How to make a wort chiller for homebrewing

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:

Step 2: A word on safety

Picture of A word on safety
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.
AKNeal1 year ago
What are the part numbers for the 3/8" compression fittings (male and female)? Thanks!!
babeladyj2 years ago
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.
BeeRich4 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)  BeeRich4 years ago
I was doing a little research online, and I this is halfway between a counterflow chiller and a jockey box.
BeeRich iPodGuy4 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).
jsgraham3 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.
xmobisx3 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)  xmobisx3 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.

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:

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 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.