 stainless steel with 1mm walls and a 5mm thick tri-clad bottom which is induction capable.  The handles on the kettle are welded on and are positioned front and back. There are a couple things that I don’t like about this set up. First, the welded handles look a bit flimsy and id be nervous trying to carry a full kettle with the handles and the welds snapping.  Second, the front back positioning is not my favorite.  If you have ever tried to carry a full or partially full kettle with front back handles, you have experienced the bloody shins.  Trying to walk while carrying the kettle, you constantly kick the ball valve with your shin.  There are 2 welded 1/2″ NPT ports welded on the kettle. These welds were pretty jenky and the cuts in the kettle were rough and honestly ugly.  Take a look at the pictures to see for yourself.  The volume markings are pressed on and go up to 18 gallons. So the kettle itself is a 20 gallon kettle but its 20 gallons to the rim. So this kettle isn’t for 20 gallon batches but for 15 gallon batches.  Also, the volume markers are very hard to read.  They honestly look like the vinegar etching blog post we did a while back.  I really was not impressed with this kettle.

Ss Brew Tech

Ss Brew Tech kettles are made from 304 stainless steel with 1mm walls and a 5mm thick tri-clad bottom which is induction capable.  The handles on the kettle are riveted on and positioned on the sides and have a nice silicone grip on them.  You can also hang the lid on these handles. There are 3 weldless ports on the kettle. The volume markings are etched and go up to 20 gallons.  The total kettle volume is approximately 22.5 gallons and you can brew a full 20 gallon batch. The etchings are black in color and very easy to read.

Spike Brewing

Spike Brewing kettles are made from 304 stainless steel with 1.2mm walls and a 5mm thick tri-clad bottom which is induction capable. The bottom has a stepped and domed design to aid in trub collection and cleaner transfers.  The handles on the kettle are riveted on and positioned on the sides and have a nice silicone grip on them.  You can also hang the lid on these handles. There are 2 welded 1/2″ NPT ports on the kettle (TC available at additional cost). The volume markings are etched and go up to 20 gallons.  The total kettle volume is approximately 22.5 gallons and you can brew a full 20 gallon batch. The etchings are black in color and very easy to read.

 

Chapman Brewing Spike Brewing Ss Brew Tech
 Wall Thickness  1mm 1.2mm 1mm
 Bottom Thickness 5mm tri-clad 5mm tri-clad 5mm tri-clad
 Handles  Welded (front back)  Riveted (sides) Riveted (sides)
 Welded vs Weldless Welded Welded Weldless
 Volume Markings 18 gal Stamped 20 gal Etched 20 gal Etched
 Kettle Volume 20 gal 22.5 gal 22.5 gal

 

 

Included Accessories

Some manufacturers include accessories such as ball valves and thermometers and some don’t.  Lets take a look at what each manufacturer provides with their base purchase price.

Chapman

Chapman includes 2 welded 1/2″ NPT ports equipped with a 1/2″ ss 3pc ball valve and a thermometer. This kettle is usable right out of the box.

Ss Brew Tech

Ss Brew Tech includes 3 ports, 2 ports are plugged with stainless steel compression fittings, the other port comes equipped with a  1/2″ ss 3pc ball valve, bulk head, and also includes their pickup tube / trub dam. Additional accessories are available for purchase. This kettle is usable right out of the box.

Spike Brewing

Spike Brewing includes 2 welded ports 1/2″ NPT ports (TC ports are available for additional cost). Additional accessories and ports are available for purchase as well as customization. This kettle is not usable right out of the box.  You will need to purchase a 3pc ball valve as well as a plug for the 2nd port.

 

Chapman Brewing Spike Brewing Ss Brew Tech
 Ports  2  2  3
 3pc Ball Valve  Yes No Yes
 Thermometer  Yes No No
 Pickup Tube  No No Yes
 Usable Out of Box  Yes No Yes

 

 

Cost

Cost sometimes can be confusing because its like comparing apples and oranges some times.  Each manufacturer has a base price but that price can include accessories or it could not.  So you have to sit there and try and figure out which one you are getting a better deal on.  Well we are going to look at cost 2 ways.  First we are going to look at the price that the manufacturers base price.  Those prices are with what accessories are included by the manufacturer (see above section for included accessories). All of the manufacturers we are comparing offer Free Shipping with your purchase.

Chapman Brewing Spike Brewing Ss Brew Tech
$349.99 $280 $274.95

 

Next we will build the kettles to be identical so we can see the price difference.  This will include a 3pc ball valve,  a Thermometer (non Flexing) and a pickup tube. For Chapman Brewing you would need to buy a pick up tube, however, they do not offer one for purchase. You would have to source that on your own.  For Spike Brewing you need to purchase the 3pc ball valve ($25),  the thermometer ($25) and the pickup tube ($25 for the stubby).  For Ss Brew Tech you need to purchase the thermometer ($27.50) and the thermometer bulkhead ($12.50).

Chapman Brewing Spike Brewing Ss Brew Tech
 Base Price  $349.99  $280  $274.95
 3pc Ball Valve  inc. $25 inc.
 Thermometer  inc. $25 $27.50 + $12.50
 Pickup Tube  n/a $25 inc.
 Total Price  $349.99+ $355 $314.95

 

Looking at these prices its pretty clear that Chapman Brewing isnt the economical kettle that they claim to be.  Its actually more expensive after you buy your pick up tube than Spike Brewing and Ss Brew Tech and its 201 ss not 304 ss.  You are paying more for a lower quality product.  Spike and Ss Brew Tech are close in price and the main difference between Spike Brewing and Ss Brew Tech is the welded vs weldless fittings.  Lets take a deeper look into Spike Brewing vs Ss Brew Techs Kettles.

