Do you think you have mastered extract beer? Then you might be ready for all-grain brewing. That means it is time to buy a mash tun but which one should you buy?
In our opinion, the best mash tun for most homebrewers is the SS Brewtech InfuSsion mash tun. It is a beautiful piece of insulated stainless steel with a thermowell, thermometer, recirculation bulkhead, and a sloped floor with a center outlet. It would be hard to improve on the InfuSsion. All this from one of the top names in homebrew equipment.
In this article, I plan to tell you all about mash tuns. Then, I’ll make a few recommendations on which ones to buy based on your situation. Let’s dig in.
A mash tun is a kettle that is used to combine crushed grain with water to convert starches into sugars. Mash tuns are often insulated because this conversion happens at a specific temperature over a specific time. The insulation helps maintain that temperature. They often have a false bottom and recirculation port.
The recirculation port is for pumping the water from the bottom of the mash tun to the top of the mash tun. This uses the grain bed to both filters and clarifies the liquid. This is called a vorlauf.
The false bottom separates the grain from the liquid. After the water has absorbed the sugars from the mash, it is called sweet wort. This is called lautering.
On the homebrew scale, mash tuns are also lauter tuns. Lauter is the German for clear or clarified. And in brewing, it means to separate solids from liquids.
There are a few different types of mash tuns and lots of ways to configure them. The most common types of mash tuns are insulated beverage coolers and metal kettles. I’ve listed the advantages of each below.
You know how when a team wins the Superbowl, the team dumps Gatorade on the coach? The container that was holding the Gatorade is an insulated cooler. They make great mash tuns because they are insulated and inexpensive.
There are two ways to use one of these coolers as a mash tun. The first is to put a large mesh bag into the cooler before you dump your crushed malt in. When you are done mashing, you just pull out the bag. Then you open the spigot or rack the sweet wort into your brew kettle.
The other method is a little more complex but it is the more traditional way to do it. You can modify your cooler to have a ball valve, and a manifold or false bottom like a stainless steel mash tun. Then you can mash, vorlauf, and lauter all in the same vessel.
- Not as attractive
- May require modifications
Metal mash tuns bring the bling to your home brewery. There are two metals that are used for brewhouse vessels, aluminum, and stainless steel.
Aluminum mash tuns tend to be less expensive than stainless steel. They are also easier to care for in a few ways. Aluminum has a passivation layer that resists oxidation and corrosion. That being said, it’s not as strong as stainless steel. The biggest drawback to aluminum is that it conducts heat better than stainless. That means it will lose heat faster making it harder to maintain your mash temperature.
Stainless mash tuns are the Cadillac of mash tuns… Why do we still say that? Are Cadillacs even desirable anymore? They are stronger, hold their heat longer, resist rust and corrosion and are available with the most features. If you have the budget, buy an insulated stainless steel mash tun.
- Best looking mash tun option
- Last a very long time
- Available with all the features of a commercial mash tun
- Requires more care
BIAB, or Brew In A Bag, as a mashing process has recently grown in popularity. It gives you the control of all-grain brewing and the speed of extract brewing. Brew in a bag is a process where you use a single kettle to mash, lauter, and boil.
The lauter is done by putting a mesh bag in the kettle before adding the crushed grain. This allows you to separate the grains from the sweet wort by lifting the bag out of the pot. It’s a simple and effective way to brew.
- Simple and cheap
- Less equipment to clean and store
- Can’t mash one batch while the other is boiling
- Cloudy wort
There are lots of different mash tun features. They are designed to make the brew day easier but none of them are required to brew good beer. They’re just helpful. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular features a mash tun can have; a false bottom, inlets and outlets, a vorlauf port, and insulation.
As you are probably aware by now, a false bottom is a perforated or slotted piece of metal. It is located at the bottom of the mash tun between the outlet and the rest of the kettle. The false bottom is responsible for separating crushed grains from sweet wort. Some types of mash tuns, like unmodified coolers, do not come with a false bottom. While other Mash tuns, typically mid to high-end ones, do you come with a false bottom as well as other accessories and features.
If you’re looking for a clear wort and clear beer then you definitely want a vorlauf port on your mash tun. The vorlauf port allows you to recirculate your wort from the bottom of your mash tun back on top of the grain bed. This process filters the wort through the grain bed and clarifies the wort before it goes to the boil kettle.
Unless you are batch sparging, you will need to fly sparge after you are done mashing. There are generally three types of accessories for fly sparging; a sparge arm, a sparge ring, or a hose barb and hose. They help you bring in water from the HLT more gently so you don’t disturb your grain bed.
