Chillin – Wort this way!

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Currently ALBC’s twin brewhouses are under renovation. We are currently upgrading to 240V electric for our indoor setups, using Auber Instruments PID controllers to control the power. At this point both Jman and I are looking into different output volumes. But what really is on both of our minds is chillin. We both will need to think about how to chill larger volumes of wort than we are currently used to. Both of us use immersion chillers designed for our smaller systems ( 3 gal and 6 gal volumes )

Most of the time, chilling large volumes means some type of counterflow chiller, plate chiller, or jumbo-immersion-chiller-hybrid-ice-bath-pump-contraption. But the first thing that comes to my mind is no-chill brewing. Why? Its total slacker brewing. I really love the idea of putting the hot finished wort into containers, letting it cool naturally, and fermenting the next day or even weeks later. This saves you some time and gallons of chilling water. The last 3 gallon batch of beer I made used 20 gallons of water just to chill ( @  Wisconsin winter ground water temps  – Yep I measured, what a geek). That’s a lot of water to chill just 3 gallons. I like to save the chill water into containers to use for mopping up, cleaning, sanitizer, or even my next batch of beer. But that is going to be a lot of water to save with increased output, so I won’t be doing that any longer. Also I’m looking to take some shortcuts on my brewday and no-chill could save brew-dad some time.

So what is the no-chill method? Put simply, you drain the near boiling wort into a sanitized plastic container that is resistant to high temps. The container is filled completely full (or any air that may be in the headspace of the container is pushed out) and the container sealed up. The act of putting the hot wort in the container effectively preserves the wort much like you would do with canning vegetables. The wort is then left to cool on its own until it reaches room temperature. As you might expect this is going to take a while unless you live where it is cold or have a cold cellar. Once cooled, you are then free to aerate and pitch yeast at any time. The wort is supposed to stay preserved for quite some time, so fermenting wort that is several months old is common with no-chill brewers. This does seem like the way to go if you want to brew up a big batch of beer but only want to ferment a portion of it. For more info check out BasicBrewingHomebrewTalk and Aussiehomebrewer

But what are the downsides of no-chill? Much digging with various references has resulted in a list of items which may or may not be real:

  •  Off flavors produced by slow cooling. Side by side taste tests show there is a “detectable” difference. But most could not quantify. This may have to do with a different cold break scenario, and break trub staying in contact with the wort for an extended period.
  • Higher bitterness, which could be adjusted by recipe formulation. Late hop additions add bitterness as isomerization continues while the wort slowly cools to room temp. But whirlpool additions will not be the same.
  • Possible DMS problems as the wort stays hot without boiling for a length of time. A 60 min boil with regular malts and a 90 min boil with pilsner malts should take care of this.
  • Near-boiling wort contacting plastic containers could produce off flavors or leach chemicals from the plastic. This last part does have potentially hazardous ramifications, so choice of container is paramount.
  • Some brewers “slow chill” right in their covered brewpot, and pitch yeast the next day. This wort is obviously not safe for long term storage. But if you plan on pitching yeast right away, this could be the simplest method.
  • Wort kept in containers could become infected and produce harmful bacteria such as botulism.  This is very real. So you need to keep an eye out on your containers, bulging containers should be dumped.

There are more issues that may or may not be real. And the only thing really we can do here is test the method and see what happens. I’ll be on the lookout for some food grade, heat resistant, BPA free containters and give this a shot in a side by side at some point. My initial opinion is this might be OK for some styles and not for others.

WinPak Tight head pail from US Plastics

Types of containers that seem popular are:

More to come on our brewery builds as well! If anyone has other tips on chilling 10+ gallons of wort, please add a comment below!

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One Response to Chillin – Wort this way!

  1. ChrisM says:

    I’ve used the US Plastics stackables containers (2.5 gallon size and 5 gallon size) for quite a few no-chill batches. I haven’t had any problems with them.

    I got extra lids for them, so I could drill a hole in the extra lid, put in a rubber stopper and airlock and use these for fermenters. I can fit more of them, into a small space, then traditional buckets or carboys. They fit easily into my standard refrigerator for lagering.

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