I’ve never brewed a day in my life nor have I ever seen someone brew beer. Before I started this venture, I didn’t have an ounce of knowledge about the brewing process, only that people make beer and beer is good. Well, now I’m starting to brew which means I need equipment. After a bit of research and seeing how expensive some of these items can be, I decided to make a few items myself. Why not build an immersion wort chiller? After all, I could build a dual coil wort chiller using 50 feet of copper tube for less than you can buy a single coil wort chiller using 25 feet of copper tube. I get a more efficient chiller at a lesser price. I saw it as the perfect DIY to kick off my endeavor!
Chances are if you’re reading this blog, you know what a wort chiller is, but for the sake of this post and all the other noobie brewies out there, let’s recap:
Why do you need a wort chiller? Once the boil is complete, it’s important to cool the wort to below 80° F as quickly as possible to avoid off-flavors in the finished product that are caused by oxidation. Rapid cooling will also help prevent “chill haze”, which is a cosmetic problem caused by proteins that form a haze in the beer.
One way to cool down the wort is by placing it in an ice water bath; however, this option requires the use of my bathtub and filling it with bags of ice. I decided against this for three reasons:
- Carrying a 50 lb pot of boiling wort 40 ft to my bathtub is a disaster waiting to happen
- That’s too much of a hassle having to constantly buy bags of ice
- My wife won’t let it happen.
The quickest and most efficient way to cool down a boiling wort is to use an immersion wort chiller. John Palmer, author of “How to Brew” describes wort chillers as “copper heat exchangers that help cool the wort quickly after the boil.” Basically, the immersion chiller circulates cold water (usually from a hose or faucet) through a copper or stainless steel coil, absorbing all the heat and dumping it at the other end.
Long story short, make a wort chiller. It’s a no brainer. And it’s fairly easy. Let’s get started.
DO’s & DON’Ts
- DO make sure your significant other is out of the house (more on why later).
- DO use a spring pipe bender when a forming tube can’t be used; otherwise, you’ll risk crimping the copper tube and no one wants to throw $40 away.
- DO measure the height and width of your boil pot. You don’t want to finish making the wort chiller then realize it doesn’t fit or it’s too short.
- DON’T use metal as a forming tube. I made this mistake. I work for a construction company and we had some scrap metal pieces. What I quickly realized was that the metal doesn’t have any give and started to damage my copper tube, hence the use of a towel in my Instagram video.
- DON’T buy a hose with a slightly larger inside diameter (ID) than your copper tube’s outside diameter (OD) (more on why later).
- DON’T rush. Set aside at least an hour. The last thing you want to do is damage your tubing and have to replace it.
- 3/8” OD or 1/2” OD copper tube, 50 ft long
- 4” diameter forming tube (PVC or cardboard)
- 8” diameter forming tube with a notch (PVC or cardboard)
- Spring pipe bender
- Pipe cutter
- Clear hose, same ID as the copper tube’s OD (enough for two lengths to reach from your sink/garden hose to your stove)
- Hose clamps
- Faucet/garden hose adaptors specific for your faucet/garden hose
- Your favorite beer
- MAKE THE 4” DIAMETER COIL – Wrap the copper tube upwards using the 4” forming tube. You’ll need to wrap tightly bound until you reach a height of about 6”-8” (this height could vary depending on your pot size). The opening of the coil should be at the top.
- MAKE THE 8” DIAMETER COIL – If you did it right, the rest of the copper tubing should be extending from the bottom of your newly formed 4” coil. Now, place the 8” forming tube over the 4” coil. Make a notch in the forming tube so you don’t put pressure on the copper tube. Run the remainder of the copper tube through the notch and up the 8” forming tube. The end of the tube should be at the top of the coil.
- FORM THE “EARS” OF YOUR CHILLER – Taking both ends of the coil, start working it up to the desired height (remember the height of your boil pot). This is where the pipe bender comes in handy. Bend the ears so that a good 3”-4” are outside of the pot. Cut any leftover material using a pipe cutter. I trimmed the ends off of mind to give it a cleaner look.
- ATTACH THE HOSE TO THE CHILLER – Using the hose, hose clamps, and faucet adaptors, connect faucet hose to the inner coil. Connect the exit hose to the outer coil and leave the end in the sink to allow the water to drain.
- TEST IT – Remember when I said to make sure your significant other is out of the house? Well now is the time to do it. Go on… I’ll wait.
The Wife and The Wort Chiller
Now… when I was testing this coil, I thought it would be awesome to have my wife watch live as I tested it for the first time. Already you can sense something is going to go wrong. Yeah well, it did.
I had everything hooked up, the chiller on the stove, and exit hose in the sink. Then, I turn on the water.
You ever have one of those moments when everything is going in slow motion, something you’ve worked very hard on is about to come to life, and you feel so accomplished? Well that all came crashing to a screeching halt when that water went on. Immediately, all the water began spraying uncontrollably. The only thought that came to mind was “Oh shit, I must not have tightened the hose clamp enough”. Water was everywhere. Mind you, I have stainless steel appliances, and when you get water on stainless steel, that shit is hard to get out. I know because my wife tells me all the time I get a little drip of water on one of our stainless steel appliances. This time, take that and multiple it by a thousand.
My wife, eyes as red as the devil, is drilling a hole through my skull with her laser-like glare. My homebrewing dreams start vanishing immediately. Silence… and then screams.
I got yelled at and called every single name in the book, but all is good. My wort chiller works. I ended up buying a smaller tube with the same ID as the copper’s OD and I made sure to tighten the clamp as much as I could.
So that’s the jist of it. Hopefully this helps you make your next wort chiller. Make sure to consider all the things I’ve mentioned here so you don’t make the same mistakes I did. Have fun and make sure your significant other is out of the house. Grab a beer and relax. It’s just You, Me, and Brew.