One of the first equipment upgrades homebrewers often make when transitioning from 1-gallon extract batches to 5-gallon batches is a wort chiller. Filling the sink with ice water and carefully placing the kettle into the sink for an hour or two works fine when you’re trying to cool a gallon of wort, but it is a lot more dangerous and time consuming with a large kettle and five gallons of wort. Luckily, wort chillers can be inexpensive and are easy to use. Here is a list of some of the best wort chillers for homebrewing!
Benefits of Wort Chillers
Wort chillers have several benefits. First, they reduce the amount of time spent waiting for your wort to chill substantially. Five gallons of wort in an ice bath can take hours to cool to a yeast-pitching temperature, but only 15 minutes or so with an inexpensive immersion chiller and a hose. Because of the reduced time between boiling and pitching the yeast, there is a lower risk of infection. Just one or two lost batches to infection covers the cost of an entry-level wort chiller, which makes it a solid investment. Finally, chilling the wort faster will result in a clearer, less hazy beer by improving the cold break and dropping more proteins out of the beer.
Types of Wort Chillers
There are three main types of wort chillers. They differ in the way they move the wort or the water, but all work by using cold water to pull heat away from the hot wort. Each has its own pros and cons, including price, time to cool, need for a pump, amount of water used, and ease of use.
The simplest and least expensive chillers are immersion chillers. They are typically 25 or 50 feet of coiled copper or stainless steel tubing that is placed into the brew kettle. The wort is cooled by running cold water from a garden hose or faucet through the coils, which pulls the heat from the wort. Immersion chillers are the least expensive chillers, and don’t require any other equipment like a pump to use.
Immersion chillers are also the easiest to use, and can simply be placed into the boiling wort for the last 15 minutes or so of the boil to sanitize it. Because the wort doesn’t go through the coil, they are the easiest to clean and maintain and have the lowest risk of causing infection due to insufficient cleaning. If you’re only brewing 5-gallon batches, new to brewing, or working with a tight budget, an immersion chiller is likely the best decision.
Counterflow chillers are a bit more complicated than immersion chillers and are a little more work to sanitize and use, but generally cool faster and more efficiently than immersion chillers. Unlike immersion chillers, counterflow chillers are composed of an outer tube, often a hose made of rubber, PEX, or vinyl, and an inner tube made of either copper or stainless steel. The hot wort is pushed through the inner tube either by gravity or a pump from the kettle to the fermenter. At the same time, cold water is pumped through the outer tube in the opposite direction.
Counterflow chillers use less water and allow for faster cooling, but cost more and require careful cleaning before each use. You don’t technically have to sanitize counterflow chillers before use if you cycle some boiling wort through it before cooling, but make absolutely sure it’s clean before and after each use. You can’t see the inside of the tube and need to make sure it doesn’t have any leftover hop matter or wort left in it as that can be a breeding ground for the kind of bacteria that can ruin your beer. If you are planning on brewing larger batches, have a little extra budget, or want to cool faster than you can with an immersion chiller, a counterflow chiller might be your best option.
Plate chillers work on a similar principle to counterflow chillers, but instead push the cold water and hot wort through a series of plates with very thin gaps between them. This allows for the most efficient and fastest chilling, but they can be a lot of work to keep clean and sanitary because hop and grain matter can easily get stuck between the plates. While you don’t necessarily have to sanitize plate chillers in advance because the wort enters it extremely hot, I personally struggle with the idea of not sanitizing counterflow or plate chillers (but I do admit, I tend to be overly paranoid about sanitizing at times). As long as the chiller is flushed completely clean after each use, circulating boiling wort for the last few minutes of the boil will sanitize the chiller.
Despite their higher price and difficulty of use, plate chillers are often the best choice for larger batches due to their efficiency and speed. If you are planning on brewing large batches, have a bigger equipment budget, or want to cool faster than you can with an immersion or counterflow chiller, a plate chiller is likely your best option.
The Best Wort Chillers for Homebrewing
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Best Immersion Chillers
Our overall favorite wort chillers of any type are the JaDeD Hydra™ and Scylla™ immersion chillers. The Hydra™ is the fastest immersion chiller available on the market. It advertises a cooling rate of boiling to 68 degrees in 3 minutes for a 5-gallon batch, which is faster than a plate chiller with none of the cleaning headaches. The Hydra™ contains three independent 25’ copper coils that all chill simultaneously, tripling the amount of contact. The combination of the ease of cleaning and sanitizing the Hydra™ immersion chiller combined with the superfast chill times and efficiency makes it the best immersion chiller, and one of the overall best chillers available now.
