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Plate Chiller Learning Pains

Just attempted my first brew using a plate chiller. Seems like most everything that could have gone wrong did.

  • Surrounded by perfect no-wind days… and my burner got to do battle with 10 mph winds all afternoon with me holding cardboard beside it to try block the wind

  • Hooked up the water wrong (was using hose quick-disconnects for the cold water) and didn’t get more than a dribble of cold water through the plate chiller…

  • Tried recirculating with the plate chiller and pump and ended up clogging the chiller up…

  • Almost 24 hours after pitching yeast and no sign of activity…

At least i learned some lessons… i will just have to put them to use next time. gonna give the beer a bit of time to see if the yeast starts working!

When I do something drastically new I always do a mock run with just water, though that wouldn’t help with plugging your plate chiller with hops. I’ve been thinking of getting a plate chiller but stories like yours have kept holding me back, I’m thinking I may build a counterflow chiller instead.

You won’t regret the counterflow. I have a 40 plate chiller that I don’t use anymore. I’m saving it now for a solar project.

I’ll come out to advocate for the plate chiller. I absolutely love it and use the smaller, cheaper shirron model. Even in summer with warmer water I can get down close to pitching temps quick within five minutes. Because of that short time it uses very little water compared to some other chillers I have seen. Two things to think about when using it:

1st Hops: use a hop bag. If you don’t like that I have recently got a dip tube angled to the side of the kettle and have used a sanitized spoon to stir and whirlpool the wort which settles all the hops and trub in the center. Usually stir and let settle for ten to fifteen minutes and don’t have a problem. Just did a IIPA without an issue.
2nd Cleaning: Backflushing with hot water seems to work, if you have a pump you can recirculate PBW or Oxiclean for a while as well. Have never had a infection since using it.

I guess I’ve never used a good counterflow chiller and have only seen a couple crappy and cheap immersion or counterflow ones in action and neither was as nice as the plate chiller IMO.

This is my counterflow chiller:

Even with back-flushing my plate chiller with hot caustic soda, I could never get my plate chiller completely clean. The big ones used by breweries come apart for cleaning. You can, however, heat sterilize the smaller, brazed plate chiller in the oven or pressure cooker. That way, when you have “chunks” coming out of it, they are sterile.

That’s a nice one!
Did you do the coiling, and the build?

[quote=“Stealthcruiser”]That’s a nice one!
Did you do the coiling, and the build?[/quote]

Nah, I bought it new salvage. It’s a re-purposed heat exchanger from a commercial HVAC system. The coil is around 20 ft of 3/4" convoluted copper (cupronickel) tubing jacketed by 1 1/2" copper water cooling jacket. I had to reduce down to 1/2" in and out to use existing pumps and hoses. (The hose connection in the picture was for pressure testing purposes) and I put quick connections on the water in/out.

The coil is over 16" in diameter and weighs over 36 lbs.

It can take 14 gal of wort from boiling to 62F in less than 6 minutes, easy. Easy to clean, with no crud getting stuck.

[quote=“fightdman”][quote=“Stealthcruiser”]That’s a nice one!
Did you do the coiling, and the build?[/quote]

Nah, I bought it new salvage. It’s a re-purposed heat exchanger from a commercial HVAC system. The coil is around 20 ft of 3/4" convoluted copper (cupronickel) tubing jacketed by 1 1/2" copper water cooling jacket. I had to reduce down to 1/2" in and out to use existing pumps and hoses. (The hose connection in the picture was for pressure testing purposes) and I put quick connections on the water in/out.

The coil is over 16" in diameter and weighs over 36 lbs.

It can take 14 gal of wort from boiling to 62F in less than 6 minutes, easy. Easy to clean, with no crud getting stuck.[/quote]

Would ya’ happen to know what type of commercial HVAC it came out of?
I have a neighbor who does this type of work, and would like for him to keep his eyes open for anything of the type.

Perhaps, it might have been a “heat pump” type of system?..“Ground loop” coupled?..Just throwing these out there, in case it sparks a memory.

