Sunday, July 15, 2012

Low Cost DIY Wort Pre-Chiller

In my seemingly never ending search to find the most efficient brewing processes to reduce the total time I spend in the brewroom I decided to build a pre-chiller to cool my wort down faster. During the hot summer months here in the northeast my water temperature coming out of the faucet is nearly 70F, which makes cooling boiling wort down to pitching temperatures time consuming and a real challenge. A large part of all grain brewing has to do with heating up liquids and then cooling them down, both of which take a lot of time. But in the summer months cooling wort down those last 20-30 degrees can take a very long time and may not be possible without taking some extra steps.

Forty Feet Of 3/8 Inch Soft Copper Tubing
A pre-chiller's sole purpose is to cool down the water you run into it so that it is several degrees colder by the time it gets to the inlet of the wort chiller placed in the boilpot.The advantage is that it allows the wort to be cooled down much faster than would otherwise be possible using the water coming directly out of the faucet. The pre-chiller design is simple and easy to build once you have all the parts needed and it works great. I bought two 20 foot lengths of 3/8 copper and with the help of a brewing buddy it was easy to wrap the tubing around a small pot to get the right diameter for the coils. The two coils were then joined together with a short piece of vinyl tubing and fit inside a plastic cooler I had laying around the garage.

Wort Chiller, Pre-Chiller And Sink Connections
 The concept is simple the thin walled copper coil is placed inside the cooler and filled with frozen water bottles or ice and topped off with cold water so that the entire coil is fully submerged. The tap water then slowly travels through the forty feet of copper tubing getting chilled down along the way until it is fed into the wort chiller. The chilled water then flows into the wort chiller that is submerged in the hot wort in the boilpot where it becomes quickly heated and then is returned from the chiller and then run down the drain.

Cooled Wort Drained Into Fermentor For Pitching
 My new boilpot is great too what I like the best about it is that it straddles two gas burners so heating strike water or boiling wort is a lot faster. The valve at the bottom of the pot is just such a nice feature to have too, it makes transferring strike water or wort a whole lot easier. The size of the pot is perfect for my five gallon batches I just fill it with about six and a half gallons of wort, boil it for 60 minutes, chill and fill my fermentor with five gallons of wort ready for pitching yeast.

Cold Break At Bottom Of Boilpot Wort Transfer Is A Breeze

I chose to brew my Screwy's 420 Special Wheat for the first time using the new setup, it's an all grain light citrusy summer wheat beer fermented with WLP-001 American Ale yeast and dry hopped with the addition of some nice 'C' hops for extra aroma. I've brewed this recipe several times now using both WLP-400 Belgian Wit Ale and WLP-001 American Ale yeast strains and the differences between the two are striking.

Third Generation House Strain Of WLP-001

The WLP-001 ferments clean at 68-72F leaving plenty of room for hop aromas and other flavors to come through whereas the WLP-400 adds a lot of it's own character to the same ingredients making for a 'heavier' beer. Either way I love them both and look forward to drinking this batch in about three or four weeks.

Screwy's 420 Special Wheat - Light And Citrusy Summer Ale

Having cooled my wort for years using the combined wort chiller and ice bath method I can say without a doubt that the combined pre-chiller and chiller method just flat out works better. The main irritation I had with the ice bath method is that without constant stirring or circulation the water in the ice bath nearest to the pot wall gets really hot while the water further away stays colder. That thermal insulating effect combined with the 70-72F water coming out of the faucet made the last 20-30 degree drop in wort temperature take forever.

When cooling down boiling wort using the pre-chiller the initial drop in temperature from boiling to around 110F happens really fast but the real magic here is watching the remaining drop in temperature from 110F to 68F continue to tick down steadily. The final drop to pitching temperature happens a lot faster than when using just the tap water that hasn't been pre-chilled first. 

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