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I have been reading here about immersion, counterflow and plate chillers and they don't seem to chill the wort much faster than my current method; ice.

Many people have stated that their chillers cool the wort to pitching temperature in 20-25 minutes. I'm able to to chill mine to 75-80 degrees F in 25 minutes or so just filling my sink with ice and water around the brew pot.

Is the extra 5-10 minutes cooling time really going to make that big of a difference? For the $65+ wort chiller price, I can buy a lot of ice at the grocery, not to mention the 50 gallons of water I'll save not running the tap for 20 minutes on every batch.

Is an immersion chiller considered essential equipment or is it just another brewing gadget that isn't truly necessary for casual brewers?

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If you do move in to full volume boils (typically with all grain), and you still don't want to fool with a chiller, look into "No Chill Brewing." Its an awesome technique with only a little trade off (late hop additions are tricky). –  Graham May 13 '11 at 15:07
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How long does it take your ice bath to get it down to 65? That's the big question I have. My immersion chiller can get my wort to 80 in 5 to 10 minutes, it's getting it down that last 15 degrees to 65 that takes the bulk of the time. –  Room3 May 13 '11 at 16:11
    
I can tool my wort to 100F in about 5 minutes with our immersion chiller –  Joe Philllips May 13 '11 at 20:21
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I made a batch yesterday and made a point to time it. You're all right about the last few degrees taking the longest. Using an ice bath, I was able to get the wort down to 100F in 20 minutes but that last 30 degrees took probably another 20; longer than I thought. I'm now convinced that a plate chiller is a good investment. –  Greg May 15 '11 at 15:20
    
When I use an immersion chiller, I don't blast the water through it. I run the tap at a medium rate. It empties into a 6-gallon bucket, and although I've gotten quite close to the rim, the bucket has never overfilled before I was down to pitching temp. Granted, I stand there and wiggle the chiller to keep the hottest wort exposed to the coils. Anyway, hyperbole aside, 50 gallons is way more water than you actually use this way. (And 5 gallons is a nice pre-warmed amount to jump in to cooking your next batch with :) ) –  alex.jordan May 7 '12 at 0:20

12 Answers 12

I use a 50' 1/2" copper immersion chiller and I can chill a full gravity boil (5 gal) to pitch temperature in 5-10 minutes. I use it outside hooked to the garden hose. The length and the diameter of the copper is the key point. Most 'economy' chillers are 25' 3/8". The more surface area the faster the chill.

Is is necessary? I would say no.
Is it nice to have? I think so.

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What is the temp of your ground water??? My chiller with the same dimensions takes at least 40 minutes to get to pitching temp. –  brewchez May 14 '11 at 22:22
    
I was march and I live in the Philadelphia Area. It was probably in the high 30s low 40s. I expect this time to increase in the coming months. I also lift the chiller up and down as its cooling. It seems the top cools faster than the bottom. –  nuttzman May 16 '11 at 15:13
    
Winter is much better for our immersion chillers. I have trouble getting my wort below 75 degrees in the summer. Thankfully I have a fermentation chamber to do the final chilling (after which, I pitch the yeast -- next morning). –  Dustin Rasener Feb 11 '12 at 2:03
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I just timed my last chill 10 days ago, Flameout to 60 degrees in 8.5 minutes with my 50' 1/2" copper chiller (Boston). The key is swirling the chiller in a circle while moving it up and down. When I get tired of that I just set the chiller down and then use my big spoon to stir the wort inside the chiller. –  tomcocca Apr 25 '12 at 18:47
    
Whoops 3/8" not 1/2" for my above comment –  tomcocca Apr 26 '12 at 1:15

Is any of the advanced equipment really necessary? No, not strictly. But like any hobby, as we advance we acquire more gear.

Regarding the chiller in particular, if you are performing partial boils of 3 gallons or less, then you can definitely get by without a chiller. I did just fine. But once I switched to all grain and the full-volume boils that accompany it, there was no way I could fit my huge pot in the sink with enough ice water to chill it in a decent amount of time. So I built an immersion chiller from 1/2" OD copper tubing. With it I can cool my 6 post-boil gallons to pitching temperature (65F, not 75-80F), in about 15-20 minutes. So for me, a chiller is necessary, but only because I value my time and want to improve my beer through the reduction of DMS, which can develop if you chill too slowly. For the average partial-boil extract brewer, you can totally get by without one.

