How to Cool Your Wort

Why Cool?

Firstly, yeast can’t handle temps around 95F and up. So at some point, somehow, you’re going to need to cool your wort to a happy 65-68 degrees (for ales) or cooler (for lagers). There are several ways to accomplish this, some being more hands on than others. The longer your beer sits without alcoholic fermentation, the higher the risk of some level of spoilage. That could be a wild yeast infection or even mold in long term circumstances. We will work from the laziest and slowest way to the more expensive options.

The No Chill Method

The Aussies have done it again, another wacky idea right from down under. The no chill method involves moving your hot wort from the boil kettle to a sanitary HDPE container and keeping it under airlock until it has cooled enough on its own to pitch yeast. This can take 24-48 hours depending on the temperature outside your container. It does carry a higher risk for infection if your sanitation isn’t perfect, but is proven to work.

Ice Bath / Cold Water Bath

Ice BathDon’t want to wait a day or two? No Problem. With the ice / cold water bath, you take your hot kettle and place it in a tub (or sink if it’s large enough) that is filled with ice and water. Stir the wort and the ice water using a different spoon for each. Doing so will help speed the cooling process as you are adding new cold water up against your kettle and stirring cooled wort away from the sides. Eventually you’re wort will drop in temperature. Depending on the size of your ice vessel, you may need to add more ice. The whole process can take as little 30-60 minutes.

* It is not advisable to add ice directly to your beer, it was made in typically unsanitary conditions. You are a little better off using ice from your freezer in that case, but the extra couple minutes it will save is not worth losing a batch to an infection.

Immersion Chillers

Immersion chillers are a coil of copper or stainless steel tubing hooked up to your sink or garden hose. If you can, add your chiller to the boil in the last 5 minutes to sanitize it (make sure it is clean first). Once you’re ready to begin cooling, run water through the chiller. As it travels down the coil it picks up the heat and spits it out the other end. Move your chiller around in the wort for the same reason as you stir the ice and hot wort in the ice bath method.

Cooling-Banner

Counter FlowSome chillers are an even spiral for the whole length of the submerged portion. Others have tighter spirals at the top and only a few loops toward the bottom. This is because the hotter wort will be on top (Heat rises cold sinks, remember!?). Others are just crazy going every which way. Whichever you choose, you’ll be saving an additional 15-20 minutes over an ice bath depending on your ground water temperature.

Plate and Counterflow Chillers

The final options for you are plate and counterflow chillers. These have a side by side flow. One direction is pumping cold water through it, the other, your beer. Due to the high surface area exposed to your cold water, these can cool your wort in just 5-10 minutes. They are the most expensive option for this reason, and also require pumps to work most effectively.

Remember, the battle isn’t over. It’s important to keep your fermentation temp under control as well. In a pinch, you can set up a swamp cooler, which works just like an ice bath, but you put your fermenter in a cold water bath instead.

written by David Doucette

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