Sunday, December 9, 2012

Mash Tun 2.0

Mash Tun 2.0

I posted a while back on my home grown mash tun that I made from a couple of 5 gallon food grade buckets that I picked up from a local restaurant a while back. It served me well for quite a while. I was able to keep a fairly consistent mash temp, it was easy to work with, easy to clean, best of all, it was dirt cheap to make. Then came the day that I decided I wanted to try my hand at a dopplebock, and I learned that my little mash tun 1.0 just wasn't enough, but I'll post about that another time. The bottom line was that I started turning my attention to a bigger kit.

The Research

Trying To Buy A Mash Tun

I decided I needed a new mash tun, but definitely didn't want to spend the bucks to buy one of the stainless steel setups I'd seen, but for the right price I might be willing to buy something pre-built. In fact, I'd rather buy something pre-built because when given a choice I'm sort of a buy it outright kind of guy, so I started looking around and found a nice little setup from Mountain Home Brew in Kirkland, Wa. They had a Kit I liked, a little pricey, but I was willing to entertain the thought. Turns out they didn't have any in stock at the time, so that idea went out the window. Other options were just too big (a 15 gallon kit is way out of my ability to brew with)

Buying the Parts

Next, I decided that maybe I could save some money and build one myself. I'm more of a buy a kit kind of guy that a fabricate it kind of guy, so I started looking around for kit options. Again, Mountain Home Brew caught my attention, but it turns out they didn't have the parts in stock. I kept looking. Eventually I came across a conversion kit from HomeBrewStuff.com that looked perfect. It had everything I needed to convert a 10 gallon igloo cooler in to a mash tun, and a second cooler in to a hot liquor tank. The problem was that I had no idea where the hell to buy an igloo cooler. I'd seen these things on the back of work trucks, on TV on the sidelines in football games, but I had only ever seen those square ones in the store. Thinking I was looking for some sort of specialty item (yes, I was learning and having a bit of a special moment myself) I got online and started googling. After a while, Home Depot popped up in my results. $40. I'd never seen these things in all the time I'd been to Home Depot, but having some time to kill I headed out to see what I could find. In the store I asked the customer service guy if they had any, and he pointed to a huge rack over by the cash registers. There they were. How I never noticed this huge shelf before, I'll never know, but there they were. Lots of em. I bought one, and went home to order my conversion kit. All told the total cost for cooler and conversion kit was around $150...I still haven't built the HLT, but so far I haven't actually needed it.  Not exactly cheap, but I know that I got food grade parts that were safe to use, and I didn't have to fabricate anything myself. I'm ok with that.

Assembling the Parts

Putting the thing together was very easy. The one part I had been wondering about was the spigot on the cooler. All of the various conversion kits involve replacing the spigot with a customized device that has a spigot on the outside, and an attachment to one of various types of false bottoms. I really wasn't sure how the spigot would come out, if it was a solid piece of plastic molded in to the body of the cooler, or what. As it turns out, it's a two piece mechanism that is attached on the inside with a plastic nut. Unscrew the nut, and the old spigot comes out. Replace the old spigot with the new, attach the false bottom (mine uses a braided stainless steel collection manifold, where other options are a full false bottom that sits above the true bottom of the cooler), and I'm good to go. All told, it's maybe a 5 minute conversion job. 

Using Mash Tun 2.0

Compared to my home made bucket in a bucket, the new version is an entirely different world for a few reasons. 
It's easier to mash. By that, I mean that once I've mashed in my water, I put a lid on the cooler, and walk away. When I get back 90 minutes later, or 120 minutes later, the temperature is still sitting at the original temp. My old device would easily fluctuate by 10 degrees, and that was even with using a moving blanket for insulation. 
It's easier to clean. There are fewer parts. With my old device I had two buckets and a screen mesh that seemed to be designed to catch grain husks and not let them go. It took a while to clean, and I usually ended up getting water everywhere while trying. 
It has double the capacity. I don't brew larger than 5 gallon batches, but a 5 gallon mash tun isn't really suitable for a batch that takes more than about 8 to 10 pounds of grain, and even 10 pounds is pushing it. More than that, and you'll manage to overflow wort on to the kitchen floor at some point. For many varieties 8 pounds of grain is plenty. For many varieties you'll need more, and I happen to like to brew several of those fuller bodied varieties. 

If you do all grain brewing, you will need a mash tun. Do you need to spend a lot of money to do it? No, not really. My first one was in the range of $10 or less, but it did have limitations. It would still be perfect if all I wanted to do was pale ales, hefeweizens, and kolsches, but those aren't the majority of my brews...plus Mash Tun 1.0 leaked a little. If you like to brew larger batches, or bigger beers, you will need to spend a little more. The conversion kits (I'd go with these to ensure food grade materials) can cost a little bit. If you're patient you may be able to find a second hand cooler cheap to help keep the cost down, but in my mind it's worth the expense. 

Next step, Mash Tun 2.5...This will be getting another cooler for my HLT because my sparging process sucks.