If you don't want great beer, then don't cool your wort with a chiller

how to cool a beer wort with a chiller
When making beer, the key part of the whole exercise is getting fermentation occurring as quickly as possible once the wort has been prepared.

The trouble is, the wort is usually bloody hot and if you add yeast to the wort, it will die a miserable death.

Like the T-100 in Terminator 2.

So what can you do?

It’s simple.

You may wish to consider investing in a wort chiller.

That’s not the only reason you’d want to by a chiller though. The use of one can improve the quality of your beer in several ways.

The first is to protect the beer against infections.

While the wort it is still hot bacteria and wild yeasts are inhibited from toying with your beer which is a good thing but it is very susceptible to oxidation damage as it slowly cools.

An efficient cool down can prevent this damage from occurring.

It also prevents the production of dimethyl sulphide. This compound can produce off flavourings in the beer so obviously, you’d want to remove the risk of this being produced as much as you can.

Ideally, the conscientious brewer should aim to get the wort to below 80°F ( 27°C) before oxidation or contamination has a chance to occur. The use of a wort chiller will get you there in no time.

The ‘cold break’ and ‘chill haze’

You may have heard of ‘chill haze’. This is a really common cause of beer cloudiness where the wort has been boiled and the cooling process has not generated enough ‘cold break’.

The cold break is the proteins from the beer that are precipated to the bottom of the beer by the cold temperature.

Using a copper wort chiller allows for an effective way to get more cold break forming and thus reduces the chance of chill haze in your finished beer.

The less crap in your beer, the better it will taste.

A tale of two chillers

There are actually two basic types of wort chillers: immersion and counter-flow.

Immersion chillers are the simplest and work by running cold water through the coil which immersed in the wort. The heat of the wort is transferred via the copper into the water which is quickly is carried away 

Counterflow chillers work in an opposite manner.

The hot wort is drained from the pot via the copper tubing while cold water flows around the outside of the chiller.

What does the garden hose have to do with chilling beer?

You should look to buy a wort chiller that has your standard garden hose connection. 

This allows for brewing outside on a nice summer's day or connecting to a laundry sink faucet as your chilling water source. 

That can give you some room to breathe outside rather than managing all kinds of cooling shenanigans in the kitchen!

Go for quality

You get what you pay for so look for wort chillers that cool efficiently, don’t leak and will last many brews.

Just as you should always get the bigger brewing kettle, go for the quality wort chiller. 

In the long run, it will be wort(h) it.

Our featured wort chiller - Copperhead Immersion Wort Chiller

copper head immersion wort chiller

The two stand out features of this chiller are that it comes with 25 foot copper coil for efficient cooling and its vinyl tubing comes with the standard garden hose connection that we mentioned above.

It also features:
  • All copper coil construction is easy to clean and will conduct heat better than other metals.
  • Ensure secure tubing with proprietary barbed fittings. Eradicate shooting streams of water that make a mess in your brew cave.
  • Drop-angle connections provide insurance against contamination.
  • Dimensions: 9 inches wide, 16 inches tall to the bend, 3/8 ID tubing
Check out the pricing on Amazon.

My unsurprising beer making success with Te Aro's Obligatory fresh wort pack

Brewing an Obligatory Pale Ale

My unsurprising beer making success with Te Aro Brewing Co's 'Obligatory' fresh wort pack

I was lucky enough to catch up with Nathan from Te Aro Brewing Company (we used to be workmates at a fairly well known internet company some years back) and to meet the brewery's founder Karl Kayes.

The brewery has a front-of-shop known as Brewtopia, wherein they shared with me a taste of some of their wares.

Nathan offered me a sample of their Oligatory pale ale beer. A fine tasting beer, I offered my compliments. He then blew my mind by offering me one of Te Aro Brewing Company's 'Obligatory' fresh wort packs to try out and review.

Obligatory fresh wort packSuch is my sophistication when it comes to beer making, I'd never heard of a fresh wort pack before but soon enough I was lugging around 20 litres of ready made Obligatory wort back home.

On arrival my wife looked at me with some suspicion.

What had  I brought home in this mysterious black container.

