A home brewing wort chiller is a piece of brewing equipment that is important to both all grain home brewers and extract brewers. That being said, different home brewers have different needs when it comes to chilling wort. For instance, one of the main factors to consider before purchasing a wort chiller is batch size! If you are going to opt for an immersion chiller, you are going to want a larger format chiller for a 15 gallon batch size than you are going to want for a 5 gallon batch size.
Speed is important when it comes to chilling your wort! The quicker that you can knock down the temperature of your wort from a boil to around 70F and get it into a sanitized fermentor, the better. The more time it takes for you to cool it, the greater the chances of it coming in contact with wild yeast strains or bacteria that would just love to dine on that cooling wort. No pun intended, but the primary qualification of a wort chiller typically BOILS down to how quickly it cools your wort. That being said, there are other things you will want to consider before making a purchase. I have used immersion chillers, plate chillers and counterflow chillers; each had qualities that I liked and and a couple had aspects I disliked. Ultimately the counterflow wort chiller worked out best for my needs because it is compact, fast, easy to clean and fairly clog resistant. They can be used in some gravity fed brewing systems but I would recommend having a pump available to maximize the chillers cooling potential. I will also say this, I have a good friend that has been home brewing for about 20 years now and he swears by his immersion chiller and has a few compelling reasons for not making the switch to a counterflow chiller.
Lets review some of the wort chilling options that are currently available for a home brewer:
If you have been shopping around for a wort chiller, you have probably noticed that you have a lot of options. Wort chillers typically are not cheap, ranging in price anywhere from $60 to over $300, so it pays to do some research before buying.
There are 3 main styles of wort chillers available for the home brewer:
Home Brewing Immersion Chillers
Immersion Wort Chiller for Home Brewing
Immersion wort chillers are constructed of a long tube that is shaped into a coil with an input and output connection at the top of the coil. The immersion chiller is placed into the brew kettle once the boil is completed, or just prior to the boil completing (to sanitize the chiller). When it is time to cool the wort, cold water is circulated through the chiller from the inlet, and heat is exchanged via the coil as the water passes through it until hot water exits via the output connection. Immersion chillers are typically constructed of either copper or stainless steel and come in a variety of sizes. Immersion chillers have the lowest starting price, but can get very expensive. They also take up the most space of the three chiller types and tend not to be as efficient as plate and counterflow chillers, but there are some high efficiency immersion chillers available that can aid in circulating the wort around the chiller to help it cool more quickly. A benefit of an immersion chiller is that you never have to worry about it getting clogged.
Next we have plate chillers. Much like immersion chillers, you have a lot of options when it comes to plate chillers. Plate chillers come in different sizes regarding the number of heat exchanging plates they contain. As the number of plates increases, both the cooling efficiency and price increases. A 10 or 11 plate chiller usually costs about $100 and a 40 plate chiller usually costs between $150 to $200. Blichmann, which is one of the best names in home brewing products, has chosen a plate chiller as their design of choice.
A plate chiller uses a series of plates, usually constructed from stainless steel, to separate the wort from the cold water that passes through the chiller in a counter flowing direction. There are 4 ports on a plate chiller: a water input, water output, wort input and wort output. The wort is typically drawn from the boil kettle into the plate chiller, where it is rapidly cooled and then drained into the fermenter. Most plate chiller users opt to place a temperature gauge on the output of the plate chiller so that they can insure the wort is at 80F or less to help avoid hot side aeration and to ensure that the wort is at a suitable temperature to pitch the yeast.
The benefits of plate chillers are that they tend to be very compact, and they can cool the wort extremely quickly. The downside is that they are very susceptible to clogging and can be a nightmare to properly clean and sanitize.
Here is a link to a variety of available plate chillers:
Lastly, we have my personal favorite and the chiller that I would recommend if you can fit it into your budget. A convoluted counterflow wort chiller is an coil shaped double hulled chiller that is not submerged into the wort. Similar to a plate chiller, the wort is passed through the counterflow chiller as cold water flows against it in the opposite direction.
Home brewing counterflow chillers are typically manufactured out of copper and have 4 ports, a water input, water output, wort input, and wort output port. The counterflow chiller can cool wort extremely fast and, unlike a plate chiller, is far less likely to clog, which can home in very handy if you like brewing IPA’s. Counterflow chillers are larger than plate chillers, but still very compact when compared to a larger immersion chiller.
They are also easier to clean and sanitize then a plate chiller since they use a tube design as opposed to a plate design, leaving less places for debris to get stuck. The downside is the price. A good counterflow chiller can start at $180 and goes up from there, but, that being said, I would rather save up for one than buy a chiller I would probably be dissatisfied with down the road.
Some home brewing convoluted counterflow chillers can be found here: