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How to make a wort chiller for homebrewing

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Picture of How to make a wort chiller for homebrewing
In this instructable, I am going to demonstrate how I built a wort chiller for homebrewing beer.

A wort chiller is a device that cools down wort (unfermented beer) after boiling. Cooling down wort rapidly is important because it helps to reduce the chances of bacteria from growing before you pitch the yeast. Yeast needs a certain temperature to live - too hot and you will kill the yeast, too cold and it may not ferment properly. Rapidly cooling wort is also important because it will help to discourage certain off-flavors in the finished brew.

There are mainly four methods of cooling wort rapidly. Immersion chillers are put into the wort and cold water is passed through to cool the wort. Counter-flow chillers are the opposite. They pass hot wort through cold water. Immersing the hot pot of wort in an ice bath is another way. You can also pour hot wort into cold water. The goal is to cool it as quickly as possible. Home brewers using partial-mash and all grain recipes typically find that wort chillers produce the best results.

My wort chiller passes hot wort through a copper coil submerged in a cooler filled with ice water and out through a ball valve on the side. The wort will drain out into a primary fermenting bucket where I can pitch the yeast and ferment the beer.
 
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Step 1: Installing the ball valve on a cooler

Picture of Installing the ball valve on a cooler
The first step is to install a ball valve on the cooler. I decided not to include instructions here since I made a separate instructable demonstrating how I did it. You can find that instructable here:

http://www.instructables.com/id/Installing-a-ball-valve-on-a-Coleman-cooler/

Step 2: A word on safety

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The golden rule of making homebrewing equipment is that you should be having a tasty homebrew while doing it! I didn't make this rule, I just follow it.

However, you should make sure to have all the materials you need on hand before beginning. You don't need to be driving a car to the hardware store for forgotten parts after following the golden rule.

Step 3: Materials

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Now that the ball valve is in place on my cooler, I can begin to transform my ordinary cooler into a wort chiller.

I used:
- 18' of 3/8" soft copper tubing
- (1) 3/8" compression fitting with a 3/8" male end
- (1) 3/8" compression fitting with a 3/8" female end
- (1) 3/8" brass hose barb adapter with a 3/8" male end (not pictured here)
- teflon tape

The tools I used were:
- Two wrenches
- a 3/8" soft copper tubing bender
- a drill with a 1-1/2" hole saw
- a pipe cutter

Step 4: Bending the copper tubing

Picture of Bending the copper tubing
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The goal is to coil the copper into a tube that will pass through the cold water and allow the heat from the wort to dissipate rapidly. Using many coils creates more surface area for the hot wort to touch on its path through the chiller.

I used a tubing bender to safely bend my copper without any kinks. Don't be like me and underestimate how much copper tubing you will need. I ran out and had to get more and use a coupling to continue. I wound up needing almost 18 feet. Buy the right amount the first time and you won't need to worry about it.

To keep my coils relatively equal, I used a 3 liter plastic soda bottle to check my progress.

The coil itself begins straight so it can go to the ball valve. I turned it about 90 degrees to begin the coils. I made about 9 coils and then did another 90 degree bend straight up.

It's difficult to describe just how I shaped the pipe. If this step's description doesn't make sense, continue anyway and see how it will function.

Step 5: Connecting to the ball valve

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On the inside of the cooler will be a coupling that the copper coil will attach to. Take the 3/8" compression fitting with the male end and remove the nut and compression ring. Screw the fitting into the coupling and tighten with a wrench.

Now, connect the copper coil. Slide the nut and compression ring over the tube and re-connect it to the compression fitting. Snug with a wrench.

Step 6: Making the wort inlet

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There should be extra tubing sticking straight up out of the cooler now. I used a pipe cutter and trimmed it so there would be about four inches sticking up.

I lowered the lid and marked where the inlet would come out of the lid. I then took a hole saw and cut a hole. The four inches of tubing should stick out of the lid a bit when closed.

Step 7: Making the wort inlet cont'd

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Take the 3/8" compression fitting with the female end and remove the nut and compression ring. I used a pair of clothespins to hold the tube in place and to prevent the nut and ring from sliding down into the cooler.

Tighten the nut and compression ring onto the fitting and put on the hose barb adapter.

This is where the wort will enter the chiller via clear tubing that will slide onto the barb.

Step 8: Testing the wort chiller for leaks

Picture of Testing the wort chiller for leaks
In this video, I'm demonstrating how the wort chiller will work and checking for leaks.

Soft copper and compression fittings can be tricky sometimes. If you have a leak, make sure everything has been tightened properly. This will usually do the trick. If you notice the leak is coming from the threads of a fitting, try teflon tape on the threads. I had to go back and use a little tape on the fittings.


Step 9: Using the wort chiller

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Now that the wort chiller is in good working order, it is time to test it out. I began boiling two gallons of water to simulate boiling wort and once it was almost there, I filled up the cooler with ice water. Since I try not to waste a lot of water, I used little frozen bottles since I can reuse them next time. Ice water temperature was 55 degrees F. I dumped the boiling water into a bucket with a plastic valve. Temperature in the bucket was 204. I opened up the plastic valve and the ball valve on the wort chiller.

When the bucket was nearly empty, I tilted it to get all the water I could out. Once it was empty, I tilted the cooler a little (don't spill the icewater!) to get as much "wort" out as possible. Final temperature of the two gallons of boiled water was 84.

This worked pretty well. I could have packed a lot more ice in there and that would have brought down the temperature of the wort to within the 60's no problem. I also liked how I could use the ball valve to kind of control the temperature of the water leaving the chiller - open wider for warmer, close it more for colder. I think this will have no problem on brewing day.

And of course, if this were real wort and not water, I'd flush out the coil during cleanup.

Step 10: Wort chiller maintenance and cleaning

Picture of Wort chiller maintenance and cleaning
Before using the wort chiller on brewing day, test it out to make sure all the fittings are tight and that it is clean and ready to go.

Cleaning the inside of the coil can be done with PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash). Follow the instructions on the package. Sanitize with StarSan or the sanitizer of your choice.

If there are any leaks, you should notice it during cleaning and sanitizing. Fix before using the chiller or else you may contaminate the wort.

Step 11: Summary

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That's my wort chiller. I'm really proud of the design and happy with the way it works. I think it will be very useful when I step up to partial-mash and all-grain beer techniques. Be on the lookout for my future instructable where I will show how I make my mash tun.

Cheers!
JamesGannon3 months ago

I was looking to buy a wort chiller when I came acroos your instructable, I am the type of person where if I can make something myself I will. I do not know very much about brewing but the wort chillers I have seen all have tighter coils (vertically), is there any drawback or improvement having your coils spaced so far apart?

AKNeal1 year ago
What are the part numbers for the 3/8" compression fittings (male and female)? Thanks!!
babeladyj2 years ago
WONDERFUL SYSTEM - CONSERVES WATER - ACHIEVES CONTROL OF HOW COOL THE WORT GETS - BRILLIANT EASY TO FOLLOW PICTURES & DIRECTIONS.
THANK YOU
newflavour2 years ago
This instructable is great. Had you thought about using a small aquarium pump to could cycle the wort until you've crashed cooled it to the temp you need. With the final drain going in to your fermentor. You could use the pump in your flush cleaning also with star san or similar.
BeeRich5 years ago
This is basically a "counterflow" chiller.  Immersion chillers are much better for 5 gallon systems.  Here's an explanation:

- A similar coil is constructed to run cold water through the coil which is immersed into the wort at the last part of the boil.  

- Wort is on the outside, so sterilization comes instantly when the heat shock hits the copper.  Also very easy to clean.

- 15 minutes to cool wort

- manual whirlpool puts hot trub into a cone, and not into your fermenter

- Easier to make as you don't need a separate unit like an insulated cooler.  

- Cold all the way through the chilling process, and not a gradual change to warmer coolant, which reduces efficiency.  Yeast like cool wort.  
I'd have to say a true counterflow is much better for a 5 gallon than an immersion. my homebuilt counterflow can drop a 5 gallon batch from near boil to near room temp in around 5 minutes with cold tap water. I've even used rain barrel water to chill with though that took about 10 -15 minutes

I actually started with something similar to this project but with a 5 gallon bucket instead of a cooler but made the mistake of using smaller tubing and got a thick stout almost stuck in it. So i converted it to an immersion for a while but then decided to go with a whole new counterflow chiller. I'll have to put an instructable on it up some time. It was a royal pain in the rear to make, but with some small changes to procedure, wouldn't be that bad.
15 minutes to chill wort is a really good time. You're not going to get any more hot break out of reducing that time to 10 or 5 minutes. Could you imagine how long it takes large commercial breweries to chill wort, considering they have a 3-hour brew cycle? Even though you can chill faster, your hot break is inside your primary, and that's what you want to avoid. That's the very reason for the whirlpool in multi-batch brewhouses. The goal is to get the hot break out, not have a race with chilling times.

