Monday, September 21, 2009

Thoughts on No Chilling

Well, it's come time to do some modifications in my brewing procedure. When I first started, I was using a 30qt enamel canning pot to do full boils on an electric stove in my first apartment. I had such a hard time getting to a boil that I needed to keep the lid on partially for the bulk of boiling. Since then, I've upgraded to a (borrowed) aluminum 32qt pot and turkey fryer, a 25' immersion chiller and then a 50' copper chiller (using the former as a pre-chiller). When I left Kansas I gave my good buddy my larger chiller as I didn't think I'd be brewing much in the near future. Since I started brewing again here in DC, I've just been using my 25' chiller attached to the kitchen faucet. Again, since I moved from my previous apartment to here in Columbia Heights, I don't have a faucet that's adaptable to my chilling setup, and had to use an aquarium pump to pump chilled water through my chiller.
(Extra) long story short, I've been really dissatisfied with my chilling setup, as it takes nearly 45min to an hour to reach appropriate pitching temps (seasons aside). Jamil's whirlpool chiller has been something I've loved to upgrade to, but it requires a heavy duty pump that is well over $100. Since then, I've tried to find other ways to bypass this most important brewing process. The "no-chill" method whereby the brewer stores his near boiling wort in an HDPE container (or other heat tolerant container) overnight, or when they're ready to pitch yeast, seems to be getting very popular. There are several reasons for going this route: no water is used, and perhaps wasted, during the chilling process. The brewer saves some time by no chilling and pitching yeast the next day. There's less exposure to air and environment during chilling when the wort is at its most able to be infected by wild yeast/bacteria.
However, there have been many (unproven at least) detractors to this method. One is a combination of excess DMS production and potential chill haze by factors of covering the wort while it's still at boiling temps and not creating a well defined (and separated) cold break. According to many brewers, these are simply mysteries, and proven untrue. The most disturbing possibility is that of botulism which can thrive under a rich sugar environment with the absence of oxygen. However, many brewers think that the density of sugar and the lowered pH of wort is enough to thwart the possibilty of infection. In addition, by shortening the process from "chilling" to pitching yeast to <48hrs, it's possible to make this infection nonexistant.
I've since been sold to trying this process as the investment is limited to purchasing sealed HDPE containers which at a maximum are $15 a piece. These can also be used as fermenters with an appropriate stopper, but are extremely oxygen permeable (415 times a wooden barrel, 13 times a glass carboy with silicone stopper) so they shouldn't be used for prolonged storage.
Well, throughout the arguments I've heard, I'm compelled to give this a shot. I've yet to ascertain a time period in which massive amounts of DMS can be tasted/smelled, and will be doing 90min boils from now in with Pilsner malt rich malt bills. If anyone has any tips to add to my process, I'm more than happy to learn.


  1. Is a wooden barrel really less oxygen permeable than a glass carboy with silicone stopper?

  2. According to Raj Apte, a 1200 liter Rodenbach wooden barrel diffuses in .86 cc/Liter/year of O2 while a 20 liter glass carboy with "silicone stopper" allows 17. Not sure what he's referring to as the stopper, but those are the numbers given in Wild Brews.

  3. Dan,
    Go to Home Depot or Lowes and pick up a small sump pump, you can get them for around 60.00. I fill a cooler with ice water and attach my IC to the pump. Place the pump in the cooler and plug it in. I can get down to the mid-60's within 20 min max. Also, start off using tap water until I get down to about 110 before attaching to the pump. Works great.

  4. I've come to doubt those numbers for Rodenbach. There is simply no way that their beers would get that acetic with that little oxygen. I suspect that number only represents how much O2 is coming through the sides of the barrel. At the top of the barrel, where the beer isn’t in contact with the wood, the staves would not swell and are probably letting in considerably more O2.

    Just my take on it.

    I do a modified version of the no-chill in the summer when my tap water isn't cold enough. I use my immersion chiller to get the beer down to ~80, then I stick the fermenter into the fermentation freezer over night to cool the rest of the way.

  5. Scott, like I said, I'm investing just a little bit to give this a shot. It also allows you to do a real wort starter the night before pitching (which has made it a little more confusing because I'm trying to figure out how to split this 3787 for the barrel brew next week). Perhaps when I have a HOUSE like some lucky people, I'll get back into a more elaborate chilling process.