Cooling Your Wort

posted Oct 2, 2012, 11:07 AM by Josh Hartley

by Jeremy Wickham

I find chilling your wort a major time-consuming part of your brew day. I would say it takes at least an hour to get my wort down to pitching temperatures. Even longer in the summer time when groundwater temperature is higher than your pitching temperature. Like every beginning home brewer, I started with the ice bath method in my kitchen sink. This worked really well while I was extract-brewing and only boiling about 3 gallons of wort and topping off to my target volumes. I would chill my top off water in the refrigerator while brewing, use the ice bath to get to about 90 degrees, rack it to the carboy, and top off. That would get me to my pitching temps. Sometimes it would get me below pitching temps, so I had to wait for it to warm up.
This method was great, but when I decided to go all grain, I had to do full boils. So the idea of lugging 6 gallons of wort into the house and submerging that into an ice bath was not a very fun thought. The wife also didn't like the idea of me bringing in 6 gallons of hot wort into the house and using a bathtub to chill wort.

So I went on a search for a wort chiller for a manageable price. I looked at all of the online home brew shops at all the different options. The top three methods I have found are immersion, plate, and counterflow chillers. All of them have their pros and cons.

Immersion Chiller
Pros: Affordable, easy to clean, wort does not run inside of your chiller, easy to sanitize, just drop it into your wort with about 15 minutes left in the boil.
Cons: Uses lots of water, and takes a long time to cool the wort.

Plate Chiller and Counterflow Chiller
I'm grouping this two together, because they seem to be essentially the same thing.
Pros: Can be gravity fed, uses less water than immersion, chilling less wort at any given moment. 
Cons: To be really effective you would need a march pump, higher cost, hard to clean and sanitize. If you do not have a pump, you couldn't pump boiling wort through it to sanitize, would need to use star san.

Well, what did I go with? Well not really wanting to buy a pump and all its fittings which will set you back at least 160 bucks, easy, I went with an immersion chiller. It was pretty easy choice since I found one for about $55 on eBay. Yes, it works great, but it wasn't working great enough for me. So after listening to some podcasts and reading up on the Internet I found out using a pond pump with a bucket full of ice water would be helpful.

Pond Pump
You can pick up a cheap pond pump at Lowes for $20-$40 bucks. So add that to the cost of your immersion chiller and you'll more than likely be around the same price as a plate or counterflow chiller. On brew day, I chill my wort down to 90-100 degrees with the patio hose. This normally takes 20-30 minutes, depending on how warm it is that day. Disconnect the hose from the immersion chiller and attach a tube from the pond pump to the immersion chiller then have it recirculate back into the bucket. Just replenish the ice into the bucket when it all melts and there ya go. Ice water is now pumping through your immersion chiller. I would say it takes another 20-30 minutes to get your wort to pitching temps. Now if you do not want to buy a pond pump, take your bottling bucket and fill it with ice water, put the bucket on, say, a step ladder and attach the bucket and chiller with a hose and let gravity do its thing. Have the chiller run off into another bucket and then just dump that water back into the ice bucket. That way you can make beer and get a great workout.