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60qt. Ice Cube Mash Tun Build - $cheap and simple

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Erik53

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I've been planning the transition to all-grain for quite some time and I finally was able to put together everything. My goal was to keep this mash tun as simple and cheap as possible while being big enough to handle 10 gallon batches. The cooler I decided on was the 60 quart Igloo Ice Cube cooler with 'ultratherm insulation'. This cooler is plenty big enough to handle large 10 gallon batches and easy on the budget at $25. Hopefully the 'ultratherm' insulation will keep the temps in range for the full mash time. Here is a picture of the cooler:


I discovered from a few other posts that the stock bulkhead could be removed and the hole was the perfect size for a 1/2” MPT coupling. This keeps me from having to drill a hole in the cooler, and I kept the stock bulkhead around in case I decide to use this for a cooler in the future. Another plus about this cooler is that there is no insulation where the bulkhead is. This allowed me to keep my bulkhead fittings very simple (and cheap). Hopefully, this lack of insualation in this area won't result in heat loss.


For the bulkhead fitting, I reused the stock igloo bulkheads soft rubber gasket, and plastic gasket ring. If this worked for the stock bulkhead, I figured it would work for my purposes. Since I am going to use a CPVC manifold. I used a 1/2” CPVC MPT adapter as the male portion of the bulkhead. I also used rubber hose gasket on the outside portion of the bulkhead, and screwed the valve on the end. I tested this out, and it doesn't leak! I am happy with this set up because it was super cheap:
Valve $6
Hose Gasket $1.50 / 10 pack
CPVC 1/2” MPT $.50
3/8” Hose Barb $2.50



On this inside I fitted a pretty basic CPVC manifold. I had to put a 90* fitting in because the bulkhead comes in at a funky 45* angle. I tested this out as is and it drains all the water out except for an inch or so at the bottom.



The bottom line for everything was $40. I can't complain with the price tag, lets just hope this thing will make some beer! My next job is to the drink the beer on tap so that I can make room in my fermentation chamber for my first all-grain batch. Let me know if anyone has any recommendations or comments.

-Erik
 

GoldMiner

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Same cooler I use but with a ss braid.

Toughest part was getting the pickup tube to the floor of the cooler.

You should be very happy.
 

PurdyGood

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Nice! I have the exact same cooler, and have been thinking about doing this exact same thing with it. What are the dimensions of the PVC apparatus, or would a braid be equally as effective, and you could kind of tip the cooler to drain it all the way? Thoughts?
Thanks for the great instructional post! Off to get the parts tomorrow!
:mug:
 

Kauai_Kahuna

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Very nice, I also use that cooler. I just set up an elbow joint and attached it to my SS braid. Works very well for me.
Thanks for the post.
 

bullinachinashop

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Did you check to see how much wort your going to lose? I built a similar manifold for my 48 qt cooler and found that I lose almost 1/2 gal. :mad:

I'm thinking of making a copper false bottom and a custom fitting filter bag that I'll be able to remove after sparging.

Maybe I'm crazy

Bull
 

aledawg

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Nicely done! I recently went A/G with the same cooler + another one as an HLT. I also do fly sparging with a manifold mounted underneath the lid.

One issue I had during my first batches, was the difficulty of hitting the right strike temperature (and thus I mashed too low and got somewhat "thin" beer). I'm getting ready for my next batch, and this time I have BeerSmith set up with a Specific Heat of 0.450 for the cooler, and I hope I'll be hitting my mark better this time.
 

Chumley

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Looks nice, and great description/pics of the build!

I've been using the same cooler (version without the wheels) with a copper manifold, and it's worked really well for me.
 
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Erik53

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Nice! I have the exact same cooler, and have been thinking about doing this exact same thing with it. What are the dimensions of the PVC apparatus, or would a braid be equally as effective, and you could kind of tip the cooler to drain it all the way? Thoughts?
Thanks for the great instructional post! Off to get the parts tomorrow!
:mug:
The measurements for the manifold are 13" X 9" from outside edge to outside edge. I debated doing a SS braid. If you were to use a braid you would have to use a 90 elbow and a little piece of tubing to drain down to the floor of the cooler, like Kauai_Kahuna suggested. It appears it works well for him. Good luck!
 
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Erik53

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Did you check to see how much wort your going to lose? I built a similar manifold for my 48 qt cooler and found that I lose almost 1/2 gal. :mad:
I didn't get a chance to measure how much liquid was left at the bottom in my trial run. It looked like only a 1/2" to an inch. Once I run my first batch through, I'll let you know how much i end up losing.
 
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Erik53

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Nicely done! I recently went A/G with the same cooler + another one as an HLT. I also do fly sparging with a manifold mounted underneath the lid.

One issue I had during my first batches, was the difficulty of hitting the right strike temperature (and thus I mashed too low and got somewhat "thin" beer). I'm getting ready for my next batch, and this time I have BeerSmith set up with a Specific Heat of 0.450 for the cooler, and I hope I'll be hitting my mark better this time.
Do you think the cooler wasn't totally preheated? Or was the cooler loosing heat?
 

aledawg

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Do you think the cooler wasn't totally preheated? Or was the cooler loosing heat?
Hey Erik,

I have two of these coolers, one as a MLT with manifolds at the bottom and underneath the lid. The other is my HLT.

