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Cooling wort in the summer

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Our post a few days ago brought up some thoughts on cooling wort. In the South this is especially relevant in the summer. We brew outside, so getting the temperature down can be a time-consuming process. I thought I’d go into a little more depth on how we cool our wort and open up the forum to new suggestions. In summer months it can take us up to an hour to get the temperature from boiling down to 80F for 10 gallons of beer.

First, we use an immersion wort chiller with hose water similar to the one below (but not as pretty):

This gets the temperature down to 100F fairly quickly ? usually in about 20 minutes. We used to couple this with a plate chiller.

The plate chiller was great at first. We could essentially pump the near-boiling beer straight into the carboys (this was before our fancy Blichmann fermenters). But things quickly deteriorated.

We cleaned this thing religiously (boiled it twice every Monday) and still got off flavors from our beers. It cooled like a charm, but once the beer goes through that thing it’s pretty much a black hole. We can’t see it so we aren’t completely sure that it’s 100% sanitary. Once we stopped using it our beer quality went up. Immediately. So we haven’t used it since.

Now to get the extra 20F from 100F to 80F we keep the brewpot in an ice bath. This takes a surprisingly long time. Sometimes up to 40 minutes.

We actually keep the lid on their too to prevent yeast infections, but it somehow didn’t make it into this picture. It also helps (we’ve found) to give the wort a good stir every 5-10 minutes. I’m sure there’s a great scientific explanation, but I don’t know what it is. So this is how we cool our wort, but there may be better/faster ways out there.

Chris actually pumps ice water through his wort chiller using gravity. This, I imagine, could be highly effective. Tubbs also brought up the idea of adding salt to the ice water to super-chill it. I’m inclined to try this, though I don’t know how much salt we’d have to use.

Any other ideas floating around out there? Bottom line is we want to get this part of the brew day over as quickly as possible to make more room for drinking and socializing afterwards.

20 thoughts on “Cooling wort in the summer

  1. I might be wrong (someone correct me if I am), but I believe the reason stirring helps while using an immersion chiller is that cooled wort tends to collect around the coils and stirring obviously helps get the cooled wort off the coils and allow the hot (outer) wort to get cooled faster.

  2. I wonder if there’s a science lab equivalent magnetic auto stirrer that would be brew friendly. That’d let you keep the top on and stir at the same time. I’ve noticed on smaller batches with an immersion chiller nearly half the time to chill wort when stirring constantly. Again, after 100 it gets kind of difficult unless you have a lot of super cold water to pump through. Stirring is valid for the ice bath as well too. It really shouldn’t take that much salt to do your 10 gallon batches. A can of salt isn’t too expensive :)

  3. A lot of reputable brewers are abandoning their counter-flow setups for the whirlpool method. I’ve never tried it, but I’ve read a lot of encouraging reviews.

    Another option would be to get a second immersion chiller. Set it up in-line before your brew kettle (which may require a couple extra hoses) and “immerse” it in a bucket of ice water so that the water running through your kettle is super cold. I know a few brewers who use this method with their standard counter-flow setups.

  4. I agree with Tubbs’ idea. And the penguin is right; rock salt is really cheap.
    (Another way to make the process less frustrating would be to drink more beer while brewing.)

  5. The first commenter is right on why stirring helps. Seems like you all usually have a good number of people, make each person take a turn stirring constantly for a minute, then it’s the next persons turn.

    While I haven’t tried this, once you drop the temperature of the wort down to your stalling point (100?), you could try splitting the wort into two pots to do some simultaneous chilling. I guess if you also had two chillers you could put the first one in a salt water ice bath and have that chiller’s water go through the wort chiller.

    Living in New England, my cold water usually runs in the 60ish range and with using chiller and constantly stirring, I’m able to chill my wort to between 70-80 in about 20-25 minutes.

  6. DT, good thoughts. I’m wondering about a combination of 2 wort chillers, some stirring and some salt. We may start with the salt (the cheapest one-off option) and see how it goes.

