Wort Chiller Review and Comparison

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Here is my comparison of a few wort chiller types and brands. Chilling your wort after you’ve finished the boil serves a number of purposes. There’s the scientific aspect of how chilling it quickly causes certain protein strains to form and precipitate out, and there’s corresponding studies of why that’s a good thing. Another key purpose is that once your wort gets below about 140F, it’s no longer hot enough to kill random stuff that floats into it. So the sooner you can get it down to pitching temperature and get it sealed up, the less exposure risk to wild yeast. The final reason, though, is important whether you are an organic chemistry nerd, a germaphobe, or anything in between- your time. The quicker you cool it, the sooner you’re brew day is done. As with most things in homebrewing, there are a number of equipment options to get the job done. I’ve tried to cover the key ones here, with some hands on trials to understand the differences.

Basic Types of Wort Chillers

The immersion coil wort chiller is by far the most common wort chilling method. This is a coil of copper tubing that you place in your hot wort and flow cold water through it to pick up the heat and whisk it away. There are variations of diameter of the tubing and length of copper. Larger diameter allows faster cooling water flow through it and longer lengths allow more surface area in contact with your wort for better cooling. For these to be most effective you need to move them around in the wort, otherwise they sit in local cool zones and take longer to get the heat out of your entire wort.
Counterflow chillers use a pump to force your wort through copper tubing, and that tubing is routed inside a larger diameter cooling hose that is flowing water. Wort goes in one end, cooling water in the other, and they flow past each other in opposite directions- thus earning the ‘counterflow’ name. By effectively shrinking the volume of wort being chilled relative to the cooling water, you get superior cooling times to immersion chillers. Use of a pump means additional expense, but it also makes wort chilling a passive process rather than one that requires you to stir your wort or manually move your wort chiller coil around.
Plate chillers work similar to some radiators you may have in your car. There are multiple layers inside the chiller that interweave layers of cooling water and layers of wort, separated by heat conductive copper. They are similar in concept to counterflow chillers in that they shrink the volume of wort being cooled by forcing it into narrow passages, and providing lots of surface area of conductive metal in between cooling water and wort to get the heat out. These also require a pump to move the wort through them.

Time to Cool Data on Websites

There are a lot of variables that go into the time to cool the wort. While trying to understand why some of my performance tests were notably slower than the vendor’s published data. JaDeD Brewing was helpful in pointing out a number of differences between their test set-up and mine that could explain the difference. These variables were kept the same in my trials, but I feel it’s important to note since I’m confident the numbers the vendors publish are accurate for their set-ups, but you can’t simply compare one website’s time to chill claim against another’s. You need to ensure all of the variables are the same.
Volume of wort is an obvious variable. In my trials I was chilling 6 gallons of hot liquid where in some vendor data they were measuring time to chill 5 gallons. So I was cooling 20% more liquid volume. I wanted to get my wort to 70F, and was using 66.5F cooling water, or trying to cool to 3.5 degrees above my cooling water. The smaller the temperature delta between your wort and cooling water, the time to transfer heat goes up significantly. Some vendor test data measured time to 10 degrees above cooling water, but I wasn’t interested in cooling to 76.5F because that would be warmer than I wanted to pitch my yeast.
Cooling water flow rate is another obvious variable, but it goes beyond how many turns of the faucet handle you give it. The shorter the hose, the less pressure drop you’ll get and thus get a better flow rate through your chiller. Size also matters. Garden hoses can be bought in various diameters. At typical home water pressures, your flow rate doubles with a 5/8” hose compared to a 1/2” hose. And lastly, flexible/collapsible fabric hoses will also suffer more pressure drop than a sturdy smooth-bore hose. You’ll note in my data summary that flow rate is not the same, but each chiller has a different flow resistance based on their geometry, so they will naturally have a different flow rate.

