The 8 Best Wort Chillers For Rapid Cooling
If you’ve spent any time full batch brewing, you probably have some idea about the advantages of using a wort chiller. Even newbie brewers know the hassles of trying to cool wort fast using low-tech methods such as an ice bath.
In this article, I’ll explain why using a wort chiller isn’t just a convenience, and how the various types of wort chillers work, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Rapid Cooling Equals Better Beer
When brewing partial batches, it’s easy enough to cool your wort by diluting the hot wort into cold water or using an ice bath. But, cooling a full 5-gallon or more batch of wort down to pitching temperatures can take hours.
First, as wort temperature falls below 140°F (60°C), susceptibility to wild yeasts and bacteria increase dramatically. Your goal should be to get the wort down to pitching temperatures as fast as possible and minimize the time your wort spends between 80°F (26°C) and 140°F (60°C) because that is the sweet spot for bacteria to thrive.
When you consider that the optimal pitching temperatures for ale yeast are in the 60°F (15°C) – 70°F (21°C) range and 40°F (4°C) – 50°F (10°C) for lager yeasts, you realize what a challenge it is to bring a hot batch of wort down to these temperatures as fast as possible, and why a wort chiller is a smart investment.
Additionally, allowing your wort to stay too long in the temperature danger zone of 80°F (26°C) – 130°F (54°C) produces DMS (dimethyl sulfide), which is known for the unpleasant, canned-corn flavor it contributes to the beer.
Lastly, cooling wort rapidly down to optimal pitching temperature improves cold break, maximizing the amount of proteins and tannins that precipitate out of the wort. If break materials don’t coagulate and fall out of solution during cooling of the wort, then it remains in the beer leading to chill haze and cloudy beer.
Types of Wort Chillers
There a few different options available to homebrewers for rapid wort chilling: immersion chillers, counterflow chillers (or CFC) and plate chillers. And, they all work on the principle of heat exchange. You’re using one substance (water) to absorb and carry away heat energy from another (the wort).
For this to be work, there has to be a difference in the temperatures of the two substances. And, the water has to be moving.
Keep in mind that a wort chiller can only get your wort as cold as the water you are using, no matter what type of chiller you choose. And as your wort temperature approaches the water temperature, the slower the transfer process becomes. So, if you’re trying to get your wort down to 70°F (21°C) and are using 65°F (18°C) water, those last few degrees can seemingly take forever.
Therefore, when looking for a wort chiller, keep in mind your water temperature. If you live in a warm climate, you may need to use a pre-chiller in combination with your wort chiller to get down to pitching temperatures, though a wort chiller alone will still save you time and allow you to get down 80°F (26°C) or below pretty easily.
Now for the lowdown on how each type of wort chiller works, its advantages and disadvantages and a few recommendations for manufacturers.
An immersion chiller consists of a length of coiled tubing that attaches to a faucet. The apparatus sits inside of the brew kettle with the hot wort. The wort is cooled as cold water flows through the tubing. Immersion chillers are usually the first step up for beginning brewers from an ice bath because they are relatively inexpensive and easy to use.
Unlike other chillers, immersion wort chillers don’t require a pump to feed it, or hoses and clamps. With a simple adapter, you can hook up an immersion wort chiller to a kitchen faucet and be ready to go.
Cleaning is easier because you only need to wash the outside, unlike with counterflow chillers and plate chillers where you’ve got to get inside passages clean. Additionally, putting the immersion chiller in the wort for the last 15 minutes of the boil makes sanitizing easy.
Some downsides to immersion chillers are: they use a lot of water, and they don’t cool as fast as other methods. Also, with an immersion chiller, you’ll need to work in a clean and draft free environment, keeping your wort loosely covered to prevent contaminants from finding their way into the wort. However, many experienced brewers still favor them over their higher dollar alternatives.
Keep in mind when buying an immersion chiller that the longer the coil, the faster the wort will be chilled, because of the increase in surface area. But, choose a size appropriate for your batch size so that as much of the coil is in contact with the wort as possible. Typically, a 25′ coil is adequate for a 5-gallon kettle.
Immersion chillers are usually made with 3/8″ or 1/2″ diameter copper or stainless steel tubing. Bigger diameter tubing is more efficient at cooling than smaller but more expensive. And while stainless is less heat conductive, the differences are pretty minimal. A stainless immersion chiller is cheaper and easier to clean as well. Copper develops a verdigris but can be cleaned with a little vinegar and some scrubbing.
3 Top Choices For Immersion Chillers
This immersion chiller is designed to allow for maximum chilling power with5-gallon batches and wide kettles. It sits down in the wort fully so you aren’t losing power by having extra coils sticking up and exposed.
The King Cobra consists of three, 25′ – 3/8″ chillers running in parallel. According to the manufacturer, the King Cobra takes only 3.5 minutes to chill 5 gallons of wort to 68°F degrees using 58°F degree tap water!
The Silver Serpent® Immersion Wort Chiller is made with 50′ of stainless steel tubing and features an innovative drop-angle design to prevent kinked hoses, and proprietary barbed fittings. Garden hose fitting makes for easy attachment to a utility sink.
All stainless construction will not corrode like copper does and makes this wort chiller easy to clean. This is a great chiller for 10-15 gallon batches.
3. NY Brew Supply High Efficiency 3/8 x 50′ Copper Wort Chiller
Constructed of 50′ of 3/8″ copper tubing, this chiller is great for cooling for larger batches faster. Includes high-quality brass hose adaptor and stainless steel hose clamps that allow adjustment of coil spacing and height.
The 12′ of vinyl tubing is shipped in a continuous piece for ease of cutting to the desired length of your input & output hoses.
