In the past few months I have been working staidly towards building a HERMS system. It took a while, but I finally got together all the components I needed, and I was finally going to assemble it over the next couple of weeks when SWMBO and the Junior Brewmistress are away visiting relatives in the States. So naturally, now that I'm all ready, I'm re-thinking the whole idea of building a new system.
See, I decided to build a HERMS system after I saw one on a fellow-brewer's rig. At the time I was brewing BIAB with a bag that really was not suited for the part. I had all kinds of problems with efficiency, mash temperature, and recipe balance, and I thought that a system where you set it to the right settings and forget about it sounded fantastic. My decision came to fruition when I switched from BIAB to a cooler-mashtun, and had to deal with mash temperatures being all wrong without being able to add heat as needed (a major benefit of BIAB).
Since those days, two things have happened that cause me to rethink the HERMS idea:
1. I found out that HERMS isn't all that -. You still have to futz with it to get things to work right. You're dependent on more equipment that can fail on you, and it's generally more complicated. In beer, as in life, K.I.S.S.
2. I've become a much better brewer. - I've gained experience. I've learned my current system. I know what to do in certain situations. A dough-in that ends up too low or high doesn't freak me out anymore. I know what to do in that case. I've successfully dealt with a stuck sparge, calculated water volumes, and had consistent efficiency rates. A lot of those problems that I wanted to use HERMS to solve I ended up solving without.
One might ask: I've already spent all the money to get the components. Wouldn't it be a terrible waste not to build the HERMS now? Well.. Yes and no. In reviewing the various things I got for the system, I think the only thing I will end up not using is the temperature controller. Everything else: The pump, the tubing, the spigots, the electric heating element, I have use for all of it (in fact, with the exception of the pump, I already use all of it in my current system.) Heck, when I set the pump up to do fly-sparge, I might even install the controller inline somewhere to see what the spage water temperature is. Waste not want not. :)
Don't get me wrong, I still think HERMS is massively cool. I like gadgets, and I like fine-tune control, so chances are I will probably build it eventually. But I think that I have not come close to using the full capacities of my current system yet, so rushing to upgrade it seems a little ridiculous. Plus, I think that if I do the build in a year or two, I will have a much better feel for what I'm doing, and a much better understanding of the process, which will lead me to build a better system and, ultimately, make better beer.