Ben Stange on May 27, 2015 1 Comment Other than a beginner equipment kit, the first significant investment most homebrewers make when they take up brewing is their brew kettle. Choosing the right brew kettle is incredibly important. If you choose wisely and maintain the equipment well, your brew kettle can be with you for decades. There are several factors to consider when choosing the best brew kettle, and in order to get the most out of your investment, you should consider your future needs as to be as important as your current needs. 1. Budget for Success It’s the topic no one wants to admit is the most important, but it very often is. Set your budget for your kettle, but balance this need with the needs listed below. If you find the kettle you feel meets all of your other criteria but you do not have the money to buy it immediately, consider saving for the kettle you want rather than settling for something lesser. It can be hard to consider waiting to make this investment, but it can be a lot more expensive to buy a cheaper or smaller kettle than you really want. It will cost you the value of the pot, of course, but it will also cost you a lot of pain and suffering. Once you realize that you are unhappy with your kettle, you’ll have to save up for the one you should have bought before. You may think this is a sales pitch, but it really isn’t. I am telling you this because I made this mistake. I bought an 8 gallon enamel-coated aluminum kettle because it was less expensive than the 15 gallon stainless kettle I wanted. In less than a year, it had been dropped and was chipped, and I had to buy another kettle. This time, I bought a stainless steel 15 gallon kettle. I still use this kettle today, more than 6 years later. It may be very hard to put it off and wait, but investing in a kettle you won’t be happy with is a mistake you don’t want to make. Who wants to make this significant an investment in the brewery twice? 2. Size Does Matter Arguably the most important criteria for your brew kettle is volume. You’ll need enough volume for the full amount of the boil plus some head space to help prevent overflows. Volume is also a criteria for which it is hard to go too big. You can just as easily make a ten gallon batch in a 15 gallon kettle, but it’s much harder to make a ten gallon batch in a 7 gallon kettle. Photo Credit: Farmking / Flickr Don’t be stingy when it comes to investing in volume. It may seem like investing in the eight gallon kettle is less expensive than the 15 gallon one, but if, in three years, you decide to start brewing ten gallon batches, you’ll be glad not to be buying a second kettle to do it. If you are a partial-mash brewer and making five gallon batches, you’ll need to be able to boil 2-3 gallons of wort, so plan for a 5 gallon kettle minimum. If you brew 5 gallon batches and have a way to boil the full volume (turkey fryer burner, anyone?), an 8 gallon kettle will work just fine. If, like me, you brew in ten gallon batches (or plan to in the future), I would recommend buying a 15 gallon kettle. With a 15-gallon kettle, you have room to start with at least 12 gallons of water and still have head space to help prevent boil overs. 3. Show Them What You’re Made Of The two most common materials for brew pots are Aluminum and Stainless Steel. Stainless steel is the best material for a kettle, hands down. It is also the most expensive. Aluminum is not only less expensive, it is lighter, as well. Unfortunately, it is not as durable and needs to have an oxide layer developed on it which is very important to a brewer. The oxide layer prevents the aluminum from passing off-flavors to your beer, but if it is compromised by scratching, abrasion, or harsh chemicals, it will be gone and will need to be rebuilt. For this reason, aluminum pots tend to need special cleaners that protect the oxide layer. If you feel you are up to maintaining this, you can save a significant amount of money by purchasing an aluminum pot. For some brewers, however, it is better to buy a less expensive stainless pot than to invest all of the extra time and consideration to building and maintaining the necessary oxide layer on an aluminum pot. An alternative to the aluminum pot is the enamel-coated aluminum kettle. This is a very inexpensive option, but they chip easily and that will expose the aluminum underneath. I do not recommend buying an enamel coated pot unless it is just to “get you by” while you save for a nicer brewpot. 4. Consider the Features & Amenities One of the great things about buying a high end brew pot is that is comes with amenities, such as a built in thermowell, a sight glass, or a ball valve. If you have the budget up front, I highly recommend purchasing a kettle that includes all of these. If you have to choose between getting the right size kettle for your future needs and having these “bells and whistles”, however, go for the kettle that is the right size. You can always add the amenities later on with a drill and some weldless fittings. If you can afford some features and have to choose which of these features to include, consider which of them would best improve your brew day. If your kettle doubles as your mash tun, for instance, having the thermowell built in is nice. If you are an extract with grain brewer, however, you may find it is more important to have the ball valve for easy transfer out of the kettle after cooling or for recirculating the wort through a chiller using a pump. Which Kettle Is Right For Me? Like any piece of equipment you buy, selecting the best brew kettle in the end is all about meeting your own needs. Consider the features that are most important to you. What are your goals as a brewer? Do you hope to go all-grain? Will you be a Brew-in-a-bag brewer? Do you eventually hope to incorporate it into a three-tier system or go electric? The most important thing you can take from this article is this: Don’t buy your kettle based on only on how you brew now. Buy your kettle based on how you hope to brew in the future, because your kettle will be with you for a long time.