So after only five completed brews I find myself in the situation where my Klarstein all-in-one system has broken down. I decided that now might be a good time to write a bit about what I think of the system.
So first of all, I have made five beers with my Klarstein system and some of them have been pretty amazing, like the Bitter I made a while back. Some have been less great like the red-ish brown thing. But unfortunately, the system broke down and I had to to ditch a batch for the first time two weeks ago. After getting in touch with Klarstein through Amazon, I have sent it back for repairs free of charge. But for now, I want to give a more detailed view on the features of the Klarstein, and some modifications that I would recommend if you have it, before giving my final thoughts.
Klarstein features and price
The Klarstein is a pretty basic unit in terms of features. It has two power settings: a 1500W or 3000W, making this a pretty powerful system. However, power certainly isn’t everything. In order to avoid scorching onto the bottom plate, low watt density heating elements are really handy and these are certainly not low watt density elements. As well as that, there is no PID control for the elements, they simply switch on until the target temperature is reached and then turn off until the temperature drops a couple of degrees below the target. This is fine for a water heater but far from ideal for a mash tun.
The unit does not include a pump of any kind but this is a very cheap option so a pump can’t really be expected. However, it does have a tap which, while it may not sound like much, is a feature that is absent from more expensive systems like the Grainfather and is a handy thing to have.
The grain basket (or malt pipe if you prefer that terminology) is fine but the legs are not long enough to fit a bazooka filter underneath which is a necessity if you want to connect the tap to a pump.
One major plus for the Klarstein is that is comes with a wort chiller included. Now, this is far from the best chiller on the market, but considering it comes included in a setup costing only EUR 200, I think that a pretty good deal. It typically takes around half an hour for me to chill the wort with this cooler but obviously this is highly dependent on the water source for the chiller. The one downside is that unlike something more expensive like the Grainfather, the Klarstein doesn’t come with any hosing to hook the chiller up with. But for the price of the system, a couple of lengths of silicone hose is a small additional cost.
So what do I use to get the most out of the Klarstein? Well top of the list is a pump and some silicone hose. I use this for recirculating the wort during the mash. This not only can increase efficiency, but also ensures a consistent temperature throughout the vessel. It is without a doubt, the biggest thing missing from the Klarstein system. I also use the same pump to drive cold water through the wort chiller. This is very handy for me as I brew on my balcony and do not have easy access to a tap. For me a pump and some 9mm hose barbs was therefore essential. A nice coincidence with the Klarstein system is that the 9mm tap matches the taps on the fermenter buckets in the Brewferm starter kit.
If you’re going to hook a pump up to the tap of the Klarstein, then a good filter is also essential. An 8-inch filter should fit the unit well. I bought a 12 inch filter by mistake and just cut it down a few inches. This will not only stop your pump getting clogged and/or damaged, but it will also keep unwanted hop material from getting into your fermenter, eliminating the need for hop socks. The downside here is that the feet on the grain basket are not long enough to accommodate the filter so I’ve had the grain basket balanced on the filter and slumped up against the side of the tun. I do have a solution in mind to give the legs a bit more length but that will have to wait until after I get the system back.
Another accessory that you’ll want is a good mash paddle made of strong wood or steel. The plastic ones simply do not last. Stiring during the mash can improve efficiency and a good whirlpool at the end of the boil is always recommended.
If you can’t get grain crushed from your local home brew shop then you will of course need to get a malt mill to crush it yourself. You can pick up a cheap malt mill on ebay like I did for as little as EUR 20 or so, or at the other end of the market you can $244 on a Monster Mill. Either way, the only way to ensure you get your grain crush just the way you like it is to mill it yourself.
The final accessory I would really recommend is a table to sit the unit on. This will really save a lot of strain on your back and will make the whole brew day more comfortable and therefore much more enjoyable.
What can I say about build quality? This is a cheap system and you very much get what you pay for. That said, in terms of the construction, it is fine. I have moved this about full of liquid and knocked it many times and there has been no hint of any mechanical failure.
However, the same quality is not there in terms of the electrical components. This is the cheapest option on the market and it unsurprisingly only includes the very cheapest of components. As mentioned above the elements are not of the low watt density variety and that, coupled with the lack of proper PID control, makes burning wort on the bottom plate of the unit a very real possibility and even a fairly regular occurrence.
Now it’s time to address the elephant in the room: This system only lasted me five brews before giving up. The unit had cut out before but only towards the end of a boil and would be fine after pressing the reset button. Last time I tried to use it however, the elements would overheat and cut out when the wort was only at 50 degrees, so I couldn’t even get beyond a protein rest and start mashing. I therefore had to ditch the brew and wasted a lot of time and malt.
At this point I really can’t recommend the Klarstein system. The build quality just really isn’t there. But I suppose what do you expect for EUR 200? Perhaps spending twice as much on the Brewmonk would be a better budget option. This is pretty much the same as the more expensive Klarstein options and rumour has it that they role out of the same Chinese factory (alongside the hopcat, the Ace, etc., etc….). The upside to the Brewmonk is that it comes with a three year warranty so there is a certain amount of peace of mind to be had there.
So what’s next?
Where to go from here? Well until I get my system back from the shop, it’s extract only brews for me. In fact I brewed myself a nice IPA from extract this very day! I’ll post about that soon I guess. The amount of hop tea I made in the kitchen is verging on a bit silly. I’ve also always got a beer kit or two in the basement in case of emergencies. I’m a huge fan of Woodforde’s brewery in my home county of Norfolk, so I have a Wherry kit ready to go once the fermenter is empty and then a Headcracker kit to head into the Autumn with.
Hopefully it won’t take too long to get my Klarstein back. When it does come back I am toying with the idea of introducing a DIY computer controlled PID temperature control into the mix… But more on that later I suppose. I’ll want to get the coding out of the way before I buy any new components. Future Jake has a lot of tinkering to do…
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