When it comes to home brewing, one of the most tedious jobs is chilling the wort after the boil. It can be time consuming, even with a wort chiller. A simple, but controversial, solution is at hand – the no chill method! Many brewers use the no chill method and claim it is very effective and easy, but others feel that the method may have a number of downfalls. Read on to learn all there is to know about the no chill brewing technique!
During the boil, proteins from the grains and hops clump together and form a material called hot break. Hot break rises to the top of the kettle as the boil starts, but then redissolves as the boil continues. Protein in beer is generally not desired. Some short chain proteins are good to maintain a strong fluffy head, but longer proteins like the ones that form the hot break cause the beer to become hazy. As the wort cools after the boil, these hot break proteins begin to stick together and sink to the bottom of the brew kettle. This is now called the cold break, as the proteins precipitate when the wort is cold. Once the proteins clump and sink to the bottom of the kettle, the cooled wort can be drained off from above the cold break, leaving relatively clear wort to be fermented.
Aside from forming the cold break, the wort also needs to be chilled so that the yeast can be pitched. If the yeast were pitched straight after the boil they would die! Brewers yeast is not the only microorganism that enjoys the sugary wort; bacteria and wild yeast will grow in the wort if you give them half a chance. By quickly chilling the wort to fermentation temperature and pitching the yeast you reduce the likelihood that spoilage organisms will take hold and ruin your brew.
The final reason to chill the brew is to stop the isomeration of hop acids. As hops boil the alpha acids are changed into compounds that taste bitter. The longer hops are boiled the more bitterness compounds that are created. So by chilling the wort below hop isomerisation temperature you set the level of bitterness.
So Why No Chill?
In traditional brewing, a device called a wort chiller is used to cool the wort. Wort chillers are usually made of copper pipe, and cold water is run through or around the pipe to absorb heat from the wort. These work very effectively, but can be slow and are quite expensive to buy.
In no chill brewing, the freshly boiled wort is drained directly into a sanitised heat-proof container and allowed to cool naturally, usually overnight. No chill brewing has several advantages. It requires less expensive equipment, as you only need a sanitised heat-proof container. Food safe HDPE plastic ‘cubes’ are preferred. No chill brewing can save a great deal of time on a brew day, as the brewer doesn’t need to wait around while the wort is chilled before transferring to the fermenter. No chill doesn’t waste water like a wort chiller. Wort chillers can use a great deal of water to cool a full 25L batch of beer. Some can be saved and used for cleaning or watering the garden but often much is wasted.
So why is no chill brewing considered controversial? Because it’s a change to the status quo of course! People can be set in their ways, and dislike change. And of course we all like to believe that we’re doing things the best way. But the no chill method offers a valid alternative to traditional chilling, so long as a few guidelines are followed.
The cold break is dependent on temperature, so will still happen regardless of the chilling method. But the wort must be separated from the break before it is fermented, so there is an extra step in the handling of the unfermented wort. This is a risky time for infections. The sanitation of the no chill cube is also highly important, as the wort often sits overnight as it chills. This is a long time for spoilage organisms to multiply! Also the extended isomerisation of alpha acids from the hops can be a genuine problem with the no chill method. Boiling the hops in a hop sock that can be removed at the end of the boil is highly recommended. That way the hops don’t have an extended period exposed to the hot wort and your beer won’t end up way too bitter.
So there is your introduction to the no chill method in home brewing; a very simple and effective method for chilling your wort. But like all techniques, there are a few rules to follow to ensure things turn out right! Try it out at home and see what you think, if you have any results you’d like to share please comment below!