Friday, November 28, 2014

Recirculating Wort Chiller

Getting in to the brewing game, one of the things that becomes instantly apparent is that quickly cooling your wort in a sanitary manner is one of the most important problems to be solved.

When you look around the internet there seems to be a few ways of accomplishing this:

1. Put your brew kettle in an ice bath  
2. Insert an immersion water chiller in to your kettle and run tap water through it
3. Utilize some sort of counterflow chiller where you pass your wort through an inner copper coil and then have a tube of tap water running in the opposite direction outside it

Looking at these ideas, they all have what seem to be weaknesses that can't be easily mitigated.

From the ice bath perspective, it's a lot of time, physical work, and potential for contamination.   You've got a hot kettle that you need to swirl around in unsanitary water for 15 or so minutes, constantly adding ice.  It's a lot of work, plus takes time.  All of that hot wort is creating impurities for your beer.

The immersion chiller seems to be the best of them all; however, still has the weakness that you need to run tap water through the copper for 15 or so minutes.  Here in San Diego this isn't so palatable.  First, our tap water isn't very cold.  More importantly we're in the middle of a long drought here and likely will be for the next 200 years.  Water is expensive and wasting it by running a tap for 15 minutes is unacceptable (at least to me). 

The counterflow chiller idea looks really cool, but when you think it through, it has the potential to be kind of a disaster.  First, you still suffer from all the water wastage of the immersion chiller.  Next, it's a lot more work to build one of these than an immersion chiller.  Even worse, you're running your sugary wort through the inside of a copper pipe.  A pipe that you have no way to properly clean or even know what's inside it.  Plus you need to have an extra supply of boiling water and a pump to sanitize the inside of the chiller prior to each use.  All in all, the counter flow chiller looks really cool, but seems to have a lot of negatives.

My idea is that we can do this a little smarter and with a lot less water.  Thus, the recirculating copper chiller.

The idea here is to effectively add a pump to an immersion chiller such that we can pump ice cold water through the copper coil.  This will allow us to pump ice water in to our copper.  At first we'll drain the very hot output in to a bucket so that we can save it for the avocado tree (which is always thirsty).  Then as the output gets cooler, we can simply recirculate it through the ice bath, saving a ton of water.

So, I've built this device (pictured below):

The pump that's mounted in the 2x4 will pull water out of a ice bath, in this case the kitchen sink, in to the copper coil, and through the output end back in to the chiller.  The copper will be submerged in the wort 10 minutes prior to the end of the boil so that's sanitary.  Once we want to chill, we simply start pumping our cold water in to the copper.  Note that this device hasn't yet been tested in a brew (we'll be doing that later today).  It has been tested for leaks, pump speed, etc and is looking like it's ready for action.  Once it's been proved out I'll add a video and a parts list so that you can build one of your own.

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