Let's not forget the goal.
Yeh but as i move up to 10 gallon batches and bigger, the counterflow will then only take 10 to 15 minutes instead of 30 or more with the immersion.
And 10 gallons is not a big brew length. Hardly so.
You still miss my point. You can take 2 hours to cool something using immersion. With only slight movement of your wort, an immersion can always compete with counterflow, while taking out cold break from your primary. And hot break as well. You're chasing reducing time to chill your wort. That is only valuable in separating break from your wort. If you race through it only to include it in your primary, you've not really gained much. The quality of your product will be much better with an immersion. I've seen it for over 20 years.
iPodGuy (author)  BeeRich5 years ago
I was doing a little research online, and I this is halfway between a counterflow chiller and a jockey box.
BeeRich iPodGuy5 years ago
They are different tools altogether. A chiller is used in the brewhouse, and the Jockey Box is used to chill beer just before it hits the tap.
moritzr3 years ago
If you don't have a tubing bender, try filling the copper tube with sand before bending. This will help to keep the tube from kinking.
Or water
ParkRoadGuy3 years ago
What is the amount of time that it takes the wort to travel through the chiller? Is a good seal on the cooler really an issue? I am considering using this design as a mash tun/wort chiller, but would be apprehensive about putting a hole in the lid because of the sensitivity of the mash (avoiding any fluctuation beyond a couple of degrees).
jsgraham4 years ago
You say that you used a 3-liter bottle as a pattern to check your progress. Why not just use the 3-liter bottle as a mandrel from the very beginning? Fill the bottle with water to make it rigid. Then while the coil is still on the bottle, you can adjust your spacing between coils to your liking.
xmobisx4 years ago
i know your other 'ables is a beer tun, is there any way to modify the beer tun so that it works as a wort chiller too. like have an easy way to take off/put on the stailess steel mesh and replace it with the copper coil.
iPodGuy (author)  xmobisx4 years ago
By "beer tun" I'm assuming you mean mash tun.

I suspect that after you're finished with the mashing process, you can use a part called a "Quick Disconnect" to switch out whatever you're using as a filter and replace it with the chiller coil. Stainless QD's are often expensive.

YMMV, I've never tried it before.

How would you compare using a rectangular cooler to a cylindrical one? It seems like the cylinder would allow the coils to stand upright and prevent any wort from remaining inside. I haven't seen any quite as large as the rectangular coolers, though, so I guess you would need more ice or add rock salt to lower the temperature?
dmdsanchez4 years ago
Thanks for the Instructables man. I made some changes to your design to suit my needs, but it worked like a charm.
David P4 years ago
I see how this setup would cool the wort better than a normal immersion chiller. But do you have a drain valve on your boiling pot or do you have to transfer to the 5 gallon bucket with the valve? If you have to transfer it seems any time gained from chilling faster is eaten up by time needed to sanitize before and clean up after the brew. I guess you could flush the coils with the top off water you add to wort to make up 5 gallons...
linkdead015 years ago
It might be a good idea to get some tubing that is specifically made for hot liquid transfer. At least on the connection from the bottling bucket into the chiller. This would prevent the tube from expanding and possibly coming loose form your coupling.
Chard5 years ago
Fist off, Great ible! beer in the pipe rather than water, thats thinking outsite the box!

ok im a novice to homebrew but looking at making the leap from basic kits to extract brewing. So ive been doing some research and planning on making my own immersion wort chiller and i had a few ideas i thought id share with you.

IDEA 1. the countercurrent system is very effective as dp69 said and shows up all over in nature, usually with respiration (fish gills, bird lungs) or thermoregulation which is what we want a chiller to do.

Cold liquids fall like cold air does (untill it gets colder than 4oC when it starts rising, for a complicated reason Im not gonna go into). this means that to get a counter current its best to make the cold water go into the pipe that goes right to the bottom where the wort is coolest and this will give a very basic countercurrent. cold water going up the coil and cold wort falling down over it.

