The Single Best Piece of Equipment that a Homebrewer Can Buy

When I started homebrewing a couple years ago, I took the path that most homebrewers do. I bought a kit for about $60 and naively thought that it would be all I would ever purchase to make beer for the rest of my life (If you’re an experienced homebrewer, you should probably be giggling right now).

While it’s certainly possible to brew some great beer with a barbones starter kit, anyone who catches homebrewing fever will quickly be tempted to start upgrading their setup. Whether it’s moving from extract to all-grain, bottling to kegging, or growing your own hops, the homebrewer’s path is a lengthy (and very often expensive) one.

If you spend any time reading about homebrewing online or talking to newer homebrewers, they’re always curious to know what piece of equipment they should buy next. Much to the chagrin of girlfriends and wives everywhere, it’s all too easy to start filling your brew lab with all sorts of niche gear. But in this humble blogger’s opinion, there is one piece of homebrewing equipment that is a must buy for the aspiring homebrewer:

The Wort Chiller!

The humble wort chiller!

So what exactly is a wort chiller? It’s basically a metal coil of tube (almost always copper due to its heat transfer properties) with tubing attached to it. After your wort has been boiled, you immerse the coiled tube into your wort and run cold water through it. Cold water goes in one end and comes out the other piping hot, effectively taking the heat out of your wort. You can chill a 5 gallon batch in as little as 15 minutes.

But what makes a wort chiller such a good investment. Oh, let me count the ways…

Time: When I first started homebrewing, I thought that a wort chiller was a vanity item. Why pay for a new gadget when the wort will just chill in an ice bath all by itself? Anyone who has used this method knows that it can literally take 5+ hours for a batch to cool down before it’s safe to pitch your yeast. A wort chiller cut my brew day time in half.

Clarity: When wort chills quickly, it also causes proteins to coagulate and sink to the bottom of the kettle. When the wort is just left to cool on its own, you’ll end up with a hazy beer, never fail. This may not be the biggest deal to everyone but it’s often said that we taste with our eyes as well as our noses and mouths.

Sanitation: Uncooled wort without friendly yeast added to it is the perfect hotbed for infection. The longer the wort is exposed to the air while it’s sitting in your jank ass ice bath, the higher the risk of infection. Think about this way, the money lost from one infected batch of beer could have bought a shiny new wort chiller.

DIY: The wort chiller is one of the easier DIY items in the homebrewer’s arsenal. If you can manage to brew a batch of beer, I guarantee that you can build your own wort chiller from instructions found online. Maybe you could find them here, here, or the video below.

Is there another piece of homebrewing equipment that you think is a must buy? Anyone refuse to use a wort chiller? Why? Let me know in the comments.

5 comments

  1. My must-haves are an auto-siphon and a blow tube.

    Auto-siphons eliminate the need for tricks to start a siphon (like taking a shot of vodka and then sucking on the end of the hose).

    Blow tubes are the item that no one realizes they need until it’s too late, and their carboy has blown off its airlock and geysered all over their ceiling.

  2. My carboy/buckets are the single best pieces of equipment… I had so much trouble brewing without them it was ridiculous. Finally I dished out a few dollars for a bucket and holy crap! What a good investment.

  3. Doctor Memory

    Just wanted to say that you should put your wort chiller in before the boil is done, to sanitize it. I chuck mine in for the last ten minutes. I agree, it’s the most helpful add-on piece of equipment I use (I got a hydrometer and auto-siphon with my basic kit).

  4. I can’t afford a wort chiller at the moment, but I do have a way to cut your cooling time. Get a drilled rubber stopper and plug the bottom of your sink. This will reduce the flow of water down the drain. Toss your brew kettle in and start the water. Once the water level is high enough, turn down the cold water until you are able to keep the water at your desired level. This way, you have a constant supply of cold water around your wort. It is not as efficient as a wort chiller, but it will help reduce your cooling time.

    • Bob Charter

      I used to do this with ice in the water…until I got a wort chiller that is. I’m thinking about making another chiller and placing it inline in a salted ice bath to chill the water from the tap before it even gets to the one in the wort chiller.

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