There is a good chance that your homebrewing technique, level of complexity, and equipment will evolve throughout the duration of your hobby.
Most amateur brewers start off making beer in batches of one to two gallons using malt extract and a stock pot on the stove.
Usually, after a few batches, brewers will either increase their batch size to 5 gallons or move to all-grain brewing.
Brewers will need to invest in new machinery as batch sizes and brewing process complexity rise.
When that happens, it can be more challenging to bring water to a boil on a stovetop. So, brewers must decide between an electric brewer and a gas homebrewing setup.
When picking between propane and electric brewing equipment, it’s important to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each.
You’ve probably landed on this article because you want to know exactly that. Learn about the advantages and disadvantages of using an electric brewer.
What’s an Electric Brewer?
Before we figure out whether an electric brewer is right for you, let’s go over what it is.
Electric brewers don’t use any external sources of heat. The heat is generated within the device (as with direct fire or steam jacket).
Electric elements wrapped in stainless steel cladding are what provide the heat for your brewhouse vessels.
Brew kettles and hot liquor tanks are the primary vessels used to hold ingredients in a brewhouse (HLT). The mash tun can be heated electrically as well.
All of the heat you apply to the elements will go toward boiling your wort because they are submerged in the liquid. A brewhouse may have anything from two to four elements per tank.
Advantages of Using an Electric Brewer
You Can Brew Indoors
Electric brewing removes the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from propane burning, allowing you to brew indoors.
Remember, brewing anywhere, even with the garage door cracked, can expose people to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.
Inside brewing allows you to avoid the elements and enjoy your hobby at any time of the year. This is a huge plus for folks who live in colder climates some months out of the year.
Even if steam removal may be an issue, brewing inside is still preferable to doing it outdoors.
You Don’t Have To Deal With Propane
When you brew with electricity, you won’t need a propane burner but rather a heating element and a regulator.
One apparent advantage is that you won’t have to run out to the hardware store on brew day to pick up a propane tank. Or, heaven forbid, the propane runs out in the middle of a boil!
The cost of propane should also not be overlooked. A month’s worth of brewing may really rack up quite the bill. Reserve your propane use for the grill.
You Have More Control
If you want more meticulous control over your mash temperatures, upgrading to an electric brewer is the way to go.
You may, of course, buy high-end automated gas brewing equipment, which comes with its own set of benefits and drawbacks.
Eliminating the need to regulate the heat to get the ideal mash temperature manually is a huge step forward.
You can have a less laborious brew day thanks to your controller’s exact mash temperature setting.
To a large extent, folks feel safer while using an electric kettle to brew than when using a stovetop.
Instead of repeatedly lighting the burners with a lighter throughout the brewing day, electric heat may be turned on and off with the flip of a switch.
No one enjoys dealing with a conventional burner while holding a pot of hot wort.
It’s Just as Efficient
You might be wary about electric brewing because of the potential for longer mash and boil periods.
How does one ripple element heat 8 gallons of water to dough-in temperature more quickly than a roaring propane fire?
When it comes to rapidly heat-striking water and bringing your wort to a rolling boil, a 5500-watt heating element is second to none.
The convenience of automation is that once it’s been set, you can essentially forget about it. You can adjust the strike temperature and leave without having to keep an eye on the fire.
Your Kettles Won’t Get Scorched
Some folks may not mind, but you might not be a fan of the black soot that accumulates on the bottoms and sides of your brew kettles.
An electric kettle will retain its pristine condition indefinitely. It is generally more durable, making it a better investment in the long run.
No open flames are necessary for electric brewing. The only sound you’ll hear is the gentle sizzle of water coming to a boil.
Electric brewing is safer than traditional methods because there is no open flame involved.
If the ventilation system fails, there is less of a chance that anybody could breathe in harmful gases.
If the system is built with ground fault circuit interrupters, the likelihood of an electric shock occurring is also greatly reduced.
Disadvantages of Using an Electric Brewer
High Startup Cost
Electric heating elements alone will be cheaper than most direct fire burners and much less expensive than a steam boiler.
The higher cost is largely attributed to the control panel. Companies that specialize in brewery controls offer a variety of choices for brewers that lack the electrical expertise to construct their own control panels.
The price might range significantly from inexpensive to pricey, depending on whether you want a basic system or a customizable touchscreen system.
If you’re looking at replacing a burner or boiler, you should check how much the elements, control panel, and venting will cost. Most of the time, this equipment will set you back quite a bit.
You’ll also need to think about the reliability of the nearby power grid. You’ll need enough “juice” to run the brewhouse, chill the beer, light the place up, and do whatever else requires electricity.
Single-phase 208/240 or three-phase 240/120 can power breweries with a capacity of up to 3.5 barrels.
Breweries operating at 100 amps or more need three phases of 208/120. A three-phase 208 service with 200 amps is often needed for a 7 to 10-barrel installation.
If you want to brew more than 10 barrels, you really shouldn’t even think about going electric.
Keep in mind that regardless of your heat source, you will need to bring your wort to a boil and maintain a vigorous enough boil to reach 8% evaporation per hour when calculating the amount of energy needed to fire your system.
Meeting Local Building and Fire Codes
Switching to electric brewing often starts by meeting with local officials and starting the permitting process. This can be quite a tedious process.
Venting the exhaust fumes from the burner and the steam created during brewing are both required for direct fire brewing.
If there is an open flame, certain cities may also need a fire suppression system. Boiler rooms for steam systems can be built to strict specifications for placement and design.
The good news is that electric breweries have fewer run-ins with the Fire Marshall due to the lack of open flame. Steam will be the only byproduct of the brewing process.
Harder To Clean
And finally, if you want to use an electric kettle for brewing, you’ll need to have an electric element installed inside of it.
Naturally, this will make using immersion chillers more of a chore and will also complicate the cleaning process.
It’s possible that, depending on your brewing setup, you’ll need to purchase a false bottom to shield your heating element and provide a flat surface for chillers and brew bags.
Is Electric Brewing Better Than Gas Brewing?
“All-in-one” homebrew systems automate the brewing process and allow you to create high-quality beer in a wide range of flavors and styles.
While they are practical in that they do away with a lot of brewing equipment, some people feel that it takes the art out of brewing. Others think it makes the whole process more streamlined.
No matter which side you’re on, you can’t deny that automated brewing systems are here to stay.
One solution could be to encourage dedicated brewers to have and utilize both systems.
The automated home brew systems can be used to produce beer quickly from prepackaged recipes.
The traditional brewing setup is best suited for brewing that requires more creativity and experimentation.
There is no universally accepted rule regarding which configurations are superior; this is ultimately a matter of preference.
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If you’re a serious brewer, should you get an electric or gas system? It all boils down to how much weight you give to the various pros and cons listed above.
Still, an electric all-in-one brewing system removes the hassle of monitoring temperatures, transferring water and wort from one vessel to another, and cleaning additional vessels, so you can focus on enjoying the brewing process.
In my opinion, an all-in-one brewing system is worth the initial investment if you frequently make large batches of beer. If you’d rather pass, a reliable propane system can still produce delicious brews.