I think it was a combination of several factors - I was off by approximately 6-8 degrees in my mash.

The most important one was that I hadn't made sure that BeerSmith adjusted the strike temp to compensate for the equpiment. Once I checked this option, plus set the Specific Heat for the cooler a bit "higher", it seems like I'll more on target next time.

In addition, the tube from my HLT to the MLT was too long and exposed, probably letting off a bit of heat as well.

Another observation, although I couldn't determine the actual impact , was that the sparge water I was holding in my HLT seemed to be dropping temperature quite fast. I will test this again in another "Wet run" before I brew next in 2 weeks. The concern is that the cooler is losing a lot of heat through the lid, which is not insulated and only two thin plastic "sheets". If this is an issue, it's easily fixed with a sleeping bag on top, spraying in some insulating foam, or some other remedy to keep the heat from escaping.

I've only done a few AG sessions, so I'm still learning about both the equipment and the process, but I hope I can improve my performance soon.

Best,

Eivind
 

DBbrewing

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Did you check to see how much wort your going to lose? I built a similar manifold for my 48 qt cooler and found that I lose almost 1/2 gal. :mad:

I'm thinking of making a copper false bottom and a custom fitting filter bag that I'll be able to remove after sparging.

Maybe I'm crazy

Bull
I loose about 1/2 gallon but I don't worry about it, I adjust my recipe for that and just RDWHAHB.

I preheat my MT so I only loose about 2 degrees over 1 hour time.
 

Kauai_Kahuna

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Did you check to see how much wort your going to lose? I built a similar manifold for my 48 qt cooler and found that I lose almost 1/2 gal. :mad:
Bull
Well, in testing I only have around a cup left over using a SS braid.
In actual mashes, I see maybe around 3 cups of liquid still held by the grains, but I don't think there is anything I can do to fix that without extracting tons of tannins.
 

ihatehoward

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I always drill a couple of holes in the lid of a cooler and blow spray foam in it. one hole to blow foam into and one hole on other side for it to come out.
there is no insulation in most cooler lids.
 

New-B-Brewer

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I always drill a couple of holes in the lid of a cooler and blow spray foam in it. one hole to blow foam into and one hole on other side for it to come out.
there is no insulation in most cooler lids.
By definition a cooler is supposed to keep cold things cold. Since cold air sinks to the bottom coolers are designed with good insulating properties in the bottom but poor ones in the top. You really need to find a way to insulate the top if you are using one as a HLT or MLT...or turn it upside down:drunk:
 

aledawg

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By definition a cooler is supposed to keep cold things cold. Since cold air sinks to the bottom coolers are designed with good insulating properties in the bottom but poor ones in the top. You really need to find a way to insulate the top if you are using one as a HLT or MLT...or turn it upside down:drunk:
That makes a lot of sense, thanks for pointing that out. Before my next brew session, I'll fill the lids with insulating foam, hopefully that'll help me keep a stable temp (in addition to the other tips I've received and found)

Thanks,

Eivind
 
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Erik53

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I've heard several people mention that the lid being hollow would cause heat loss, but it was my understanding that air is an excellent insulator because it doesn't conduct heat very well. I could be wrong here, but I would like to know if anyone has ever tested this theory out and documented heat loss before filling the lid and compared it to after the lid was filled with 'great stuff'?
 

aledawg

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I've heard several people mention that the lid being hollow would cause heat loss, but it was my understanding that air is an excellent insulator because it doesn't conduct heat very well. I could be wrong here, but I would like to know if anyone has ever tested this theory out and documented heat loss before filling the lid and compared it to after the lid was filled with 'great stuff'?
You have a good point. Still, there's something nagging at the back of my head which I can't quite make out (from my old physics classes eons ago). The way the thin lids are constructed, it makes me think that they aren't very effective insulators.

Anyhoo, since nothing beats empirical evidence, and since I have two virtually identical coolers, I will "fill" one lid, dump in equal amounts of hot water, let sit and measure the temp. I'll do this in the next couple of days and report back here.

Thx,

-e
 

wilserbrewer

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Anyhoo, since nothing beats empirical evidence, and since I have two virtually identical coolers, I will "fill" one lid, dump in equal amounts of hot water, let sit and measure the temp. I'll do this in the next couple of days and report back here.

Thx,

-e
Water will behave differently than a mash, you might get data that would vary from actual brewing conditions??
 

mrmcdowe

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Maybe this is obvious to everyone but me, but does it work well for 5 gl batches also?

Just wondering if the larger size made the grain depth too shallow for a low OG 5 gallon batch?

I REALLY want to start all grain and have looked at this exact cooler a few times and have failed to pull the trigger, because of I was unsure on the size.

This looks like a great project.
 

aledawg

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Water will behave differently than a mash, you might get data that would vary from actual brewing conditions??
Won't do it very scientifically correct, really. Just interested in seeing if there's a significantly higher drop in temp in one cooler over the other.


