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Tim Bissell Tim Bissell
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Three Pint Stance – Help the homebrewer in your life chill out

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Over the weekend, I was at Stompers in Holden pouring some Gneiss beers for an in-store tasting as part of their extremely well-attended 1 Year Anniversary (And a very happy anniversary to them indeed!).

While pouring beers, I happened to meet a homebrewer and casual reader of this column who told me that his favorite column were the ones where I discuss home brewing and do my best to impart some of the collected wisdom that has lodged itself in my brain over the past decade or so of making my own hooch.

With that in mind, I figured I would touch upon the topic of home brewing this week, specifically dealing with what I found was the most appreciated and game-changing piece of brewing equipment in my homebrew setup: the Wort Chiller.

What is a wort chiller and why is it such a game changer? Here’s the quick and dirty. When you make beer, no matter if it’s all grain, partial grain or a full-on extract brew, you have to boil the wort (what we brewers call the beer before it is fermented). Once you boil the wort, you have to cool it down to 80 degrees or less in order to be able to add your yeast without harming them with high temperatures. Most brewers find this to be the longest part of the brew day, simply waiting for the wort to cool down.

You might think that just killing the heat and waiting would suffice, but cooling five gallons of just boiled sugar water can take a lot longer than you’d expect; that lag time can be most dangerous for your beer-in-progress. As your wort sits in-between the temperatures of 90 and 140 degrees (Fahrenheit, of course), it is at its most exposed to picking up a foreign yeast or bacteria that can infect the batch and product a foul-tasting beer (alternatively, it could create a delicious sour beer, but unplanned spontaneous inoculations shouldn’t ever be your goal). The best approach is to get your liquid from just boiled to “pitchable” - suitable for yeast to be added - temp as soon as possible.

This is where the wort chiller comes in to play! There are two main types of wort chillers: the immersion chiller - a copper coil with a water inlet and water outlet that you immerse into the hot wort and then run cold water through the copper pipe, allowing for the cold water to cool the liquid without ever coming into contact with it; and the plate chiller - a small box that has a water inlet and water outlet as well as a beer inlet and beer outlet, which pulls in both liquids and passes them over metal plates, with beer on one side and cold water on the other, allowing for an even faster thermal conversion between the beer and water, again without the beer actually coming in contact with the water. Both are very effective at what they do, but the plate chiller is a bit more expensive and requires the use of a pump to move the beer through it, so my recommendation for the casual to moderately serious homebrewer is the immersion chiller.

Immersion chillers can usually get your beer from 200-plus degrees down to a pitchable temp in about 20 minutes - much faster than simply waiting for it to cool at ambient temps or even parking the kettle in a snow bank for a while (I’ve tried it and trust me - it doesn’t work as fast as you want). At the cost of around $80 (at Central Street Farmhouse, shop local this holiday season!), there are few pieces of equipment that you can add to your homebrewing arsenal that will make as big an impact to your process without breaking the bank.

Long story short - chill out, home brewers! Just make sure you have the right equipment with which to do it and you’re on your way.

(Editor’s note: Cool story, bro.)

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