Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Brewing Technologies: Cooling your wort

     One of the main obstacles that you will encounter while home brewing a batch of beer is the need to cool your boiling wort (approximately at 180 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit) to a much lower temperature (around 75 degrees Fahrenheit) in order to be able to pitch the yeast. Initially, one may think that simply dunking the pot into an ice bath would work, but this method is archaic and inefficient, not to mention time consuming. Here's where most home brewer's have to make a major decision with what way you should cool your wort. The two most common options available are the immersion or the counter-flow wort chiller, and both have their ups and downs.
A basic immersion cooler that hooks up to a faucet
     The most common choice is an immersion wort chiller that attaches to your sink faucet. These are simple copper refrigerator tubes that carry cooled water (or some cooled liquid) through the wort and extract the heat then return it to either a coolant bath or right down the drain to be replaced by more cooled liquid. the pros of this type of system are that it can end up being cheap if you don't use a pump to move the fluid through the system (this meaning that you use gravity or the pressure of a faucet to move cold water through the wort). Unfortunately this is slow and won't cool the wort down as fast as one might want. Now using the pump to move the flow of liquid through the immersed coil will speed this cooling process up, at the cost to space and price. Using a pump for a water fixture or fountain will get the job done, but these run at about $20-40. You will also need an ice bath to use pump cold water out of and the heated water into in order to keep the cold flow of water going until your wort reaches the necessary temperature, and this takes up space.
Counter-flow wort chiller
     Option number two is the counter-flow wort chiller. This system is basically a tube inside a tube, where the wort is run through a copper tubing  which is in a cooled fluid that is also being moved. The magic of this type of cooling method is that for every nano-second that the wort flows through the tubing, it is coming into contact with cold water moving in the opposite direction and constantly being replaced. This speeds up the amount of heat transfer that can occur. Actual counter-flow cooling systems can run a high cost, but there are simple ways to apply the basic concepts and make a low-cost, space saving, and efficient piece of wort-chilling awesomeness. My brother and I have created such a system at a price of $45, to be done easily in a weekend (look for the how-to coming soon).
     So lets tally up the scores. The immersion cooler is cheaper to buy, but can be more expensive to make by yourself. The counter-flow cooler will cool the wort faster, and use less space. The final result will lead me to say that the choice is solely up to your individual taste and budget.

As always, stay classy.

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