Over the next week or so, I'm going to talk about a few items that may help your homebrewing endeavors either in time, precision, or sanitation. In no particular order, the first such item is the wort chiller. Simply put, a wort chiller does exactly that, as it chills down wort (your brew after being boiled but before it is beer). The idea is that the wort needs to be chilled quickly, otherwise there is a chance that bacteria can enter your brew. Bacteria equals a bad tasting beer. Yeast cannot be added to the wort until it is chilled.
So, what does a wort chiller look like?
Immersion or Counterflow wort chiller?
An immersion wort chiller is dropped into the hot wort while cold water circulates through the copper tubing (usually hooked up to a garden hose). As that cold water continually moves through the copper tubing within the wort, the hot wort has no choice but to cool down. I've seen wort moved from 165 degrees to 75 degrees in a matter of 25 minutes.
A counterflow wort chiller works while hot wort goes through the inside of the copper tubing and at the same time cold water passes around the outside, thus the name counterflow. To picture this you should imagine about 25 feet of copper tubing inside of something that looks like a rubber/garden hose. Again, with hot wort running one way and cold water the other way, this device is very quick to cool off your wort. The negative is that the counterflow wort chiller becomes clogged easier and cleanup can be a chore.
Here is what I'm using:
This device wraps around your pot or keg and by continually running cold water through the copper tube, the volume area of the wort chiller helps to cool your wort rapidly. How well does it work? Well, let me put it this way. I brewed a beer this past winter (January in the Chicagoland area) and it was 5 degrees outside at about ten in the evening. We had a really nice snow only a couple of days earlier so my thought plan was to grab the wort while it was still in the pot, take it outside and wrap snow around the pot. 40 minutes later I went to check on the pot and to my absolute amazement, it was still hot. So I repacked the outside of the pot (my hands were numb) and left it out for another 30 minutes. It just started to cool down. Took about another half hour before I felt comfortable that it had gotten down to 75 degrees and I could add the yeast. Gheeeez.
Or you can work with a wort chiller. Prices range but my local shop has one for about $85. Basically there are two thoughts on wort chillers. Get one that wraps around your pot or keg or get an immersion wort chiller in which you place the device (of course completely sanitized) directly into the wort.
So, I talked above how it took 100 minutes to cool down my wort. 100 minutes of worrying that it will cool quickly enough to avoid bacteria. What is the alternative? Plop your pot in a sink full of ice water. Been there done that as well. How quickly will the wort cool down with a wort chiller? Well, it depends on how it is used (immersed directly into the wort or wrapped around the keg or pot) but 15 to 30 minutes is not unheard of.
With a little bit of work, you can have your own homemade wort chiller.