SS Brewtech 10 Gallon InfuSsion Mash Tun Review

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

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)
Plastic 148.1 144.7 141.1 -7 2.988 43391.5 1.6123
Stainless 147.7 143.2 140.4 -7.3 3.955 54968.3 1.2903

So again, there is a wash when comparing the two mash tuns.

Cleanability

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.

Lubricating a Sticky Perlick

I’ve had the same Perlick 525SS faucets on my kegerator for years and have done absolutely nothing to them except for the occasional soak ‘n scrub.  Over the last few kegs though I’ve noticed that the handles moved with some stiffness, and they had to be pushed closed a bit.  In fact I lost a few gallons of porter on the floor one night because the faucet didn’t completely seal.

Before tapping my newest beer I took a harder look at the faucet hoping to be able to figure out how to fix it.  It’s a very simple device with only one moving part so I was able to sense that the ball & socket joint made by the valve and body was sticky.  On my faucets the valve does not come out of the body so I could just barely see the o-ring that makes that seal.  Using a toothpick I shoved some keg lube down in to that joint, and after working it around the valve had that brand-new feeling.  It slaps closed now with far fewer drips than before.

For reference here is a link to Perlick’s parts diagram.  I lubricated between the o-ring and the upper ball in the valve.  The lower ball makes up the actual beer flow valve.  Here is an annotated image from that page in case the URL changes.

Perlick 525SS lubrication point
Perlick 525SS lubrication point

Toasted Coconut Porter

The original recipe, from the December 2003 issue of Zymurgy.
The original recipe, from the December 2003 issue of Zymurgy.

A few weeks back I brewed the Toasted Coconut Porter that Zymurgy has had around for the last million years.  The original was for 2.6 gallons so I simply doubled everything to hit my usual batch target of 5.3 gallons.

There’s really nothing interesting about the recipe until you dump in almost a pound of toasted coconut.  I found a 14oz bag at my local supermarket which was the perfect size.  For better or for worse It is sweetened, but it smelled really good while toasting.

The bag had some toasting instructions on back, 350F for 7-10 minutes.  I would up toasting for about 20 in order to get a nice golden color.  The coconut got dumped right into the primary bucket, no bags or anything.   This is two weeks after brew day, I’ll likely check in on it after a week to see how it’s tasting.   I’ll update this post once it’s kegged and carbonated.

12/7/2013 update: The beer has been nicely carbed for a couple of weeks now and it turned out very well.  Up front it’s a straightforward porter with a subtle coconut backing.  It’s not like you’re eating a coconut candy bar, the coconut is only detectable if you really think about it.

The coconut
Look a bag of coconut!
Before
Before
After
After

Hard Piped MLT False Bottom

I recently had a really bad stuck mash on a pumpkin beer, 10 pounds of pumpkin meat jammed up my MLT something fierce.  Eventually I figured out that the soft vinyl hose between the false bottom and outlet collapsed due to the heat, weight of grain, and the vacuum induced by the hose end being below the surface level of the wort.  That was the same piece of nasty hose that had been in there since 2006 (6 years) so decided to re-do the whole thing.

Using stainless compression fittings I ran a short length of copper tube between the false bottom and outlet.  Keeping the compression fittings finger-tight lets me remove the false bottom for cleaning.

Nasty old vinyl hose
New shiny connection!
False bottom with piping

J.B. Welded Heatstick

I just built this heatstick which uses a thinned-out J.B. Weld to seal the space around the element connections.  1 teaspoon of acetone per both tubes of epoxy worked well to make it pourable, although if I did it again I might up it to 1.5t to make the pouring go a bit faster.  An item for consideration though is that the acetone seems to increase the cure time.

I had my stick drying upright for about 15 hours when I picked it up to check out the curing process.  The epoxy was down at the bottom as expected and did not appear to be liquid so I assumed it was solid enough to dry placed on its side.  Well it really wasn’t, and it flowed a bit down the side of the tube.  This wasn’t a big deal because the wire connections and sides of the element still have a thick coating but if I do this again I will definitely wait a full two days before moving it around.

Before I sealed up the rest of the stick I took it for a test run and it worked as expected.  I plan to use it to fix low mash temperatures, and if it’s strong enough to do step mashes.  It’s only a 1500W element so that may be a tough challenge for it.

Nitrogen Kit

Inspired by the Stout episode of Brewing TV, I’ve taken my kegerator to the next level by getting a stout faucet and nitro keg.

It’s pretty great but did require some minor reconfiguration of my kegerator. Previously I had a single gas line coming into the fridge with it being split inside to the kegs.  Because I now need to switch a gas disconnect between two gas tanks I drilled a second 1/2″ hole in the back of the fridge and ran both disconnect lines out through there.    Then I moved the gas splitter outside the fridge so that with two CO2 kegs I’ll simply split the CO2 through there.  When I have a stout on tap I’ll simply move that disconnect off of the CO2 splitter over to the Nitrogen keg.  I used extra-long lengths of gas hose with swivel flare fittings to make moving them around easy.

I got the tank, faucet, and spare parts from Keg Connection and I got it filled at Weld Specialty’s Milwaukee location.  Using Northern Brewer’s Nitro Keg Guide I set the N2 regulator to 25 psi and got a nice pour on the first attempt.

CO2 Split Between Disconnects for Two Normal Kegs
CO2 Split Between Disconnects for Two Normal Kegs

 

Stout Keg Disconnect Routed to Nitro Keg
Stout Keg Disconnect Routed to Nitro Keg
Nitro Keg Hooked Up
Nitro Keg Hooked Up

 

Nice Pour on the First Attempt
Nice Pour on the First Attempt
New Faucet
New Faucet

Carbonator Caps & Hole Punch

I just invested in a starter keg setup, and I made a batch of carbonator caps for beer transportation.   Using this article as a starting point I drilled the requisite hole using standard twist drill bits.  The problem with large bits and soft material is that they tend to suddenly “grab” and make large radial cuts.   A 7/16″ hole punch works much better, and the valves have no problem fitting into the hole.  I got my punches from Amazon for cheap.

Cooling Wort to Lager Temps

I brewed a vienna lager today and with it being late summer I knew our tap water wouldn’t cool the wort far enough.  Here in Milwaukee we’re fortunate to have cool tap water all year but it does get up to 55-60 in the summer which doesn’t work well for getting the wort down to 50 or 55.

Using my cleaned-out mash tun as a ice water tub and a pond pump I was able to chill the wort down to 59.  It was moving really slowly at this point so I figured I’d let the freezer take it the rest of the way to 50.  The temperature of the ice water was about 42 so there was cooling potential left but I got impatient.  I used a ton of ice; 5 half-gallon milk jugs, 6 ice cube trays, and a 4-5 cold packs.  I cut off the plastic from the milk jugs and chunked up the ice blocks with an awl in order to get more cooling surface area.   Tap water was used to cool the wort down to 80 and then I switched over to ice water.  I recirculated the “warm” water right away but I suppose refilling the tun w/ tap water would have kept the ice water cooler because it’s at 55 instead of 60-80 degrees.

Got it down to 60