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The Cooler Mash Tun Project

Before I get started, I must proclaim that I attempted to copy a blueprint that I found on the Home Brew Talk Wiki page.  While I attempted to perfectly imitate the end result, material availability forced me to veer off a little bit.

 

After researching different cooler mash tuns, I decided to go with the 10 gallon Home Depot cooler with the stainless steel braid filter.  My original goal was to find a 48 quart or bigger ice chest and use a copper manifold for the inside.  The bigger coolers proved to be very difficult to acquire; after checking Craigslist, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, boater retailers, Home Depot, Lowes, and grocery stores, I gave up and went for the path of least resistance.  Once I decided the type of cooler, I juggled whether I was going to use a copper manifold or stainless steel braid filter.  Research showed that everyone likes both of them and brewers usually stick to what they have until they decide to substantially upgrade their system.  I opted for the least expensive route.

 

The above mentioned Wiki article prepared me with a shopping list to take with me to Home Depot.  The list is as follows:

  • Rubbermaid 10 gallon round beverage cooler
  • all stainless steel ¼” hose clamps x 2
  • brass square head plug (Watts A-737)
  • ½” x 12” (or larger) braided stainless steel supply hose
  • 3/8” female barb adapter (Watts A-298)
  • 5/8” stainless steel fender washer (Note:You can convert a 1/2″ SS fender wash by widening the hole to 5/8″ if you cannot find one. Most hardware stores do NOT carry 5/8″ ID fender washers.)
  • 3/8” MIP x 1-1/2” brass nipple (Watts A-786)
  • seal from plastic spigot of cooler
  • Teflon tape
  • 5/8” Inner Diameter O-ring (preferably heat resistant, if you can find one)
  • 3 x 5/8” fender washers (newer coolers seem to be thin around the spigot and may need 5 or 6 instead of 3) <–More than 3 are needed
  • 3/8” threaded ball valve
  • 3/8” male barb adapter (Watts A-294)

 

I was able to acquire everything except the 3/8” threaded ball valve.  Rather than upgrading everything to 1/2” and risking the pieces not fitting, I simply bought a 1/2″ to 3/8” reducer and a 1/2” threaded ball valve (more on that later). I also added a stainless steel lock washer, because I did not achieve the required thickness with the above materials.

1/2" ball valve

 

 Using the Wiki directions, I began the construction of my very first mash tun.  Along the way, a couple of head-scratchers were lined up to impede my progress.  The first of which was the aforementioned elusive 3/8″ ball valve.  After checking three Home Depots and a Lowe’s, I decided to buy the 1/2″ ball valve and convert the 3/8″ brass nipple to 1/2″ with a coupling (Watts A-177).  With the 1/2″ ball valve, I had to get the 1/2″ male barb adapter and not the 3/8”, as prescribed.  The other issue that popped up was that the length of the brass nipple was much longer than the width of the cooler, near the spigot.  After coming up short with six washers, I used a thick 5/8″ lock washer and 4 regular washers to achieve success.  The lock washer was placed on the bulkhead side of the cooler, between the coupling and the washer that butts up to the O-ring. 

Watts A-177 coupling

 

The inside portion of the mash tun went without a flaw.  The only modification that I made to the original plan was that I stacked up three stainless steel washers between the barb and the cooler in order to take up extra space.  In our next brewing session, I will give this bad boy a whirl.  Stay tuned.

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First Home Brew

It appears that I just lost my virginity! That is correct; I am no longer a home brewing virgin. My brewer buddy Scott and I met at Booth’s Brewing Supply to stock up on grain, hops, and yeast for the nights brew. When it came time to decide what we were going to make, I deferred to Scott the Brew Stud to pick a recipe. It was finally decided that we were going to whip up a batch of English brown ale. We left Booth’s with:

10 lbs. of two-row malt

1 lb. of crystal 60L malt

.5 lb. of chocolate malt

.5 lb. of oat flakes

2 packs of English hops

Yeast

After leaving the brew supply store, I headed to Publix to get 5 gallons of spring water and 5 gallons of Culligan water which is filtered by reverse osmosis. Obviously, water character impacts the taste and feel of a brew, so we combined the nutrient-rich spring water with the near–distilled RO water to create an even mix. With that mix, we began the brewing process by heating the brewing water to about 150 degrees. In the mean time, we prepared the converted cooler/mash tun for use.

My Bayou Classic turkey fryer. Worked like a charm.

My buddy’s mash tun is a 10 gallon cooler that he converted for brewing. The normal spout was replaced with a high-flow spout that was connected to a manifold made of CPVC on the inside. Tiny holes were drilled in the manifold to allow the wort to seep through whilst keeping the grain in the mash tun. This contraption is very neat and I plan to replicate the device when in the near future.

We dumped the grain mix into the mash tun and poured about 2/3 of the 150 degree water on top of the grain, mixed it, and closed the lid. The grain and water mix settled at about 130+ degrees for the first step of starch conversion. After dumping some of the water into the mash tun, we put the remaining water back on the burner and increased the temperature to about 170 degrees and dumped it all into the tun. We let the starch conversion happen for at least 60 minutes before starting the lautering process and, of course, taking a little taste test.

Cooler mash tun with a yummy center!

The wort was extracted into the brew kettle and placed on the propane burner for boiling and hopping. As soon as the wort came to a rolling boil, one packet of the English hops was added to the liquid for bittering. Thirty minutes into the boil, we added half of the other packet of hops for to increase the flavor. The rest of the hops were mixed in during the final five minutes of the boil; this adds to the beer aroma.
Immediately following the boil came the ice bath. We placed the hot brew kettle in a large rope handle bucket filled with water and frozen water bottles. It took about 30 minutes to get the wort to 80 degrees. So, we cleaned out the carboy, racked over the chilled wort, and added the yeast for fermentation. With a vigorous shake of the carboy, the yeast was ready to feast on sugar and poop out our beloved alcohol!

Currently, the brew is fermenting in the carboy that is sitting in that rope handle bucket that we used earlier. It’s chilling in some water and a couple of ice bottles to keep the temperature around 60 degrees. We should be ready to rack our beer into secondary sometime next week. Stay tuned!

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