In homebrewing, a wort chiller is an essential piece of equipment which can not only save time but improve the quality of your homebrew 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 homebrews! There are many reasons why wort chilling should definitely 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 homebrew 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 and 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 halt 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 the copper produces a nasty after taste in the beer, when it actually includes beneficial trace minerals for the yeast which will improve the quality of the beer.
- Easy to manipulate the structure to suit your equipment
- Much more efficient
- Leaves behind beneficial minerals
- 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 the 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.
- Excellent corrosion resistance
- Easy to clean
- Sturdy/rigid structure and will last a lifetime with the appropriate care
- Slightly cheaper
- Hard to manipulate the structure to suit your equipment
- Not as efficient as copper
- Does not leave behind beneficial minerals
Counterflow wort chiller
There are two types of Counterflow Wort Chillers, one featuring a heat plate system, and the other featuring a tube inside a tube. Both work with cold water flowing alongside the hot wort in opposite directions. These are usually more efficient than Immersion Wort Chillers however they are much more expensive and are also more difficult to clean. Many homebrewers are also worried about the waste of water which if not used to clean equipment goes down the drain. With a Counterflow Wort Chiller, there is less water waste.
- Very efficient as the wort comes in hot and comes out cold
- Less water waste
- Difficult to clean
- Requires a pump to work at full efficiency
- Does not leave behind beneficial minerals
How do I use a counterflow wort chiller?
It is possible to use gravity to cool your wort using a counterflow wort chiller. Simply place your boiler in a high position and feed the wort out using gravity into the Wort In section on the wort chiller. Attach the cold hose using the required connection. Once the Wort Out tube is positioned into 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 homebrewers 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.
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 set 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, manufacturer wort chillers from within our own warehouse and although slightly biased, we really 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. A link to our wort chiller selection can be found here.