The Abrams Tank of home roasters and IMO...the best in class.
Positive Product Points
My original post was under UserID WRW and this is a long overdue followup. Excellent quality, range of roast, consistency and of course that wonderful 1/2lb output.
Negative Product Points
Really there are none IMO if you learn the machine and are have the patience to develop some basic roasting skills. I'll knock off a point for not being able to see the beans, but really is no biggie.
I was browsing reviews here for other products and realized I'm long overdue to report back on the Alpenrost. It's been over 3 years, 361 roasts (180lbs of coffee) and I'm still using the original product!!
If you're "on the fence" about the Alpenrost (aka Alp), but feel drawn to the 1/2lb capacity, and are unsure if you can learn the Alp...be at ease. I had never roasted a single bean before buying the Alp and it is not hard to use.
Worried about not being able to see the beans? Don't be, because you can take a quick peek with a flashlight if you need to and it won't ruin the roast. I used to peek, but learned to just listen for the cracks (1st and/or 2nd) and time from there with a count-up timer. It's really that simple and the Alp is way more quiet than some air-roasters. The Alp will let you hear the snaps quite easily. I also own an air-roaster (the HWP) and it's really loud compared to the Alp. With the HWP, I have to really strain to hear the snaps with most beans.
Worried about "having to roast" a full 1/2 pound (or 8oz)? Don't be, I've roasted 4oz and 6oz in the Alp with no problem (it just reaches the cracks a bit sooner). Concerned about not being able to roast the smaller beans? Ok, if they are really small like a peaberry, a bean can either lodge in the holes of the drum or possibly fall through. But, there are so few beans that are that small, you will have lots of variety to choose from. I even roast some beans that Sweet Marias says are not large enough for the Alp. A few will stick in a holes in the drum and toast, but it's a minimal issue. Also, with a 1/2lb capacity, you can do 8oz in one roast cycle versus having to do three roast cycles with some of the air-roasters that are limited to 3oz per roast.
Roast range is plenty for me on my unit which is calibrated a little hotter than some Alps. Nope, I didn't do any mods...it came that way from the factory. My unit hits 1st crack on most beans around 12 minutes and I have plenty of room (time left) to roast very dark if desired. Some Alps were calibrated too much to the cool side meaning that they took too long to reach 1st crack. Swissmar has always been good about dealing with those issues if you were to get a cooler calibrated unit.
Smoke output "is" an issue with this product, but can be overcome. I didn't have a vent-a-hood over the stove that exhausts to the outdoors and could not roast indoors without some help. That help took the form of a chamber that I built with an bathroom fan atop that vents the smoke outdoors via a 4" dryer hose. I roast outdoors with my Alp when the weather is above 65F and love it. In the winter or rainy days, I use my home-made contraption. The main thing to know is with a 1/2lb capacity, you're going to get enough smoke that it requires adequate ventilation.
Cleaning the Alp is the most important thing to it's life-span. About every 10 roasts or so, you'll need to clean the doors and associated flange areas that open and close to allow smoke to exit the Alp. That smoke (over time) leaves a residue that must be cleaned to keep these doors from sticking and fouling the roast process. This too is an easy thing to do and oh so effective in maitaining a happy Alp.
It's also a workhorse that I've used to produce back-to-back roasts for gifts. The manual says you need to wait (30 mins I think) between roasts. I don't do that, and weekly perform two successive roasts with only the time it takes to blow out chaff in between the roasts.
Guess I've spent enough time on the product and need to turn attention to the roasted result. The Alp produces the best roasts that I have ever had (either purchased or roasted via air roaster). If you like a roast that is rich and mellow you'll love this product. I can roast light or dark with the Alp depending upon the bean and it's characteristics. It's not just the drum roasting that produces the Alp's excellent results. It's also the longer time involved (compared to air roasters) to bring the roast to first crack that makes the difference in the flavor.
If you thought buying beans from a retail roaster was good, you're in for a real treat once you've got your "sea legs" with the Alp. Don't be afraid of learning the Alp if you're new to home-roasting...it isn't hard at all.
Purchased from Sweet Maria's in May 2000. Wondered if I'd lost my mind when I considered the initial investment, but now 3yrs later, it was the best buying decision I could have made and worth every penney.
Three Month Followup
My Alp died recently after 4 years and 466 roasts. From reading other's experiences, I believe this was an above average lifespan for an Alp (or maybe most electric roasters). The last 7 mos, I increased my weekly roasts/consumption from 1lb/wk to 2-3lbs/wk due to having bought an espresso machine. This may have accelerated the product death too. I was also doing back-to-back roasts with no wait time of the recommended 30 mins to cool between roasts. This practice, while I was able to do it literally for years, probably trimmed some life. But with doing 4-5 roasts, waiting 30 mins in between each one for cool down really creates a lengthy roast session.
I've taken the drum from my Alp and converted it to use in my gas grill. So far, its working fine at 1/2lb loads, but 1lb seems to be too much. Still tinkering with that one. I've got another Alp on order from The Daily Grind and should have it this week. You may be wondering why I did that if I can use my old Alp's drum in my grill. The reason is that I still want to have the ability to roast in-doors when the weather is bad. Using my home-made vent contraption, I can roast when it's raining or just too cold to want to be outside. Sitting next to a gas grill in the rain or cold listening for cracks isn't desirable, so having an Alp to use inside is still useful IMO. In fair weather, I'll be able to use the new Alp and the Grill Roaster in combination to roast more qty.
I've read a fair amount poor opinions of the newer design Alps with regard to taking too long to reach cracks and multiple failures. I'll see if this 2nd Alp suffers in that regard, and if it does, there's ample information about how to tweak the heater. The Alp's price $269 from Daily Grind, is still a lot less than its closest drum competitor (the HotTop). I've seen reports of design flaws and problems with the HotTop too, so for me the Alp is no less risky and a lot less cost.
When I get the new Alp, I'll come back with more info if there's something significant to share.
May 5, 2004 Follow-up When I got the new Alp, unfortunately it had the problem that is so often reported "heater calibrated too cool". It wasn't reaching 1st Crack until roughly 18-19 mins and with only 20:05 minutes (by design), I had no chance of getting to 2nd Crack. So, I knew it had to go back and I called SwissMar to discuss the situation. Having years of Alp experience and knowing that SwissMar would want to replace the unit, I made a "special request".
I explained that if they just sent me another replacement, we could potentially go through a lot of units to get one that fit my needs (hotter calibrated than normal). So, I asked SwissMar to have their technician setup an Alp for me that reached 1st Crack in the 12-13 minute range. This means they would have to go against their own design since a Setting of "1" = 16:35 which is way too long IMO. I told them that I "knew" this would render the Control Panel settings useless since I'd likely be going to "Cool" before setting "1" would have any effect. I told them this is OK since I always set the panel to 15, use a count-up timer and manually intervene the Cool button.
Thanks to SwissMar's willingness to listen, they responded by sending me an Alp that was tweaked to reach 1st Crack in 13 minutes. So, my replacement Alp is doing just as good a job as my original. In fact, I think it's better since it has the capability to self adjust to ambient temp (which my older Alp did not). Hope I get another 4 years (or longer) from this one. I'm also gas-grill roasting which will help offset the wear and tear on this new Alp. The Alp still ranks as an excellent roaster for the money IMO.