Note: if you're pitching at 75-80F, you're not doing all you can to help your yeast make good beer. Pitch at a low temp then ramp the temps up appropriately. Again, with partial boils you can get by chilling to 80F then add cold topping-up water to bring the full volume to 65F. When chilling a full-volume boil, you need to get it all the way down to pitching temp.

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Jack is 100% correct here. Chillers save time and decrease the risks of infection. Four or five gallons can be chilled off in 12-20 minutes reliably, with better cold break and good pitch temperature. Upvoted. –  TinCoyote May 13 '11 at 15:57
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Also, as your wort approaches your heat exchange's temperature (chiller, ice bath, etc.) it cools slower and slower because heat transfer is proportional to the temperature difference. –  Room3 May 13 '11 at 16:18
    
Upvoted TinCoyote's comment because I didn't mention the cold break benefit. –  JackSmith May 13 '11 at 17:02
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I upvoted both comments just to be part of the brotherly love. –  brewchez May 14 '11 at 22:18
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Upvoting brewchez so he doesn't miss out on the love. –  Mark McDonald May 26 '11 at 11:49

I also made my own immersion chiller from narrow copper tube - I forget how long it is but there are about 20 turns. For me it is essential as the only place big enough to cool 5 gallons is in the bathroom - upstairs. Carrying 5 gallons of hopped wort up the stairs is too risky on my back, let alone the trouble I'd be in if I dropped it!

It seems to do the job in about 20 mins and I too hook it up to the garden hose.

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I use 50 ft. of 3/8" copper refrigerator tubing. It comes coiled up so all you have to do is expand the coil and add connectors to the ends. –  Denny Conn May 13 '11 at 20:36

I would say this is a just a small step below absolutely necessary.

It literally shaved hours off of my brew day, I see the reduction in chance of infection as a huge advantage and almost a necessity.

You mention you chill with ice, how do you do it?

  • Do you add ice directly into the hot wort? There are infection risks if you do it this way.
  • Do you do an ice bath? If so how big are your batches? I had a tough time bringing my 5+ gallon boils down to pitching temp in under two hours in an ice bath (wasn't using a ton of ice though)

If you're doing partial mashes with only 2-3 gallons of wort and you're chilling in 25-30 minutes then you're probably ok, but realize that it's going to be that much faster with a heat exchanger (not a reduction of only 5 minutes)

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I do full wort boils, 6 gallon batches, split between 2 canning pots.

I cool the 2 pots in a bathtub full of cold tap water, no ice. I give the wort an occasional stir, as well as the bathtub water.

I don't watch the clock that closely, but I'd say I'm down to pitching temperature in about 30 - 40 minutes. Our tap water is quite cold in the winter. I'll see how I do in the summer (I have been brewing all-grain for less than a year).

When I look at the surface area of pot which is in contact with cold water, it seems to me like it's greater than the surface area of cold tubing in the immersion chillers I've seen, but I realize that my intuition is likely wrong.

So my answer would be no, it's not necessary.

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I'm impressed, my 5 gallon chilling in a pot took well over 2 hours (one night over 3). So for me it was essential. –  Nathan Koop May 13 '11 at 20:03

For the record too, while an ice bath can cool just as fast as an "economical" version of an immersion chiller a plate chiller is much faster. Most plate chillers will take 5 gallons to pitching temp in less than 10 minutes. At least, that's been my eyewitness account with friends that use them. I plan to get one in the future too speed up my brew day.