:cheers:

[quote=“Stealthcruiser”][quote=“fightdman”][quote=“Stealthcruiser”]That’s a nice one!
Did you do the coiling, and the build?[/quote]

Nah, I bought it new salvage. It’s a re-purposed heat exchanger from a commercial HVAC system. The coil is around 20 ft of 3/4" convoluted copper (cupronickel) tubing jacketed by 1 1/2" copper water cooling jacket. I had to reduce down to 1/2" in and out to use existing pumps and hoses. (The hose connection in the picture was for pressure testing purposes) and I put quick connections on the water in/out.

The coil is over 16" in diameter and weighs over 36 lbs.

It can take 14 gal of wort from boiling to 62F in less than 6 minutes, easy. Easy to clean, with no crud getting stuck.[/quote]

Would ya’ happen to know what type of commercial HVAC it came out of?
I have a neighbor who does this type of work, and would like for him to keep his eyes open for anything of the type.

Perhaps, it might have been a “heat pump” type of system?..“Ground loop” coupled?..Just throwing these out there, in case it sparks a memory.

:cheers: [/quote]
I don’t know. It was a freight salvage part. Brand new still with the plastic plugs on the ends. I called the manufacturer to check regarding the materials used and they are all OK.

Got it!
One more…Where does one look for such “freight salvage” buys?

We have a salvage / overstock store near me, but they only carry cheesy furniture and tabletop knick knack crap!

I regularly visit
American Science and Surplus sciplus.com

and

But have never come across anything of the like.

Thanks!

[quote=“Stealthcruiser”]Got it!
One more…Where does one look for such “freight salvage” buys?

We have a salvage / overstock store near me, but they only carry cheesy furniture and tabletop knick knack crap!

I regularly visit
American Science and Surplus sciplus.com

and

But have never come across anything of the like.
I used to live in Lawrenceville GA and there was a Peachtree Salvage there. You’d never know what you would find. Check some of these:
http://www.corpdetails.com/us-companies/Georgia/apparel-accessory-stores?sic=56&sicsub=561102

Thanks![/quote]

Thank you, Sir!

My first piece of advice to the OP: don’t chuck your plate chiller just because a couple guys on a forum say that they didn’t like theirs.

I’ll join inhousebrew as an advocate of the plate chiller. I had a bad experience once, but it was my own fault. One of the first times I used it, it clogged with hops because my hop spider came apart and spilled into my beer.

Here are the key elements of my procedure:

  • Hops must be filtered out. Use a hop spider, stainless hop basket, or whatever solution floats your boat
  • After use, always backflush to rinse out the wort and as many solids as you can
  • The night before using, throw it in the oven at 400-450°F for an hour to kill any nasties that may be lurking inside
  • Before using, sanitize with star-san or if you have a pump, recirculate hot wort through it during the boil
    Those are the essentials. I also give it an overnight soak in PBW every now and then.

Whether you use a plate chiller or a counter-flow, it will work better with a high-temp pump.

I have a friend who loved his counter-flow and tried convincing me to get one. After he watched my plate chiller in operation, he has converted to that. Funny how these things go.

Not to hijack, but “fightdman” got me “surplus surfin”, and spotted some temp controls that could be used for fermentation temp control…

This new, surplus stuff, and scope out the REST of the stuff on the sight, such as “thermometers”, etc.

It’s a Johnson Controls unit, but NOT the beloved “A 419” i believe it’s called, but could work just as well, albeit not digital, and the range goes only down to 40 degrees.

http://surpluscityliquidators.com/view_ ... ER_COATING http://cgproducts.johnsoncontrols.com/C ... 927025.PDF

I’m not ready to give up on the plate chiller yet. Just need to find a good solution to make sure I don’t clog it next time. I’m sure a lot of this will be trail and error, but any improvement is improvement at this point.

The beer did take off about a day after I posted this. So all is not lost! it seems pretty cloudy, but ill give it plenty of time to clear up. current plan is to transfer to a secondary this weekend and let it sit for another 2 weeks before i look to bottle.

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