My review of the Brewers Hardware stir plate has attracted a LOT of readers over the past ten months since I posted my experiences with the unit. At the risk of turning this in to a reviews blog, I accepted the offer from the proprietor of stir-plate.com to review their newest stir plate, the Stir-Plate 3000. Never being one to turn away from a good yarn, I accepted the offer and promptly received the Stir-Plate 3000 in mid May. Life has been conspiring against me, and it took me some fancy footwork to find the time to look at the stir plate to prepare my review. After a false start – we’re now good to go!
Out of the box, the Stir-Plate 3000 reminded me immediately of a piece of computer equipment circa 1992. The beige box it’s built in looks like an old-school 51/4in floppy disk drive in size. It measures in at 7.5 x 21 x 18.5cm (HWD) including the unit’s rubber feet. The size gives it a great surface on which to place a big flask. One of the concerns I had with the Brewers Hardware stir plate is the size of the area supporting the flask. The Stir-Plate 3000 doesn’t have that problem, and I’d be perfectly comfortable loading it up with a 5L Erlenmeyer.
Other external features include the Stir-Plate 3000′s control knob which doubles as it’s power switch, an illuminated power light on the front, while the rear includes the unit’s ID, serial number and power connector.
The Stir-Plate 3000 requires a 12v power supply, with the unit provided to us rated at 12v 0.5A. Stir-plate.com has only recently begun offering an “international” version of the Stir-Plate 3000.
This version includes a 100-240v power adaptor, with a number of attachments to swap in based on the power socket of your country. There’s quite an assortment, and from what I can make out – nobody is left out.
Under the hood is where it gets interesting – and also what sets aside the Stir-Plate 3000 from the Brewers Hardware Stir Plate, and many others on the market. The Brewers Hardware Stir Plate uses a linear voltage regulator (LM317) which lets you adjust the power output without changing the voltage. They aren’t terribly efficient, but they beat a rheostat! The Stir-Plate 3000 design uses a PWM design (pulse width modulation), which provides the maximum power to the device, in this case the motor spinning the magnets, but in short bursts rather than continuously. This means that you get the full power output of the motor, but at the speed you need, as opposed to the motor’s power output fading as it’s run at lower power levels. Put simply – it runs at full power for short amounts of time to maintain the speed you need. The key here is the ICM7555CD timer from NXP Semicondutors. It’s proven and popular, and a good choice in any design.
The motor being driven is what looks like the usual PC fan, with the blades removed. It’s not elegant, but it’s functional and inexpensive; and defintiely par for the course for the designs I’ve seen. The magnets attached to the motor are stuck on a steel bar, which is then glued down to the centre of the motor’s spindle. When I recieved the Stir-Plate 3000, the steel bar had come away from the motor.
After talking with stir-plate.com it seems that the steel bar was part of a batch that had been painted. The paint came away from the bar and it no longer had any stick on the spindle. It was an easy fix, with 20 seconds of rubbing with some sandpaper to remove the paint and some glue to stick it back on. I’m assured that the painted bars are no longer being used in the product of the stir plates.
This brings us to the warranty notice on the bottom of the unit. It’s quite acceptable – and the communication I received from stir-plate.com meant I didn’t need to ship it back.
So, with lots of waffle about the Stir-Plate 3000, I’ve still to let you know how it performs. Simply put, it’s a beast. There is a significant amount of difference between the performance of the Brewers Hardware stir plate and the stir-plate.com Stir-Plate 3000. I tested the Stir-Plate 3000 with a 2L Erlenmeyer flask and water with a 1600ml fill level. This is what I typically use when I make a starter for an ale. At minimum power – that is with the unit just switched on, there is sufficient power to bring a small whirlpool down to the stir bar. Anything up to a quarter power is good if you want to aerate your starter, but to be honest, anything more than that is overkill and I dare say exerting too much static pressure on the yeast and wouldn’t be ideal. So don’t just whack it on full and walk away!
For giggles, I turned it all the way to 11, and got a 4cm wide whirlpool to the bottom of the flask. Now, what this means, and something I’m not equipped to test, is that this stir plate would most likely be perfectly adequate for spinning huge starters. A 5L starter shouldn’t be a problem, and the stir-plate.com website talks about testing it with a 6L starter.
So is it all peaches and cream? Well, there are considerations to make when buying this unit. If you don’t make starters over 2L, then it’s overkill – stir-plate.com lists a Stir-Plate 2000 which will probably do the job for you. There’s also my slight concern with the painted steel bar and the DOA stir plate. It was easily resolved – but it’s never a nice experience to have a new toy not work when it turns up. I don’t live in a bubble, and after a quick browse around there has been concerns with the ability of the company to deliver product in the past. I asked the question directly, and the response has been posted publicly here. One thing is that the stir-plate.com devices are sold through a number of home brew shops around North America, if that makes you feel more comfortable (as well as direct through towercooler.com)
Last but not least, it’s an expensive solution. At roughly twice the price of the Brewers Hardware stir plate it’s a tough sell. What I can say is that it is undoubtedly a superior product. It’s more powerful, doesn’t stall under load, has a wider area for placing the flask and isn’t built in to a sandwich container. Realistically, considering some of the huge dollars that go in to big multi vessel brew rigs, conical fermenters and kegging setups it’s still a relatively minor cost and worth it for an effective product that can really help you make better beer.
Disclosure: The Stir-Plate 3000 was provided to me free of charge for the purposes of this review.