Plate Chiller Best Practices

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lucianthorr

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Hi. Yesterday was my first brew with a plate chiller and chugger pump and unfortunately, it was a bit of a disaster so I'm really curious how other people's setups work and how they troubleshoot issues.
I decided to run mine directly from kettle to fermenter rather than recirculating. I had kettle > pump > plate chiller > fermentor with a garden hose > immersion chiller in ice > plate chiller > back yard going in the other direction. It was about 95 degrees yesterday here in NC so that was the best thing I could think of for dropping the temp.
My biggest concern is how do people deal with the pump drying up and losing the flow due to clogging or other problems. I was using an anvil kettle strainer (first time for that too) and it clogged within the first few minutes and continued clogging through the whole transfer.

And then my second concern is how do you manage the temperature control without losing the pump's flow control. I had the kettle's output valve open all the way and then tried to limit the fermentor's input valve to get a better temperature. To get it down that low, I had to nearly close the valve completely which then got me paranoid I was hurting the pump by not letting it flow. Is that a valid concern or is the pump running dry the only thing I should watch for?

And finally, how do you deal with clogging in the plate chiller and maintain sanitization?

I realize this is a long question and I really appreciate any feedback. The dry pump problem definitely seems like an issue that I haven't seen mentioned much in forums so I'm most interested in reading any related insight.
Thanks,
Jason
 
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lucianthorr

lucianthorr

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Thanks for the quick feedback. I don't have a flow control at that point in the line but I will invest in making that change.
 

Wolfbayne

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Clogging issues can be solved with whirlpooling or running through a hop rocket type strainer.

Always control output from the pump ball valve verses the kettle.
 

ITV

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I use a 300 micron filter: http://arborfab.com/6″-x-14″-Center-Hanging-Brew-Filter-300-Micron-Stainless-Steel-Mesh-For-Keggles_p_18.html
along with a false bottom in my brew kettle. The false bottom is to catch anything that misses going into the filter.

For the temperature/flow issue you can always try recirculating from the plate chiller back to the kettle to get the temps down before going to the fermenter. Since I have a fermentation chamber I just put the fermenter in to cool it down more to pitching temps before pitching the yeast.
 
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lucianthorr

lucianthorr

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Thanks again for the feedback. I did not do any sort of whirlpooling before transferring so I'll give that a shot as well. The big confusion with that (for me) is that I always thought chilling the wort ASAP was priority #1. If so, it seems like stirring for a few minutes and letting the wort settle for 10-20 minutes is not a good idea. Do you whirlpool while transferring?
 

bmaupin

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I use a hop spider for all hops and never clog the plate chiller. I simply adjust the ball valve on the output of the chiller to set the temp . I also have a tee with thermostat on the plate chiller output to accurately watch the temperature
 

Bobby_M

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A great alternative for the wort OUTPUT side is to thread a 1/2" NPT Tee onto the port first. The side port of the tee gets either a Type F camlock or hose barb which becomes your new "wort out" port. Finally, the top end of the tee is used for a temperature monitoring solution. Thread in our PCOMP1 probe compression fitting into the top. You can then insert a CDN DTQ450 for quick and accurate readings.

You may be wondering why you should go through the trouble of integrating an in-line temperature reading solution. First, if you are going to make a direct chilling run from your boil kettle to the fermenter, it is obviously important to adjust both the coolant flow and wort flow to obtain the desired output temperature. One may argue that this can be spot checked by putting your handheld thermometer into the stream of wort, but this is both a two hand operation and a sanitation risk. Once you have your thermometer in the loop shown above, it will stay sanitary. One last thing to mention is that if you pump recirculate your boiling wort (or still-hot post-boil wort) through the chiller as your sanitation method (recommended), you can watch to make sure the chiller has reached at least 200F prior to turning your coolant on.
FAQ:

1. How do I sanitize the chiller prior to use?

A: There are two main ways to do it; chemical sanitiser and heat. To use your favorite liquid such as star san, if you DON'T own a pump, place the chiller in a bucket or shallow pan, hook up a hose from the wort input and connect the other end of the hose to either your boil kettle or bottling bucket and flow sanitizer into the chiller until it flow out of the wort out port. You can continue filling the container until the whole chiller is submerged and you can let it sit that way until you're ready to brew. To use heat, you can place the chiller in your oven on 250F for about 20 minutes (remove the garden hose gasket first) or better yet, leverage the heat in your boil kettle. If you have a pump, simply pump the hot wort just after you kill the flame on your kettle, through the chiller and back into the top of the kettle. If you don't have a pump, you can gravity drain it through and into a pitcher which you can pour back into the kettle.


2. Do I need a pump to use a plate chiller?

A: Not necessarily, but it helps. As noted above, it's a lot easier to sanitize using the hot wort. If you want to gravity drain, connect a hose to your kettle drain first, hold it up high and open the kettle valve. Slowly lower the hose, allowing the whole hose to fill up with wort. Temporarily close the kettle valve, hook the hose to the wort input side of the chiller, and then you're ready to chill. Beware of air trapped in the chiller. It helps to hold the chiller upright initially with the wort out side "up" to let air escape for the first minute of flow.


