Plate chiller clogging

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thejuanald

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My fiancee bought me a Blichmann Therminator for my birthday. Previously, I had been using an IC, but I really like the plate chiller. The only problem is that I have gotten it clogged multiple times, even with a good whirlpool before attaching the chiller. Is the only other thing I can do is to get a hop spider? Can I not use a false bottom or something like a bazooka screen? Searching on here, I see many people saying that you can't have a false bottom if you're heating from underneath the kettle. I am using pellets.

Also, searching on here, everyone says just get a CFC, but I am not going to do that, and that's a terrible suggestion in my opinion. Plate chillers are sold for homebrewing and should be a viable option.
 

thekraken

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*No personal experience with plate chillers

You do need to filter the input to the chiller one way or another. A screen on the diptube, a hop spider, or both. A false bottom wouldn't filter out hop debris.
 

hilts

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I use a stainless braided hose to filter debris. I also use a 5 gallon mesh paint strainer bag for my hops. It hasn't clogged since I have been using them.
 

thehaze

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I believe, I read about similar experiences with palte chillers and bigger amounts of whirlpool. But hilts hints to a easy solution.
 

IslandLizard

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I mostly use pellets. After numerous trials with different kinds of strainers inside the kettle to filter the output, whirlpooling, etc., I'm now bagging my hops in roomy, medium to large size fine mesh hop bags, weighed down with a handful of glass marbles. I stir the wort often and lift the bags to drain, so the wort inside the bags gets refreshed and recirculated as much as possible. Since using the bags, I've had zero clogs, no pump starvation, fast recirculation and whirlpools, and fairly clean wort going into the fermentor.

The best screen contraption I used was a 12" homemade "hop taco," in an 8 gallon kettle, but when recirculating or whirlpooling I still had to reduce the flow (on the pump outlet) or it would still plug up solid with large hop loads.

Things that didn't work for me:
  • Bazooka tube. Lets too much through before it starts to plug up
  • 24" Braid. Plugs up fast due to suction from pump. Gravity fed, without pump, it worked OK to drain through plate chiller directly into fermentor. For single pass you need really cold water and monitor the output flow and temps. Or let it go and chill fermentor before pitching yeast.
  • Whirlpool with side pickup 1 inch above bottom. Still lot of hop matter made it into plate chiller.
  • 10" 300 micron tubular mesh screen inside kettle over the diptube. Plugs up fast. Scraping the "hop mat" off the surface helps to keep a better flow, but barely acceptable.
  • Homemade 12" "Hop Taco" over the diptube. Probably the most useful due to large filter area. Still tends to plug up with larger hop charges so flow needs to be reduced. This causes the "Whirlpool" to have very little speed.
 
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thejuanald

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Thanks everyone. It sounds like I may just try out the combined method hilts described but the first thing will be to just grab some nice hop bags. And thanks, IslandLizard, for testing all of the methods I was looking up out for me, saves me lots of time!
 

schematix

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I use my therminator solely for chilling water now because it’s the only thing it can chill without clogging.

What still amazes me is that I haven’t used it on wort in several years, and 2 dozen batches, and yet I still get hop and grain debris coming out of it every single time. And that’s from a unit that was extensively PBW and back flushed during its life as a wort chiller.

It’s absolutely worthless trash.

EDIT:

To the OP's point though, plate chillers *should* work. Conceptually this is right, but it does come down to the details. If there are too many plates, like the Therminator, or those plates are too close, like the Therminator, you will have clogging issues.

Filtering is also a losing game. Filters, by design, get clogged. The only filters that don't get clogged are sized for the job (very large surface area), or have a mechanism to back flush and clean the filter.

This is also why breweries use centrifuges to remove the break and hops from wort.

So in short, while a plate chiller is undeniably the fastest way to chill, it requires the most maintenance and clean up of it and the associated equipment.

An Immersion Chiller IMHO is the winner when it comes to balancing all of the pros and cons. Super simple to use, very little cleaning, can be made dense enough to have incredible performance (Jaded Hydra). Whatever extra time it takes to chill is more than made up for in reduced cleaning.
 
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Sparkncode

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I'm using a chinese made 30 plate chiller and I do use a stainless steel mesh hop spider. The combination works well and chiller cleaning is made easy.

Any form of hop spider be it stainless or a mesh bag and you should have no issues.

I'm not sure about the therninator but there is reasonable plate spacing in my chiller.

The amount of hop pulp dumped out the spider at the end of a brew session is quite large due to absorbed wort so i prefer to keep it out of the chiller. Its enough to easially build up on a small filter and block it so either the filter would need to be large or use a hop spider
 

IslandLizard

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The biggest problems with our homebrew size plate chillers are:
  • They're small
  • The passages are relatively narrow
  • They can't be taken apart
Since the passages are in parallel a blockage is not easily removed. Applying higher water pressure can actually plug em up more solid, although most water will flow around the blockages instead.

I'm not sure if this is true, but I've read that Therminators have sets of a few (3-5?) plates coupled in series for higher chilling efficiency. Then those seried sets are accessed in parallel. Again, this may be gossip. The downside of such a system is the longer and more convoluted the channels the more debris can get stuck, but one could also make the case that you can apply more pressure to flush them out as there are fewer pathways to flow around blockages. Ye-ah...

Baking a plate chiller in the oven at 400-500F for a few hours should dry out the stuck pulp, possibly burning it, which may make it easier to remove when flushing it out again after it cooled down. Every few brew sessions I pump boiling PBW reinforced with NaOH (Lye) for a few hours and I still find flakes coming out from early brew sessions when I didn't use bags. Like the haphazard unfiltered chill session last year when I was in a hurry. What was I thinking? It took days of soaking back flushing both ways and baking to get a decent flow again.

Before I forget, forget heavy duty flushing with your kitchen faucet, the pressure and water volume at that tap point is heavily reduced. Take it to your outdoor spigot that's connected directly to your mains. Now that's pressure! The next stop would be the fire hydrant on the corner.
 
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schematix

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I'm not sure if this is true, but I've read that Therminators have sets of a few (3-5?) plates coupled in series for higher chilling efficiency. Then those seried sets are accessed in parallel. Again, this may be gossip. The downside of such a system is the longer and more convoluted the channels the more debris can get stuck, but one could also make the case that you can apply more pressure to flush them out as there are fewer pathways to flow around blockages. Ye-ah...
I don't know specifically about the Therminator (one of these days i'm gonna saw it open!), but this type of design is not unusual at all among heat exchangers. You see similar things in immersion chillers (i.e. hydra) and even shell in tube designs.

I suspect it has 2 sets of parallel paths inside due to the discharge pattern you see when its full of wort.

I'm not sure how to ever really clean this thing out. Just used mine again a few hours ago just to chill water, and STILL there were chunks coming out. PBW and backflushing is not enough!
 
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