Trying Out A New Toy

A little snow won't dissuade the determined brewer.

For mid-January, yesterday ended up being a pretty gorgeous day for brewing. The sun was shining (occasionally) and the temperature held in the mid-40s for most of the afternoon. Thus, with Brooke and Meg out of the house, I opted to make the Chinook IPA Mom and Dad got me for Christmas.

This time, however, I also got to try out one of our new immersion wort chillers, so I figured I’d take the time to explain what this thing does and how to use it.  Generally, you boil your wort (i.e. unfermented beer) for about an hour, and you add hops and other components during that period.  However, you can’t add the yeast until the beer has cooled to below 100 F, though preferably closer to 80 F.  You need to cool it down as rapidly as possible, so you can hopefully get it into your sealed fermentation vessel as soon as possible, including yeast.

For previous batches, we’ve always just put that big 5 gal. pot in an ice bath, though we’d have to add additional ice and cold water throughout, frequently taking well over an hour to cool down.  Here’s where a wort chiller comes in: you run cold water through its copper tubing to act as a heat exchanger, removing heat from the wort quickly as cold water takes it away.

As this was my first time using said device, I had to do a few things first, namely, clean it.

Wort chiller, bathing in diluted white vinegar.

In the process of manufacturing, the copper tubing tends to have coatings of various oils and oxidized gunk that you don’t really want in your beer.  Reading from John Palmer’s “How To Brew,” I found that before you use the chiller for the first time, you need to clean it with some kind of industrial copper cleaner, or alternatively, just use distilled white vinegar.  The oils and oxidation products tend to come off the tubing in acidic solutions, and as beer is slightly acidic, all that stuff would end up in the beer.  Thus, bathing the chiller in diluted vinegar (the stuff from the store is 5% acetic acid) shines it up nicely.

After soaking for maybe 20 min in vinegar, I rinsed it off well and let it air dry while the beer was boiling.  When there’s about 10 min left in the boil, I then put the chiller in the brew pot, so the act of boiling would help sanitize the chiller.  Though I’d just cleaned it in vinegar, there could still be some “bugs” on the outside of the tubing, so the boiling should take care of it.

Once I’d reached the end of the boil, I carried the pot and chiller down to the basement and hooked it up to a sink using an old washing machine hose.

Looks appetizing, eh?

Cold water going in and through the tube, then coming out the other end.  I didn’t have a hose that fit that end of the tubing, so I just make sure to only keep the water pressure at something manageable, so it would stay within the sink.

The wort cooled down in about 20 min.  Good deal!

Now that the chiller’s been cleaned before, I shouldn’t have to soak it in vinegar again, though forum posts on the interwebs will tell you that some people insist on cleaning it every time.  In theory, all you should have to do is rinse it with water, then put it in the wort for 10 min while it’s boiling, then rinse it once you’re done.

All in all, it was remarkably easy and cut down on some of the total time spent brewing.  Now, we’ll just have to wait another month or so to see how the beer turned out!