If you're a homebrewer progressing from smaller batches to much larger batches, you may find yourself looking for an alternative to ice baths for quickly chilling your wort. Quickly and effectively cooling your wort is vital to preventing infection, off flavors, and chill haze, so it is important to find the chilling solution that works best for you. Both immersion chillers and counterflow chillers will cool far more efficiently and effectively than an ice bath, but choosing which one works best for you can be a tough decision. Here are some helpful pros and cons to help you find your ideal piece of equipment.
An immersion chiller is a coil of metal (typically copper) that is immersed completely in the hot wort. It is hooked up to a sink or a garden hose and cold water is run through the coil to cool the wort.
Its low cost makes the immersion chiller great for homebrewers just starting out, and most applications do not require you to purchase a pump, so it is perfect for home brewers who do not wish to purchase many pieces of equipment. They can also be easily cleaned and sanitized, as the outer surface of the coil is the only part that comes into contact with the wort.
That said, immersion chillers do have their limitations. Because they only cool the wort that is touching the coils, you may need to stir your wort using a sanitized spoon or purchase a pump and a whirlpool arm in order to keep the wort moving and introduce as much surface area as possible to the cooling coils. Depending on the length of your coils, it may be difficult to efficiently chill larger batch sizes using your immersion chiller. 25' long, 3/8" I.D. coils are inexpensive, but not very efficient for anything more than a 5 gallon batch. A 50' long coil is a much better investment, especially when paired with a 1/2" I.D. coil, because there will be much more heat transfer, bringing the temperature of the wort down more rapidly.
A counter flow chiller features a coil within a coil. The hot wort is pumped through the inner coil in one direction while cold water flows through the outer coil in the other direction to cool it.
When used properly, counter flow chillers have a very efficient design that can cool all of your wort with a single pass through, making them effective for batches of all sizes. For brewers graduating to larger and larger batch sizes as they advance, counter flow chillers will be able to keep up with the added volume.
The counter flow chiller's efficiency does come at a higher initial cost, and most applications require a pump. Most counter flow applications will be on a large brew stand that has a dedicated pump and valves for the counterflow system. Unlike an immersion chiller where the wort only comes into contact with the outer surface, wort travels through the inner coil of the counter flow chiller, making the cleaning and sanitation process more involved.
Copper vs. Stainless Steel
In addition to choosing what type of chiller you use, you'll also need to decide on what material its made of. You can find both counterflow and immersion chillers available in stainless steel and copper. Both materials have their advantages and drawbacks. Copper is the better choice for efficiency as it is a better conductor of heat than stainless steel while stainless is a less expensive material and easier to clean than copper.
Every brewer's budget and brewing process is different, so neither chilling method is a better choice for everyone. When choosing between them, it is important to consider the kind of investments you're willing to make in your brewing equipment, the batch sizes you wish to brew both now and in the future, and what parts of the brewing process you want to put more or less effort into. Whichever method you decide on, Beverage Factory carries a high-quality chiller that will be perfect for you.