You know when you see an ad for a new piece of homebrew equipment and then you spend the next couple of days trying to justify a good excuse to buy it? For me, that happens just about every time I pick up a homebrew mag or do some on-line window shopping.
Lately, I’ve been spending (too much) time looking at a way to up my fermenter game. I’m tired of the weight and fragility of glass carboys. Plus I’ve had my share of bad luck with plastic carboys. And then there’s the trusty bucket. Say what you will, but the 6-gallon plastic bucket is still a great buy.
But upping my game means something new, improved and probably a little costly. I have toyed with the idea of going with stainless, but the cost has always been a factor. And when you add temperature control, the cost can really add up.
There are new age plastic conical style fermenters that promise all the advantages of stainless at less than half the cost, but they are still plastic. If you haven’t yet, check out Katie’s Fastferment review.
So when the opportunity to test out the Catalyst Fermentation System from Craft A Brew came along, I jumped at it.
Craft A Brew generously provided the system for me to use. No strings attached, just with a promise of an honest and fair review. This will not be a problem.
Catalyst Fermenter Out Of The Box
First up, very impressed with the packaging. They had to have spent a considerable amount of time and money perfecting the packaging and use of space. None wasted.
The fermenter and stand come out of the box in about 11 main pieces and a small assortment of bolts, fittings, and tools. I assembled the unit in just a few minutes. The entire system is lightweight but feels extremely solid.
Prepping For The First Batch
This has the ease of the old school bucket with the large top opening and locking top. I made a light PBW solution, that I used to swirl around, and followed with a quick rinse. Right before adding the wort, I sanitized the unit with Star San.
Two things to note during this process.
- The rubber gasket that seals the lid to the fermenter fell off. Not sure if I did something to knock it out of place, but it was a bit challenging to get it back in place with wet hands. Not a big deal, but next time I will make sure it’s fully in place before I start the cleaning process.
- Play around with the butterfly valve before you add the wort. Know what it feels like when the valve is closed. The valve didn’t move as smooth as I expected. I thought it was closed when I added the Star San, but it was still cracked open a bit. A quick pull on the valve, and it was closed. Not a big deal, but just make sure it’s closed.
Filling The Fermenter
I gave a final swirl of the Star San, then drained it out the valve on the bottom. With the lid locked in place, I filled the wort through the hole in the lid for the blow-off. Pretty simple stuff.
One thing to keep in mind, the Catalyst sits a bit taller than traditional carboys. So make sure you think about the gravity before you transfer or you might end up needing to make some adjustments to your setup.
The Catalyst is clear plastic and offers no light protection. I choose to cover mine with an old sheet to protect my beer from the light.
Craft A Brew now offers a cover with handles for an additional cost of $30.00. I think this is a worthwhile investment.
The Catalyst also has no temperature control option, and with the larger footprint and height, I think you will be challenged to fit this in a chest freezer. I kept it in the garage. The days were not too hot, and I chose a yeast that would work well in the high 60s, low 70s.
However, in the heat of the summer, it might be too tough to manage. Saison summer brews might be the best option.
[Note – Craft A Brew mentioned that a sampling port may be a feature that is coming soon. Not sure if this is an add-on or just on new models, but this would be a great addition.
After fermentation, I drained as much of the yeast and sediment as I could through the butterfly valve. I then filled and dumped the glass jar a couple of times.
Two things to remember: Only go hand-tight on the jar; any tighter and the valve will begin to spin on the fermenter. Second, be sure the pull the airlock out before you open the valve. Otherwise, you will suck its contents into the fermenter.
At this point, I dry hopped and let it sit for another few days.
I try not to bottle my beers, so this beer went right into the keg. This was super easy.
- Remove the glass jar, if using
- Wipe down the outside of the valve and spray down with sanitizer
- Screw on funnel looking adapter and transfer tubing
- Pull airlock
- Open valve slowly.
A few things I noticed that might be challenging if bottling.
- There is a bit of sediment that “sticks” the sides of the conical at the bottom of the fermenter. That might make it’s way into the bottle as the beer slowly flows out of the fermenter. However, I did hear that a racking arm will soon become an option. This may help quite a bit.
- Stirring in priming sugar might loosen up the sediment at the bottom causing some clarity issues.
This might have been the easiest clean-up ever.
Everything cleaned up very easy and looked great afterward. I used water pressure and my hand to loosen up any remaining yeast and beer. Then used a soft rag soaked in a light solution of PBW and wiped down the entire inside. Followed up by a quick rinse and I was done.
The large top opening makes cleanup simple. Craft A Brew states you can put the fermenter in the dishwasher. I tried, but it was just too large to fit without removing the top rack. As I stated, no worries. Clean up was a breeze.
Well made and lightweight – Although I have only used once, I could see this fermenter holding up very well to many years of use.
- Large top opening – The top opening makes everything from dry hopping to clean up very easy.
- Yeast harvesting – The jar attachment is a great way to collect yeast, or just pull the beer off the yeast without the issues of transfer.
- Clean up – Super simple. A requirement of the best conical fermentors.
- Price – This is not cheap – But you get what you pay for as the old saying goes.
- Temperature control – I would like to see an insulated jacket as an option.
- Light protection – The $30.00 option for a cover and handles is good, but I think they should include some sort of cover standard with the unit.
- Large footprint – The Catalyst looks great, but its size might make it challenging for some with limited space.
Overall Thoughts on the Catalyst Fermenter
This is a great, well-designed and easy to use fermenter. Based on that alone, I would highly recommend it. However, it would make it tough to justify the cost to make this my “go-to” fermenter.
That being said, if I wanted a clean setup that could sit on a countertop that wasn’t going to make a huge mess, this would be perfect. This might be the great system for the occasional brewer who wants a trouble feel set up, easy cleanup and a good looking system.