Why You Should Have a Mash Tun

Mash Tun vs Lauter Tun

What is a Mash Tun?

Well, in its most basic form a mash tun is basically a cooker or holding vessel used to gelatinize milled grains. Gelatinization is a very important process needed to convert the starches within the grains into fermentable sugars. Some mash tuns are equipped with steam jackets or steam coils used to heat the water that is mixed with the grain. Other mash tuns only have an insulating jacket and the water heat up occurs in a separate hot water heating tank, and then the hot water is transferred to the mash tun. The latter configuration only really works well when malted barley is used since malted barely only requires temps between 148°F and 158°F.

Corn (for bourbon production) on the other hand requires a cooking temperature of 190°F. Therefore, a mash tun equipped with a steam jacket or steam coil is a far better tool for spirits production if you plan on putting bourbon into your portfolio. The use of an external hot water tank (HLT) can still be of great use, however, as having a reserve amount of hot water will greatly reduce heat-up times in the mash tun and provide additional hot water for cleaning, sanitizing, or any other odd job that may require on-demand hot water.

A mash tun (grain cooker) is a requisite tool for beer and whiskey production.

What is a Lauter Tun?

A lauter tun can look very similar to the mash tun in that volumetrically speaking, a lauter tun is usually the same size as the mash tun and both vessels ideally (though not a requisite) have a mixing rake used to keep the constituents well mixed for uniform heat distribution and viscosity.

The lauter tun however also has what is called a false bottom. Essentially an elevated floor that is perforated with narrow slots that allow liquid to drain from the grain bed. A false bottom is nothing more than a strainer.

Enter The Combo Tun

If floor space is an issue, you could use what is known as a combo lauter / mash tun. This is basically a mash tun/cooker with a false bottom for lautering. This tool saves floor space but can reduce the potential for semi-continuous production goals. And by that, I mean that when you are cooking you can not lauter. Similarly, when lautering you can not cook the next forthcoming batch. In other words, the combo tank can only do one process at a time. For optimal production capacity, each process would typically require a dedicated tank if optimal production capacity were a goal.

There are also very small, recipe development combo systems that come with the mash / lauter tun welded on top of a boil tank in order to save space.  These types of systems are generally not viable for mass production volumes. They really are barely above the hobby scale volume-wise with a commercial equipment price tag.

Cereal/Corn Cookers

A cereal cooker is a style of mash tun that is more specifically designed to meet the needs of distillers that are making bourbon as the big whiskey houses do. By that, I mean that some of the most note-worthy bourbons are made by fermenting with grain in solids and also distilling with grain in solids. Therefore, no lautering is necessary. Simply cook the bourbon mash accordingly, and pump it directly over to the fermentation vessel. Once fermented the (now beer) liquid is then transferred to the still for distillation.

There are some design differences in a well-thought-out cereal cooker that can definitely help make the tank more user-friendly with respect to operation and maintenance conveniences.

Learn more about beer and distilling equipment by contacting StillDragon North America at 561-845-8009