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I  am  setting  up  for  all grain brewing  for  the  first  time. I am  planning  on using a picnic  cooler   as  a  mash  tun ... I  have  a few  around  the in different capacities. The  larger  coolers, a 13 gallon and a 14  gallon, have a spigot.  The smaller 8.5 Gallon cooler I  think  may be a better fit for the 5 gallon (more  or  less) brews that I  am set up for already.
any  thoughts  about mash tun cooler size before  I  start driling  holes in  the  cooler?

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thanks for the link.. i'll use the bigger cooler because it seems to be better suited to high gravity beers
I think that's the wise choice, you'd hate ending up with too small a mashtun somewhere down the road.

There's also this calculator (scroll down to "Can I Mash it":

This is also a good discussion on how to set up your cooler as a mashtun, I've gotten some questions answered here myself:
I went with a 12.5 gallon and I am happy. I have done a 6 gallon imperial stout and filled it to the top. But I have also done 10 gallon pale ales and had no problem.
How hard is it to DIY? Is it that much cheaper?

And are certain shape coolers better than say the round ones?
That all depends on how you want to sparge. I batch Sparge and I don't think it matters too much on cooler shape then. For Fly sparging, I think a round cooler may work better, but it really depends on your manifold, false bottom, or screen. You want as good coverage across the bottom as possible. I am sure what ever cooler you are using will be fine.

This is how I built my mash/lauder tun.
I'm looking to start all grain and trying to figure the cheapest way to setup without compromising what I'd be able to do or the quality of the end product. what's the diff between fly/batch sparging?

I'm assuming a screen is best as it truely filters out the grains?
There are a ton of sites out there that go nuts on both concept and what is best. To me, it doesn't matter. But here is a quick analysis.

Fly Sparge AKA Continuous Sparge
There are two vessels. A hot water vessel (HLT) and a mash tun. Basically after you mash for your alloted time and start to drain out the wort from the mash tun, you are lightly running water from the HLT on top the mash until you get the amount of wort you are looking for.

Batch Sparge
You still need hot water to sparge, but you completely drain the mash tun and then refill it with the rest of your hot water and then drain it again. So instead of continuous, you do it in 2 batches.

Batch sparge is the cheapest way to go. You can go with a stainless steal screen like me. That is the cheapest. It may not be the most efficient, but I am getting like 70% constantly. If you build a manifold, you may get better extraction. If you have a round cooler, you can get a false bottom. The false bottom blankets the whole bottom of the cooler and has a more even extraction giving you maximum efficiency.

Read this thread on homebrew talk. You will see some people are passionate about their method.

i went with batch sparge cause it was cheap and easy, but when i build my brew stand, I will be fly sparging.
Here's my progression...

  1. batch sparge in rectangular cooler with stainless screen
  2. batch sparge in rectangular cooler with bazooka screen
  3. batch sparge in round cooler with bazooka tee
  4. batch sparge in sanky keg with sabco false bottom
  5. fly sparge in sanky keg with sabco false bottom

Did my beers improve? NO!!! (I mean yes but not because of the mash tun... improvement was in fermentation - temperature and yeast health are key!)

The combination I would recommend is a rectangular cooler with a bazooka screen. In fact, I would go back to that if I didn't have my brew stand. I am going back to batch sparging but I'll use my direct-fired sanke mash tun because I can use the burner while recirculating to keep the mash temp steady and I like the ability to do step mashes for grists with lots of wheat and oats. Does it matter? No. With all else equal, I'm sure I wouldn't be able to tell the difference in a beer that was step mashed in a direct-fired tun vs. single infusion in a cooler tun.

I've even had stuck mashes with the sanke tun... the remedy was to dump it into the rectangular tun where it ran out without issue.

I say keep it simple. Batch sparge with a rectangular cooler; it saves time and you'll enjoy the process. Keep your focus on fermentation to make some kick-ass beers.
Before choosing the setup I eventually did (fly sparging), I searched and read until my brain hurt about the differences between the two techniques and which was supposedly better.

The total sum of my "research" came down to this: Fly sparging CAN increase the efficiency of your brewing, but it's not guaranteed. Batch sparging IS simpler, easier, and yields excellent results.

I ended up choosing fly sparging, believe it or not because I had seen Martin's "helicopter sprinkler" at a Big Brew Day, and I thought the whole process looked fun and cool.

I borrowed ideas from others on the web and created by own sprinkler and manifold, which have performed great for me. After a couple of sputtering starts, my "system" and I have agreed on a good way of working, and I'm getting pretty consistent results.

As for a screen vs. manifold, I don't think you have to worry about the filtering capabilities - the grain bed takes good care of that by itself.

The screen vs. manifold vs false bottom choice is a personal preference, I think, based on budget and the "fun factor", but I also felt like I saw more people complaining about stuck mashes with false bottoms and screens, than with manifolds.

False bottoms also don't exist pre-made for all kinds of cooler shapes.

If you end up making your own manifold (whether CPVC or copper), I strongly recommend gluing or soldering together as many of the pieces as you can, while still keeping the construction open enough to rinse out residue. A manifold coming apart from stirring the grains is a major pain, I've been told...

Among the ALEiens, there are many different designs and techniques in play, and I haven't really had any bad beers at a club night yet :)
Thanks guys, your input really helps.
I have a lot of pex tubing and fittings, so I will be putting together a manifold for the bottom of the cooler - probably will fly sparge as
I have a SS kettle with spigot and thermometer to use as an HLT . I also have an electric hot plate that might be useful to maintain the temp in the HLT.
very happy to have a local group of experienced brewers to help me out- thanks !
































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