Most homebrewers outgrow ice baths for cooling wort down to pitching temperature within a short time of getting into all-grain brewing. Ice baths are also difficult to use for anything more than 2.5-gallon brews and can easily take the joy out of an otherwise smooth brew day.
Cooling your wort quickly reduces the chances of introducing bacteria into the beer before pitching the yeast. Eventually, you will want or need an easier and quicker way to cool your wort which is where a wort chiller comes in.
What is a Wort Chiller?
A wort chiller is exactly what it sounds like. This is a piece of equipment that cools your wort down to pitching temperature within a short time, preferably to between 60°F and 70°F for ales and between 40°F and 50°F for lagers. The ideal cooling time from boiling to room temperature is 30 minutes or less.
So why not just let the wort cool in its own time?
First, it is important to reach the yeast pitching temperature. Adding the yeast to your wort while the temperature is too high kills the yeast and renders it useless for fermentation.
Secondly, a ‘cold break’ is necessary for the final quality of the beer. Rapidly cooling the wort allows the proteins in the wort to fall out. The result is clearer and aesthetically pleasing beer.
Finally, bringing down the wort temperature quickly drastically reduces the risk of infection. Wild bacteria and yeast grow exponentially in warm, sugary wort. Cooling the wort quickly narrows this window for infection.
Types of Wort Chillers
There are three main types of wort chillers: immersion chillers, counterflow chillers, and plate chillers.
Immersion Wort Chillers
An immersion chiller connects to a sink or garden hose. The chiller is immersed in the hot wort. As cool water circulates through the coils, it draws heat from the wort, thereby cooling it. A good immersion chiller can cool your wort from boiling temperature to room temperature in about 20 minutes.
Immersion wort chillers can be made from either copper or stainless steel.
Counterflow Wort Chillers
Counterflow wort chillers generally have two tubes, one inside of the other. The inner tube carries the wort while the outer tube carries the cool water.
As the wort circulates inside the inner tube in one direction, the cool water circulates in the outer tube in the opposite direction. The wort cools as it flows from the boiling kettle into the fermentation vessel.
A counterflow chiller may be used with a pump to circulate the liquids and may be built from stainless steel or copper.
Plate Wort Chillers
Plate wort chillers work very similar to counterflow chillers. The hot wort flows through the plates in one direction while the cooling water flows in the opposite direction on the other side of the plate. The cool water absorbs the heat from the wort and cools it.
A plate wort chiller may also be used with a pump to circulate the liquids.
Review of the Best Rapid Cooling Wort Chillers
We have reviewed the 4 best rapid cooling wort chillers on the market. You should find the specific rapid cooling wort chiller that suits your specific brewing setup and budget.
1. Kegco’s Stainless Steel Counterflow Chiller
- COUNTERFLOW CHILLER: This Kegco's Stainless Steel Counterflow chiller can rapidly chill your wort...
- STAINLESS STEEL CONSTRUCTION: This chiller is constructed in 12' of 5/8" stainless steel with an...
- PROCESS PERFORMANCE: The counterflow chiller pumps hot wort and cold water in the opposite...
Kegco’s Stainless Steel Counterflow Chiller is one of the best immersion chillers on the market. This chiller is made from all stainless steel inside and outside and claims that it cools wort twice as quickly as your standard immersion chiller.
This is a heavy-duty wort chiller comprising of 12 feet of thick stainless steel. It is durable and easy to clean. Stainless steel wort chillers can potentially last a lifetime with proper care and maintenance and this Kegco’s is no different.
The equipment is easy to set up and use, and is very efficient as is the case with most well-built counterflow wort chillers.
This is the perfect option for a serious homebrewer who makes large batches regularly and is willing to spend on premium equipment to enhance his home brewery.
2. Northern Brewer Copperhead Immersion Chiller
- The copper brother to our customer favorite Silver Serpent, the sleek Copperhead 25-foot copper...
- Simply drop your clean chiller into the kettle a few minutes before the end of the boil and it will...
- Brew with peace of mind like never before. Drop-angle connections provide insurance against...
Northern Brewer is a solid brand in the homebrew market and this Copperhead Immersion Chiller is bound to impress. The wort chiller is made from 100-percent copper and has a bend at the top of the system.
This design ensures that in the off-chance the chiller leaks, it will be outside and away from your kettle. All the fittings are easy to connect and is compatible with an adapter sold separately to connect to a kitchen faucet if you brew in the kitchen.
The wort chiller is also simple to use. Simply insert the immersion coils into your wort and run cool water through the system. It is also easy to sanitize either by inserting it into your boiling wort or dipping it into your sanitizer of choice.
This is a great budget wort chiller for small homebrew under 5 gallons and should do its job in about 15-20 minutes for a 5-gallon batch. The Northern Brewer Copperhead Immersion Chiller is perfect for a beginner looking to upgrade from an ice bath to their first wort chiller.
3. NY Brew Supply Counterflow Wort Chiller
- 25' of 3/8" Copper Tubing
- 14" Overall Length
- 7" Coil Height
NY Brew Supply is better known for its immersion chillers but the NY Brew Supply Counterflow Wort Chiller Deluxe does a great job of cooling your wort.
This counterflow chiller sports copper tubing and a ¾ inch hose for efficient cooling. The brass fittings hold up well to consistent use with water and you should be able to get up to 10 years of reliable service from this chiller with proper care and maintenance.
The NY Brew Supply Counterflow Wort Chiller allows you to adjust the angle and the position of the input and output hose fittings which is a convenient and useful feature that adapts to your brewing set up.
This is one of the best value for money counterflow wort chillers on the market and a perfect choice for intermediate to expert homebrewers.
4. HFS(R) Plate Homebrew Beer Wort Chiller
- 304 Stainless with 99.9% Copper Brazing
- 2.9"W x 7.5"L x 30 Plates (3.5"H) --- 1/2"NPT Wort Fitting x 3/4" NPT Water Fitting
- -321F to 392F Temperature Range - Max PSI 145
The HFS(R) Plate Homebrew Beer Wort Chiller is very compact which is perfect for a homebrewer with little space to work with. This wort chiller is made from 304-gauge stainless steel which makes it durable and will not rust despite consistent use.
You can get this plate chiller in 20 or 30 plates. Generally speaking, more plates translate to faster and more efficient cooling. You can also use the HFS(R) with or without a pump which gives you even more room to improve your cooling efficiency.
The chiller also pairs with ½-inch and ¾-inch hose fittings depending on your setup. This is a great choice for 10-gallon batches and under, and should cool your wort to about 75°F in as little as 10 minutes.
This is a great choice for beginner to intermediate brewers working with a tight budget.
Final Thoughts on Rapid Cooling Wort Chillers
You can have a great wort chiller regardless of your budget and brewing setup. With immersion chillers, go for larger diameter coils and a longer length for optimum cooling efficiency. Keep in mind that these chillers use up quite a bit of water so keep some buckets handy to collect the runoff to reuse for watering plants or cleaning up.
Plate chillers are compact and the perfect choice if you have space constraints. These are also quite efficient, especially for smaller batches. Consider installing a filtration system in your kettle to avoid clogging your plate wort chiller.
Finally, counterflow chillers are very efficient especially if they are long and have large tubing diameter. Remember to circulate back-flush cleaner and sanitizing solution through the coils immediately after use to keep leftover trub and particles from infecting your beer.