In early November I received my Catalyst Fermentation System. You may recall my post about un-boxing the Catalyst and my initial impressions that I published at that time. This week I’m bringing you my review of the Catalyst after brewing and bottling my first batch in the system.
What is the catalyst?
As a refresher for anyone that is unfamiliar, the Catalyst Fermentation System is a conical fermenter for homebrewing. What sets the Catalyst apart is its incorporation of a unique butterfly valve at the bottom of the cone that also fits a standard mason jar. The jar catches the trub and can be used to harvest yeast as well. The system also includes a bottling attachment, allowing a user to bottle directly from the fermenter.
Home brewers may recognize that this product can certainly be helpful in reducing the steps taken from kettle to bottle. Basically it eliminates the need for racking and therefore reducing the need for other fermentation vessels. As with any new gadget, the question is always: is it worth the price?
What was my experience?
From sanitizing to cleanup and everything in between, using the Catalyst was pretty much a breeze.
I made a Belgian Dubbel that I received along with my Catalyst – I added a bit extra to my contribution to the Kickstarter campaign in order to get a beer kit as well. The 5 Gallon kit was a partial grain kit that came with everything I needed to get started including sanitizer and detailed instructions. Craftabrew made it incredibly simple to get going with their beer kit and their instructions were created for Catalyst and non-Catalyst users alike.
Setting up the Catalyst in the first place was a snap and once it was built (it didn’t come pre-assembled, check out my pseudo stop motion assembly video here) I’ll admit I wasn’t initially certain it would hold up. However, the construction is surprisingly solid and once I filled the Catalyst with wort I never once doubted that it would work exactly as intended without any issues.
Sanitizing the Catalyst was easy, as was filling it with wort, although because of my home setup I had to lift my chilled kettle up to shoulder height in order to pour the wort into the Catalyst. While this is a recipe for disaster everything went fine and aside from a boilover on the stove at the beginning, the brew went off without a hitch. I pitched the yeast, sealed the lid firmly with the four clamps, put my airlock in place, and let everything get to work.
Over the course of the four week fermentation period, I changed out the trub twice, closing the butterfly valve and removing the mason jar from the bottom. Rinsing out the jar, sanitizing and replacing it were a breeze.
I did have a really active fermentation that ended up spilling out of the airlock and out of the clamps in spite of how tightly they were closed. Craftabrew suggests that I should use a hose into a bowl of water instead of an airlock – similar to what you’d see in a brewery – since this setup allows the excess to escape safely and reduces mess.
When it came time to bottle, I removed the jar once more and attached the sanitized bottling attachment. I was able to add my priming sugar directly to the Catalyst, eliminating the need of racking my beer into another container in order to mix in the sugar solution. Once the priming solution was mixed I simply opened the butterfly valve and bottled my beer in less than 10 minutes. You can check out a brief video of bottling at the bottom of the post.
Cleanup was a snap and true to Craftabrew’s claim, I ran the Catalyst through my dishwasher to give a final clean, something that will come in very handy in the future – and something that will be welcomed by many homebrewers out there.
What were the issues?
For the most part I had no real issues with the Catalyst, and certainly nothing that made me regret or second-guess my purchase. This is a $200+ piece of equipment so it’s definitely on the pricey side, something I mentioned in my original post. When you can get a white fermentation bucket for typically less than $20 from a homebrew shop, it may seem excessive to spend 10 times the price on the Catalyst.
Whether that price is worth it depends largely upon you and your homebrewing needs. For the amount of beer I brew, the Catalyst is excellent. If you have many batches going at once, then putting them all into their own Catalyst may not be ideal.
The main gripe that I have, and this is one I’ve heard mention of online from other home brewers that use this system, is that changing out the trub may be simple, but fitting a clean jar to catch more trub or harvest yeast poses unnecessary risks to your beer.
The reason is that even if you sanitize your mason jar, when you go to put it back onto the Catalyst and open the butterfly valve once more, you’re allowing a pint of air to bubble through the beer. Air is the enemy of your beer and you run the risk of spoiling your batch as a result since you cannot sanitize the air even if you may sanitize the equipment.
The only solution I found was to fill the jar to the brim with sanitized water and attaching that to the Catalyst. Opening the butterfly valve at that point does not introduce any air to the system if done right, but does add more water and slightly dilutes your beer. Doing so once may be harmless but if you have a particularly active batch or one with loads of un-fermentables requiring you to change out the trub often, the watering down effect has the potential to significantly impact the beer.
Other brewers have critiqued the clear plastic vessel of the Catalyst as inviting spoilage through light, but for me this is a non issue since my fermentation room is dark and any light is only on for a very short period. Anyone who brews in glass carboys knows that a simple solution is to wrap a towel or blanket around your beer if light is an issue.
In spite of that fairly substantial issue with the trub trap, I’m still very happy with my Catalyst and happily recommend it to any home brewer.
The issues I’ve experienced with the Catalyst have largely been related to my own inexperience with brewing, aside from the issue of changing and replacing the trub trap. There may be a better way to address that issue, or it may be that I’m paranoid and it’s not something to worry too much about.
In any case, the simplicity of using the system, the fact that you can watch your beer ferment, settle and clarify, and the sheer ease of cleanup make this a fantastic addition to any home brewer’s arsenal. Bottling is simple and quick (it was practically over before it began) and there was no wasted beer unlike when I’ve bottled using a syphon and a secondary carboy. Oh and remember how this thing is dishwasher safe? Yes, well that’s worth mentioning again because that is a game changer.
If you’re feeling so inclined, you can grab your own Catalyst directly from Craftabrew on their website. While you’re there you can also pick up a pre-packaged beer kit like I did. While they don’t yet have full grain kits, their partial grain kits are well made and come ready to brew. I’ve got a Dry Irish Stout ordered and I’ll be getting into the Catalyst as soon as I get it.
If shipping costs are putting you over budget, you can also check out Amazon for home brewing supplies. They have plenty of options from specific equipment to beer kits and since they’re shipping within Canada you’re usually paying less than shipping over the border.
Naturally, if you’re into speaking with someone in person or want to support local businesses, check out your local home brewing shop. The two in Vancouver that I visit are Centennial Homebrewing Supplies and Dan’s Homebrewing Supplies.