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  • Plate chillers: perks and pitfalls

    June 24, 2015 4 min read

    These days I’m all about increasing the efficiency of my brew day. Anything that moves things along faster is worth a little extra effort, in my view. So when it comes time to chill my wort, I always opt for a plate chiller. In some ways, I prefer using an immersion chiller, but those take a lot longer to do the job. Being able to take my brew from boiling to fermenting in 3 to 5 minutes flat makes the small amount of extra cleaning and maintenance that comes with a plate chiller well worthwhile.

    Plate chillers have an amazing ability to draw the heat out of your wort. Here’s how they work: cold water runs through plates in one direction and the hot brew interfaces with that cold water by running through the other side in the opposite direction. In this way, the heat is transferred from the hot wort to the cold water. At the beginning of its cycle, a plate chiller can warm the cold water to as much as 100 degrees as it draws the heat out of your wort.

    The benefit of using a plate chiller with my Brau Supply system is that you can connect it using the stainless quick disconnects included in the kit. You can then run the chiller in line with the brew system so you can pump the wort out and through the plate chiller and then directly into your fermenting bucket. What I love about this setup is that you can cascade your wort through the air and let it flow into the bucket to get maximum aeration. This means no secondary aeration is needed. Good aeration brings plenty of oxygen into your wort so that the yeast gets a really good start. 

    Another way of using the plate chiller is to run it in line with the pump. This is a useful feature if you want to do a hop addition at knockout – a whirlpool hop addition, in other words. Usually brewers will add finishing hops directly to the pot right at flame out, when they shut the element off. Then they stir the wort very fast to try and get it down to pitching temperature – the point at which you’re ready to add your yeast. But with a plate chiller, you can use the pump to run your wort through the plate chiller and then back into the kettle. This is a very efficient way to chill your wort. And the advantage of this technique is that you can use the thermometer that is built into the brew system to see exactly when you've reached pitching temperature (which is about 68 or 67 degrees). 

    There are a couple of things to be aware of when using a plate chiller. The first thing to remember is that plate chillers are all internal, so you need to be very diligent with your cleaning and sanitizing. It’s incredibly important to sanitize your plate chiller right after the brew. If you leave it for a day or two you're going to have problems with wort and gunk inside the chiller that will be very difficult to get out. Do yourself a favour and back-flush your plate chiller with water from the faucet as soon as you finish your brew. Use silicone tubing and an extra quick disconnect to attach the tubing to the faucet.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that you need to make sure your tubing can withstand the pressure from your tap. Make sure you use a heavy-duty hose that can withstand your city water pressure to connect the cold water connection to your faucet. This is a lesson I learned firsthand when some cheap latex tubing I was using kinked and blew up like a balloon until it finally exploded, spraying water all over the room. Learn from my experience, do not cut corners on the tubing running from your cold water source into your plate chiller!

    Once you’ve rinsed your plate chiller thoroughly, you can clean your entire brew system by running the plate chiller in line with the pump and recirculate with PBW (Pro-Brewers Wash), a stainless-safe sanitizing agent. This will ensure that the entire system – from the silicone tubing to the quick disconnects to the pump – is squeaky clean.

    Now you’re all ready for your next brew.

    I hope you’ve found some useful tips in this week’s post. If you’re just starting to consider getting into small batch brewing, check out our shop for some brew system options.

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