Thx,
-e
 
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Erik53

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Maybe this is obvious to everyone but me, but does it work well for 5 gl batches also?
Good thought. I'll find out when I do my first batch in it next month. My first batch will be a 5 gallon pilsner. I think that as long as the cooler is pre-heated and there isn't an exorbitant amount of temperature loss, then it shouldn't make any difference. I'll let you know what happens.
 

mrmcdowe

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good looking forward to seeing if it works for 5 gl.

I feel as long as the cooler is not to large and you can get a decent grain bed depth it will work.
 

aledawg

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Won't do it very scientifically correct, really. Just interested in seeing if there's a significantly higher drop in temp in one cooler over the other.


Thx,
-e
Ok, so I did a very basic experiment

First, I filled the lid of one of the coolers with insulation foam purchased at Lowe's for 3.98/can. It was clear when I was spewing the sticky stuff into the lids that I wouldn't be able to get "full coverage everywhere"

The next morning, the lid had swelled up a bit, but I put it on the floor and stood on it until it regained most of its original shape. The foam had spread out better than the night before, but there were still a few blank spots.


I then heated about 8 gallons of water to 200 degrees and put 4 gallons into each cooler. Before closing the lids, I measured the temperature to about 183 degrees - the loss came from hot having preheated the coolers and using 1-gal pitchers to move the water over. There was, in other words, lots of empty headspace.

An hour and a half later, the temps measured

* Cooler with insulated lid: 169F
* Cooler with regular lid: 167F

So - the difference in temp loss was relatively minor and likely not enough to make me concerned during the mashing.

However, I continue to be concerned about the overall temp loss of the water in the coolers. 14-16 degrees over an hour and a half is a lot. I'll have to do another check with full volume to see how that goes, if near-zero headspace helps keep the temp stable


Thx,

-e
 

wilserbrewer

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ah, interesting results...thanks

I think from the data we can conclude that insulating a cooler lid does not do a significant amount towards retaining heat.

I also think we can can conlude that a mash will perform differently, and retain much more heat than water alone. Hot water will cool much faster as it is free to circulate during the rest. A mash is a different animal and will retain heat differently / better. I would not be concerned about the ability of the cooler to retain the heat of the mash unless the head space is overly large.

I have always surmised that any cooler will retain enough heat to be an adequate mash tun, so long as it is not too big.

thanks again...interesting.
 

Atl300zx

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how has the cooler's oring held up? i imagine it will eventually fail after benig exposed to high temps for a while.
 

rico567

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One other caveat- these Igloo Ice Cube coolers aren't all created equal. I looked at them at our local Big Lots and Target, but although the price was right, neither had a drain of any kind, which would have meant drilling. Also, they were so light and hollow-sounding that I don't believe there was very much insulation in these models. The model depicted in the OP is evidently better in these respects.

In the end, I settled on the "big orange" Rubbermaid / HD 10 gal. cooler and the Bargain Fittings kit, and have never looked back. The setup is great, particularly since I drilled some holes in the edge of the lid and filled it with the "Great Stuff" foam insulation. With preheating using 3 gal. of 170F water, I now get about a 2 degree F temperature drop in an hour's mash. Works for me, makes tasty, tasty beer.
 

AnonyBrew

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I copied this manifold design today since I have the same cooler MLT. One thing worries me about the design.

The 90 degree part that goes from the valve to the middle of the manifold is a few inches higher than the manifold level. If that section is not air tight you won't get suction below the air leak & it could leave quite a bit of wort below it.

Have you used this on a brew yet & had any issues with air leaking in that section? I was thinking maybe I'd use PVC glue & just make that part all one piece.
 

BulldogBrewer

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I put this together this afternoon and ran a quick test of 5 gallons through it. Once the flow got going (it didn't do until there was 5 gallons in) it left less then a gallon in the bottom. Probably 1/2-3/4 of a gallon. It drained well past the manifold. Not sure if this means anything with a full grainbed/wort, but with just room temp tap water it was pretty good.
 
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Erik53

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I had the same result as BulldogBrewer. I didn't have any issues with water draining past the elbow. In my setup the water drained down to the slits in the manifold. I would assume that a grain bed wouldn't effect this result, but if it does I will report back. I don't think sealing that elbow is a bad idea if you are concerned about it.
 

AnonyBrew

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Ok I've used mine twice now. It worked pretty good on a 5g batch of IPA, but I got a stuck mash on the 10g Oatmeal Stout. I think the slits in the CPVC are not big enough. I'll have to find a wider blade saw & make them larger.

The 90 degree elbow to the valve port doesn't seem to be a problem.
 

BulldogBrewer

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I cut mine with a normal table saw blade and it worked fine on a 5G batch yesterday. I think these slits might be a bit too big and plan to redo it with either drilled holes or a thin-kerf blade. The only issue I had was it took an extra cycle before the first-running ran clear, but it turned out very well.

Aside from grain absorption I lost about a 1/2 G of water in the bottom.
 
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Erik53

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yea. I used a hack saw, so my slits are pretty thin as well. I guess you could assume that the oats are what clogged it up? Do you think it is still acceptable with beers that don't use oats?
 
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