Wort Chiller Basics

Wort Chiller Basics

(This post was restored from the old site, and contains some really good and knowledgeable information, and deserves to be kept up. If you are reading this David and would like it removed just contact us) Props to David for the awesome write-up.

By David Cordrey

Okay, so you’ve got a few batches of homebrew under your belt, and you’ve got the hang of the basics. Your beer is pretty good, but maybe lacking some of the finer points; slightly oxidized, maybe some sulfury flavors or other funky off-flavors. So your thinking about moving up to all-grain brewing or at least to full wort boiling (the next logical step in the evolution of a homebrewer), and your friends at the club meeting or down at the homebrew supply shop tell you ought to get a wort chiller. “What the heck is that”, you ask? And your friends’ reply, “it’s a thing you use to quickly chill your hot wort to yeast pitching temperature. It helps prevent wort oxidation, lowers dimethyl sulphoxide levels and greatly reduces the time your wort spends in the 120-80 °F temperature range that incubates sorts of nasty bacteria. YOU REALLY GOTTA GET ONE!”

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But there are so many to choose from. What’s best immersion or counter flow? Are the store bought ones better than homemade? As you query other homebrewers you find that there isn’t a hard and fast rule. Everyone seems to have a different opinion, have different setups and all claim success. However, everyone says YOU GOTTA GET ONE! What should you do?

Hopefully this article will answer most of your questions, so you can intelligently make a decision on how to approach this dilemma. But first let me reiterate, if you want to improve your beer making, you GOTTA GET A WORT CHILLER! No ifs, ands or buts about it. Quickly chilling wort before yeast pitching will make better beer. The style of wort chiller and whether you make it or buy it are all personal choices you will make for yourself after you read this article and assess your needs and abilities.


 

Immersion or Counter-Flow?

The first big question, and truthfully, they both work fine. The names are pretty self explanatory. After a brief description, the pros and cons of each will be examined.

An immersion chiller is immersed into hot wort while cold water at one end and circulates around inside of it. Heat is exchanged from the hot wort to the cold water. As the water circulates it heats up and is expelled out the other end of the tube. The entire volume of wort is chilled down in the boiling kettle, to be drained or siphoned off into the primary fermenter when cool enough to pitch the yeast. It is a simple device.

In a counter-flow chiller, hot wort is passed through the inside of tubing which is surrounded on the outside by cold water that is flowing in the opposite direction. In this method, the wort is chilled from near boiling to room temperature very quickly, a little bit at a time. A couple of styles are common: 1) A copper coil is threaded inside a garden hose and fittings attached so that water flows though the hose around the outside of the copper. 2) A copper coil is placed inside a cylinder that has water flowing through it. The typical arrangement is to have the chiller situated directly between the kettle and fermenter, so as the cold wort is deposited directly into the fermenter. A bit more complex than the immersion chiller, but definitely not rocket science.

Style 1 Style 2

 

Pros and Cons of Immersion Chillers

Pros

Cons

  • Simplicity. Often overlooked, but simplicity may be better for you.
  • Ease of sanitization. Blow the water out of the inside and hose it off good when your done. Next time you use it, hose off the dust and throw it in the kettle 15 minutes before the end of the boil… it’s self sanitizing!
  • Simplicity. Can’t say enough about that!
  • Cheaper than counter flow
  • Since the entire batch is cooled at once, the time spent in the dangerous temperature zone is greater than with a counter-flow chiller. Especially for large batches.
  • Typically doesn’t chill the wort as low in temperature as the counter-flow variety.
  • If your kettle is on the small side, it may overflow when you dunk your immersion chiller into it. (A “pro” if this is the only excuse you need to get a new kettle too!)
  • Prevents the use of a hop-back for infusing hop flavor & aroma into the wort.
  • If you don’t hose it off right away after use it becomes a sticky magnet for animal hair, dust and old newspapers.

Pros and Cons of Counter-Flow Chillers

Pros

Cons

  • Wort is chilled rapidly from near boiling to <70°F, minimizing the amount of time spent in the temperature zone where it is most susceptible to infection.
  • Wort can be chilled to nearly the same temperature as your cold water supply.
  • A hop-back can be easily added between the kettle and chiller to get intense hop character in your beer.
  • Not limited by kettle volume.
  • Faster than immersion.
  • More parts and hoses to hook up than an immersion chiller.
  • Brewing setup is a little more involved. Need to have kettle high enough to maintain siphon through chiller to fermenter.
  • Requires thorough cleaning / santizing before and after each use.
  • More complex than immersion.
  • More expensive than immersion.

So what’s right for you? That depends on how much time, money and effort you want to invest. Both types of chillers get the job done, and offer certain advantages over the other. If your just getting started, doing small boils (5 gallons or less), or don’t have your brewing routine worked out I’d recommend an immersion chiller. If your interested in adding a hop back, doing large batches or are concerned with long lag times between hot and cold wort you should consider the counter-flow variety.

I actually have both and use one sometimes and the other one other times. I started with a store bought cylinder type counter flow chiller. After moving into a new house I made an immersion chiller, because of its simplicity, which made it easy to use in a new locale. Recently, I made a coil-in-hose counterflow, after the PVC pipe outer cylinder on my old CF chiller split open with the high pressure water we have at my house. I find myself preferring the counterflow chiller, now that I’ve got my new brewery fully functional, because it gives me faster and colder cooldowns. I boil a little extra sparge water and run this through the chiller (with no water counterflow) before use. Then I run about 16 oz of boiling wort through the unit and let it sit in the chiller scalding hot before turning on the water. This sterilizes the inside of the tubing. I use the small sample for measuring the OG and as a first taste. After use I run some more of my left over hot sparge water through the unit, followed by a weak iodophor solution. I cap the ends of the tubing then store it for the next time.

Make of Buy?

More decisions. You can buy either variety of chiller off the shelf at just about any homebrew supplier. Most of the units I’ve seen are of good quality and should work well. And, if they break or don’t work you can blame it on someone else! On the other hand, you can also buy all of the parts to build either type for alot less money. If you’re on a budget, or just like to tinker around building things you’ll want to build your own!

When building your own, remember size matters! Don’t scrimp on the copper tubing, more is better!Use 50 feet of 3/8″ copper minimum for an immersion chiller. More like 100 feet if you’ll be doing 10 gallon batches. (Most store bought immersion chillers are way too small for more than 5 gallons). For counterflows, 30 feet of 5/16″ tubing inside a 30 foot garden hose seems to work pretty good, but 50 feet of 3/8 tubing inside a 50 foot hose is faster & better. For a cylinder style counterflow, you might consider using a spare 5 gallon bucket as the cylinder (make sure the water outlet is large enough or you’ll blow the lid off of it!) You should use soft copper “refrigerator” tubing. You can find the tubing and all of the fittings you need at Home Depot or any hardware store. Clean everything thoroughly before first use. Hot distilled vinegar followed by plenty fresh water works well for cleaning the copper, or you can use a commercial beer line cleaner.

So now you don’t have much of an excuse for not chilling your wort! It’s not hard to do, doesn’t have to be expensive and your beer will thank you! CHILL OUT & GO FOR IT!

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