Petrol? Insecticide?

No darling, beer!

So, I grabbed the fermenter and gave it a clean and then sanitized with some sodium percarbonate.

I was extra particular about this process and I rinsed it all out with boiling water. There was no way I was going to let this special treat from Te Aro get ruined by poor preparation! This took me about 10 minutes.

Before I started this cleaning process I actually got the yeast going by adding it to a glass of warm water. The yeast was the popular home brewer's choice of Safale US-05.

So, now it came time to prepare the beer.

I emptied the 20 litres of wort into the fermenter, making sure it splashed around quite a lot to ensure the wort got some oxygen into it (this helps with fermentation).

It was a nice light drown colour and not as thick as I imagined it would be (probably as I'm so used to making brews with beer kits).

And then less than a minute later, I was ready to pitch the yeast.

It was almost too easy.

I put the lid on the fermenter and added the airlock.

I did not add any hops at this stage. Not my normal approach, but I intended to follow Nathan's instructions as best I could so I added the hops at day 5.

So straight away I was able to see the benefit of using a pre-made wort - you save a lot of time, there's no need to go and buy a beer enhancer or DME and it's a lot less messier than dealing with a beer kit.

Indeed, there's no mess with a wort pack!

You can actually recycle the wort pack container by taking it back to Brewtopia on a brewing day for a new wort and a wee discount as you are using your own storage device!

Nathan recommended that the brew be stored in a dark place with an average temperature of between 14 to 22 degrees centigrade and that 16 - 20 is best. I'll be frank, I have no idea what the temperature was but I left it in my warm kitchen for 48 hours.

I then transferred it to my man shed outside and covered it in a whole pile of old sheets and towels.

Classic move eh?

At this point I noted that no bubbles were coming out of the air lock, nor did I observe any scum or residue lining the inside of the fermenter, early days though and the lack of bubbles after two days does not mean I have a brewing disaster on my hands!

At day 5 I added the hops - a combination of some delicious smelling Nelson Sauvin, NZ Cascade and Motueka. On opening the fermenter's lid I was now able to see a great layer of bubbles and scum so clearly something good had been occurring.

So now it was a waiting game to let the brew do its thing.

Bottling day

I prepared the Obligatory on the 27th of September and bottled two weekends later on the 9th of October. This was a couple of days shy of the time recommended by Nathan but whatever, close enough!

Bottling was a straight forward exercise and I was very diligent with sanitizing the bottles.

Now it's an even longer wait!

So while I wait, let's talk about ingredients of the beer and whether fresh wort packs are worth it.

Wort pack ingredients

Malt: Gladfields American Ale Malt, Gladfields Pale Crystal, Gladfields Toffee Malt,
Hops: Nelson Sauvin, NZ Cascade and Motueka

I gotta tell ya, that combination of hops was one of the most delicious smells. I kept them in the fridge until it was time to add them and everytime I opened the fridge, I got the most delightful whiff of them.

Pricing and whether a fresh wort pack is wort(h) it

So what's the cost? Let's be clear, this is not a cheap product. It's a quality product so expect a quality price of $70 for the wort.

This also includes the Safale yeast and the hops which should make your wallet feel a bit better.

There is no need for an enhancer because Te Aro Brewery has made the wort such as they would make their Oligatory to sell to their keen punters and the local Wellington bars which want quality craft beers to serve their fickle* patrons.

If you compare that to a using a beer kit, fresh yeast, extra hops and an enhancer, you're looking at approximately $40 a brew (that is if you use a lower range beer kit). So that $30 odd dollar difference is buying you a beer quality well above what may be achieved with a standard beer kit.

It's also buying you time.

It took only a few minutes to get the fermenter clean and the yeast pitched into the wort. And that was the longest part of the whole brewing exercise.

So if you are time sensitive, a fresh wort pack is the way to go.

Let's be clear, I'm not knocking beer kits, I think they are great!

The verdict. How did the Obligatory taste?

I'm not a patient man, I could hardly wait a week, let alone three to try the Obligatory.

So, I tried one a week after bottling.

