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I am on the fence with this one. Is there any reasons other than "Shorter brew day" or "contamination worries" for using a wort chiller?

I brew 2.5 gallon batches of wort in my pot, and either 1. cover it with the sanitized lid and immerse it in an ice bath in the sink, or set it outside in the winter.

The lid will protect it from contaminations and the bath/outside reduce it to 70 degrees in about 30 min. So I am saving maybe 10 minutes with a wort chiller? And I have something extra to clean up and sanitize later.

Am I missing some great need for a wort chiller that i am not seeing?

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Typically you don't need to do any extra work to sanitize an immersion chiller or a plate chiller. I throw my immersion chiller into my boil about 20 minutes before flame out which will sanitize it. For a plate chiller I think most people just run the wort through a couple times while it's still boiling. Sure you need to clean it off afterwards, but that's usually just a quick rinse. –  roto Jan 24 '12 at 20:22
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5 Answers 5

the short answer is: no, you do not need one, particularly if you are going to keep brewing 2.5gal batches. For most doing partial-volume boils with immersion chillers/plate chillers, I don't know that the cooling time is THAT much shorter than your method. See Palmer and others for the benefits of cooling quickly (facilitates cold break, etc.)

However, when they say 'quickly', I take them to mean inside of a LONG period of time. There is greater chance, as you say for contamination, as well as DMS buildup, which will cause a cooked-corn off-flavor.

If, however, you ever want to move to all-grain at some point (I'm assuming you are doing partial-boil extract batches), a wort chiller is a great (and necessary) investment. If you are cut from the same cloth as many homebrewers, you love to improve, expand your horizons, and try new methods. This is when a chiller becomes a good investment. I would skip the IC and go straight to a plate chiller with march pump (you can literally drop 5 gallons to pitching temp in a matter of minutes).

For the time being, though, since you have an 'adequate' cooling method, your dough may be better spent on temp control equipment, which would DEFINITELY provide a noticeable positive change in your final product.

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"A wort chiller is a .. necessary... investment" - My last 20+ batches of all grain have been done with the No Chill method. A chiller is great, but not necessary by any means. –  Graham Jan 24 '12 at 17:06
    
for the time being I do intend to stay with 2.5 gal batches and I do use kits. But it is true that I will eventually want to do all grain brewing. But when I do I am going to rethink my entire setup. –  Steve M. Jan 24 '12 at 18:50
    
+1 for recommending just going with a plate chiller and pump. I've been using an IC for the last year and wish I had just gone with the prior from the start. –  roto Jan 24 '12 at 20:19
    
Do you find that the plate chiller and pump speeds the process enough to justify spending like $300 on it? I do 6 gallon batches and typically cool them in about 30 minutes with a daisy chain IC setup. I've been looking at PC's (Therminator) in conjunction with a March pump and they look really cool, but I wonder if the cost can be justified by the time savings or not. –  Jason V Jan 24 '12 at 21:08
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IC and a pump is cheaper, and just as fast. I can chill the whole batch in 15 minutes usually. Then I close the valve for just a second and put my return tube into the fermentor and I am good to go. Spending the money is definitely worth it to me. Speeding up the brew day makes it possible for me, as a family man, to brew. The shorter the session the more likely I am able to find time to brew. –  brewchez Jan 25 '12 at 0:57
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I have been brewing for about a year now. I have not done anything other than extract yet but I always do 5 gal boils. At the end of my boil I put my pot in a large plastic bin with 40lbs of ice and a little water to float the ice and stir for about 20 minutes. After 20 min my wert down to pitching temp and I have had no problems with infection even with doing all of this in my garage with the door open.

I have been thinking of going with a wert chiller but I live in TX right now and the water out of the tap in the summer is pretty warm. I also can't get over the wastefulness of the water for a chiller. Right now the water after I'm done with the bath is great for a water bath for my fermenter to keep my temps consistent.

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My all grain batches boil down to about 4.5gal, so you could do this exact technique with all grain as well. If you are concerned about waste, another good technique is to use a wort chiller in conjunction with a recirculating pump and a bag of ice. –  Graham Jan 24 '12 at 19:13
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'Need' is highly subjective. I think the two reasons you posted - shorter brew day and less chance of infection - are good reasons to put a wort chiller in the 'want' category, if it makes sense for how you brew.

For a 2.5 gallon batch, I don't think it even falls into the 'want' category any more, though. That small a batch will cool down fast enough in a sink of water that the investment in a chiller probably isn't worth it.

Now when you're talking about a full boil with 5-6 gallons of hot wort, it becomes more useful. That can take a very long time and a lot of water/ice to cool. Plus you have to lift all of that hot wort into a sink, which can be dangerous.

No-chill is certainly an option, and a good one. It's not for everyone, though. I don't like sticking my hot wort in a plastic container, and it becomes problematic at larger volumes - I'm doing 10-15 gallon batches, so I'd need a lot of intermediate containers, or large (read: expensive) ones.

I just want to go from kettle to fermentor, and a wort chiller allows me to do that in a reasonable amount of time without lifting heavy pots of boiling liquid. That right there is worth the investment for me.

Speaking of time, a bit off-topic, but a pump was mentioned. Using a pump to recirculate the wort while chilling has made a huge difference in how long it takes to chill down to yeast pitching temps for me. All of my boil kettles now have recirculation ports so I can recirc while I chill.

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Short answer is no... the brewmasters of ancient times certainly never had wort chillers.

But if you spend all day brewing your beer, imagining what it's going to taste like, meticulously sanitizing everything, following your recipe to the "T"... do you really want to risk losing the batch to a lucky strain of bacteria that happened to be passing by in that window of opportunity? Do you want to babysit your fermenter sitting outside in the snow, constantly checking to see if it's cold enough, without letting it get too cold? I did that for about 5 batches, and then i was like FTS. Wort chillers make the world a better place.

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As already said, the answer is no, but using a wort chiller is (in my opinion) easier and a bit more cost effective.

Easier: You only have to place the chiller in the brew kettle instead of lifting the brew kettle into an icy bath. Since you are doing 2.5 gallon batches this isn't a big deal, but if/when you move up to larger batches that pot gets very heavy.

Cost: Wort chillers are a one time investment. All you need is a water source. For me this eliminated the need to make or go buy 4 to 5 bags of ice at a few dollars a pop. Wort chillers run around $40 - $60, bags of ice for one batch $12 - $15. So you should break even in about 4 batches.

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