Unibrau 10g 120V Impressions and First Brew Attemptsby Justin Michalicek on Aug. 11, 2021, 12:56 a.m. UTC
Overall, this is a great kettle and should be a good controller. I love the kettle and grain basket and find it to be one of the best designs I have seen and they are both well built. The tri-clamp fittings are great and make the system easy to work with. Unfortunately, the experience has been plagued with bad electrical parts and slow, dismissive support.
Initial Setup and Usage
I pre-ordered my Unibrau 10g 120 volt system in May 2021 and received it in the final week of June. Everything arrived well packed and undamaged. The tri-clamp fitting make assembly very easy andI was able to put everything together quickly. There are only a couple of threaded connections to seal and test for leaks. When I ordered the system I believed the package specified an EZ-Boil controller, which seemed odd since it was specced as a "basic" package, but I checked several times. A few days after I ordered, I tried to verify this again but that package disappeard from the Brau Supply website. When everything showed up, an EZ-Boil controller had been included as I had thought would be the case.
After hooking everything up I plugged the unit into a 20 amp circuit in my garage and the GFCI immediately flipped. I only had the EZ-Boil controller at that point and was not yet even trying to run the pump or heating element. I have 4 separate GFCI circuits in my house, so I carried the EZ-Boil around and plugged it into each one and the GFCI flipped every time. I was disappointed, but these things happen.
Support and Quality Control
I initially attempted to contact Brau Supply via their online chat. I waited a few days and sent a follow up email, but to their regular contact email rather than their support email. After about a week I looked more closely at their website and saw the rather obvious support email and phone number. I called and got voicemail, but within minutes the owner of Brau Supply called me back. He was very friendly, apologetic for the problem, and apologetic for not replying to my email yet. He asked me to open the unit up and take pictures of the wiring and email them to him. He reviewed the wiring, which he does himself, and confirmed that everything looked ok and asked me to plug it into a non-GFCI outlet. The system powered on properly without GFCI, but I am not comfortable relying on that long term, and everywhere I intend to actually brew is required by law to have GFCI outlets. After this he was adamant that the problem was likely my house wiring and not his system since he had tested it personally even though it was having problems on multiple circuits which are all used daily.
At this point I had to leave town for a week, so I let him know. I honestly had hopes that a new controller and shipping label would be waiting when I got home since that seemed like the obvious next step, but no such luck. I called after I returned home to see what the next steps were, he was still adamant that the problem had to be my wiring, but said he would send a new controller and a shipping label for me to send the current one back just to be sure. This was July 7 or 8. After more than a week I had not seen a new controller, so I contacted him again via both phone and email. On July 20 I received an email asking if I had received a shipping label via email, which I had not. On July 23 I received an email stating that a new controller had been sent.
That email also stated that a mistake had been made and I was supposed to receive the less expensive ETC controller which uses an NTC thermistor rather than the Auber EZ-Boil PID controller. I replied stating that I was pretty sure I was supposed to receive the EZ-Boil which was originally sent and received a somewhat dismissive email stating that such a package has never existed. This did not sit well with me. I can accept that I may have gotten confused and/or misread. I had felt the need to re-check multiple times for a reason, it seemed unlikely. In the end I chalked it up to a special deal to get sales moving or due to product availability. When I combine that I expected the EZ-Boil controller and that is what was actually sent, that suggests to me that I was supposed to receive the EZ-Boil. But as long as things worked, I was willing to go with this. Running on 110/120V there's not much point in being able to turn down the power after boil starts and I was going to need to monitor mash timing manually to go pull the grains out anyway.
The new ETC controller shows up on August 1. On August 2nd I ran some boil off rate tests and mucked about with insulation to improve the boil vigor. On Augsut 3rd I get everything ready to brew my grains which I have had sitting around for a few weeks now expecting to be able to use this expensive, fairly high end new equipment. After less than 5 minutes of the ETC controller running in mash mode the LCD display dies and the heating element stops working. Fortunately I had not put any grains in yet as I was still just heating to my strike temperature.
After this I immediately did some tests using my GFCI circuit tester and both called and emailed Brau Supply with the information. The circuit tester shows power and a good circuit at my outlet, it shows power and a good circuit in boil mode on the ETC controller although there is no LCD display and no warning about not having a temperature sensor hooked up when I do not plug it in, and no current when in mash mode. As of August 7 I have yet to hear back from Brau Supply.
I should return the entire system at this point, but two things are keeping me from doing so.
- I really do like this kettle and grain basket better than any of the other options. I'd be willing to go cheap and get an Anvil Foundry because I can buy 2-3 of them for the price of one of these higher end units but they are not available. Other systems in the same price range I honestly feel do not stand up in terms of flexibility, configurability, and modularity that the Unibrau kettle does. On top of that, other than the Clawhammer system and the Grainfather, the latter of which adds whiz-bang features I don't want, such as bluetooth and a mobile app, to justify the cost rather than things I actually need, most other system require a 240V circuit which I do not currently have available
- Returning this system to Canada is going to be a pain in the ass and I doubt I'd ever see a refund
So I did some digging and found a lot of 6 of the exact (more or less... these have been sitting in a warehouse since 2017) controller the ETC unit uses for $55 shipped. I purchased that and they arrived on August 7. I swapped one out with the part in the ETC controller and things immediately came alive. I have my LCD display back and ability to set the mash temperature, the unit complains when I do not have a temperature sensor connected, and it shows the temperature when it is connected. If this dies, I've got 5 more of them to swap in.
I had not expected the new controllers to show up until between August 9 and 12 and had grains sitting around, so I brewed on Augst 5. Since the controller worked in boil mode, I just used that to heat to strike temps and then turned it off, allowing insulation to maintain my mash temperatures just as I've been doing for years on the stove top. I will comment on this more in my brew day log, but it appears I got significantly more caramelization and scorching than expected. My wort is much darker than calculated and darker than previous brews of this recipe. Some variance is expected since those were 2.5 gallon (in the fermenter) batches on the stove top and this was intended to be 5.5 gallons with a new system. The difference is pretty drastic, though, and my heating element has a ton of scorched carbon on it. I have done multiple rounds of water and PBW while running the element and there is still cooked on gunk which I cannot get off with the standard kitchen green Brillo pad/sponge deal.
Below is a video showing the circuit states with the ETC controller.
This second video shows the original EZ-Boil based controller (which I have yet to see a shipping label for) on the same circuit causing the GFCI to flip.
I emailed Brau Supply with the videos above showing that the problems are in fact their system and not the wiring in my house. I hope that I get a reasonable response and that they attempt to make things right. As of right now, I'm highly impressed with the kettle and grain basket. I wish anyone else made something of similar quality and flexibility, with multiple tri-clamp fittings at the top and bottom. I can accept things going wrong and that I just got unlucky with the controllers and maybe some battering during shipping, but the support has soured me on the entire system and company. The support has been very slow and dismissive, not accepting that there could possibly be anything wrong with the Brau Supply units. Being ignored after the second broken controller combined with the questionable circumstances around it really ruin things. I honestly wish I didn't have this system and that I felt returning it was not going to be a giant hassle. While I could recommend the kettles based on quality and flexibility, the support and quality of electronics makes this hard to recommend or be happy with.
If I get any further updates, which I hope to see positive support, I will update this.
I have received communication back. I intend to run the controller in mash mode to see if it lasts before responding back. Hopefully that will be on the 11th.