I gotta tell you, I had some high expectations around this brew and I was not disappointed.

This was a most excellent tasting beer, even only after a week of conditioning. It possessed a bold, hoppy taste.

It felt oakey in some way, which sounds pretentious but it's not.

It has an excellent mouth feel with some good body.

It's a very easy drinking beer and I look forward to enjoying it further with the first BBQ of the summer season.

I firmly recommend this to any beer maker who is looking for a quick way to make genuine quality home brew beer.

Update - after a two week conditioning period I had another crack and the flavours were even more amazing. This is probably the best tasting beer I have ever brewed. 

I'm sold Jimmy, where can I buy the wort kit?

Brewtopia sell their wort online, so grab yourself one today - you can always visit and have a yarn with the brewing team.

You can also sign up to Te Aro's Wort Pack email list so you'll be in the know when batches are ready.

*fickle, yes I said that. Beer drinkers can be the worst snobs. 

How to stop cloudy home brew from happening

Cloudy beer can suck visually, but why does it happen?

I did a batch of beer and nicely conditioned it and on pouring, it came about cloudier than usual.

It looked like a wheat beer that had been mixed with saw dust.

Tasted alright though, but I wondered what had caused this to happen? Usually my brews look deliciously golden.

Was it because I made a mistake brewing?
Did I get the temperature wrong?
Was my yeast off?

Well, the truth is cloudy home brew beer is a common thing and it can occur for various reasons.

First up, as you are bottling your beer, you may notice that beer can be cloudy. This is a very normal part of the process as the beer hasn’t fully become beer yet.

As you bottle, you add some form of priming sugar. The residual yeast in the bottle will feed on that sugar and carbonation war occur. As the sugars are consumed by the yeast, the yeast will fall to the bottom of the bottle and the beer will go "clear".

You’ll obviously be able to tell this has happened as your beer will not be cloudy AND there will likely be some sediment at the bottom of the beer bottle.

Leaving the beer in the fermenter a bit longer than you might usually do so gives your beer time to clear even more.

By letting the yeast do its thing for a longer time, your beer will taste better too.

Do you know what the best trick is to avoid cloudy beer is? 

A careful pour from the bottle will usually avoid stirring up the sediment which causes a cloudy glass of beer. 

This is especially so if you have got a perfect level of carbonation – an over sugared beer means more bubbles which increases the chance of the sediment being stirred up into your pour.

If opening your beer causes the beer to go cloudy because the bubbles stir the sediment up too much, I've found cooling the beer in a fridge for 24 hours can help prevent this quite well.

Cooling and refrigeration

One of the reasons why beer does go cloudy is due to improper refrigeration timings and techniques.

The process of storing beer is called laagering (sounds like lager eh?). Lagers are lagers because they are best stored cold.

Nordic Vikings learned this method years ago when they laagered their beer barrels in cold caves over the winter or something...

Refrigeration of storing beer in a cool place helps to clear beer rapidly.

The science behind this is at lower temperatures it is more difficult for the yeast, tannins and proteins in the beer to remain suspended.

Cold stored beer will clear much more rapidly than beer stored at a normal room temperature.

If you intend to laager your beer you must wait until carbonation has occurred. If you cool your beer too soon, you run the risk of disrupting the yeast from its secondary fermentation process and carbonation may not occur (or it will be very slow to do so).

Fining agents can reduce cloudiness

A number of fining agents can be added to the finished beer that will aid in clearing the beer quickly.

These agents work by attaching themselves to the yeast, tannins and proteins to help them precipitate to the bottom of your fermenter or bottle more quickly.

Plain gelatin can be used quite well. Dissolve it in a warm sterile water and add it to your fermenter a few days before bottling.

Polyclar is also a popular product to use.

I also have a sneaky suspicion that gelatin in jelly beans also works to help clear the beer.

Chill haze and the 'cold break'

You may have heard of ‘chill haze’. This is a really common cause of beer cloudiness where the wort has been boiled and the cooling process has not generated enough ‘cold break’. 

The cold break is the proteins from the beer that are precipated to the bottom of the beer by the cold temperature.

