Ss Brew Tech – Infussion Mash Tun and Sparge

KWBarnes_SsBrewTech_Infusion_Sparge_0046As far as home brewing gear innovation goes, Ss Brew Tech seems to be ahead of the curve. Previously I reviewed the Ss Chronical fermentor series, Ss Brew Bucket, FTSs temperature control, and the Ss Brew Kettle. I’ve been steadily adding to and upgrading my home brewery and I feel that the products offered by Ss have greatly enhanced how I make beer. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity of demoing these products either pre-release or at launch which enables me to provide direct feedback to the Ss team while also providing usability tips to my readers. I try to make my reviews as comprehensive and fair as possible when it comes to actual use while also including honest and constructive criticism. If you ever have any questions, concerns, or feedback, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or hit me up directly at INFO (at) Bierkast.com.

On to the Review

Ss Brew Tech’s latest offering, a stainless insulated mash tun, is something that I wish I had access to at the start of my home brewing career. The Infussion Mash Tun is a one-to-one replacement for your plastic Igloo cooler and guess what, no worries about leaching plastic into your beer. It’s a double walled stainless steel mash tun insulated with high density foam which covers the inner sides, bottom, and even the lid. The unit includes a ball valve, thermowell, false bottom, and sloped base with center drain. It’s designed to not only hold your mash temperature for the duration of your mash, but to pull evenly when you lauter. It worked like a charm for me.

In conjunction with the 10 gallon Infussion Mash Tun release, the folks at Ss have also created a stainless sparge arm that connects right to the handle. I’m going to talk about both the Infusion Mash Tun and the Stainless Sparge Arm in this post…So without further ado, let’s get to the gear.

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Ss Brew Tech: Infussion Mash Tun

Mash Tun Anatomy

Packaging: Who cares about packaging right? Well, it’s actually pretty important. I like that Ss Brewtech packages their products in shaped foam. It ensures that each unit is protected en route to your door.

Assembly: Assembly is relatively easy. The mash tun comes with a lid, thermometer, weld-less thermowell, ball valve, and a false bottom. Nothing too crazy complicated.

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Volume Etchings: Yep, the mash tun has volume etchings just like other Ss gear. The Infussion Mash Tun is rated for 10 gallons, but the actual vessel’s max capacity looks like it could be cranked to 11, Brah!

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Weight: It weighs a tun! Seriously though, the unit is pretty heavy, but on par with keggles and other hefty brew gear. You’re not going to be lifting it during the mash so set it somewhere safe and keep it there until you’re done.

Insulation: The Infussion Mash Tun is double walled 304 stainless. In between the two layers of stainless is a wall of insulating foam. Insulation foam can also be found within the lid and in the base.

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Thermowell: Weld-less Thermowell – designed to accept Ss Brew Tech Digital Temperature Display. Clean installation.

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False Bottom: The false bottom is lined with a custom sleeved grommet that ensures a proper seal at the bottom of the tun. You won’t need to worry about bumping it while stirring and there’s a handle which makes installation and removal a snap. This mash tun is advertised as having no dead space. If you’re used to using larger mash tuns or a false bottom with one of the larger Ss Brew Pots, you’ll notice a 3-4 inch gap between the bottom of the pot and the false bottom. The extra room, and water for that matter, needs to be accounted for when calculating your mash numbers. For the Infussion Mash Tun, you’ll find quite a bit less room under the false bottom with the added benefit of a center drain. The center drain and sloped bottom ensures that you’ll have equal drainage during the lauter.

Rubber Feet: The rubber feet that attach to the bottom of the mash tun are designed to give the device a bit of stability. Unfortunately, these little guys like to fall off and roll away. It can make cleaning and moving the pot a bit of a pain, but it’s a minor concern. I’ve been informed that the Ss team is already working on ways to improve the feet.

KWBarnes_SsBrewTech_Infusion_Sparge_0007Cleaning: Like other Ss gear, you’ll want to clean with TSP and pacify with acid before use. After these steps you can follow your normal PBW/Star San process. No real issues with cleaning other than it being heavy. I’m used to direct fire mashing, which can sometimes scorch, so infusion mashing was a delight in terms of clean up.