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I think I have come to the conclusion that for the money, an immersion chiller isn't gaining me much over an ice bath but I am convinced that a plate chiller is the way to go. I found a bio-diesel equipment site that sells beer plate chillers for half the price of the Blichmann chillers so I think I'm going to take the leap. Of course now I have to buy a pump too. –  Greg May 15 '11 at 15:14
    
To further that point: I once brewed with a buddy in Austin who had a prechiller kettle full of ice in line with his immersion chiller and a pump that cycled wort through another copper coil in the ice kettle. That setup will cool 10 gallons in less than 8 minutes. –  Brandon May 16 '11 at 1:16
    
I recently bought a sump pump to connect to my plate chiller. I submerge the sump pump in a bin (one of those plastic moving bins) of ice water (4 bags of ice + just enough water to moisten the top layer of ice). Given that my previous attempt with the chiller alone was disappointing (struggled to get it below 80ºF - blame the warm Texas winter), I can honestly say that this effort knocked it out of the park: the post-transfer wort ended up at 55ºF. That was for an extract (+ specialty grains) recipe, where I was 'only' chilling 3.5 gallons (topped up with cold water). –  CaffeCaldo Feb 16 '12 at 5:42

I bought 5 1-gallon jugs of spring water for my last brew. I used 2.5 gallons for the boil and then I had the other 2.5 gallons in the freezer chilling. Once the boil was done, the time in the ice bath was minimal because I had 2.5 gallons of very chilled water to top-off my wort with.

So to answer your question, no, an immersion chiller is not "essential equipment", and there are other ways to quickly chill your wort, but that doesn't mean a chiller isn't nice to have.

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This is a great idea! I use jugged water as well. Our local brew shop guy says he puts a bag of ice in the bottom of his fermenter and pours the hot wort onto the ice. He claims he has never had a problem with infection but I'm still leery. Jugs, on the other hand, are sealed and sanitary. Thanks for the tip. –  Greg May 17 '11 at 13:55

Wort chillers also help with clarity by making for an effective cold break -- causing the suspended proteins to precipitate by cooling the wort rapidly. You can make perfectly drinkable beers without using a wort chiller, but eventually your interest in improving beer quality and saving time may outweigh the modest expense of a wort chiller.

I have a simple copper immersion wort chiller. It gets the job done quickly enough for me, so I don't feel a need for anything fancier at this time.

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Tip for last degrees of chill with wert chiller

Shake the chiller gently up and down to stir up the wort. Feel the temp of coolant coming out of the chiller to see if you are being effective. The coolant will heat up if you are cooling the wert.

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Thanks for fixing my spelling errors! –  BoilerBrad May 26 '11 at 1:41

I do 5-6 gallon full boils and chill in my bathtub without ice. My bathtub is as deeper than my brew pot so I fill to just around the wort level. Water temperature is 8-10C. I change the water 2-3 times and am able to get the wort down to pitching temps in 30-40 min.

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Have you used a chiller in comparison to an ice bath? –  brewchez Dec 14 '12 at 21:17

The last few partial mash brews I have done I found that having 2 gallons of frozen water at the ready as well as an ice bath would chill the wort to pitching temp in less than 20-30 minutes. Just cut open the jugs of frozen water (distilled) and put them into the fermenting bucket while you chill the wort for 10-15 minutes in an ice bath. Poor the wort over the ice and top off with cold water accordingly. I use a swamp cooler to keep the fermenter at a reasonably constant temp in the AL summer. After I move the fermenter to the swamp cooler, I pitch the yeast. Easy as Sunday morning and no infections yet.

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If you are brewing from extract, and you have say, 3 gallons of wort that you are eventually bringing to 5.5 gallons, then you can get a fast cool-down without a chiller to 67F by:

  1. Ice bath in the sink until you get down to 90F. If you can keep the wort moving in the pot and the ice water moving around in the sink (by shaking and swirling), this could take as little as 15 minutes. It's important to keep both liquids moving, so to always have the hottest wort and the coldest water on opposite sides of your brew pot.
  2. Pour in 2.5 gallons of pre-chilled water. The water I keep in my fridge is usually around 40F for this when I use it. (I know its temp because I keep it in a cleaned, sterilized, and solid-bung-plugged carboy with a strip thermometer).

The specific heat of wort is about 0.95. But the specific gravity of your wort is let's say 1.05. The combined influence of the specific heat and specific gravity of wort makes it just about equivalent to water for temperature flux with respect to volume.

In simple terms, in the above scenario, you can average the water and wort temperatures according to this simple weighted formula to get a combined temperature of

(2.5 * 40F + 3 * 90F) / 5.5 = 67F.

Note that it's important to do the steps in this order, since the ice bath is much less efficient at pulling out heat from a large volume of cooler wort than a small volume of hot wort.

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