 

Spike vs. Ss Brew Tech

We put these kettles side by side and looked over every inch of the kettles.  To be honest, these kettles are 99% identical.  The kettle height and width are exactly the same.  The handles are exactly the same with the same material grip just with a little different shape.  The lids are slightly different (different stamp) but the handle on the lids are the same. The two main ports are at the exact same height from the bottom.  There are only a couple differences.

Kettle Bottom

Spike has a different design bottom which they call their stepped bottom. Ss Brew Tech has a traditional flat bottom.  Both bottoms are tri-clad and induction capable so there are no differences there.  But Spikes stepped bottom is a pretty cool design.  The step allows trub to collect in the center lower section and the pickup tube to pull from the clean raised lip.  The downside to this design is there is some increased dead space (approx .3 gal) which honestly is not that big of a deal. The bottom also has a domed shape with the center being slightly higher than the rest.  This lets the trub to settle a bit more flat across the bottom and also allows a cleaner pickup should you use their center pickup tube.

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Volume Markings

Both kettles come with etched internal volume markings.  Ss Brew Techs markings are in both Gallons and Liters and goes from 3 gallons to 20 gallons at gallon increments.  The markings are centered on the back of the kettle and are nice and dark as well as very clean looking.  Spikes markings are in Gallons only and goes from 2 gallons to 20 gallons at gallon increments. The markings are shifted to the left side of the back of the kettle and are black as well but there are some areas that are a little faded and its not as clean as Ss Brew Techs.

IMG_4964 IMG_4965

 

Pickup Tube

The pickup tubes have some differences between the manufacturers.  Ss Brew Techs trub dam / pickup tube as mentioned before is included with the base price.  It is a compression style tube that you push into the bulkhead that Ss Brew Tech designed for the 3pc ball valve.  The tube is a 1/2″ tube that has a 90 deg bend and blade / dam welded to it at the bottom.  The dam has a silicone blade that forms a tight seal to the base of the kettle. The design is similar to something you see in commercial whirlpools where after whirlpool the trub is in the center of the kettle and while draining the dam will stop the trub from entering the pickup tube.  The wort is drawn in from the sides of the dam.  Spike Brewing has a few options when it comes to pickup tubes. They have a stubby which is a short pickup from right under the port, a side pickup and a center pickup. The side pickup also doubles as a whirlpool arm. All their pickups are made from 5/8″ tubing with welded 90 deg corners. Benefits of the 5/8″ tubing is faster draining than the 1/2″ tubes.  They all also screw into the port and have a compression fitting so that you can adjust the pickup if needed.  They are also laser engraved with the name of the attachment on it as well.  They are very very nice looking.

 

 

Finish

The finish is slightly different between the two.  Spike has more of a polished look to it while Ss Brew Tech has more of an industrial raw look to it.  I think here it comes down to preference but really its a moot point.

 

IMG_4959

 

Welded vs Weldless

This is really the big difference between the two manufacturers.  Ss Brew Tech is weldless while Spike is welded here in the USA.  So what are the benefits of each? Welded ports are stronger and some would say safer as you wont spring a leak mid boil and have hot wort on the floor (or on you).  Not saying that weldless will leak but there is that slight chance that welded doesn’t have to worry about.  One other benefit people talk about with welded is its more sanitary.  I honestly think that’s a moot point when it comes to kettles because you are boiling wort in it and that is sterilizing in it self.  You would clean welded and weldless just the same.  Actually I think it would be easier to clean weldless because you could disassemble the bulk heads and throw them in a nice bath, however, with weldless there is more to disassemble. Spikes welded option you just screw off and on the ball valve and therm.  The major benefit to weldless is the ability to customize your kettle.  It is a lot easier for you to drill a hole in your kettle and install a weldless bulkhead than it is to find a welder and get a port welded on.  You also run the risk of the welder laying a crappy weld or over heating the kettle where you would need to clean and re-passivate the kettle.  Spike Brewing offers customization when purchasing your kettle so you can have them put ports any where you want but you need to know before hand what you want to do.  If you don’t, you can always ship the kettle back to Spike and they will weld on ports as you request.  Obviously there is a cost associated here.  There are upsides and downsides to each and it really comes down to your preference.  I do not think there is a clear cut one is better than the other.

IMG_4963 IMG_4962

 

Summary

Here is a summary table of everything we looked at for the kettles in one easy to read place.  Hopefully this will help you make a decision on which kettle is right for you.  It sure did for us!

Chapman Brewing Spike Brewing Ss Brew Tech
 Material 201 ss 304 ss 304 ss
 Origin China China (Fabrication in USA)  China
 Wall Thickness 1mm 1.2mm 1mm
 Bottom Thickness  5mm tri-clad 5mm tri-clad 5mm tri-clad
 Handles  Welded (front back) Riveted (sides) Riveted (sides)
 Welded vs Weldless Welded Welded Weldless
 Volume Markings  18 gal Stamped 20 gal Etched 20 gal Etched
 Kettle Volume  20 gal 22.5 gal 22.5 gal
 Ports  2 2 3
 Ball Valve  inc. not inc. inc.
 Thermometer  inc. not inc. not inc.
 Pickup Tube  not available not inc. inc.
 Usable Out of Box  Yes No Yes
 Base Price $349.99 $280 $274.95
 Price with Accessories  $349.99+  $355 $314.95