Price & Capacity: 10 Gallon – $395 / 20 Gallon – $550

Customer Service: The team at Ss Brew Tech is incredibly responsive. If you have an issue or question, the solution is only an email away. Add in that these units ship for free and you’ve got yourself a winner.

Possible Improvements

Rubber Feet: I would love to see a stainless bottom to the mash tun that doesn’t include rubber feet. The design of my brew stand has several open gaps which makes it difficult for the mash tun to stabilize itself. I realize this is a very specific issue with my system so I’m not expecting a change necessarily. The rubber feet provided do fall off easily. I’m thinking of more permanent or screw on feet may solve this issue.

Recirculation: I’ve heard that this is actually going to be an optional add-on, but as it stands, there isn’t a inlet at the top of the mash tun for recirculation. If you’re a fan of vorlauf, you may need to get creative until this accessory is released.

Ss Brew Tech: Sparge Arm

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Sparge Arm Anatomy

Packaging: Minimal packaging, but adequate.

Assembly: The sparge arm is made of up 3 primary pieces: the stainless arm, the silicone washer, and the stainless head. Simply choose the silicone washer you want, attach it to the head, and screw it into the main arm.  For mounting the sparge arm to your Infussion Mash Tun, the sparge arm is also packaged with a rubber spacer and a handle mount.

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Silicone Flow Control: Each sparge arm comes with two sets of high temperature silicone flow control washers. There are three different designs to choose from each with a progressively larger openings which control flow. You can choose the washer that works best for you. I didn’t find a huge difference between them, but I prefered smaller one (dark blue).

Sparge Head: The sparge head is a separate threaded piece which gets affixed with the silicon flow control washer and then screwed into the main arm. One thing that I like about this method is that it allows you extra customization for liquor flow. By tightening or loosening the head, you can find just the right amount that’ll ensure your sparge is not coming in too heavy or too light.

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Handle Mount & Spacer: One cool feature of this new sparge arm is the handle mount and spacer. Each sparge arm comes with a high temp silicone bar which clips on to Infussion Mash Tun’s handle. That coupled with the space helps suspend the arm above the tun while in use.

Gravity Feed: I’m used to a gravity fed fly sparge so I was a little confused when I saw the bend in this arm, but it turns out that it doesn’t adversely affect my sparge as long as there is enough water in my liquor tank and enough of a drop between my liquor tank and mash tun. I believe the Ss team recommends 6 feet, but I was able to get it work fine with a 2-3 ft drop. You can also use a pump to move the liquor through the arm, it can definitely handle the pressure.

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Construction: I’m not really sure why this is, but sparge arms tend to be pretty rickety and shoddy. They break, they’re made of flimsy plastic, or they are overly complicated with strings and wires.  This Ss sparge arm is simple, robust, and adjustable. I have little fear of it breaking…unless, of course, I run over it with a steam roller.

Price & Capacity: Sparge Arm – $55

Possible Improvements

Mounting: Mounting the sparge arm correctly is crucial. You definitely need to pay extra attention to where the spacer washer is to ensure that the arm is centered. It’s not a big issue, but I did need to spend time adjusting to find the sweet spot.

Adapter: An adapter for tubing other than 3/8″ could be a plus.

Overall Experience

To better prep for this review I decided to brew my Kolsch recipe the weekend before so that I could have a good point of comparison when the Infussion Mash Tun arrived.  My recipe includes both wheat and rye, which I was hoping would put the Infussion to the test. My system is a two-tiered three vessel system consisting of an elevated liquor tank, direct fired keggle mash tun, and boil kettle. I gravity feed my sparge and use a march pump for mash recirculation and transfers. The Infussion Mash Tun would clearly change how I do things, taking me back to the days of single infusion and batch sparging. It was a welcome change which shaved literal hours off my brew day. Will I go from direct fire to infusion only going forward? Not exclusively, but I may use them interchangeably on a regular basis.

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After a few calculations, I heated my liquor tank, and doughed-in. My goal was 149 and thanks to John Palmer and Brew Heads, I had no problem hitting this. I typically have issues when I stir my mash.  The false bottom in my keggle is seated in a way that makes it somewhat unstable, which increases the risk of scorching and getting grain in the line. The Infussion false bottom is custom machined to fit into the mash tun and has an added rubber seal that goes around the edge. The handle on top makes it easy to insert and set in place and there is really no risk of it moving around or becoming unseated. So I stirred, broke up dough balls, and equalized temperature without worry. With that done I added the insulated lid, which has an added seal around the rim, took note of the thermometer, set my timer, and walked away.