Using a copper wort chiller allows for an effective way to get more cold break forming and thus reduces the chance of chill haze in your finished beer.

German wheat beers are often cloudy and that's just the way it is

If you are making a German style wheat beer, it is natural for a wheat beer to have an element of cloudiness.

Some beers, like German Hefeweizens, use yeasts and ingredients that make the beer cloudy no matter what you do.

So how do the big breweries avoid producing cloudy beer?

It’s a simple trick.

Commercial brewers filter their beer. From it they take all the live yeast and basically bottle a “lifeless” product. The beer you brew and drink still contains live yeast so there’s a much more likelihood of a cloudy home brew happening.

The beer like Steinlager that you buy from commercial brewers (and even craft beer breweries) will have been be filtered.

Another handy trick that the home brewer can do to improve their beer is to use a fining agent. 

The agent is usually a form a gelatin or moss (!) and it binds to the yeast and other particles in the beer and drags them down to the bottom of the beer to take their grave as sediment. 

A cloudy beer isn’t the end of the world but hopefully this will give a little insight into why your beer is cloudy and how you can try to clear it up the next time that you brew.

5 brewing beer mistakes you can easily avoid

5 brewing beer mistakes you can easily avoid

While beer brewing is often touted as serious business, it's actually a fairly simple process but mistakes can be made.

Here's 5 brewing mistakes that can happen if you take your eye off the boil.

Sanitation is not just the job of the Sanitation Department

If you think that you can just grab your beer making equipment from the back of the closet and start to brew, you’re probably in for bad batch of beer.

You need to sanitize everything bit of equipment you use. If you're starting out as a home brewer, your kit should contain a cleansing and sanitising agent.

You must ensure that at the very least your drum is fully clean and sterilized before your start your brewing.

There is nothing more disappointing than recognizing the scent of a contaminated brew when you bottle your batch!

You pitch your yeast when the wort is too hot

Cooling your beer down is not just to assist with removing nasties from your beer and reducing the risk of any infection, it helps with ensuring that your yeast finds itself in a hospitable environment - that is to say if you pitch your yeast too early, you run the risk of killing it (it’s a microorganism after all).

No yeast means no fermentation.

And well, that just sucks right.

If you want to get really fancy, you might want to invest in a wort chiller.

Your yeast is older than the hills

Yeast is a living breathing organism. It’s job in the beer making process is to feast on the sugars and beer wort and ferment them into alcohol.

If your yeast is too old then you run the real risk of fermentation not occurring.

If you are brewing from a beer kit, it’s often recommend that you discard the yeast that comes with the kit and purchase some fresh yeast.

But in saying that, I've never had a problem with yeast from a beer kit.

You drink your beer too early

It can most definitely be a mistake for sure to drink your beer too early. Your beer needs time to carbonate and most importantly, it also needs time to chill out and finish the fermentation process.

A patient beer drinker will let his beer sit in a quiet part of the garden shed for two - three weeks at least before indulging.

He knows that his beer will taste better for it and be worthy reward for his efforts.

Storing your beer at the wrong temperature

We’ve already talked about temperature once but we’ve got to do it one more time. The storage of your beer is very important. The yeast does different things at different temperatures. 

So during the fermentation stage, the beer needs to be kept at a constant temperature that's appropriate for the yeast.

Same goes for the storing of the beer.

If you leave freshly bottle beers in your shed in the middle of winter, they might not carbonate so leave them somewhere warm for short time. 

Lager beers love the cold, so can be stored in the shed, where as your ales may benefit from being kept in a warmer environ.

These are some easy mistakes to avoid - have fun with your brewing but keep in mind you've got to keep it clean and warm! Or cold…

Beer caps and cappers - how and what to use when bottling beer

Beer caps and cappers - how and what to use when bottling beer

Beer caps and cappers - how and what to use when bottling beer

Once I was bottling beer I got about 10 bottles into capping them and I remembered that I hadn’t added any sugar for carbonation.

I quickly opened the beers and added the sugar and got back to it.

But what If I had forgotten to add the sugar?

That’s a beer bottling horror story right there.

