Brewing your own beer can be a fun and delicious hobby. If you’ve already made a few batches of homebrew, you might be wondering how you can step up your game and create even more distinctive brews. If this is the phase you find yourself in, I would suggest looking into using an immersion wort chiller. This powerful tool will help you effectively manage one of the most critical steps in the brewing process – the cool down. When you learn how to properly use an immersion wort chiller, you will be well on your way to making beer that is consistently crystal clear and flavorful.
Here’s my tips on how you can use an immersion wort chiller during the homebrewing process.
Why Is Wort Chilling Important?
Before getting into the immersion chiller itself, it’s important to understand why it is needed. The beer making process begins by mashing malted grain and then boiling hops within that mixture to create a flavorful extract. This is known as wort.
Once the wort has been prepared, it needs to be brought quickly from boiling temperature (212°F) down to approximately 60–75°F. The danger zone is between these two temperature points.
While the wort is still hot or warm, it can harbor dangerous bacteria and yeasts that may infect the beer or give it an unpleasant aroma and/or flavor. A chilling device helps quickly reduce the temperature of the wort to create the appropriate environment for fermentation to take place.
There are several popular methods for chilling the wort quickly and bringing it to a suitable temperature for fermentation. Some people use a simple ice bath, putting the kettle of hot wort in a large bucket or tub of ice water. Although this method is simple and inexpensive at first, it comes with a number of cons. Most people do not have high capacity ice machines in their home so they are forced to purchase bags of ice from the store, which can add up very quickly. Even worse, it can take quite a long time for the wort to come down from boiling to the temperature that is suitable for pitching the yeast for fermentation, resulting in a high risk of contamination and/or infection.
Additionally, during the slow method of chilling, particles can form in the liquid, making the wort turn hazy or even chunky. An immersion chiller is a slightly more complex method of chilling wort, but it provide more clarity and an overall high quality in your final product.
What is an Immersion Wort Chiller?
An immersion chiller is a far more effective way to quickly reduce the temperature of your wort. Also, as a more cost-effective option than ice baths, an immersion wort chiller is a purchase that you only have to make once that will serve your cooling needs for a lifetime.
The immersion chiller itself is rather simple, but must be properly crafted to be effective in its use. It is made up of copper piping, heat-safe tubing and metal fasteners. The design consists of copper piping that is coiled in a uniform pattern with each coil stacking on top of another.
On each end of the piping is a tube that is constructed from vinyl made to withstand high temperatures from boiling water. The vinyl tubing is securely attached to the copper piping with metal fasteners. Some models also have a hose or faucet adapter on one end for easy attachment.
How Does An Immersion Chiller Work?
The basic principle behind immersion chillers is simple. The copper tubing, usually around 25-50 feet long, is formed into a large coil. Five minutes before the conclusion of the boil, the immersion chiller’s copper coil should be submerged in the hot wort. Once the boil time has fully elapsed, the inlet hose should be securely attached to a water supply. The other hose should be securely directed into a drain where it will not move.
This is especially important as the water that exits through the hose will be very hot. Once you’re set up, turn on the water supply to provide a steady stream of cold water to run through it. As the cold water runs through the copper piping, the heat from the wort will transfer through the copper piping and into the cooler water running through it. This will ultimately brings the wort to room temperature more quickly than an ice bath.
What You Can Expect From Your Immersion Chiller
When you use an immersion chiller, you can expect a 5-gallon batch of hot wort to drop from 212° to approximately 60-72° in about 20 minutes, depending on the ambient temperature as well as the temperature of the water supply.
Some home brewers choose to combine chilling methods by placing the wort in an ice bath while using an immersion chiller simultaneously. This decreases cooling time even further, although it may also increase the risk of cross-contamination. As with a standard ice bath, be very careful not to allow water from the ice bath to splash into the wort.
Immersion chillers are generally quite easy to sanitize and handle. Larger models with more copper tubing will chill wort faster, although they can also be more expensive and more unwieldy. Choosing the model that’s right for you is, among other factors, a matter of evaluating your batch size. For example, for most 5 gallon batches a 25-foot immersion chiller should do the trick. For larger batches, or environments with higher ambient and water temperatures, you may want to consider a larger model.
Taking Care of Your Chiller
Like every other piece of equipment you use for homebrewing, a wort chiller needs a little care and maintenance. The most important rule in home brewing is keeping everything sanitary, and your chiller is no exception. Seriously, the importance of this cannot be understated.
Remember to properly clean the outside of the chiller before and after each use. While hot water and a mild detergent will get the job done, it is also highly recommended that you clean the chiller with the same cleanser that you use for the rest of your brewing equipment.
If you’re interested in brewing high quality beers at home, an immersion chiller is a great way to produce a better looking and tasting brew while increasing convenience. Using the right chiller can take your homebrew to new heights
More About Homebrewing:
- The Homebrewer’s Guide to Secondary Fermentation
- 6 Mistakes Beginner Homebrewers Make (and how to avoid them)
- Homebrew Equipment Kits: How to Choose the Right Kit for You
- 8 Helpful Homebrew Components You Should Consider Buying