I think we have all poured beer or two in our day, but did you know that you want to pour a bottled nitro a bit differently than your standard beer? Yep, and the method may make you a bit nervous, but it’s fun and quite the bar trick that could potentially earn you $10 in bets if you are lucky. Just check out this quick video I did on my phone showing how to pour a nitro beer (without a widget of course).
I recently got my hands on the 10 gallon stainless InfuSsion mash tun from Ss Brewing Technologies and opted for the optional sparge arm assembly (an additional $55). I really love this companies products, they are seriously nothing less than fantastic. This piece of equipment, is no different. There is no shying away from the fact that you can build your own mash tun for under $75 out of a cooler, and there is nothing wrong with that. I brewed with those for over 10 years. But a mash tun specifically designed and engineered to be nearly flawless on the homebrew scale is something that cannot be simply scoffed at as being something just flashy and cool looking. My first run with thing left me seriously impressed. There was one drawback, I came across that I’ll cover in a bit. But in the grand scheme of things it was a very minor issue. The mash tun comes with a false bottom, a silicone rubber gasket for the false bottom, a 3 piece 1/2″ Stainless Steel ball valve, the insulated lid, and a thermowell with a precision LCD thermometer. But there are optional accessories available as well.
Unlike other reviews, I’m going to skip right over the basics of what this mash tun has, and explain what the features mean and how they worked for me. For example, I think if you are in the market for this mash tun, you probably know what a false bottom is and how it works.
One of the features skimmed over seems to be that this mash tun has zero dead space. So what is dead space? It’s simply the liquid left behind in the mash tun after mashing. In most homemade and commercially made mash tuns you have some degree of dead space. Especially if you are using a stainless braid or even a manifold. Those braids and manifolds, while cheap and fairly effective do leave a surprising amount of valuable wort behind. Because of the concave floor of the mash tun with the drain in the center, coupled with the stainless false bottom, you are ensured to get every drop of liquid from your mash. This is pretty valuable.
It’s no secret that stainless is not the best conductor of heat…..now I’m not sure if that translates to stainless steel itself being a good insulator or not, but what I do know is that there is about an inch of foam insulated airspace between the double walls of the mash tun. That airspace and foam do make this mash tun well insulated. Think of it as a very large stainless steel thermos. Now, take note that the mash tun is lined with foam inside, that means it should most definitely NOT be direct fired. That is one drawback that I saw is that there is no direct method of heating, which would be very nice. It would be great if you could step mash or something directly in here. But you can’t. There is an add on item where you can add a small electric heater to the mash tun, but this is designed to hold temperature more so than raise or control it. There also is a re-circulation port option available for the 20 gallon unit that will enable you to not only circulate but also possibly heat that circulation liquid and cycle in warmer water. But that is not an option in the 10 gallon model I have. But to make a long story short, I brewed on about a 65 degree F day and I did not preheat my mash tun, I had no trouble hitting my mash numbers and had only about a 3 degree drop in 60 minutes.
10 gallons is a fairly big mash tun if you ask me. I did a Norther English Brown ale 5.5 gallon batch with what was supposed to be a 1.050 OG (ended up being 1.059) in the mash tun and the water and grain volume only around the 6 gallon marker. So there is plenty of room to either brew 10 gallon batches or intensely large barleywines. After I sparged and I drained the mash tun, I let it sit for 5 minutes and opened the valve again and got about 2 quarts of liquid out. After that I emptied the mash tun’s spent grains into a plastic bag as I always do, what I noticed was unlike every other time I emptied the mash tun, the grains were relatively dry in comparison to the other times, particularly near the bottom of the mash tun. I did notice that the corners of my bag, which normally have some liquid wort in them, was completely dry, as shown below.
My one and only complaint would be about the feet. I don’t know if it was on purpose or not, but I got an extra foot in my box. This will turn out to be a good thing because these feet fall off very easily. The just snap into holes on the bottom of the mash tun, but the slightest movement to the left or right when lifting the mash tun send one of the feet flying off and skittering across the ground. While all in all the mash tun is solid and put together very well, the issue with the feet can become somewhat annoying. Of course, if you feel you don’t need them you don’t even have to use these feet. But still, it would be nice if they fit into the holes more securely. This does not affect the functionality of the mash tun at all.
One of the optional pieces of equipment you can get with the mash tun is the sparge arm. The InfuSsion sparge arm assembly is pretty straight forward. It’s a shaped piece of stainless tubing with an screw-on attachment that will diffuse the water. Between the main assembly and the screw on diffuser is a rubber washer of your choosing, that will provide flow control. The various colors mean different flow rates with the darkest color having the lowest flow rate and the lightest color with the fastest. The sparge arm is held in place by a molded rubber bracket that attaches to the mash tun’s handle and a spacer helps keep it standing upright. Below are a few more pictures showcasing these features.