My Evaluation Process

I evaluated all of these systems and collected times to cool the wort. Since I was going to be comparing times between the systems, in order to keep things consistent for my experiment, I simplified things and used heated water as my “wort”. To try this with different batches of beer would be nearly impossible to get the same density and volume of wort. So instead, each system was evaluated for its ability to cool down my brew pot filled with 6 gallons of water which was heated to 200F with a propane burner. I collected data for cooling time down to 75F as well as time to 70F. My tap water was measured at 66.5F coming out of the hose on a sunny fall day in Michigan.
The time to chill data does have some differences between the different systems. With the immersion chillers, the time to chill represents the time to chill the entire pot to that temperature. And then you’d need to add to that the time to transfer it to your fermenter. I didn’t get into that transfer time since there are multiple different methods people use. For the plate chillers and counterflow chiller I noted the time to reach 70/75F at the wort outlet from those chillers, as I was recirculating the wort back into the brew pot until the chiller output reached 70F. Once hitting your desired temperature, you’d stop recirculating and just transfer into your fermenter. I also measured the flow rate of wort out of the chiller at the end since that plays a factor in how quickly these systems drop the wort temperature.

My Evaluation Trials

I started with the common immersion chiller made up of 25 feet of 3/8” copper tubing. Although quite simple to use, the bobbing up and down of the chiller to keep it moving grows quite boring. And at the end of a long brew day, it can seem like forever for the wort to drop those last 10-20 degrees. But it’s the most economical choice once you step up from the ice bath, and it definitely beats the ice bath for time.

Next I evaluated JaDeD Brewing’s Hydra. While still a copper immersion chiller, it’s definitely like an immersion chiller on steroids. The cooling water inlet splits off into 3 separate cooling tube streams and then twists and turns its way around into a dizzying array of copper to provide a ton of surface area to be in contact with your wort. Its chilling time was greatly reduced over the standard copper coil accordingly. Compared to the counterflow and plate chillers, it doesn’t require a pump and associated hoses/clamps so it is simpler to use. Cleaning would seem to be easier since you only have to wash the outside, not get inside passages clean, but the coils upon coils also leaves lots of nooks and crannies to collect hop trub and hop debris that would need to get cleaned out well.

The plate chillers and counterflow chiller needed a pump. There is a new wort pump in the homebrew market made by Keg King out of Australia. In the US it’s sold through Williams Brewing as the Mark II Wort Pump. Magnetic drive pumps that are capable of handling boiling fluids can be costly. And for the most part, the homebrewing world is dominated by Chugger and March brands. This Keg King pump comes with all the same capabilities, a higher waterproof rating and about half the cost. Per Keg King’s information, their durability/longevity is equal or better than competitors as well, but I didn’t do a durability test. It worked great for my trials, reliably starting up and flowing easily all while being very quiet.

My next evaluation was with Brick River Brewing’s ExChilerator MAXX counterflow chiller. It was equipped with the optional ball valve on the output to allow control of wort flow through the chiller, which also came with a large dial temperature gauge plumbed into the outlet as well. This was amazingly convenient as I could monitor the temperature output both to know when to send it into the fermenter instead of recirculating, and also when to throttle down the output to eek out the last few degrees with more contact time with the cooling water.
The cooling time was very fast, and the flow control and temperature dial made this a great operation. My last evaluation was with a pair of plate chillers. I had a range of sizes from Duda Diesel to compare the larger higher performance one with the smaller lower cost one. The small chiller performed well, besting the simple immersion chiller by a significant time margin. The large plate chiller was amazingly fast, easily the fastest of this bunch. Both of these plate chillers probably could have been improved some by implementing an output flow restriction valve and temperature gauge like the ExChilerator, but that wasn’t part of this test.
With the small passageways inside the plate chiller being a potential concern of getting clogged with hop debris, I did a separate trial with a plate chiller on a very hoppy Rye IPA batch with 4.25 oz. of pellet hops in a 2.5 gallon batch. I used a BIAB bag as a hop bag to keep the hop debris mostly contained, and I didn’t have any issues with a clogged chiller. And cleaning wasn’t a major concern either, just rinsing with hot tap water in the sink got clear water coming out in short order (note that Duda recommends flushing with hot water and/or cleaning with OneStep cleaner).

