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|The mash tun can be any vessel that you can hold hot water in to soak your grains. You'll see below that we have a few different mash tuns, and various ways of filtering the wort from the grains. The cheapest cooler works just as well or better in some cases that the most expensive stainless steel kettle mash tun, so don't think all-grain brewing has to be expensive. The only reasons we use a stainless steel kettle are to be able to heat the mash water and apply heat directly to the vessel. With a cooler, you must raise temps if required by adding more hot water. Stainless kettles are also more durable and do not ever hold odors or flavors. The stainless vessels are also easier to work with when connecting plumbing for your system. A stainless mash tun can also be used as a brew kettle after the mashing is done.
Below is a picture of our brewery set up as a 3-tier gravity-feed system using a 10 gallon Rubbermaid cooler from Home Depot.
|When buying an all grain cooler setup, don't waste your money on buying two coolers, and using one as a "hot water tank." The reason I say this is that you will still need to heat the water that will go into that second cooler in some way, only to have to lift that hot water and get it into that top cooler. The better way is to use your boil kettle to heat the water, and drain it directly into the mash tun cooler. You can collect your wort from the mash tun in a food-grade bucket or other cooler until you are done using your brew kettle as a hot water tank, then pour the wort into your kettle and start the boil. You've just saved the price of that second cooler and associated hardware.
Below is a photo of the setup I used with my brew kettle as a water tank, a cooler as a mash tun, and the little square beverage cooler at the bottom to collect the wort until I was done using the brew kettle as a water heating tank. Once I was done the sparge, I just took the kettle down to the floor, poured the wort from the last cooler into the kettle and started the boil. The las cooler that you collect the wort in doesn't have to be anything special, and can just be a bucket that is food-grade and can tolerate the heat of 150f wort coming from the mash tun.
|Getting the wort out
You will need some sort of filter at the bottom of the mash tun to separate the wort from the grain.
You can keep this part very simple. The simplest is to use some hose braid. Denny is the king of this and you can read his views on the subject at http://hbd.org/cascade/dennybrew/
I have used a number of different devices. For the cooler I settled on the copper manifold as it picked up the most wort and cleared very quickly when recirculating. The copper manifold was also best when fly sparging because it gives a very even coverage of the bottom of the cooler, which in turn gives a very nice flow of water through the grain bed with no channeling.
The Bazooka screen products worked well for batch sparging.
|The copper manifold was made from typical plumbing parts. It is only soldered where the pickup tube goes into the threaded part into the side of the cooler, and the "elbow" to "T" fitting below where you see the hose clamp. The hose clamp is covering a split cut into the elbow that allows the hose clamp to snug down the elbow and seal it to the straight piece of the pickup tube. All the other parts are just pressed together, and that seals just fine and will drain the cooler to the bottom of the copper. The part you need to watch for leaks is the pickup tube coming up from the bottom as if there is a leak, air will suck into the joint and the wort will not be able to be siphoned out below that point. That trouble spot is where the hose clamp attaches, and can't be soldered as it allows easy removal of the manifold from the cooler. If you can figure out a better way to be able to get the manifold out of the cooler, go for it, but it is not easy. The only other way I found was to unscrew the valve on the outside from the bulkhead each time, and pull the whole bulkhead pipe through to the inside, and then lifing the manifold out. As sealing the manifold to the cooler became the problem spot, I chose to do it the way I show above.|
|Here is a view of the bottom of the manifold. You can see that in this picture that another section was added to the manifold. It was not really needed, but gave even more coverage. It fits really tight, and wouldn't allow the manifold to be removed as easy as before.|
Everyone loves stainless, but it is not really required, and doesn't make better beer. It does allow for some different brewing methods, mainly due to the ability to add heat directly to the vessel. It can also be cleaned with more aggressively, and doesn't retain flavors or odors like plastic coolers will. They are also very durable and will last many lifetimes.
Because of the construction and the concave/dished bottom, they require a pickup tube that goes through the side of the kettle about 4.5" up from the bottom, and then dips back down to the bottom of the inside to get all the wort out.
There are a variety of filter devices that can be used. I prefer the full-width false bottom from Sabco. It is hinged, and fits through any opening, the opens to the width of the entire keg. Much better than those smaller false bottoms that slip and slide around the dished bottom area. Keep in mind that if you don't have a full-width false bottom in a kettle, you run the risk of scorching grain that touches the same part of the bottom that the flames from your burner also touch when heating. If you are heating directly, you need to pump and recirculate the wort, or stir constantly to prevent scorching. With a false bottom, pumps are better because you can't stir down below the false bottom.
|Bazooka-T with a copper pickup tube and brass/copper union to make removal and cleaning easy.|
|Sabco hinged full-width false bottom with a similar copper pickup tube and brass/copper union.|
|Here is my mash tun insulated with foil-backed closed-cell foam insulation, secured with high-temp silver tape.
I'm sure the insulation helps, but it is also difficult to keep the water and wort from getting down into the layers when the tape pulls away a bit, and that creates a problem mainly when I hit it with the hose during cleanup.
I ended up removing the foam and just covering the mash tun with blankets during the mash session.
|Below is the same Sabco hinged full-width false bottom, but the pickup tube is stainless using SwageLok fittings. This is actually an easy pickup tube to make if you have a source for stainless tubing and someone to bend it. The flaring/swaging at the coupling doesn't require any special tools and is a function of the fittings.|
|Below is the brewery with a pump hooked up to recirculate the mash while being heated during a step-mash session.|
|Email me at Dean_Palmer@jabil.com if you find errors, bullshit, or have questions.|
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