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'Dragon Brew Supply'

Dragon Brew Supply Reviews!

In the course of the day-to-day running of a homebrew shop, one invariably gets asked about "the best equipment" by folk just getting started, or dipping their toe into, the homebrew world. Some homebrew shops will see these newbies coming a mile away, and will sell them on expensive equipment that is way beyond their skill level. More often than not, these newcomers will quickly get discouraged because their beers just don't measure up after spending a small fortune on equipment.

In other words...the newbies mistakenly equate "expensive equipment" with "good beer", when the exact opposite is true. I've placed (Gold, Silver, or Bronze) in judged competitions for my beers and have seen the scoresheets of all my entries, and even the ones that didn't take a medal were only a point or two away from placing. And my equipment is still the stuff I cobbled together from flea-market finds.

So, what is the take-away? Well, you don't need fancy or expensive equipment...you need to understand HOW to brew, and WHAT the process entails.

But, as with anything, if the newcomer is convinced that they need to spend loads of money to make great brew right out of the gate, the best thing that the store owner can do is know about the products out there, and if they are worth spending the money on. Its for these shop owners and newcomers that I've decided to spend my own cash on products to review, so that there can be no percieved bias that a manufacturer is getting a "good review" because they sent me "free product". Further, having the manufacturer send product gives them the leg-up in sending me something that they go over with a fine-toothed comb before they send it for review, thus ensuring that the review turns out as a positive. By paying for, and recieving, a product directly from the supply-chain pipeline, I'm ensuring that what I recieve is a completely random unit to represent the product being tested. If their quality control is up to snuff, the odds of my getting a bad unit is extremely low.

Reviewing the FastFerment

What is it?

The FastFerment is a conical fermentation vessel designed to catch trub, harvest yeast, and allow for both primary and secondary fermentation without the need to transfer to another vessel. While I am not convinced that brewing at the hobby / homebrew level requires a conical fermenter, it is a step up in the process, and can yeild excellent results once the learning curve has been surmounted.

So, lets take a look at the FastFerment, and see how it stacks up.

Materials and Construction

The Fermenting vessel.


The Union Valve Wall Mounts Testing the product

OK...while I like the concept of the conical fermenter, coming from an engineering background, I'm less than impressed with the quality and implementation of the product as a whole. There should not be any threaded joints. It should all be couplings, made of metals. In testing the unit using plain water (you NEVER do a full brew on untested equipment) the union valve leaked. I went back to the supplier and let them know that the valve leaked, and they sent a replacement....which leaked.

When I investigated deeper into what the problem was, it wasn't the valve itself that leaks, its the flanges that they supply (which are intended to be swapped out during the ongoing stages of fermentation) which are the problem. Because they are injected-molded teflon, they have manufacturing defects called flashing or flash lines, which are the result of lower quality injection molding, and poor quality control in the post-molding process where defects are corrected by hand.

Essentially, at the underside of the valve is an o-ring that is suppossed to be compressed and form a seal so as to be a barrier from leakage where the flange meets the valve. While the seating area for the o-ring (the o-ring sits in the main valve body)is free from defects, it is the flat face of the flange that has score marks where the two halves of the steel mold meet before the hot teflon plastic is injected to create the part. If the mating surface of the flange is not perfectly flat, highly polished, and defect-free, it will not seal properly, and will leak past the o-ring, and seep up around the threaded locking nut that holds the flanged part to the valve.

And that is exactly what occured. Now, I understand the tight profit margins and competitive nature of the business, and can fully appreciate the need to maximize profits. But for the amount of money at MSRP (the FastFerment Beer Starter Kit has an MSRP of $129) there should be no defective parts, and the flanged portions, at the very least, should be machined aluminum as opposed to injection molded teflon. An added bump in quality would be to mate the bottom of the fermenting vessel with a metal threaded end, so as to minimize the risk of stripping the threads of the much-to-soft HDPE plastic.

In a perfect world, there would be no threaded joints...they would be quick-connect couplings.

Conclusion

Given that I didn't trust the product to not leak after testing with two different valves, I did not even try to do a full fermentation. Until such time as the quality control can be improved, I cannot recommend the FastFerment to any of my walk-in customers.

Review Update: 11/25/2017

Well...after contacting my supplier and letting them know of the problem, they informed me that the manufacturer was aware of valves that leaked, and that said manufacturer had supplied replacement valves to be sent out whenever a defective valve surfaced in the supply chain.

Uh-huh. Manufacturer knows that their valves have issues, so instead of recalling and providing all new valves, they simply send out thousands of "replacement" valves. Essentially, they are gambling that there are more good ones than bad in the supply chain, and they are willing to take the risk of unhappy customers. OK, so be it.

My supplier sent a replacement valve. And THAT valve also leaked. So much for the so-called "fix" to the problem.

I then contacted the manufacturer directly, and recieved correspondence from the CEO of the company, who asked a few questions as if reading off of one of those "help desk" scripts. When he realized that I wasn't playing that game, he offered to send a valve directly from his manufacturing facility.

Fair enough. I told him that I would accept a THIRD valve, and try it. It did arrive....but only after I waited for almost two week, and had sent a follow-up email letting asking where the replacement unit was, and pointing out that it was unacceptable to my customers to have to wait this long for a fix to a unit that they will spend roughly $130 to buy.

I've now tested the third valve. Of course, this one works, because they had the time to test it, fix it if it was crappy, test it again, and ensure that it worked so that I could do a follow-up on this review.

And here is my follow-up: avoid this product like the plague. Or, if you really want a conical fermenter, spend a few more dollars and get a higher-quality unit. If you are still wanting a conical and just HAVE TO have one, but don't want to spend the extra cash on a higher-quality unit, well...buy the FastFerment at your own risk. Its not even worth flea-market pricing. At $129 MSRP, its a failure.

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