In conclusion, there are different options that can significantly cut down on your wort chilling time, but they do come with a price tag. So you need to weigh your options of price versus time to see if it’s worth the step up to you. And then amongst your options, different chillers have different features and capabilities, and once you get your chilling time down to a matter of minutes you can count on one hand, these different nuances are important to weigh to get the right chiller to match your preferences.

More Info

Links to chillers as tested here:
1. Regular immersion chiller: homebrewing.org
2. JaDeD Brewing Hydra: jadedbrewing.com
3. Brick River Brewing ExChilerator: brickriverbrew.com
4. Duda Diesel Plate Chillers: dudadiesel.com
5. Keg King Mark II Wort Pump: williamsbrewing.com
Using a ball valve on the discharge of my boil kettle, I can gravity feed my plate chiller and chill down to fermentation temp (68 Deg. F) in one pass. No need for a pump.
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The method used in this experiment leaves a lot to be desired. Why compare whole volume of water being cooled to 70 or 75 VS output from the chiller being at this temperature ? With enought flow restriction on the counterflow or plate chillers, you could easily have gotten these times much lowers. Also, the times with these two methods (CF and plate) would nearly be constant even if you changed batch volume, given enought flow restriction. I call complete BS on this experiment, am very disappointed this article is posted on such a serious website, and would very much like to have the time to cool the complete volume on these different systems.
You don't always need a pump with a plate chiller: I salvaged a heatexchanger from a central heater (so low investment :) ) and after fiddling with a pump and the hassle to get the richt rpm and clean it properly, I decided to try gravity. Does a fabulous job. Wort flow rate is not very high, but that's ok with me (max 40 liter per batch). It's about 2.5l/m with 10C tapwater at about 5l/m, cooling from 95C to 20C.
(Sorry, have no clue about Fahrenheit or gallons...)
"For the plate chillers and counterflow chiller I noted the time to reach 70/75F at the wort outlet from those chillers, as I was recirculating the wort back into the brew pot until the chiller output reached 70F. "
CFC's do not need a pump. In fact I've ever only seen them used as a gravity-fed system. Pumps are for the plate chillers, but CFC's can easily be gravity driven. I don't recirculate either.....just open the ball valve on the kettle, let it run through the CFC, and into the carboy on the other end. I'm always in the mid 60's at the end (except in the summer, when I get to about 75°F).
Recirculating with a CFC or plate chiller makes little sense to me. You've spent water and time removing that energy (heat) from the wort, only to pump it back into the kettle with >180°F wort in it? The wort coming out of the chiller is already cool, why reheat it?
You don't mention testing a copper cooling coil attached to another coil to be set into an ice bucket. Water temps here in Texas are in the 80's during summer months hence the extra coil is essential. The pre chiller coil is of smaller diameter than the main coils which fit tight into my 7 gallon kettle, hence no room to move it about. Maybe I should try using them reversed.
An immersion chiller without stirring or recirculating the wort can take maybe 2-4 times as long as no mixing. This should be in any evaluation. Also, hop (and other) gunk management has a huge impact on what choice is made. You can't throw an IPA's worth of hops directly into the kettle and not clog a plate filter.
If you have a single tier system then a pump makes wort transfer much faster when using a CFC. At least it did in my case for the 3 years I used mine before switching to a recirculating immersion chiller.
Running the wort through the CFC fast is counter-productive to your goal though. The slower the wort runs, the better heat extraction you get from the water (and the less water you need to use/waste).
I'd rather it take an extra 10 minutes and get my wort within 1 degree of ground temps. And not need electricity to make that happen. I've used gravity-fed CFC's on my friends single tier without any issues.
There was an error in my original table, looks like it didn't get updated. The updated table should be online soon. The large Duda plate chiller had a wort flow of 2.9 gpm. There were two other numbers that shifted by 0.1 gpm, but this Duda miss was the main one. Thanks for catching that!
I did try to explain in my method that the times shown here for CF and Plate chiller were times until the output was this temperature, but maybe that didn't come through clear. With the immersion chillers, you do have to wait for the whole volume to get down to your desired temperature, like you point out.
