Building a recirculating wort chiller

Equipment, Featured — By on April 6, 2010 at 9:33 pm

I decided I needed to find a better way to chill my beer, so I altered my immersion chiller to recirculate the water.

The problem

recirculating wort chiller

This is my recirculating wort chiller in action

For wort chilling, I have always used a counter-flow wort chiller.  It worked well and usually reduced the temperature from boiling to about 100 F (38 C).  While this was a huge difference in temperature, the temperature was still too warm to pitch yeast.

I also didn’t like the counter-flow chiller because I could never be 100 percent sure the inside of the copper coil was clean.  There is no easy way to clean the inside of the wort chiller.  I wanted to switch to an immersion chiller since I can see the outside of the coil, but I really didn’t want to waste more water.  Counter-flow chillers usually are more efficient with water.  It seemed either way I was hosed.

Then one day I saw somewhere on the Internet the idea of just recirculating the water through the immersion chiller.  It seemed so obvious, I decided I needed to try it.

The idea behind the recirculating wort chiller is to recirculate an ice bath through the coil until your wort is the correct temperature.  The water exiting the coil is hot, but it is not boiling.  Toss the used over ice, and it’s cold again to reuse.  This method uses significantly less water than if you just ran a hose through the chiller.

Building the recirculating wort chiller

Here’s what your need to recirculate your cooling water:

a pump (I used a march pump)
a reservoir (I used sweater box from Target)
an immersion chiller
tubes to connect the pump, reservoir, and chiller
1/2" nylon barb and nylon connectors
clamps
sealant
nylon barb

I used nylon barbs because they were cheaper than the metal ones, and the nylon ones are all I really need here

To build the connections on the reservoir, I used a nylon barb connected to another nylon connector.  You can find these parts at any home improvement store – I got mine at Home Depot.  I placed o-rings between the reservoir wall and each nylon piece to help make the connection watertight.  The actual parts are not that important as long as everything connects together.  I used 1/2″ tubing and connections to increase the flow of water.

I added quick disconnects to ends of the tubing to make it easier to connect to and disconnect from the pump and chiller.  The hose connections should be tightened with band clamps.

The flow of the water should go from the reservoir to the pump to the chiller and then back into the reservoir.  I put the pump next in line to the reservoir to make it easier to prime the pump.  You’ll want to put the input low on one side of the reservoir, and the output high on the other side of the reservoir.

If you use quick disconnects, make sure you get different ones for each side of the wort chiller.  I bought two female garden hose connectors by accident, so I needed to get an adapter to attach all the quick disconnects.

wort chiller clamps

I used clamps on all my connections. They are cheap and make the connection tight.

Make sure you test the recirculating wort chiller with water outside before you use it.  I tested mine inside first, and quickly discovered I had built a very large sprinkler on my wood floor.  After sealing all the leaks, the chiller was ready for gametime.

How the wort chiller worked

The recirculating wort chiller worked very well.  While there was ice in the reservoir, the temperature dropped very quickly.  I went from 200 F (93 C) to 160 F (71 C) in a few minutes.  Getting the temperature to yeast pitching temperatures took longer, but it was because I quickly ran out of ice.

What I’d do different

wort chiller ice packs

The wort ran thought all my ice in my fridge and all these ice packs. I need to make more ice next time.

I should have placed the water input and output on different sides of the reservoir.  The warm water tended to pool too much on one side.  I was able to overcome this by simply stirring the water as the wort chiller did it’s work.  If I had placed the input and output on different ends, I would not need to stir the water.

I also ran out of ice very quickly.  In the future I think I will freeze blocks of ice to add to the reservoir as needed.  I used several ice packs to keep the water cold, but ice worked much better.  The ice packs are great to supplement the ice, but they had troubles keeping the water cold on their own.  I think the plastic housing of the ice packs was insulating the ice inside.

If you’d like to see more details and pictures, check out the flickr photos!

I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer!

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  • http://startingabrewery.wordpress.com/ PJ

    Awesome! Definitely gonna built one of these. I might just tape the in and out tubes to the bottom of my sink, and forgo the reservoir. Thoughts? Also, where'd you get the pump? Thanks for writing this!

  • http://www.fermentarium.com deege

    I got my pump at NorthernBrewer last year : http://www.northernbrewer.com/brewing/brewing-e

    It really doesn't matter as long as you have a big sink. The reservoir I'm using holds at least 10 gallons of ice water. That would be my only concern with using a sink. You'll be changing your ice frequently.

  • http://www.newindiebands.com/ Chris

    You might try the ice cream bucket trick of salting down your ice/water mixture. It lowers the freezing point, and helps it stay cooler overall.

    On another note, I don't know why more people don't use this method. I started to build one just before I quit brewing (moved into an apartment), and I could never make my brewing friends understand how it would be superior to traditional immersion chilling.

  • http://www.fermentarium.com deege

    The salt water is a good idea, I might have to try that!

    Well I think many don't try it because you need to buy a pump. That's $150 many people might want to put towards more beer supplies. I did it because I already had a pump, and I wanted something I could use for indoor brewing when the weather turns cold in the winter. This worked great for me.