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With a simple 60 minute rest, I decided to check my temperature every 20 minutes. Here are my results. I measured using the Ss digital thermometer included with the mash tun and I used secondary and tertiary probes to measure the grain bed at various depths and locations. In the readings below – Thermowell = temperature reading on the Ss digital thermometer and Internal = temperature of grain bed.

  • 20 Minutes – 149 Degrees Thermowell / 150 Internal
  • 40 Minutes – 149 Degrees Thermowell / 149 Internal
  • 60 Minutes – 148.2 Degrees Thermowell / 148.1 Internal

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So after 60 minutes there was 0.5-0.9 degree drop in temperature which is more than adequate in my mind. When taking temperature it’s crucial to take multiple readings in addition to making sure your grain bed is adequately stirred. When I direct fire my mash, I frequently find extreme hot/cold spots, and discrepancies especially around the thermometer. That’s a little less of an issue with an infusion set up if you stir well at the beginning because you’re not dealing with temperature surges and dispersion. This goes doubly when you add a high temperature infusions to mash out. I was aiming for 165 and opted to add boiling water to drive up the temperature.

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KWBarnes_SsBrewTech_Infusion_Sparge_0001Next up, the sparge. I hooked up the sparge arm and had to do a little fenegalling because my set up is primarily ½” hoses and quick disconnects. I jerry rigged some extra hose I had lying around and connected it to the liquor tank. To get the flow just right I need to adjust the sparge head using silicone gloves to protect myself from the 175 degree water.

I opted to use a grant tank method this time rather than directly pulling off the mash tun. Using a march pump to pull off your mash tun can severely compact your grain bed, but I typically do this so I can recirculate. This time, I recirculated manually until my runnings were clear then started pulling off the grant tank to bill my boil kettle. That’s pretty much it. I finished the brew day on one of Inglewood’s balmiest days ever and stowed my brew puppy safely away in a 7 gallon chronical.

Verdict

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I had a really good experience brewing with the Infussion Mash Tun and the Sparge arm. I typically run 10 gallon batches so this specific piece of equipment will not work for all of my recipes, but it will work for many. I think the center drain is the star feature here. Even high-end brew kettle/mash tuns pull from the side or pull from a non graduated base. The design of this mash tun helps to ensure you get an even lauter, which reduces channeling and efficiency loss. I need to do some follow-up tests using the march pump for recirculation when the vorlauf accessory is released.

The insulation is really nice and seems to hold temperature like a charm. I think this is a great replacement for those looking to upgrade away from an igloo cooler.  Additionally, I like the sparge arm and its fun add-on configurable silicon washers for flow control. A very nice touch. The construction is solid and I think it’s a great add to my system.

With a few modifications to the base/rubber feet, and some possible customization/accessories for vorlauf, I think the Infussion mash tun will be even better.

Overall, this is a great piece of equipment that is bound to make many homebrewers very happy.

Cheers,

Kip

Have you used the Infussion Mash Tun yet? Do you have any questions or comments? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments section below.

Watch my InfuSsion Mash Tun video review/feature

Check out my review of the Fermentation Temperatures Stabilization System, Ss Brew Tech Brew Bucket, Half Barrel Chronical Fermentor, 7 Gallon Chronical, and Ss Brew Kettle here!

About Kristofor Barnes

Kip is the founder of Bierkast and co-founder of Los Angeles Ale Works. Picking up home brewing after college, he has since become an accomplished award winning home brewer, LA Beer Blogger, and author of the Beer Lover's Guide to Southern California. Kip is a graduate of the University of Southern California's School of Cinema Television. He lives in Inglewood, CA with his sciency wife Katie. Follow him @bierkast or #FollowTheLAAW @laaleworks

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2 Comments

  1. Mmm… that mash tun sure is purdy! I guess there’s no way to direct heat it? Hot water infusions (or a RIMS) would be the only way to do a step mash. Hmm….

  2. Bill:

    This looks nice… I think I am ready to get rid of the igloos!

    Note to Derek above… I step mash (two steps anyway) with a converted igloo, so i would think at least one step would be possible with this equipment (?).

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