I included the wort flow rate through the CF and Plate chillers so you could calculate how long it would take for you to transfer the wort to your fermenter once you hit 70/75F. But I figured putting that calculated time in the table would add in additional aspects that weren't the core of this comparison. The amount of time it takes you to transfer wort from your boil kettle that has been cooled down with your immersion chiller would be different depending on if you were using a siphon (and what diameter hose), or gravity fed out a ball valve on your boil kettle. In the end, I settled on time to 70/75F since all methods would then have a time to transfer the wort into the fermenter.
I did a continuous bob up & down, intermixed with a bit of side to side shifting when my arm got bored of the continued motion in one direction.
There is definitely a whole Design Of Experiments that could be done to optimize different metrics (gallons of cooling water used or time to chill wort to desired temperature).
- Higher cooling water flow rates gives improved cooling performance, but at a cost of more gallons sent into your lawn. There is a point where your bang for the buck definitely drops off.
- Slower wort flow rate through your chiller makes for cooler wort coming out of the chiller, but at a cost of time to cool and amount of cooling water flowing through and into your lawn.
- Recirculating your wort output at the start of cooling allows you to get your bulk wort temperature in your kettle lower since you're mixing 100F wort with 180F wort, and thus allows your chiller output to hit desired temperature sooner. But this comes at the time expense of recirculating wort back into the kettle before sending it to your fermenter.
One of this factors may have a bigger influence in time to chill than the other, or some magic combination of all 3 might hit the sweet spot.
I actually had to dismantle my pre-chiller on my immersion chiller so I could test a "standard" immersion chiller for purposes of this experiment. But I completely agree that the pre-chiller is great. I found it key on brewing outside on hot summer days to get those last 5-10 degrees when you were not only battling ground water temperature but also the whole environment temperature around you.
As for room to move your coil around in your brew kettle, absolutely you need the room. Makes a huge difference in cooling time by moving that coil around. You probably could alternatively stir the wort with a spoon and leave your immersion chiller stationary, but you definitely need to get the coils and wort moving around relative to each other.
Nice article. I disagree with boise1024 and his rude and negative comments (before criticizing someone's work, let's see yours).
As you mention in the first paragraph of the article - "There’s the scientific aspect of how chilling it quickly causes certain protein strains to form and precipitate out, and there’s corresponding studies of why that’s a good thing". I use my counter-flow chiller while I am whirl-pooling. Quickly cooling while doing a whirlpool allows the precipitates to form, go to the center of the whirlpool and not transfer most of them when it is time to move the output from the whirlpool arm to the fermenter. I usually have 8-10 gallons and I usually counter-flow chill/whirlpool for about 10 minutes. It gets to somewhere around 80 degrees during this time before I transfer it to the fermentation vessel. Different liquid volumes would affect the time.
It is correct that with counter-flow or plate chillers you can go directly from boiling in the kettle to the fermenter at pitching temp, with some flow control. It would be an interesting additional test to check the output flow rate at an achieved specific temp for each of the counter-flow solutions. i.e. With the right flow control settings so that the output wort is at 70 degrees, how long does it take to output 5 gallons of chilled wort directly from boiling (This is probably what Boise1024 was getting at, just not nicely).
If the output and output temp was constant then the wort volume wouldn't affect anything but the time it takes to pump it out.
I have to say I like the addition of the thermometer on the ExChillerator. That is a great idea and I might add one to my chiller.
I agree with your comments. I mentioned in my write-up that you definitely need to move the coil around, I found the same time differences.
As for managing the hop debris, as I mentioned, I did make an IPA batch with the plate chiller to test its "cloginess". I asked Duda the recommended process for managing debris and they suggested whirlpooling or using a hop bag/spider. Whirlpooling seemed too variable and uncontrolled so I used my BIAB bag to dump my hops in. I forgot with the first hop addition, but got the subsequent hop additions in the bag. I didn't have any issues with the plate chiller clogging. The unrestricted flow rate through the chiller may have helped prevent clogging as well. The flow rate coming out of the plate chiller was pretty substantial, so it would take some big solid debris to clog it.
