Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Product Review: Stainless Brewing's Hop Spider

The amount of hops that make it from the boil kettle into the fermenter is something that has always bothered me. I've tried using hop bags, or a 5 gallon paint strainer bag, but they are a pain to clean and bothers me to re-use them. I've also tried going comando and throwing the hops right into the boil then whirlpooling, which has worked fine for me for the last 2+ years but I found that I was carrying a lot of hops into my primary fermenter. Although Trub may not be of great concerns in the final product, I have a desire for clean yeast to harvest from primary for re-pitching.

At the NHC last year in Philadelphia I noticed a relatively (maybe just to me) new product from Stainless Brewing. A hop spider is not a novel idea, homebrewers have been using many variations of this method for quite a while with great success but mostly rely on those nylon bags, which are really a pain to clean and look pretty dingy after a few uses. A stainless mesh basket, however, could be the answer to all my prayers, easy cleaning, virtually infinite uses without significant wear. It seemed perfect, but I was unsure if the mesh would be fine enough to keep pellet hops in, or even too fine and result in loss of hop utilization/aromatics/flavors. 

"Santa" was kind enough to leave one under the tree for me this past year, and I have put it to work on some heavily hopped beers, and some not so heavily hopped as well. The results have been fantastic, I am getting clean and clear hop free wort into my fermenters, I may be getting some break break material in there but with how I whirlpool chill its very minimal. I have noticed no ill effects on hop utilization or loss of hop aromatics/flavor on beers as heavily hopped as Jah-RodBlazing WardsHopWardsWe Talkin 'bout Practice among others. They are bright and hoppy as I would expect them to be. Not a pellet makes it through this fine mesh, even when using up to a pound in the boil/whirlpool.

I also run off the mash into the spider to catch any rogue grain particles I can.
I rinse it out before I boil.
It is solidly built, the basket itself is rigid and yet the mesh seems fine enough to retain the hop debris. It comes with extension arms so you can suspend the basket in the middle of the pot, they can be removed for easy cleaning/storage. The arms have a washer and rubber gasket so you can size it to your kettles specifications (as seen in photo above), to be honest this feels a bit flimsy to me but it does work fine. I have the 6-5/8"x18" and it fits perfectly in the 20 gallon Boilermaker.

Conveniently the strainer fits inside my immersion
chiller. I usually remove the arms at this point.
At first I was just sitting the basket on the bottom of the kettle and letting it lean against the side but I was getting significant kettle caramelization where it sat on the bottom so I have gone back to using the arm attachments so that it rests suspended in the kettle. One thing to note is during the vigorous boil there is not a ton of movement within the basket, it doesn't effect the vigor of the boil but there is very little activity within the basket itself.

Not so much a down side, but more of a needed adjustment in my system since the addition is the displacement caused by the basket giving me a higher then normal reading on the sight glass. This is just something I needed to dial in and figure what volume it is adding to the reading at various times in my 11 gallon batches. Other than that this is a fantastic product and far exceeds the results I have had from the HopBlocker. It is fairly pricey at close to $100, depending on the size you need, but it is well worth it for me over bags or a homemade spider. 

The main reason I wanted to limit the amount of hop debris going into the fermenter was so that I could more easily "wash" yeast and re-use it batch to batch. I have settled on a 2 house sacchromyces strains of late (Wallonian Farmhouse and S-04, still many Bretts and Bacteria though) and want to get the most out of each pitch. This hop spider far exceeded my expectations in that department, I use a whirlpool immersion chiller with this and then pump into my fermenters leaving any break material in a cone on the bottom of my kettle. After I rack the beer off the yeast cake I have thick dense slurry that needs very little washing/rinsing, if at all, to re-pitch into my next batch. This is the biggest reason I love this product so much, and after 12-15 batches I nearly have this thing paid for in yeast savings, more on how I re-use yeast in an upcoming post. It may not be for everyone, but I highly recommend it.

Running off into the basket.


  1. If I didn't have a screen on my kettle I would have one of these for sure. I don't know how people deal with the trub. Even on a German Hefe I brewed last week that amount of debris it collected was intense. Nice review.

    1. Im with you, especially when brewing beers with loads of hops I just really want to keep as much out of the fermenter that can be detrimental to long term yeast health. I am still envious of your false bottoms though.

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