Ultra-Fast Wort Chilling With Ice

Many beginning brewers - and experienced brewers as well - experience frustration while waiting long hours for their wort to cool before pitching the yeast. Most brewers simply pour their hot wort into their fermenters filled with cold water and then wait long hours - if not overnight - to pitch the yeast. Other brewers try to speed up the cooling by placing their fermenters in snow banks or ice baths, but it still takes several more hours to chill the wort. However, a key to successful brewing is to get fermentation started quickly, so you want to chill your wort as fast as possible.

So what can you do? Chill the hot wort as it sits in your brew pot. Because the pot is made of metal, it will conduct heat (and thus cool) much faster than a glass or plastic fermenter. Also, since you will only be chilling a small volume, it will chill faster than trying to chill such a large volume in your fermenter.

Instructions for wort chilling with ice

Some notes before beginning:

  • Make sure you have a stick-on thermometer on your fermenter.
  • Traditional beer recipes usually recommend beginning with 3 gallons of cold water in the fermenter, into which you pour the hot wort. Using this procedure, you will begin with only 2 gallons of cold water in the fermenter.
  1. Before the end of the boil, sanitize your brew kettle's lid (you don't want a dirty lid on the pot while the wort is chilling).
  2. Near the end of the boil, fill the sink with approximately 6 - 8 trays of ice (you should plan to make this several days in advance). A bag of ice works too.
  3. Fill the sink with enough water so that when you submerge the pot, the cold icy water will be slightly above the level of the hot wort. Don't use too much water or your pot will float away!
  4. At the end of the boil, turn off the heat, place the lid on the pot, and then submerge the pot into the ice bath. Allow the wort to chill until it is just warm. You can aid the chilling by gently swirling the pot in the ice water. An easy way to check the wort's temperature is to swirl the pot gently for a minute to eliminate any hot spots. Then, simply place your hand on the outside of the pot and feel the temperature.
  5. Pour the warm wort into the fermenter, which already holds 2 gallons (not 3 gallons) of cold water.

Note: before pouring the wort into the fermenter, first dry the sides and bottom of the pot. You don't want the dirty sink water to accidentally drip into your fresh wort!

  1. Swirl the fermenter for a moment to eliminate any warm spots. Read the stick-on thermometer. The temperature should stabilize somewhere between 60 degrees F and 85 degrees F.
  2. Your target yeast pitching temperature is typically 75 degrees F. If the temperature is too cool, top up the fermenter to the 5-gallon mark using warm water. If the temperature is too warm, top up the fermenter with cool water. With a little practice, you can usually hit your target temperature within a few degrees.

Note: when topping up the fermenter, it is helpful to add the water at only 1/2 gallon at a time, swirl, and then check the temperature. This way you can gradually approach your target temperature without going too cold or too hot.