How to Make a Wort Chiller

Wort Chiller DIY

You need a wort chiller. Trust me, I know. There is no need to wait hours for your wort to cool, and waiting hours for it to cool can be a bad thing because it means the wort stays at warm temperatures longer…the same temperatures in which undesirable bacteria thrive. If you put the time, money and effort into making a great batch of beer, you might as well spend a few bucks and either buy or make a wort chiller. A wort chiller sure makes brewing go faster. You can buy a good wort chiller at many places online. An affordable option would be something like the 1/4" Copper Wort Chiller and an affordable step up from this would be the Super Efficient 3/8" x 25' Stainless Steel Wort Chiller w/ GH Fittings, both of which can be found on Amazon. However, you might consider making your own wort chiller. Is making a wort chiller the right choice?

To answer this question, you need to ask first ask yourself 2 questions:beer wort chiller

1. How important is $20 to you? (as this is about the savings of making your own versus buying one.)

2. Do you like making things with your hands (other than homebrew)?

If $20 isn't a big deal to you or you really don't like making things with your own hands, you might be better off by purchasing a wort chiller. If you want to make your own, which I did at one time, you should know that building your own will save you a little money, but I emphasize that it only saves you a  LITTLE money…maybe about $20 – $30. Don't get me wrong, this is a decent savings, and the savings can be applied to important things such as quality beer ingredients. Nevertheless, this may not be enough of a savings to justify the time and effort needed of you if you barely have time to brew. 

Depending on where you get your materials, you may save a little less or a little more that $20. The typical wort chiller can be bought for around $50 and up. You can make a wort chiller for around $30. For me, it wasn't the savings that motivated me to build my own. Rather, I just like making things with my hands and I thought it could be a fun project…the savings was just bonus.

You can get as fancy with wort chiller designs as you want, but if you have never worked with flexible copper line, you should focus on a simple single coil design for your first wort chiller. It's easy to crimp or crease copper line in such a way that will reduce the easy with which water flows through it. Forming the copper line must be done slowly and carefully.

You will find some conflicting information online if you search for how to make a wort chiller. To help clear some of the confusion, here's what you need to know:

1. If you are using 1/4" or 3/8" copper line to make your immersive wort chiller, you DON'T need to fill the copper line with salt or any other filler. You may find advice elsewhere to do this, but it isn't needed unless you are using something bigger than 3/8". I experimented with this method and with the 3/8" and 1/4" sized copper line, it really just makes the process more difficult and you are left with a line full of salt or other filler that must be flushed out. However, for copper lines larger than 3/8", filling the line with salt may help prevent kinks as you bend it to your desired style or design.

2. Large diameter lines ARE NOT necessary. A copper coil that is 3/8" in outside diameter (O.D.) will be plenty sufficient, and even 1/4" line can work fine if you mostly make 5 gallon batches. I'd recommend the 3/8" size because it provides a good surface area for cooling, is only slightly more expensive than 1/4" line, and is easy to shape.

3. You need at least 20 feet of copper line. You can get by with less, but 20' to 25' is an ideal length for 5 gallon batches. This length allows for enough coils to effectively and quickly cool the wort and enough overall length to the inlet and outlet stretches of the immersive wort cooler. A little more length would be desirable if you plan to use the wort chiller for batches that are 10 gallon or larger. If you chose to use 1/4" copper line, you might consider going longer…maybe 40' to 50'. While 1/4" line could be used for batches as large as 10 gallons, the 3/8" is a better option due to its larger cooling area and slightly more rigid nature.

4. Fancy designs ARE NOT needed. I emphasize this because you can easily get wrapped up in trying to create some exotic and "magical" design that is supposed to be far superior than all other designs, which can lead to an entire afternoon or evening wasted. The laws of thermodynamics hold true for wort chillers. You want a large enough coil that has the surface area needed to make contact with enough of the hot wort to cool it quickly and thoroughly. A fancy design may look cool, but it isn't worth a wasted afternoon that could be spend brewing.

5. Immersive wort chillers don't pose much resistance to the flow of water. This is something to note if you find you need to Jerry-Rig some way of attaching a faucet to the inlet of the wort chiller. I have seen a simple vinyl line "duct-taped" to a faucet and slipped onto the the inlet of a very ugly wort chiller that actually worked just fine. If you use salt or some other filler, you will certainly need a tighter fit to ensure the water pressure can push the filler out.

6. Use something to wrap the line around. Using a cooking pot or some other cylinder with a diameter smaller than your brew pot to wrap the copper line around and provide a consistent coil shape. This is mostly a cosmetic thing, which may not be important, but it also keep you from kinking the line.

7. A copper line bending tool is nice to have. It isn't essential, but it does help with the sharper bends at the beginning and end of the wort chiller. If you don't have one, just take your time and be careful with the sharper bends. They're not expensive though, so it might be worth getting one. TEKTON 6519 Three-Size Tubing Bender

8. The beginning and end of the worth chiller should be bent to an angle sharper than 45 degrees. This means that the inlet and outlet should  hang over the edge of the brew kettle. This ensures that any condensation or minor water leaks drip to the outside of the brew kettle instead of falling into the wort.

9. High water flow IS NOT necessary. A gentle flow of water through the wort chiller is sufficient. Something more than a trickle is needed, but remember you aren't putting out a fire…and water is a precious resource.

10. You don't have to use special "high temperature" vinyl tubing. While it is nice to have such tubing for the outlet water that has been heated by the wort as it traveled through the coils of a wort chiller, it isn't essential. The water entering the wort chiller is cold water from a faucet, so regular vinyl tubes work fine for this. The outlet water will cool enough in the first few minutes to allow you to handle the tubing with comfort. If you are brewing on a larger scale, or you plan to consume the outlet water, the high temp tubing would be highly desirable. Regardless, I encourage you to collect at least some of the outlet water for use in a washing machine or to water plants.

11. Plan ahead…plan to do something more with your brewing day because you're going to be pitching your yeast hours earlier than you might be used to if you have never used a immersive wort chiller. This could be a good time to brainstorm future brewing recipes while enjoying some previous homebrew creations.

For a good, quick visual demonstration on how to make a wort chiller, check out this video:

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