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Everything about Wort Chillers

copper wort chiller for wirral homebrew

Written by Benjamin Parr

My passion for homebrew led me to set up KegThat!I work as a software developer during the day and manage kegthat on evenings and weekends.Occasionally I write some blog posts when I get the time!

29 July 2020

When all grain home brewing, a wort chiller is an essential piece of equipment that can save time and improve the quality of your home brew beer. We will explain the benefits of using a wort chiller and also the pros and cons of different wort chillers so you can decide which is best for you and how you can use the wort chiller you decide on.

Why should I use a Wort Chiller?

Many homebrewers take little care with this step as it is one of the last stages in the all-grain brewing process, perhaps they have had a few too many home brews! There are many reasons why wort chilling should be included in your brewing process, we have listed some below:

  • Firstly, a wort chiller will save you lots of time. Allowing the chilling process to occur naturally, will take several hours, a wort chiller will generally reduce this to around 20 minutes (Depending on which type of wort chiller is used).
  • After your wort has boiled it must be cooled down to a suitable temperature depending on the yeast and beer style. Generally, for ales, the yeast works best between 68–72° F (20–22° C); lager yeasts are best between 45–57° F (7–14° C).
  • Dimethyl sulphide is a by-product of heating the malt with a disagreeable taste and odour. Boiling drives off the by-product but when the boil is stopped, the dimethyl sulphide continues to form. Wort cooling reduces the amount that is created as it is not exposed to heat for as long.
  • Once the boiling ceases, the wort becomes vulnerable to microbes, so the quicker it is chilled, the less chance there is to contaminate your beer.
  • Wort chilling causes solids to form from the beer, these solids are called the Cold Break. These solids are left behind when the beer is transferred into the fermenting bucket which will therefore improve clarity.
  • Cooling the wort as quickly as possible produces a better cold break and halts the isomerization of alpha acids (locking in your hop profile) at a faster rate.

What options are available and which wort chiller should I buy?

Immersion Wort Chillers

Copper Wort Chiller

Copper wort chillers are highly efficient at delivering a fast and clean cooling technique. They can be used by submerging the chiller in the wort and running cold tap water through the chiller. The heat from the boiler will transfer into the cold water and the water will come out warm.

An alternative would be to place the chiller in icy water and recirculate the wort through the chiller. Although slightly more efficient and would produce less water waste, this would require an additional pump.

A common misconception is that copper produces a nasty aftertaste in the beer when it includes beneficial trace minerals for the yeast which will improve the quality of the beer.

Advantages

  • Easy to manipulate the structure to suit your equipment
  • Much more efficient
  • Leaves behind beneficial minerals

Disadvantages

  • more susceptible to corrosion and can create verdigris if not stored in a dry environment and cleaned properly using a cleaner such as ChemClean.
  • Slightly more expensive

Stainless Steel Wort Chiller

Stainless Steel Wort Chillers are very similar to copper wort chillers and also work using an immersion technique, however, they are much less efficient due to stainless steel being a poor conductor. They also do not provide any minerals like the copper wort chillers. On the other hand, they are easier to clean and will not rust/ change colour after years of use.

Advantages

  • Excellent corrosion resistance
  • Easy to clean
  • Sturdy/rigid structure and will last a lifetime with the appropriate care
  • Slightly cheaper

Disadvantages

  • Hard to manipulate the structure to suit your equipment
  • Not as efficient as copper
  • Does not leave behind beneficial minerals

Counterflow wort chiller

All of the counterflow wort chillers work similarly, a cold flow of water travelling adjacent to the hot flow of work, in opposite directions. The counter flow chillers can be more efficient, but come in at a higher price. With the cost of living crisis, you may be tempted to go with the counter-flow due to the much higher efficiency.

The first type of counterflow chiller is the 20-plate, this style is used by many professional brewers too, it also comes in cheaper than the more modern Grainfather counterflow wort chiller.

How do I use a counterflow wort chiller?

Using a counterflow wort chiller, it is possible to use gravity to cool your wort. Simply place your boiler in a high position and feed the wort out using gravity into the Wort In the section on the wort chiller. Attach the cold hose using the required connection. Once the Wort Out tube is positioned in your fermenter you are ready to start the cooling process. As the wort comes out, it should be at a suitable temperature but remember to double-check with your brewing thermometer. A popular thermometer that can simply stick to your fermenter can be found here.

More advanced home brewers may prefer to use a pump, this means it is not necessary to lift your boiler to a high position and you can simply have everything on the same level. It may be worth noting if the pump is too powerful, the wort may travel too quickly and potentially not have sufficient cooling time in the chiller. By adjusting the speed/power, you can ensure this does not happen. If you purchase the Grainfather, the pump is included as standard.

When it comes to cleaning the chiller, a pump becomes even more essential, although we all like to leave the mess until another day, the wort and hop residue can easily stick to the inside of the tube. Without running chemclean and chemsan through straight after the brew, you will find yourself in trouble further down the line!

Some experts have commented that the counterflow chiller does not cool the wort evenly, some say this could change the hop character slightly. Others would argue this is not true, but either way, an immersion chiller ensures evenly distributed cooling throughout the wort.

Advantages and disadvantages of a counterflow chiller

Advantages

  • Very efficient as the wort comes in hot and comes out cold
  • Simplicity
  • speed

Disadvantages

  • Difficult to clean
  • Expensive
  • Requires a pump to work at full efficiency
  • Does not leave behind beneficial minerals

Our Recommendation

We have tried and tested both Immersion Wort Chillers and Counterflow Wort Chillers. As small batch brewers of 23 litres, we have found the Counterflow Wort Chiller take up too much time from setting up to cleaning, additionally hop residue is easily trapped inside. We believe an Immersion Copper Wort Chiller is your best option in terms of price, efficiency and ease of cleaning.

We at KegThat, stock all the available wort chillers but are proud of our very own Immersion Copper Wort Chillers which are made to order. Our in-house specialist team manufactures wort chillers from within our warehouse and although slightly biased, we do think they are the best. We will build them completely customised to your boiler height and desired width. We can make 3 different sizes suited for different boiler volumes.

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