So a couple weeks ago, my friend and I tried out the homebrewing kit that he got for Christmas. It’s a fantastic kit with an 8-gallon kettle and a propane burner rig. It is a very nice kit, but it’s still a beginner-ish kit that is definitely geared toward extract brewing. There’s nothing wrong with extract brewing, but I’ve done all-grain. I like all-grain, and – as a control freak – I like to be able to see all the raw materials, etc. Also, my favorite beer recipes are all-grain.
There are some really snazzy mash tuns available, but they are all out of my price range. That left one option: do it yourself. Fortunately, I really like this option. I make no claims that I was around in the early days of homebrewing, but I imagine there was a lot of re-imagining and creative repurposing of existing materials because homebrewing supplies just didn’t exist. There’s something entrepreneurial, pioneering and empowering about making a mash tun out of items you can find at your local hardware store of choice.
We made a mash tun before, using a 5gal cooler and plastic false bottom that we got from Tim’s uncle. We poked around online and put together a system that barely even leaks and rarely sticks. There’s room for improvement, but it works.
For my second go-round, I decided to go bigger. Between having a bit more of a budget, an 8-gallon kettle (vs. 5 in Ann Arbor) and a bit more comfortable bank account, I had to go for a 10-gallon cooler, right? I looked up prices online, and the best I found (taking into account shipping costs) was this 10gallon Rubbermaid cooler at the Home Depot for $39.96. Next step was finding a construction guide.
I mentioned HomeBrewTalk.com in my post about beer tools on the Web, and beyond their forums (which are excellent) they maintain the Home Brewing Wiki which has a ton of great information on different ingredients, methods AND step by step instructions on converting a cooler to a mash-tun!
This awesome guide has pictures, part numbers and pretty much every question you might have. Armed with this info, I went to the hardware store and bought everything I needed. All told, it was right around $65. Yeah. $40 for the cooler and $25 for everything else to turn it into an awesome piece of homebrewing equipment.
The most difficult part of the whole process was removing the plastic tubing from the steel weave. It took two of us. My friend was holding on to the tubing with needle nose pliers and I had the vice grips attached to the weave. If we would have read the instructions closely (who does that?) we would have just pushed it off with no problem.
We put it all together and threw a couple gallons of water into it and there were no leaks. SUCCESS! The next test was to see how the steel weave handled the mash and sparge.
I have to say, I was very impressed. The Old Ale recipe we were brewing uses all husked grains, so there was a good bed, but still, it flowed incredibly smoothly and quickly. Probably better than the plastic false bottom in the other mash tun. Part of it may be we were able to add more water which allows for more pressure, but man did it ever work well.
The crazy thing was how easy it was. We put this thing together in the time it took our mashing water to get up to strike temperature. The only tools we used were a hacksaw, needle nose pliers and some vice grips. If you can find an inexpensive cooler, the hardware seriously costs $25 or so, and you could probably save $25 within your first dozen batches of brewing all-grain versus extract.
If you’re thinking about taking that next step and going all-grain, you no longer have an excuse. I’ve built a mash tun from scratch, and that means you can too.