IDEA 2.
the colder the water going in the pipe the better. so how about making 2 seperate copper coils attached by plastic hose. the water come from a cold tap into the 1st coil which is immersed in a bucket of ice water. the water then flows out of that coil super cold and into the immersion cooler.

what do u guys think? if/when i get into more advanced brewing ill make one of these and post an ible. it will hopefully be pretty effcient even if not as good as this one.


iPodGuy (author)  Chard5 years ago
My thoughts on Idea 2:

Way too complicated.  In terms of efficiency, if you were going to use gravity to pre-cool water that will be flowing through an immersion chiller, it seems like you might be wasting a little effort.  Perhaps try looking at electronic or drill-driven pumps that will take ice cold water from a cooler or bucket and circulate it through your immersion chiller.  You'd still get the effect of shooting the ice cold water through the hot wort, but with less piping involved.  What you are describing is almost like a jockey-box for water.

Idea 1:

The same electronic or drill-driven pump system would work with a counter-flow chiller much like what you are describing.  You would have a reservoir of ice-cold water and would pump it over the hot wort within the inner copper coil.  You can learn how to make a counter-flow chiller here:
www.homebrewtalk.com/wiki/index.php/How_to_make_a_Counter_Flow_Chiller

Of course, I'm not shooting down your idea - I'd love to be proven wrong.  That way, I'd have an excuse to make more beer paraphernalia!
Goodluck5 years ago
Interesting - good work. For some reason I'd always assumed the wort was on the outside of the coil and cold water was circulated through the coil. I've thought about making my own. I thought I'd make the coil small enough to fit in my boiling pot. Then I'd simply connect one end of the copper coil to the sink and send the other end to a drain. Turn on the cold water and let it work. Of course this would waste quite a bit of cold water. Maybe I could run the 'drain' end to my garden sprinkler so it would at least go to some use? I guess I'd thought it'd be easier to clean and sterilize the outside of the coil rather than the inside.
Most people use what you just described, It's called an immersion chiller. In my opinion it's very easy to clean and to sanitize I through it directly into the kettle during the last 15 minutes of boil. There are many people that make the outlet hose long enough to set out on the lawn or whatever. I've even saw a guy warming his pool with the warm water from his immersion chiller posting online somewhere. Personally, I just use the water to spray out my MLT and fill half my sink with water to use to clean up with. Since I don't have a lawn or anything that's probably the extent of my water conservation for now. The problem with immersion chillers and counterflow chillers is that they are only going to get the wort to or close to the temperature of your tap water. When in extreme climate areas the water coming out of your tap could be pretty warm. A true counter-flow chiller flows cold water through a hose that is surrounding a copper coil of hot wart flowing the opposite direction (hence the name counter-flow). What iPodGuy has created is a Hybrid chiller, similar to EdWort's www.homebrewtalk.com/f51/recirculating-ice-water-chiller-38235/ And I'd imagine it's pretty efficient. When it gets hot here in June and July it takes my tap water a good 30 minutes to get to 80f with my immersion chiller. During the colder months I can generally get it down within 20 minutes, and I believe the best time was 12 minutes. It's really just going to be a matter of personal preference and your climate conditions.


Most wort chillers are like that, you pass cold water through the coil while it is immersed in a hot wort. For exact your reasoning also, it's easier to prevent odd flavors and "infections" when it can be sterilized and the outside can be sterilized while it is difficult to do the inside. As far as losing the cold water, I avoided that with a simple cooler filled with ice and water and I made the chiller a closed system using a pump and return, although the chilling fluid ultimately uses up its capacity, the wort is cool before it happens. I draw from the cooler and return it to the cooler. So I can chill a wort with a single cooler with ice and water instead of gallons of water flowing down the drain into the septic or sewer.
iPodGuy (author)  Goodluck5 years ago
You just perfectly described an immersion chiller.
tashiandmo5 years ago
Nice job.  I made a similar one using a 5 gal bucket a while back, and it works great.  I live in Az, and the cold water in the summer isn't cold enough for either a counterflow or immersion type chiller to be very effective. Ice water works great though, and it conserves water. 

Since you obviously use 3/8" transfer tubing, you could have cut costs down by skipping at least the top hose barb adapter and related fittings.  The 3/8" ID hose fits snugly over the 3/8" OD copper tubing, and it also eliminates the lip at the joint in the fitting that could harbor bacteria, which makes cleaning and sanitizing easier.