Chilling out: The exciting world of Homebrew wort chillers

Written by Tristan Fanning on November 3, 2021

The most common upgrade a new brewer gets after making a few batches of beer is a wort chiller.   There are of course DIY methods of chilling your wort such as submerging your boil kettle in a sink with ice water or sticking it out in the Snow during the winter months.   These methods get the wort down to yeast pitching temperature eventually but it’s a slow process.  In addition you don’t get as much “cold break” or stuff you don’t want in your beer falling out of suspension which happens when you chill the wort quickly.   A wort chiller is a heat exchanger that you put in contact with the wort and chill using cold tap water. Depending on your brewing system, budget and needs there are a few different types of chillers with their pros and cons to consider. 

Immersion Chillers

This is the most common and simplest to use chiller.   It’s a long coil of copper tubing that you submerge in the wort.  We like to occasionally stir the wort during chilling to help speed up the chilling process.  These can be purchased here or you can buy copper tubing and make your own.

Pro’s

Clean up is easy, just spray off with water when your done.

The most economical chilling option

Con’s

This is the least efficient at transferring heat so you will use more tap water chilling

Immersion chillers usually are only good for 5 to 10 gallons of wort.

Counterflow chillers

Counterflow chillers have one small tube that carries wort that is surrounded by another tube that carries cold tap water.   You will need to use a brewing pump to pump the wort through the chiller.  The counterflow chiller pictured to the right in from Spike Brewing and includes a temperature sensor so you can tell the temperature the wort is exiting the chiller.   Having a temperature sensor allows you to transfer straight from a very hot boil kettle into your fermenter by throttling the speed the wort goes through the chiller.

Pro’s

More efficient heat transfer than an immersion chiller (less water used)

Cleaning is still relatively easy (just pump PBW and water through the chiller when done)

The pipes in most of these chillers are large enough to cope with some hop matter being passed through the chiller

Can transfer straight from hot kettle into a fermenter.

Con’s

You need a brewing pump to use this type of chiller. 

More expensive than an immersion chiller

Plate Chillers

A plate chiller is made up of a lot of very thin plates of metal where cold tap water passes on one side of the plate and you pump hot wort on the other.   Plate chillers are very efficient at cooling however the passages in a plate chiller are very small so you can not pump a lot of hop matter through a plate chiller without it getting clogged. 

Pro’s

Most efficient chiller (lower water usage)

Priced similarly to counterflow chillers

Can transfer straight from hot kettle into a fermenter.

Con’s

Small passages cant handle large amounts of hop matter without clogging

A pump is needed to use a plate chiller

If you don’t flush your chiller at the end of a brew-day and wort dries in the chiller it can be a pain to remove.

Conclusion

Wort chillers are one of the first upgrades most brewers consider making to improve their beer quality and brew day experience. There is a chiller out there for every need and budget you just need to decide which fits your set up the best. 

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