Counter Flow Chillers
A counter flow chiller works similarly to an immersion chiller, however there are two sets of tubing involved, one inside of the other. The interior tubing (usually copper) moves the hot wort and the external hose/tubing is circulating cold water. Because the wort moves in one direction and the water in the other, it’s called a counterflow chiller.
Unlike the immersion chiller, a CFC sits outside the kettle, making it usable for any size brew pots or kettles. However, you’ll need a way to get the wort out of the kettle to the chiller hose intake. Having a kettle with a ball valve is ideal in this scenario. Some CFCs allow you to let gravity feed the wort into the coils by keeping the chiller below the level of the kettle, although many brewers use a pump.
Counterflow chillers are a step up in terms of how fast they will chill your wort, and they use less water in the process, though they tend to be more expensive than immersion chillers.
And while not complicated to use, they do have 2 sets of connectors. One for water flowing in and one for the wort. Also, because the wort is flowing through a coil and is enclosed there is less risk of exposing the liquid to contaminants.
The downside to this is that the wort comes in contact with the interior of the coil. You’ll need a way to keep hops out of the chiller in order to prevent clogging. Whirlpooling and hops screens are two common options.
Additionally, you’ll need a way to clean inside of the coil, which is a bit more involved than cleaning an immersion chiller. Not all sanitizing solutions can be used because they can corrode the metal. And diligent cleaning before and after each use with near boiling water is recommended.
Here are Brew Cabin’s choices for counterflow wort chillers:
4. NY Brew Supply Deluxe Counterflow Wort Chiller with Copper Tubing
Made with a high temperature 3/4″ outer hose that more durable than standard garden hose designs. The 25 feet of ½” inch inner copper tubing provides for efficient heat transfer and rapid cooling. Also offered with ⅜” tubing.
Heavy duty brass fittings attach to your cold water tap with a garden hose connector. Easily adjust the angle and position of the input and output hoses unlike soldered copper designs.
5. Kegco’s Stainless Steel Counterflow Chiller
This stainless steel chiller cools your wort twice as fast as a standard immersion wort chiller. Constructed of 12′ of 5/8″ stainless steel with an addition of 7/8″ stainless steel makes this one of the most durable and heavy duty CFCs on the market.
Kegco’s counterflow chiller is a relatively compact at approximately 10-1/4″ high and 6″ in diameter. It is equipped with 1/2″ tubing and hose clamps to connect the in and out wort feeds and 3/4″ male and female hose connections for in and out of cold water.
A plate chiller consists of many metal plates sandwiched together to create small trenches. Often 20 or 30 or more plates are stacked together. Water and wort are separated by these plates. Cold water flows in one direction and hot wort in the other to allow for heat exchange.
Plate chillers are typically the most expensive option when it comes to wort chillers, but they are very compact, cool wort rapidly, and use the least amount of water.
However, because the small spaces can become easily clogged and are difficult to clean, you’ll want to make sure hops is fully strained out before going through the chiller. Whirlpooling and use of a hop blocker or screen are recommended.
One other criticism, as pointed out by Tom Ayers in his article “Why I Switched to an Immersion Wort Chiller,” is that your cold break happens in the plate chiller and then ultimately winds up in the fermenter.
He goes on to say that “while some break can be good nutrition for your yeast, too much can contribute to off flavors and be detrimental to the delicate flavor of lagers.”
Nonetheless, many brewers still swear by plate chillers.
As with counterflow chillers, pumping your wort through the chiller will be more efficient than using gravity to feed it, though most manufacturers for the plate chillers below indicate they will work with a gravity-fed system. And as with all chillers, if your tap water isn’t very cold, you may not be able to get your wort temperature down much below 80°F.
For this reason, some brewers use a pre-chiller or pump ice water through the wort chiller to bring the wort temperature down faster and lower. Another lower tech alternative is to chill the wort in the fermenter after getting it down to 80°F or less, but this can take a while.
Here are three of our top recommendations for plate chillers:
6. Blichmann Therminator
This is a top of the line plate chiller constructed of 316 stainless steel plates and similar to what commercial brewers use. The very compact design features 40 plates and is only 7.5″ W, 4″ D, 3″ H.
The ½ inch MPT fittings for the wort in and out makes it easy to sanitize and fits most common hose-connector types. The ¾ inch MPT garden hose thread connections for the water in and out, means there’s no need to buy extra adaptors.
Chills 10 gallons in 5 minutes to 68°F using 58°F cooling water at 5 gallons per minute (gpm). Can even be used with gravity fed systems.
This 30 plate wort chiller from Duda Diesel is made of 304 stainless steel and has garden hose fittings for the water side, and 1/2 in male NPT fittings for the wort side.
Ideal for 5 to 10 gallon batches of wort. While it can be gravity-fed, it works even better with a pump.
8. HFS Plate Chiller
This plate chiller gets high marks amongst users and is made of high-grade 304 stainless steel and is very compact. The HFS is offered with either 20 and 30 plates. Can be gravity fed or used with a pump. Wort in and out connections are 1/2″ NPT fittings. Select either ½” or ¾” water in and out fittings depending on your needs.
HFS backs their plate chillers with a 1-year manufacturer warranty and a 30-day money back guarantee.
No matter which type of wort chiller you choose, adding one to your toolkit will make brewing beer more enjoyable and save you time.
If you are a beginner to intermediate brewer making 5-gallon and 10-gallon batches an immersion chiller will likely be the best bet in terms of cost and ease of use.
For more advanced setups and larger batch sizes, a counterflow or plate chiller will likely be your ticket. And though it’s not a small an investment, it’s worth the reward of clearer and better-tasting beer.
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