A sparge arm, like this one from Stout Tanks and Kettles, is a stainless tube that has holes on one side. This allows the sparge water to drip down gently.
A sparge ring works the same as a sparge arm but it has a different shape. Obviously, it is shaped like a ring. Another great option.
The third option is a hose barb with a hose attached. This is the least expensive option. While this option can work just as good as a sparge arm or sparge ring, there is one thing to be careful of. If the flow rate is too high, the water coming out of the hose can bore a hole through your grain bed. That prevents the grain bed from doing its job, filtering and clarifying wort.
As usual, there isn’t a best mash tun. There is, however, a best mash tun for you. Do you have a large budget or a small budget? Are you replacing a mash tun or is this your first mash tun? What features are you most excited about? All of these questions help determine which is best for you.
The InfuSsion mash tun is a beautiful piece of equipment. It is insulated with high-density foam and has all of the professional features you could hope for. The only drawbacks are the price and a few small oversights like the lack of welded sanitary fittings.
- 1” thick insulated sidewalls and lid
- 5° sloped floor with center drain
- Gasket sealed false bottom
- Etched volume markings gals/liters
- No dead space
Center bottom outlet
Integrated thermowell with digital thermometer
Heavy (33 lbs.)
Ability to add vorlauf or recirculation accessories
Doesn’t have welded sanitary fittings
This Stout Tanks and Kettles 9-gallon mash tun is really nice. It really is a miniature commercial mash tun. It has a mirror polish with is a medical-grade finish. The only thing that could improve this mash tun is insulation.
- False Bottom
- Bottom Outlet
- All Welded, Sanitary Fittings
- Welded, Sanitary Thermowell with 1/2″ NPT fitting
- Dial Thermometer
- Upper 1.5″ Tri-clamp Recirculation Fitting
- 1.5″ Tri-Clamps with gaskets
Mirror polish is the highest grade of finish in our round-up
Hard to keep “clean” because of mirror polish
Small amount of dead space
A converted igloo cooler isn’t the best looking mash tun, but boy does it work well. It actually makes it hard to justify the price of a stainless steel mash tun. If you are on a budget or just don’t want to “waste” the money on stainless, this is the perfect mash tun for you.
- Already converted so you don’t have to DIY
- False bottom
- Ball valve
It has a low Price
No sanitary fittings
Insulated mash tun walls
Lots of dead space
Very good at holding mash temps
No recirculation port
Blichmann Engineering is probably the most well-known name in homebrewing. For a long time, they were the only company making high-quality, stainless steel equipment for homebrewers. The Boilermaker G2 continues that tradition. If you want a great kettle that is made in America, this is the only choice. Luckily, it’s also a great choice.
- Made in America
- SIght glass
- Patented button louver false bottom
- Patented Flow Control Valve
Designed from scratch with brewing in mind
No sanitary fittings
Lots of unique features
Side outlet = deadspace
The Chapman 10-gallon ThermoBarrel mash tun is another insulated mash tun. However, it is a much better price than the SS Brew Tech InfuSsion. This is alternative to the InfuSsion has almost all of the same features at a more budget-friendly cost. I haven’t used this mash tun myself, but looking at reviews on Amazon, I would be a little cautious before ordering. Some people seem to love it while others have had bad experiences.
- Insulated Stainless Steel Mash Tun
- Recirculation port and thermometer port
- Ports 1/2″ NPT compatible
Great features for the price
Relatively unknown brand
Insulated mash tun
The recommended mash tun size depends on a few factors. Batch size, specific gravity, and mash efficiency all help determine how big of a mash tun you need. To make it simple, I recommend multiplying your batch size by 1.5. This generally allows you to make high gravity beers in addition to mid gravity and session beers. If you want to get more granular, Brew Hardware has a great explanation and chart that explains this in more detail.
A mash tun is a vessel where you combine your water and crushed grain to convert starches into sugars. A lauter tun is the vessel that you use to filter, rinse and separate the grains from the sugar water or sweet wort. Generally, mash tuns and lauter tuns are combined into a single vessel, a mash/lauter tun.
If you made it to my conclusion, I hope you learned a little about mash tuns and have a better idea of which one you want to buy. We recommend the SS Brewtech InfuSsion mash tun due to its high feature set, design, and reputation.
That being said, the SS Brewtech mash tun is also expensive. If you are on a budget, we recommend a converted igloo cooler.
Regardless of which mash tun you choose, you are one step closer to making the best beer you can make. Shoot me an email and let me know what mash tun you are using or planning to use.