I do appreciate the data you gave, and the explanation is clear. However, I would have liked to have the data as to how long it took to chill the entire batch. For me, it takes all of 5 seconds to lift the kettle and pour into a fermenter using an immersion chiller. However, with your data, I cannot know how long the whole process of chilling will take using plate and CF chillers. I also think it makes the immersions chillers look far worse than they are in terms of time to chill, but you didn't provide the data to prove this or not.
The data is there (once the table gets corrected to show the correct wort flow rate for the Duda large plate chiller). The plate chillers were flowing wort at ~3 gpm. So transferring 6 gallons would take 2 minutes.
Would I gain in efficiency if I were to place the main coils in the ice bucket and the prechiller coils in the kettle? Using the smaller diameter prechiller coils would allow me to move them around inside the bucket.
As an engineer, I probably could dig up some equations and do some math to figure out what has a greater impact: 1) Lower water temp going into your pot, or 2) Greater surface area of cooling water in contact with your hot wort. But as an engineer that stopped crunching equations years ago, I would probably defer to a simple test... Try it and see.
You'll definitely get a faster drop with a big temperature difference, so you will probably see the initial temperature drop go pretty fast. But I'm guessing the smaller surface area in your wort will hurt you in the long run of that slow drop as you get closer to your cooling temperature. But it's probably worth a trial to see if it works better for you.
Here my water gets above 80F and using a prechiller with ice cubes in a cooler still is a pain to lower the temperature, anyone have any tip or technique to prechill the water temp?
My goal was to chill wort to pitching temp as fast as practicably possible while trying to manage cooling water use. If you run your wort more slowly through a CFC you naturally use more cooling water right?
No, because you can run the water at a slower rate as well. It's about contact time, not flow rate. In my experience the water does not reach saturation temps (as in it cannot absorb any more heat) with both valves open all the way (wort and water). Slowing the wort still doesn't get it there by itself, but slowing both the wort and the water does allow this and thus is more efficient (my last 5.5 gallon batch I only collected ~4.5 gallons of runoff from my CFC as the hose was barely opened). During the summer with the hose all the way open I easily use 10 times that amount (40 gallons).
No, because you can run the water at a slower rate as well. It's about contact time, not flow rate. In my experience the water does not reach saturation temps (as in it cannot absorb any more heat) with both valves open all the way (wort and water). Slowing the wort still doesn't get it there by itself, but slowing both the wort and the water does allow this and thus is more efficient (my last 5.5 gallon batch I only collected ~4.5 gallons of runoff from my CFC as the hose was barely opened). The coldest water is at the end of the wort's trip through the CFC, so you should be maximizing the contact time there. During the summer with the hose all the way open I easily use 10 times that amount (40 gallons).
Note that the Keg King pump isn't actually made by them, as with all their products, they are custom ordered/relabeled products from Chinese suppliers (such as those that appear on Alibaba)
The original version of this pump used to be sold as a Kaixin MP-15R, us Aussies used to import them in group orders from China.
Keg King have custom designed the latest version with a stainless head, however.
Something I haven't tried, but thinking about the immersion chiller in hot wort, you probably would get a benefit by moving the coil around in your pre-chiller, or finding someway to circulate that ice water.
Applying other principles discussed here, slowing down the water flow rate through your chilling coil(s), would probably lower your cooling water temperature before it enters your main coil in the boil kettle. And adding more surface area of copper tubing in your ice bath pre-chiller allows more heat transfer surface area/time to chill the water before it enters your boil kettle.
Taking it further, you could get a submersible pond-type pump to put in a cooler of ice water and hook up the output of that to your immersion chiller coil. Flow your hose water into the cooler full of ice to replace what you're pumping out.
I always thought that using plate or counterflow chillers you do the whirlpool first to precipitate the trub and the cold break and after transfer to the fermentor so you avoid clogging with hop debris, with out doing the whirlpool i see why some people say the disadvantage is cleaning and clogging with hop debris.