Back to Shopping at NorthernBrewer.com

Going all grain, stuck on equipment capacities

Hey everyone,

Having brewed from extract on a kitchen stove for 4 years now, I’m eager to make the jump to brewing larger batches from all-grain. I generally know what sort of gear I need, but I’m getting hung up on how much capacity I should plan for.

I’m teaming up and splitting the gear cost with three other friends, one of whom also brews (extract and BIAB), all of whom like beer. So I’m assuming that at least some of the time we’ll be splitting batches four ways or more. I’d really like to end up with more than six or twelve bottles for myself at the end of a batch, especially because I keg (the rest of the guys do not). I’d also like to plan ahead for future brewing – this gear is a significant purchase and I don’t want to have to replace it in a year or two because we’ve decided the batches we’re making aren’t big enough.

So with that in mind, I’m stuck between choosing a 15-gallon kettle and a 20-gallon kettle. I figure that we can reliably make a 10-gallon batch in a 15-gallon kettle and a 15-gallon batch in a 20-gallon kettle, accounting for boil-off, trub, etc, right? Or is it realistic to pull off batches closer to the capacity of the actual kettle?

Somewhat complicating things is that we’ve already bought some gear secondhand from another friend who moved across the country, so we have a 10 gallon Rubbermaid cooler, previously used as a mash tun. We want to be able to put it to use, but if we’re doing larger batches, will it be useful for anything? Maybe a HLT to hold sparge water, but not a mash tun, right?

I guess my other questions are:

•Is it insane to leap from extract brewing directly to brewing in a 20-gallon kettle?
•How big of a mash tun do we need to make a 10-gallon batch with a gravity of ~1.060? How big of a mash tun would be we need for a 15-gallon batch of same beer?
•Am I correct in thinking that we can make high-gravity batches with the same equipment provided we just make a smaller batch?
•How small of a batch can you actually make with a 20-gallon kettle? If one of the other guys wants to do a 5-gallon batch, is it merely overkill to use a kettle that size, or will it adversely affect the quality of the brew?
•For either of these capacities, will a 10-gallon cooler suffice for an HLT?

Like I said, I’m excited to get started and I feel like summer will have come and gone before I know it, so I’m anxious to start getting the equipment I need… but I don’t want to buy all the gear only to realize that I made the wrong choices. Any help or advice is most appreciated!

Thanks!

Why would it be insane to jump right in? You’ve been brewing for long enough to understand the fundamentals, you can do this. Worst case is your first batch or two won’t be exactly as you planned it.

You really do want your kettle to be at least 5 gallons bigger than the size of the batch, provided you aren’t doing something unusual, like 4 hour boils. There is no problem brewing a small batch in a big kettle typically. Most people will go with a kettle sized no bigger than they will need because of cost and storage issues, not because it won’t work.

How big a mash tun you need depends on what kind of sparge you are planning. I do batch sparging, and for a 1.060 OG beer could get away with a cooler that is the same size as the batch I’m brewing, but having one that is bigger does make it easier to handle. Fly sparge can use a slightly smaller tun, while no-sparge or BIAB would need a tun about 1.5 x the size of the batch. A little bigger than the minimum makes things easier, but unlike the kettle, a too big mash tun can be a problem, as it gets harder to maintain temperatures when the tun is too oversized. I would recommend a mash tun about the same size as your kettle or up to 30% larger.

The HLT needs to be sized to match your sparge water, which means about 60 - 75% of the batch size if using batch or fly sparging. You can use your kettle to heat your strike water. You don’t need a HLT at all for no-sparge.

Good luck.

If you are splitting this between four guys, absolutely no question I would go for a 20 gallon (or honestly even a full barrel) setup. Do you have a budget of what you are going to spend? A friend of mine and I brew on his 1/2 bbl setup quite a bit, and its pretty tricked out compared to my 10 gallon kettle BIAB setup, but it honestly makes brewdays way easier.

When you get into bigger batches (ie bigger than 10 gallons), you want to make sure you have some efficient ways to heat (good burners), move (pumps, brew stand, tri-clover clamps, welded valve kettles), and ferment (large erlenmeyer flask/stir plate, conical fermenter, fermentation chamber) the beer. This can get expensive. If you are going this big, and you have the budget for it, I would go stainless steel HLT, mash tun, and kettle.

This calculator is pretty accurate, to figure out what mash volume is needed for a given amount of grain: http://www.rackers.org/calcs.shtml

It;s the one called “Can I mash it” half-way down.

While certainly possible to brew with a kettle 5 gallons bigger than your batch it is fairly tight when you account for boil off, losses to trub, dry hops and trying to fill a corny. I’m very happy I’ve got a 20 gal. kettle for my 2 corny keg batches since at the start of boil I’m around 14 gallons. Decision was made easier by the fact a 20 gal kettle wasn’t much more than a 15 gal (Blichmann).

Also as mentioned cooling becomes a bigger deal with larger batches. As you go bigger counter flow chillers make more and more sense.

