After having done four batches on my SS Brewtech mash tun I can give it a fair review.
I had been using the same 10 gallon orange cooler for a hell of a long time, over ten years! I had the bulkhead super solid and leak free, and a hard-piped false bottom to avoid suction collapse, and it always worked well and retained heat. It’s kind of dingy and one wall is heat-buckled but considering my brewstand is made out of bed frames aesthetics isn’t a big priority for my homebrewing.
I bought the SS mash tun mostly out of curiosity, to see if an engineered $400 stainless cooler would be any better than a $40 plastic one. The short answer is that yes, it is better, but not hugely so. In my opinion there aren’t any clear-cut differences that make this product a clear winner over a much cheaper plastic option; that decision will come down to your and your budget. I’ll discuss those differences below in order of importance to me.
Lautering – How well does it strain out your wort?
My cooler takes 2 gallons of vorlauf before the runoff is clear enough to start filling the kettle. The first gallon is pretty chunky with the second having a few bits of grain and murk.
Because the SS’s false bottom has a silicone gasket around its circumference I hoped that my vorlaufing would be reduced; perhaps no grain would make it under the false bottom at all! Well sadly it still takes about 2 gallons to get clear enough runoff. And again, the first half is fairly chunky. I’m not complaining about this, just noting that it behaves the same as my cooler setup.
Otherwise lautering works equally well as in my plastic cooler. I have not seen any difference in mash efficiency. I do need to blow into my runoff hose to get it going whereas I’ve never needed to do that with the plastic cooler.
Heat retention is important to infusion mashers! When I first got the stainless tun I ran some experiments on it to find its heat capacity and heat loss coefficient using Bjorn Jansson’s mash physics process.
Here are my results, with the jist being that after 40 minutes the plastic and stainless coolers each lost about the same amount of temperature but for different reasons. Stainless soaks up more initial heat (Heat Capacity) but retains it better over time (Heat Loss Coefficient); plastic is the opposite. Each lost 7 degrees over 40 minutes.
|T0 (F)||T5 (F)||T40 (F)||Delta T (F)||Heat Capacity (kJ/K)||Time Calibration||Heat Loss Coeff. (W/K)|
So again, there is a wash when comparing the two mash tuns.
Finally, a clear winner for the SS product! I love how the false bottom slips in with no fittings to undo. And stainless is much easier to clean that porous plastic.
Usability during the mash
As compared to the plastic cooler, the stainless tun is better in these ways:
- The lid is really easy to use; no threading
And it is worse than the plastic tun in these ways:
- The rubber feet will pop out if you drag the tun across a surface (SS provides an extra foot with the tun because they know you’ll eventually loose one)
- It is heavy! It’s a lot harder to carry a tun full of wet grain when that mash tun is made of metal. It weighs 33 pounds just by itself! A 10 gallon cooler weighs about 11 pounds.
I’m not sure if this is the right section to mention this, but the thermometer that comes with the tun is not great. I did a bunch of boiling water testing with all my various thermometers and the LCD thermometer was consistently 2 degrees Fahrenheit below what it should have been. My cheap instant-read thermometer was pretty damn close to perfect! Because the SS thermometer doesn’t offer a calibration option it’s now sitting in my “extra brewing stuff” shoebox, and I’m thinking about how to plug up the thermowell hole in the mash tun.
Overall Value & Conclusion
This product gets a 5/10 from me. I’m glad that a few manufacturers are offering stainless mash tuns to us homebrewers, but those products aren’t leaps and bounds better than what we’ve historically used.
I think that the stainless tun is a good choice if you don’t already have a plastic tun built and don’t mind spending some money. You won’t have to mess around with perfecting your bulkhead, and you won’t ever have to worry about plastic leaching into your homebrew. While this isn’t a big personal concern for me, it’s always raised one of my eyebrows.
Durability and chemical inertness are what make it better than a plastic mash tun, you just need to decide how much money that’s worth to you.