Chill, Part 2 (how not to do it)

In the last post on this topic I talked about my concern that the process of wort chilling can be a huge waste of water.  Well, waste might not be a fair term, but it can take a significant amount of water to cool the wort, and for many people this water goes straight down the drain.  Water is a precious resource, and I fear that often our society takes it for granted.

As I proceeded in my brewing career I realized that the temperature of the water coming from my tap had a huge impact on chilling times.  In the winter, the tap water in Western Pennsylvania can drop down to 5 °C or so.  Wort chilling proceeds pretty quickly at this temperature. In the summer the water can reach 20 °C or higher.  I like to pitch many ale yeasts at 16 to 18 °C, and if the chilling water is at 20 °C then one has no hope of reaching the desired pitching temperature.  Lager temps?  Yeah, funny.

So what I decided I needed to do was come up with a way to lower my incoming water temperature year round.  So I built this pre-chiller contraption:

The coil on the bottom came from a ice maker kit.  The remainder of the device was carefully sweated together.  Egads, there is probably $20 worth of copper in this thing.  Oh well, it was cheaper then.

So how does it work?  The coil is inserted into an ice bath, preferably in a cooler as shown.  The valve in the center is initially set wide open. The water from the tap comes in the fitting at the upper right and exits at the upper left.  Since the “path of least resistance” is through the valve (rather than the narrow tubes in the coils), the bulk of the water flows directly through the pre-chiller. This is fine, as even relatively warm tap water removes a significant amount of heat from near boiling wort.

Once the wort gets down to 40 or 50 °C (OK, 100 to 120 °F) the valve is closed.  This forces the water to go through the coil (in the ice bath).  I never measured the temperature of the water coming out of the chiller coil.  In the ice water bath was at 1 or 2 °C, then I figured the water could get down to 5 °C.  So, how did it work?  OK, I guess.  I did have to keep replenishing ice in the ice bath, but it did seem to be effective, especially when trying to lower the wort temperature to lager yeast pitching temps.  But it required a number of connections to be made, and each connection was a possible source of a leak.  So after a few tries with this, I gave it up. But I did not give up on trying t use less water. More to come.

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