10 gal for a HLT tank with 10 gallon batches works but it is close, I often have to switch up my strike water quantity to keep it such than I don’t need more than 10 gallons for strike or sparge. I use a kettle with burner for a HLT though and finally just switched things around so I can use a 15 gallon kettle for my HLT.

Other thing to figure out is how much beer each person is going to want from each batch. I often brew batches to give 1/2 to friends and we all have kegs so 2 keg batches work best.

[quote=“Pietro”]If you are splitting this between four guys, absolutely no question I would go for a 20 gallon (or honestly even a full barrel) setup. Do you have a budget of what you are going to spend? A friend of mine and I brew on his 1/2 bbl setup quite a bit, and its pretty tricked out compared to my 10 gallon kettle BIAB setup, but it honestly makes brewdays way easier.

When you get into bigger batches (ie bigger than 10 gallons), you want to make sure you have some efficient ways to heat (good burners), move (pumps, brew stand, tri-clover clamps, welded valve kettles), and ferment (large erlenmeyer flask/stir plate, conical fermenter, fermentation chamber) the beer. This can get expensive. If you are going this big, and you have the budget for it, I would go stainless steel HLT, mash tun, and kettle.[/quote]

Don’t forget chilling, that’s my biggest issue with 10+ gals.

I see now Flip mention that.

Temp. control for larger batches can also be a problem. A couple of swamp coolers and 6 gal carboys have served me well for years.

Always looking to upgrade, though. :smiley:

I’m with Pietro. My concern is price. If you are looking to split with four people, then as Pietro said, you want 20+ gallon kettles which are quite pricey. I can see the guys that are not avid brewers losing their desire to share the bill once they start seeing the receipts.

[quote=“mppatriots”]I’m with Pietro. My concern is price. If you are looking to split with four people, then as Pietro said, you want 20+ gallon kettles which are quite pricey. I can see the guys that are not avid brewers losing their desire to share the bill once they start seeing the receipts.[/quote]They’re not that pricey but it is much cheaper to go for it now rather than to keep upgrading every few years (which I did). You can brew 20 gallons in a 25 gallon pot and it only takes 5-6 hours. My 25 gallon brew kettle was $199 and the 25 gallon HLT was $129. Free shipping on both. Large batches need a CFC (or two). OP, see my website for more information.

Muller, i agree the prices are not too bad given that you are a dedicated brewer, but my point was that for an undedicated brewer it may seem like craziness.

Thanks for the extensive responses, everyone – I appreciate the advice.

I don’t think dedication is an issue here, if only because the two of us who currently brew at home would keep on brewing either way. And this is a group that has brewed together for years now – we’re all pretty much in the same neighborhood, and regardless of whose house we’re at on brew day, it’s a social event where everyone brings bombers to share while we hang out and shoot the breeze. The two guys who don’t brew themselves are, at minimum, reliable consumers of beer, so I’m not concerned about them sticking with it. I can also foresee using the brewing setup to make the occasional 10 gallon batch for my own enjoyment, or splitting it two ways, depending on how we’re sharing the cost for ingredients. It wouldn’t be anything like “Oh, this guy isn’t available to brew with us for a couple months – I guess we’re not brewing then.” We’re flexible.

As far as costs, I think we can manage. I was looking at Spike kettles, and the difference between their 15 gallon kettle and their 20 gallon kettle is $40 – totally workable. A jump to 25 gallons is another $40, though by that point I think we’re potentially biting off more than we can realistically chew. I would like to stick with a single-burner setup for now, so we’d probably be getting a sturdy picnic cooler for the mash tun. I figured a pump was also a must with this volume of liquid. I’m on the fence about chilling methods – I was currently thinking of utilizing Jamil Zainasheff’s whirlpool immersion design as opposed to a counterflow chiller. Does anyone have strong feelings on chillers either way?

Thanks again for all your helpful insight. Muller, I checked out your site and that is one awesome setup with lots to inspire me as I put things together. Too bad I don’t know how to weld, but it definitely gives me some ideas.

Strong feeling here with respect to CFC. It lets you chill while you transfer and keeps the cold break separated from the hot break and trub. If you use a IC you get difficulty in separating wort from trub.

Agree with mueller - as the volume increases, it makes more and more sense to use a CFC or plate chiller.
You might also want to consider batch sparging using Denny’s method. Very easy to scale up or down by just swapping out the cooler you are using (if you’ve got a big enough kettle & burner). The 10 gallon cooler you’ve got can handle any 5 and many 10 gallon batches, then get a 120 qt cooler to handle the high OG 10 gal or bigger batches.

I think you would be all better off in the long run getting your own equipment. The only person that makes out after splitting a 20 gallon kettle 4 ways is the one who gets the slice with the bottom

Not sure I agree. Sounds like one of the things the OP most enjoys is the opportunity to spend time brewing with his buddies. Hard to do that when you’re by yourself.

Back to Shopping at NorthernBrewer.com