    Are you brewing 5 or 10 gallon batches up in NE?

  7. I think Chris Knight has the answer. All you need to do is synthesize excited bromide in an argon matrix. Yes, its an excimer, frozen in its excited state. That should take care of it.

  8. I stir occasionally with the immersion chiller to keep the wort moving around the coils. In the summertime, my tap water is around 80F, so when the wort hits 100F, I switch to circulating ice water through the chiller using a cheap pond pump from the hardware store. The outflow of the chiller goes back into the cooler with the ice. Works very well. Can even chill worts down to lager temp (55F) in a fairly reasonable time doing this.

  9. Tony and james are on the right path. You need to move the wort ACROSS the coils in order to cool faster, otherwise you are only cooling the wort immediate around the chiller. Either stir or use a pump, using a pump can also help form the cone of trub in the center.

    Once you hit 100 degrees switch to pumping ice water through the chiller with an immersion pump.

    These two methods together just…. Rock. We took a 10g batch of oktoberfest down to 45 degrees using this method in less than 45 minutes. The longest part was from 60 to 45, and we still had ice in the recycling water.

    I’d send links of my “custom” (read sarcasm) set up from too much time on my hands, but I won’t be in ATL until after next Tues. Too late to help with brew day :(

  10. Jonathon, I’m brewing 5 gallon batches up in NE, but I basically have two sets of brewing equipment. So instead of doing 10 gallon batches, I usually do two different 5 gallon batches at the same time, but stagger them by 15 minutes or so. Makes for a lot of variety in the kegerator, ha.

  11. I suggest you brew in a colder climate. Maybe move MNB to Portland OR, so I can enjoy your tasty brews again. BTW Friday the 19th is my big hop harvest party this year, 16 vines of delicious await their destiny. Pics to follow.

  12. You could also try and cool the water going into the IC before it actually goes into the coil. I feel like winding up your hose in a 5 gallon (or bigger would be better) bucket filled w/ ice water would drop the temperature of the tap water another couple degrees. I’ll probably give this a try w/ my CFC next time I brew b/c I’d still like to drop the temp another couple of degrees the first time through.

  13. Troy – what are the chances of MNB getting some more of your hops this year so we can brew the HopHarvest 2.0 beer? There is no way you’re going to brew enough beer to use them and our 3 vines have only yielded 6 oz. of hops thus far (we have big plans for an improved trellis next year which should increase the yield even more). Maybe we’ll even name the beer after you or something.

  14. SportsFans…

    All I know is this…when we just used an IC, it took us about 1.5 hours to cool 5g of wort AND we had to place bags of ice in the kettle to bring it down to mid 70’s range. We now circulate the water through the IC using a pre-chiller (Coil in an ice bath) in conjuction with the “whirlpool” attachment…our record is 23 min for 5g and 30 min for 10g. usually average about 25 min. Without a doubt, the whirlpool action is the single-most enhancer to this increase in efficiency. Had my doubts at first, but as the song says “…now I’m a believer!”

    Happy Brewing!

  15. As others have suggested, a pre-chiller in ice is your best bet. When I lived in Houston I built an immersion chiller with a smaller loop prechill stage. I put it in a small camp cooler, added ice until it was full, then water to make the bath better at heat transfer.

    I never thought to put salt in because I was getting acceptable chill time, but certainly worth a shot.

  16. What I do is run the boiling wort through a counterflow chiller into a carboy what is in an ice/water/ salt bath. Takes 10 minutes to transfer and another 10 minutes to 75 degrees. I swirl the carboy after filling to get motin and coolness without hot side areation. At the very last, a vigorous give a good shake to get some o2 in there and pitch…

  17. I have a large 30 gallon plastic bin which i fill with ice and water. I use an old imersion pump and pump the ice water into the cooling coils in the hot wort. The hat water from the return portion of the coil is returned to this container and cooled off by the ice. I can take the wort down to 70 degrees in about 20 min. Works very well for me.

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