Inherited Two 5 Gal Coolers

Discussion in 'Homebrewing' started by JavenNY, Jun 14, 2017.

  1. JavenNY

    JavenNY Initiate (128) Nov 2, 2011 New York

    Hi beer friends,

    I recently inherited two 5-gallon Home Depot brand beverage coolers and would like to outfit them for all-grain brewing (I've only ever done extract brewing). I understand now that 10-gallon mash tuns are much more appropriate for 5-gallon batches (oh well - they were free anyway).

    I know that there are a few posts on this topic but I've seen very different responses. I would prefer to not be limited by brewing only low gravity beers.

    So a few questions:
    • Does anyone else use a 5-gallon mash tun for brewing 5-gallon batches? What are the limitations?
    • Since I have two coolers at my disposal, would it make a difference if I turn one of them into a gravity feeding hot liquor tank for fly sparging?
    • Batch sparging with a 5-gallon mash tun vs. fly sparging with a 5-gallon mash tun - what can I expect for max gravity for each method?
    Sorry for the noobish questions guys! I'm a relatively new homebrewer and looking to expand my operation without emptying my wallet.
  2. SFACRKnight

    SFACRKnight Meyvn (1,148) Jan 20, 2012 Colorado
    Beer Trader

    I can't imagine trying to brew a five gallon batch of beer off a five gallon mash tun. I keep a 10gal mash tun for doing my session beers, and I use my 15gal mash tun for high gravity beers and double batches. You could build two mash tuns, but I would guess the extra money for fittings etc would get you close to buying a 10gal cooler and outfitting just one vessel.
  3. jmdrpi

    jmdrpi Poo-Bah (4,866) Dec 11, 2008 Pennsylvania

    I normally use the mash calculator in BeerSmith, but there is also this free online calculator:

    Scroll down, "Can I Mash It?" which calculates volume needed for a mash. Looks like 11.5 lbs of grain at 1.25 qts/pound is about 4.51 gallons, so that'd probably be about your maximum depending on your false bottom/screen.
    pweis909 and SFACRKnight like this.
  4. EvenMoreJesus

    EvenMoreJesus Champion (858) Jun 8, 2017 Pennsylvania
    Premium Member

    You can fit 14 lbs. of grain into a 5 gallon cooler if you don't have a false bottom and mash at a 1:1 (pounds of grist to quarts of water) ratio. You just have to fly sparge, which I don't know why anyone wouldn't do to begin with, as you get better efficiency that way.
  5. VikeMan

    VikeMan Meyvn (1,395) Jul 12, 2009 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    The highest possible efficiencies with fly sparging are indeed higher than the highest possible efficiencies with batch sparging.

    But there are some reasons to batch sparge (or no sparge) vs fly sparge:
    - Simplicity, less equipment
    - Shorter Brew Day
    - Arguably richer malt flavor*
    - Less chance of extracting tannins
    - Less chance of a stuck sparge
    - Less chance of channeling

    I have fly sparged, batch sparged, and no-sparged over the years. I mostly no-sparge these days. I don't mind giving up some mash efficiency for what seems to me to be better results, though I have not done a direct A/B comparison. If I were brewing to make money (and/or brewing a system where batch sparging is not practical), I would probably have a different opinion.

    *richer malt flavor has been my impression with batch and (particularly) no-sparge. I believe others have claimed the opposite, and still others would say there's no difference. My guess is that this aspect probably also depends on one or more other factors that come along for the ride depending on setup/process (maybe mash ph, maybe temperature, maybe pH (or buffering capacity) and temp of the sparge (or mashout) water, etc.).

    I even batch sparged a 15 barrel batch once. The brewmaster was dubious, but the batch ended up selling out pretty quickly for them, so I felt vindicated.
    frozyn, Prep8611 and EvenMoreJesus like this.
  6. EvenMoreJesus

    EvenMoreJesus Champion (858) Jun 8, 2017 Pennsylvania
    Premium Member

    Care to share details of that brew? Like what kind of efficiency you got?
  7. VikeMan

    VikeMan Meyvn (1,395) Jul 12, 2009 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    Low 70s IIRC, and the OG was below target. The crush wasn't great, but I wasn't allowed to mess with their grain mill. (Understandable, I guess.)

    I also pointed out that there were more than a few uncrushed grains when we were cleaning out the lauter tun. He didn't seem to care much. I assume he was getting consistent efficiency (if not particularly high efficiency) in their house beers. Or, possibly, the crush he was normally getting was better than what I got with their mill. I don't recall what maltsters they normally used, but my batch used Weyermann malts and I remember he had to source them because he didn't normally use them. So maybe there was a difference in plumpness.
    EvenMoreJesus likes this.
  8. SFACRKnight

    SFACRKnight Meyvn (1,148) Jan 20, 2012 Colorado
    Beer Trader

    @VikeMan Ten Fidy Is a no sparge beer and I would agree it has a component that, while I can't put my finger on it, makes it stand out amongst its contemporaries.
  9. JavenNY

    JavenNY Initiate (128) Nov 2, 2011 New York

    Thanks for all the responses guys!
    EvenMoreJesus likes this.
  10. GreenKrusty101

    GreenKrusty101 Crusader (740) Dec 4, 2008 Nevada

    If you have 2 coolers, why not get 2 false bottoms or do BIAB in one?...that way you'll effectively have a 10 gal mash tun. You can use anything/cheap pots for a big deal.
  11. pweis909

    pweis909 Poo-Bah (1,704) Aug 13, 2005 Wisconsin
    Premium Member

    Use a thick mash, to maximize your grain capacity. Be willing to fortify your wort with dme when the highest gravities are desirable
  12. JavenNY

    JavenNY Initiate (128) Nov 2, 2011 New York

    I thought about that. My thinking is that if I'm going to need to shell out the $$ for two valve assemblies + false bottoms, I might as well just buy a 10gal cooler and outfit that instead.

    I appreciate the suggestion though. In my short brewing career, my favorite part so far is the willingness of people (especially on this forum) to help out!
    GreenKrusty101 likes this.
  13. GreenKrusty101

    GreenKrusty101 Crusader (740) Dec 4, 2008 Nevada

    Actually, (2) 5 gal coolers are better than a 10 gal cooler....grain bed depth is an important variable and using the 5 gal coolers will give you more flexibility for session/moderate gravity beers. Also, you do not need 2 false bottoms and 2 I suggested, just use a bag in one cooler (BIAB) and you will also become an expert in both methodologies. Good luck whatever you decide.