The Hydra™ is 11.5” in diameter, which makes it too wide to fit into most all-in-one electric brewing systems, but luckily JaDeD Brewing also sells the Scylla™, an immersion chiller almost exactly like the Hydra™ except with dimensions designed to fit into an all-in-one electric brewing system like The Grainfather, Mash and Boil, Robobrew/BrewZilla, or Anvil Foundry. Like the Hydra™, the Scylla™ has three independent 25’ copper coils that all chill simultaneously, tripling the amount of contact with the wort, producing insanely fast cooling times. The Scylla™ can cool 5 gallons of wort in an all-in-one electric brewing system from boiling to a couple of degrees above your water supply in 3½ minutes, which is several times faster than completing immersion chillers and just as fast as a counterflow or plate chiller with a lot less headache.
The combination of the ease of use of an immersion chiller with the incredibly fast cooling times of a counterflow or plate chiller make the JaDeD Hydra™ and Scylla™ our overall favorite wort chillers!
If you’re on a tight budget, the NY Brew Supply Immersion Chiller on Amazon is a solid chiller at a great price. Coming in under $70, this chiller is available constructed by either copper or stainless steel. 50’ cools substantially faster than cheaper 25’ coils, and can bring a 5-gallon batch of wort from boiling to yeast pitching in under 15 minutes. The dimensions are tall and thin enough to be used in an all-in-one electric brewing system, but are also appropriate for those brewing on propane burners or a stove. If you are just getting started, don’t want to deal with the hassle of a counterflow or plate chiller, or are on a strict budget, this chiller will serve you well.
Best Counterflow Chillers
Kegco’s super heavy-duty counterflow chillers chill wort twice as fast as a standard immersion chiller and are available in either a copper or stainless steel construction. The copper version features both copper inner and outer tubing, and the stainless steel version features both stainless steel inner and outer tubing. Both designs feature 12 feet of inner coil that wort chills quickly as it moves through. Because counterflow chillers sit outside of the kettle, it can be used in any size kettle. They work well with a wort pump, or can be used with gravity if the kettle has a ball valve and can be set higher than the chiller. The stainless steel version is only $160.00 and the copper version is $221.99 from Kegco.
The Exchilerator™ Maxx is our favorite counterflow chiller currently on the market. It is extremely well-designed and features an inner tube constructed 25 feet of ½” copper tubing with an outer tube made of PEX. Unlike most counterflow chillers, the Exchilerator™ Maxx does not have an issue with clogging and can be used with or without a pump. It can cool 5 or more gallon of wort from boiling to pitch temperatures in less than 5 minutes, even without super cold water. It’s much easier to clean than other counterflow chillers or plate chillers, and even includes a built-in thermometer. If you have the budget for a more expensive wort chiller or if you’re looking for a solution for large batches, the Exchilerator™ Maxx is an excellent wort chiller that you’ll almost certainly never outgrow.
Best Plate Chillers
This economical plate chiller comes in at only $65.00 and can cool 5 gallons of wort to 75 degrees in under 10 minutes. It has a 1/2″ MPT wort inlet and outlet to match up to the most common homebrewing hoses, and a 3/4″ male garden hose thread water inlet and outlet for connection to garden hoses. The HFS 30 Plate Chiller is constructed out of 30 7.5” x 2.9” 304 stainless and 99.9% copper brazed plates. It doesn’t come with any of the required hoses, but at $65.00, it’s hard to complain about this chiller at all.
The MoreBeer 40 Plate Chiller features 40 8.25” x 3” plates and features a 1/2″ MPT wort inlet and outlet to match up to the most common homebrewing hoses, and a 3/4″ male garden hose thread water inlet and outlet for connection to garden hoses. With 40 plates, wort can be brought from boiling to pitch temperatures in a single pass from the kettle to the fermenter. Like all plate chillers, the MoreBeer 40 Plate Chiller requires diligent cleaning after each use. As long as it is flushed completely clean after each use with hot water, recirculating boiling wort through this chiller for a few minutes at the end of the boil will sanitize it.
The Blichnann Therminator is the most popular and is widely considered to be the best plate chiller for homebrewers. It features 40 7.5” x 4” plates constructed out of 316 stainless steel. It features ½” 316 stainless steel fittings for the wort in and out, and a ¾ inch MPT garden hose thread for the water in and out. This chiller is exceptionally well made and is essentially a smaller version of the chillers used in production breweries. The Therminator can bring 10 gallons of wort from a boil to pitch temperatures in under 5 minutes. If you are committed to a plate chiller and can afford it, you won’t do better than the Blichmann Therminator.
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