I got a note from a visitor to the site who was curious about how my process has evolved:
What are you using these days and how would you describe the difference between the two?
Well, Cory, this is something I’ve gone back and forth on a few times. I will say that if you do single infusion mashes for 5-6 gallon batches then the Gott or Igloo cooler is a nearly ideal tun. It has low thermal mass, holds temperature extremely well, is cheap and durable, and cleans up and packs away easily. When I was batch or fly sparging this was my go-to vessel especially because I brew outside in the evenings and there can be a chilly breeze.
Well there is one major downside of the cooler that made me switch to a 15 gallon Blichmann mash tun for my 5 gallon batches. I have switched to doing almost entirely no-sparge brewing (see my article in the November 2011 BYO Magazine) and a Gott cooler is really only good to about 1.040 gravity for six gallon batches. Due to the way that the ratio of wort trapped in the grain versus runoff works even a few more gallons in capacity makes a huge difference. A 15 gallon vessel is good up to around 1.080 gravity six gallon batches. I tried other coolers but could never find anything that matched the perfect layout of the Gott so I bought a 15 gallon Blichmann Boilermaker.
This left me with the problem that caused me to leave the Blichmann mash tun in the first place: temperature drops. Well since I started doing no-sparge brewing I ended up with significantly more thermal mass in the mash tun. All the liquor goes in up front so everything is more stable. I use a pump to constantly recirculate the wort during the mash but use direct fire on the mash tun itself to bump the temperature when needed. I typically mash in at the desired temp and then check and direct-fire at 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, and 45 minutes in the mash. At a few of those points I stir a bit as well. The burner is set very low so combined with the recirculation there is little risk of scorching. Many of those times I’m just a degree or two low. At the end of the mash I just redirect the pump to the boil kettle and I’m good to go.
I’ve also found that the stirring that goes along with this routine results in a more consistent efficiency, probably because the enzymes and starches are mixed up more evenly. And of course I love the great features on the Blichmann including the laser etched sight gauge for the liquid level, the nice ball valve, the excellent false bottom, and the ease of cleaning stainless. I really couldn’t be happier.
Well if all of this sounds like too much work (it isn’t really) then keep your eye out for a new toy from John Blichmann that will help with dialing in a consistent temp. His new Tower of Power will recirculate the mash and kick on the burners when needed. I’ll have a review of this on my site shortly after it’s released to the market as I won the first production unit in a raffle at NHC in San Diego. He’s been delayed for a while in dealing with sourcing some of the more challenging electronics from overseas suppliers so I don’t have an ETA.
I hope that helps, Cory.