3. How do I keep the chiller from getting clogged with hop debris and hot break material?

A: Hops are by far the biggest issue. People are always building filtering screens and all kinds of gadgetry to deal with the problem. First and foremost, bag your hop additions in mesh bags such as 5-gallon paint strainer bags. Another method of minimizing junk ketting into the chiller is to whirlpool the wort in your kettle and let it settle for a couple minutes prior to running off.


4. How do I clean this thing after use?

A: This is much easier with a pump. The first thing we recommend is to collect the coolant water output from the chiller into either buckets or any other brewing vessel you're not using (we like to use the Hot Liquor Tank). Now hook your pump input hose up to the HLT and run about a gallon of the clean water through the pump and chiller, dumping the output onto the lawn. Next, hook the pump output hose to the WORT OUT on the chiller. The WORT IN side can be directed back into the top of the vessel that has the water in it. Run the pump full bore (or balls-out if you prefer), circulating clean water through the chiller in the opposite direction for about 5 minutes. This is known as back flushing. You can also put a scoop of PBW or oxiclean into the water. The last thing we do, if we used cleaning chemicals, is to squirt the garden hose through in both directions for a minute. The easy way to do this is to make an adapter to go from garden hose to Camlock. If you do not have a pump, we recommend running hot water from your sink into the WORT out side using a faucet to garden hose adapter. Run the hot water through at high velocity for a few minutes. You can run the output into a clear glass to see if any sediment is still coming out.


5. How long will it take to chill and is it better than other chiller types?

A: This is rather impossible to answer given all the variables. We will say that a plate exchanger is the most efficient chiller type of the common homebrewing varieties as far as water usage goes. One major variable to actual chill times (like any chiller type) is the temperature of the coolant water. If the wort is coming out of the chiller too hot, slow the wort flow down and increase the coolant flow (water). If the wort is slow enough and the water is fast enough, plate chillers can get the wort output down to the same temperature as the incoming water. If that temp is hotter than the desired output temp, you have to start looking at pumping icewater in.

In the fall through spring, our tap water is colder than our typical fermentation temps so we see chilling times of about 1 gallon of wort per minute while pushing about 2 gallons of coolant per minute (for example a 5 gallon batch would take 5 minutes to chill and use up about 10-15 gallons of coolant water. As the tap water temps get into 65-80F territory, we have to slow the wort down and increase the coolant flow quite a bit so a 5 gallon batch will take about 8-10 minutes to flow into the carboy and use about 25 gallons of water. This is still better than immersion chillers and as witl all chilling operations, wise use of the output water is not waste. Water the plants, fill your washing machine, use it in brewhouse cleanup, Fill your HLT for the next batch of beer (only requirement is to use potable water/RV garden hoses.
 

JBOGAN

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Something that will also come in handy with your Chugger pump would be a bleeder valve.
 

stonebrewer

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I brewed a 10G batch yesterday and used my plate chiller without any issues. I recommend that you modify your pickup to take in from the side of the pot and that you whirlpool using something like Bobby M's Spin Cycle doohickey. Works great and keeps most of the hop matter where it belongs, in the center of your kettle. I also have a stainless steel hop basket for when I do big IPAs...

Cleaning can be a real pain with these plate chillers. I have used lye to clean, cooked them, etc...nothing seems to get it all out of there, so you just have to put your mind at ease and run boiling (or near boiling) wort through the chiller before you start to chill to sanitize it. Some hop matter will be stuck in there, but it doesn't hurt anything...as long as you sanitize.

I generally recirculate because I want to do a hop stand and I want to whirlpool the solid matter into a cone in the center of the pot. Once I hit 170 (measured in the pot, not at the chiller), I toss in my whirlpool hops and let it spin for 15-30 minutes with the lid on, chilling as I go with the water at a slow rate. Once that is done, crank up the water flow to hit my desired temperature into the fermenter and slow the wort. Works very well. I generally use about 20-30 gallons of water to chill, which I then use to clean my boil kettle, mop the deck, and water the plants (use the first couple of buckets for cleaning as they are about 140F!).

Every brew day brings something different, a new challenge, or an issue you want to resolve the next time. Best thing to do is read up, ask questions, formulate a new plan, and brew, brew, brew! Cheers!!
 

prrriiide

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I use hop socks exclusively. It doesn't completely solve the problem (especially on a big IPA), but it does cut down on the amount of garbage going into the chiller. I use a hop tube screen on the inside of the kettle attached to the ball valve. That seems to be the best set up I've used so far, although a Hop Blocker works well, too.

A ball valve/thermometer combo on the wort-out side of the chiller is a necessity to get your temp control down. Like this:


To clean, I rinse with water from the HLT until clear. Then I recirc hot PBW forward 15-20 min and backwards 15-20 min through the entire system (I use a HERMs). Then I rinse again with hot (175˚) water 15-20 min forward and 15-20 min backwards. Then I fill & drain the chiller with star-san and I'm done. Next brew, I recirc hot wort back into the kettle for about 10 minutes before running off into the fermenters.
 
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