For many years I’ve been a homebrewer—and I’ve exclusively brewed my beers using malt extracts (with specialty grains). I’ve thought about making the transition to all-grain brewing quite a bit over the years, but for one reason or another it just never materialized for me.
This year, though, I decided it was finally time. Several things were kicking around that finally led me to commit:
- I read How To Brew, by John J. Palmer, and that contains possibly the clearest and best all-grain brewing (and equipment) explanations I’ve yet encountered (also fantastic reference formulas). Don’t get me wrong, I know “how” to brew beer from an all-grain perspective—I’ve brewed batches with friends, I’ve read a lot of other books, etc.—but Palmer’s book is simply great, and was a great motivator.
- I had saved up money (mostly from Christmas) to go towards the equipment I’d need for all-grain.
- It was simply time to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak: I’ve been writing more and more about brewing beer and not brewing all-grain myself is that much less authority I have in doing so (at least that’s how it seems to me).
One reason I’d been resisting the transition was that I’d had it in my head that not only would the process to put together a mash and lauter tun be complicated, but that I would also need a second hot water tank rigged with a sparge arm setup so I could do continuous sparging.
Not so! Palmer’s How to Brew outlined “batch sparging”—also the “no sparge” method—which made it clear to me that all I really need is the mash tun, no complications needed. Batch sparging is simple: you mash the grains with the hot water, drain off the hot wort, pour a second “batch” of hot water into the grains, and drain that off. Done. No need for a second tank setup and sparge arm assembly!
I already have a 30-quart pot that I boil my full batches of beer in, so really, the only thing I needed was the mash/lauter tun. The other bit of resistance I had was in acquiring/converting a cooler into one—and quite frankly, this resistance melted away once I saw how easy it truly is to build your own.
So easy, in fact, and relatively inexpensive, that I’m documenting that process here. This is what you’ll need:
An insulated cooler with a drain spigot, in the size range of 30-48 quarts ideally. I opted for the 10-gallon insulated water cooler from Home Depot, for $39.96:
A kettle valve, wire mesh screen, and hose barb: three common pieces of equipment used for this very purpose (converting tanks to tuns): so common in fact that the Brew Shop sells the Kettle Valve and Kettle Screens ready-to-assemble ($18.50 and $13.25, respectively). I purchased the 3/8-inch brass hose barb connector from Ace Hardware for $3.99:
That’s it! Then you only need to spend about a half hour assembling it all together. Yes, that’s all it takes.
First you need to remove the existing spigot from the cooler; fortunately, it’s connected by a plastic nut assembly and easy to remove:
Now you install the Kettle Valve, which has its own nut assembly and already has a rubber gasket to help hold a seal:
This fits right into the spigot hole just right, and the hose barb fits into the end of the valve to fit your plastic tubing:
Inside, the Kettle Screen screws right into the other end of the Kettle Valve—one word of note, the Kettle Screen out-of-the-bag is about a quarter- to a half-inch too long for the Home Depot cooler, so I had to crimp and bend the end down about a half-inch worth to get it to fit comfortably inside:
And—that’s it. Done! This whole process was far, far easier than I’d imagine, and I was done with about a half-hour’s worth of time and $75.70 invested into it. I am seriously ready to brew an all-grain batch of beer.
My first batch (the pilot brew) on this system will probably be either a Pale Ale or a Porter—something easy enough to get bearings and numbers as I get used to all-grain brewing.
And I figure I’ll still brew the occasional extract-based batch of beer—sometimes the convenience of extracts is hard to beat when you’re short on time and space. But I’m now stumbling my way into all-grain brewing, and so far it couldn’t be easier.
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