  • Judah

    Chilling your wort is all about having a temperature gradient. The problem with IC are that they are very efficient in the beginning as you are chilling 212 degree water with 65 degree tap water, but as the temp of the wort drops it doesnt chill so well. The solution is a hybrid chiller. You start off using a regular IC using tap water and once the temp has dropped significantly switch over to a recirculating chiller.

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  • jeff

    when i started to brew, i boiled about 3 gallons of wort, and then would add 2 more gallons of water to the mixture to make 5 gallons wort. instead of trying to cool this mixture (which took hours, as you know), i would add 2 gallons worth of ice directly to the hot, boiling wort mixture. this would drop the temp down to less than 100F almost immediately! the next 20 degrees or so were slower going, but the ice helped.

  • bob

    In response to your concern regarding changing the ice frequently, see the post by Judah below.

  • Joe B

    How to make draft beer cheap! Hefe Weizen. I do not check spelling sorry!
    I buy 20140 Briess Wheat DME 50 lbs. 2 $117.99 $235.98 plus shipping from Northern Brewery. The fifty pound bags are not listed. Special order.
    1oz tenang hops. I bought a pound from ebay and froze it in sealed vaccume bags.
    Liquid yeast from Northern brewery. wyeast 3068. Save trub and reuse within 2 weeks.
    yield .35cents a beer.
    15 gallon chicken fryer with spicket.
    Thermometer to see wort temparature before adding yeast. No differnt than 10 degrees difference.
    I bought 5 soda kegs from craigs list for 10.00 each. 25' braided hose included.
    I got for free a galvanised tub from someone around 20 gallons.
    6 2 liter soda botttles freeze with water in them.
    1 pump from a tile cutter to circulate water from chiller submersable to tub.
    Used like new freezer from craigs list that will hold 2 6 gallon buckets.80 bucks
    External temparature controller I found on a website for around 20 buckets
    Used co2 20 lb tank. 30 buck craigs list.Gauges new from ebay.
    I have starsan from Northern to sterilize and a cleaner for the lines and tanks.
    two 6 gallon buckets from
    https://www.usaemergencysupply.com/emergency_su
    new and cheap with lids and gasket.
    syphon gizmo to syphon beer when done to keg. I forgot where. Do not use spout on buckets. Pain to clean. Not needed.
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    Now, I have a water filter in my home. I filter 5.5 galons of water. Heat up to near boil. add 6 lbs of malt stir until dissolved then stir to make sure it does not burn on the bottom. After bring to a near boil, in a nylon bag fine mesh from northern add 1 oz of hops. Don't over do the heat. slight boil for one hour. Not full boil or you have a mess. Sypon from pot to 6 gallon bucket with chiller in it. Run chiller untl wort is near ambient temp withing 10 degrees of yeast at room temp.
    Next, very important! I have a little compressor and a fine air stone I bought from Northern. Run air into wort until it bubbles to near top 3 minutes. I also got a controler for paint sprayer to reduce air at a tool place. Then add yeast, air again.
    Put in freezer at around 65-75 degrees. with bublers and tubes to glass jar if you want. make sure lids are tight or what a mess.
    after bubbles stop 7-10 days, sypon into your keg, refrigerate as cold as you like, add co2 connection. You can drink almost right away. 3 days for yeast to settle. Do not cut tubes on soda kegs as they say. It waste beer. You see yeast in the last glass. Drink or dump it.
    This is simple and cheap once you get the stuff. It last forever. .35cents a glass for hefe Weisen beer that is strong. Do not expect to drink a six pack without getting real drunk. Besides no chemicals added like so many add. I worked at a brewery and they added 9 chemicals. Yuck!

  • Cpt_Kirks

    When I go to cool my wort, I use an IC hooked to the household water system first. I let it run for a few minutes like that. The household water is cold in the winter, but about 68*F in the summer. That will get the wort down in the 150*F range.

    While that is running, I prep the cooler. I use a cube cooler with a small submersible pump. The cooler is filled with water and a 20lb bag of ice and the pump has a garden hose connector.

    The warm waste water is directed to the flower beds and vegetable garden, so none goes to waste. I have my outside sink rigged to drain into the garden, too.

  • http://www.digitalclampmeter.net Digital Clamp Meter

    This is cool! And so interested! Are u have more posts like this? Plese tell me, thanks

  • matt volz

    What size is your pump(how many cfm’s)? I have some submersible well pumps that might work good for this,but Im afraid they might be a bit too big (too many cfm’s) and might blast water too fast into the tub with ice and water.I dont really want to spend $100+ on a new pump tho.

  • http://www.fermentarium.com deege
  • matt volz

    For ice just use empty plastic milk jugs filled with water and froze.Simply put the jugs back in the freezer when done,and they’re ready for the next time.

  • http://www.fermentarium.com deege

    I use ice packs, ice blocks and ice. The ice packs and ice blocks
    are more water friendly, since I can reuse them (I reuse the water to
    make new ice blocks), but you don’t get the same surface area you get
    from ice. Ice is nice! :)

  • Jay

    I would have run the immersion chiller on its own with hose water for 5 minutes or so (I know it wastes water) and then switched to recirculating.

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  • Frazer

    I don’t know if anyone has suggested this, but try adding salt into the ice bath. It can lower the temperature a lot further than ice on its own. The melting point of salty water is about -2 degrees Celsius I think.