I used the the medium washer on my sparge arm and it seemed to be about right. I rigged up a small sous vide pump to run my sparge process and I’m sure it was a bit too fast, I’m typically a batch sparge kind of guy, but thought fly sparging, with the right tools may be worth a shot. Like I said, I did end up sparging a bit fast, but it worked fairly well and was easy to set up. I will just have to make adjustments to my flow control (a ball valve) to slow things down more. You could also use gravity to feed the sparge assembly, just be sure your HLT is higher than your mash tun. The center drain, and false bottom help prevent channeling in your mash as well.
In conclusion, I think if you are ready to bump up your mash game, this mash tun will be very effective in helping you accomplish that. From the insulated walls and lid, to the center drain and false bottom you have yourself a serious piece of the brewing equipment here. The 10 gallon system retails for $395 for the 10 gallon model and $550 for the 20 gallon model. The sparge arm assembly will run you $55 and if you opt for the electric heater (they are calling it the MTSs) for maintaining mash temps, that will run you $80.
Both the 10 gallon mash tun, as well as the 20 gallon mash tun can be purchased at More Beer.
With last written exam under the 2008 guidelines looming close, I figured I should take a shot at it again before the changeover. I need to score 90% or higher, no other score will do me any good other than give me more experience in taking the exam. Granted it is experience I need, since the last time I took the written exam was in 2005, under the 10 essay question written exam. Today, the test is considered easier, which I don’t deny. The legacy exam was 3 hours, 10 essay questions, and the tasting exam all rolled into one. Every so often you would be stopped and asked to evaluate a beer. This was very disruptive because you would have to stop in the middle of writing an answer to evaluate a certain beer, then switch gears and get back to finishing your essay answer. Today, the exam is 5 questions, 20 multiple choice answers, and is 1 ½ hours long. What has not changed is the difficulty of the questions. The only thing that has changed is the number of these difficult questions.
So, do I feel I was prepared for this exam? The answer is….it depends. Do I feel I was prepared enough to pass? Yes. Do I feel I was prepared enough to pass at 80%? Absolutely. Do I feel I was up to snuff for a 90% or higher grade? Yes and no. For me it all fell on what styles I would get. I was not concerned with what I consider “real” judging questions. They would be questions about flaws and how are they perceived, how to correct them, and in what styles they may be acceptable. I am comfortable on brewing process questions, like mashing and boiling and the various steps, what they produce, what temps they are at, what enzymes are active when. I was OK with brewing ingredient questions like questions on malt, hops, yeast, and so on. What I struggle with is the style questions. Perhaps that’s why a part of me wonders why as a judge you are judged on comparing and contrasting styles. This is something you rarely do in competition, and 10 times out of 10 you have the style guidelines by you. I wonder why I’m being graded on being able to recite from memory the similarities and differences between a Biere De Garde, California Common, Düsseldorf Altbier, and why I should be able to list a commercial example from the guidelines by heart. What purpose does that serve? Honestly, I don’t know but I’ll play the game since it’s what is required.
So, just like the judging exam, the trick lies in time management and making sure you answer everything that is asked of you. That’s it. Sounds easy right? Well, it’s easier said than done. I felt I had the recipe formulation question down. You don’t have much time to go back and reflect on what you wrote compared to what you are being asked to comment on. That is where I messed up. I practiced writing out several recipes and I had a plan…..but like Mike Tyson says, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. This happened to me and the punch was my race against time. I know I hit ever component I listed accurately, except for 2 things…..batch size and listing my efficiency. I forgot those 2 components that could make or break me getting a 90 or higher. 2 points could mean the difference between an 89% and a 90%. Knowing that……sucks.
Getting asked the right styles is the key as well. I studied the online tutorials on the written exam and sadly I paid too close attention to styles you are likely to be asked about. While one set of questions was fairly straight forward styles, the other set was not only on 2 styles you rarely even see, it was lower on my study list because they are reportedly not too common to see on the exam. Basically I thought I was screwed. But, after reviewing by memory what I wrote, I think I hit several key components that may be my saving grace.
So what did I learn? If you need to get to the 90% or higher on the written exam, it’s no small feat. While I’m still waiting on my results I’m pretty certain I didn’t do enough to get there. Which is disheartening because I know in regards to most of the information I should be up there or at least close if I were verbally tested or could use a keyboard. But the issue is, can you write fast enough? Can you organize your thoughts and present them in a manner that the graders will understand? And do you know enough about each and every style in the style guidelines to write a full page on each one? That’s the hardest part, and can be disheartening when you put so much time into memorizing and studying, you just can’t write fast enough to get everything you want to say onto a page, even with bullet points and grids.
The next question is if I didn’t do well enough, will I retake the exam? I certainly will. I’ll keep trying until I get that 90 minimum. I’m already there with the tasting exam, I might as well go all the way with the written, right?
Are you preparing to take/retake the written exam? I found this to be extremely helpful. The BJCP Written Exam for Dummies (2013 version)