NE this is a nice point to talk about what kind of bottle caps you can use to put on your carefully crafted home brew.

The answer is that you can use pretty much any crown seal on your beer but you just need to remember that some crown seals are better than others. 

In my experience is best to go with a branded bottle cap rather than the cheapest you can find. I've found the cheaper ones tend to be less forgiving when using a bottle capper and they are more prone to being rendered unusable if you make a mistake. 

The ever popular beer company, Mr Brewer has a handy pack of 144 crown metal caps for a fair price. There is actually plenty of caps to chose from on Amazon - compare the prices and options

What do I use to cap beer bottles with?

You need a beer capper! Beer cappers come in two forms being the hand held and the bench capper.

The 'wing' hand held capper

For some reason cappers often come in red
The hand held capper is a popular way to cap your beer. Often called 'wing' or universal Rigamonti cappers or Red Baron, they are pretty handy and durable to use.

They do have a couple of draw backs - they can sometimes be hard to separate from the capped bottle if you've applied too much pressure and if you do apply to much force, then you can break the glass bottle.

Overall, they are pretty good units to use. It's actually very satisfying getting a cap on a bottle properly, there's this sudden 'thump' moment when the crown bends down and forms the seal.

Bench Capper

The bench capper can be easier to use because it's a simple pull down lever that can be used with one hand whilst the other hand holds the bottle in place. It's hard to make a mistake with such a method!

It's a good idea to buy a bench capper that can accommodate different sized bottles. The Ferrari model does exactly that which can be quite handy if your bottle collection is all kinds of different shapes and sized.

The Ferrari capper has the following specifications:

  • Spring loaded
  • Caps bottles quickly, cleanly, and accurately
  • Has a magnetic Bell to hold cap in place
  • Self-adjusting spring-mounted capping mechanism
  • Easier to adjust for different size bottles

These are the characteristics you should bear in mind for any bench capper that you might be thinking of buying.

We'll leave with this final tip:

Do I need to sanitize the bottle caps?

As always, before capping your beer, the bottle caps need to be santized before doing so. The best the best way is to soak them in sanitizing solution. That way the whole cap gets santized.

You can use a Star San solution or some sodium percarbonate to kill the bugs.

How black and white is beer brewing?

Beer is beer.

So said the mass producing beer brewing corporation in 1970s when beer was beer and your average beer drinker had no idea about hops.

This was because beer was beer.

Now, beer IS beer.

And it's not black and white. Guinness might be, but that's another story.

The best way to properly store opened beer hops

What is the best way to store opened beer hops?

Today I brewed an ale. After I added the deliciously smelling Cascade hops, I wondered if my my trick of storing the left over hops in the freezer was actually a good storage method.

You see, when I first used hops with a brew, that's the first thing that came to mind to do (maybe I was thinking about coffee or batteries) and I've done it ever since without a further thought. 

Is this an OK way to store the hops?

Are there better ways to care for hops?

Do different hops need different storage methods?

These are the questions that I started to ponder.

So, to save you the hassle, I've done some research into the best ways to store beer hops. And when I say research, I meaning I just did some reading on the internet.

Because beer brewing only needs to be simple and not over thought.

But first we need to take a moment to discuss why the home brewer wants to preserve their hops.

It's because they lose their bittering qualities over time, and their essential oils degrade and this means you might not get the desired brewing flavours if you used hops that have deteriorated.

Fresh is best as they say.

So what's the answer to storing hops then?

Turns out freezing hops is actually a popular trick with beer brewers!

This is what you can do and pretty much all you need to do.

Take your left over beer hops and place them in a zip-lock bag. Remove the excess air, seal and place in the freezer until required.

If you want to go all 'professional' you could use a vacuum sealer to remove all the air.

In such cases, you might not need to freeze the hops if the sealing has been done properly, but it wouldn't hurt.

You can also refrigerate the hops. Again, put them in a zip lock bag and remove as much air as possible. I read that hops can stay fresh for up to a year this way.

That trick would seem to rely on there being hardly any air in the bag!

Extra for Experts:

How to dry hop your beer
How to add hops to the beer kit's wort
Where to buy beer hops online