Anyone can go down to the local bottle shop or beer bar and choose from any number of amazing craft beers, assuming one is of legal drinking age. But that’s not good enough for homebrewers. Sure, we’re as likely as anyone to check out the commercial offerings (perhaps even more so), but we relish the challenge of making our own beer for many reasons. One of those reasons is the opportunity to experiment, safe in the knowledge that the worst-case scenario is a few gallons of wort down the drain. And every now and then, such experiments deliver results that fly in the face of conventional wisdom.
Such is the case for no-chill brewing, a technique developed by pioneering homebrewers in Australia, where drought conditions often limit water availability. As a water-conservation measure, brewers Down Under developed a method of wort chilling that involves no chiller at all. Rather than relying on an immersion or counterflow device to rapidly cool wort post-boil, these Aussie brewers have found success (and won awards) simply by racking to a container of suitable size and, well, letting the wort sit there . . . until it’s cool enough to pitch yeast.
If you decide to give no-chill a try, here are a few tips to get you started.
>>> The centerpiece of the no-chill method is a food-safe HDPE (high-density polyethylene) fermentor. Most no-chill brewers seem to prefer the 20-liter (5.3-gallon) jerry cans used to carry water. You can find them online for less than $30.
>>> Do not use glass. Never, ever, ever pour hot wort into a glass container! You run the risk of severe injuries from burns and broken glass.
>>> When the boil is complete, simply rack the hot wort right into the plastic fermentor. If your container is soft-sided, squeeze out as much air as is practical from the headspace. Then place the cap on, and gently swirl the hot wort around inside the container to sanitize all internal surfaces.
>>> Let the hot wort gradually cool for whatever length of time is necessary to reach pitching temperature. This might take a day or longer, but contamination should not be an issue since hot wort is a very effective sanitizer.
>>> When it’s time to pitch, open the container and oxygenate using your preferred method. You can give the whole thing a good shake (with the cap on, of course!) or use a sanitized diffusion stone to inject pure oxygen. Then attach your airlock and proceed as usual.
>>> Because their wort remains hot longer than it does in conventional brewing, no-chill brewers often postpone the hops additions in the boil. This is an area in which you’ll just have to experiment, but to start, try postponing each addition by 20 minutes. So, your normal 60-minute bittering charge would happen at 40 minutes, for example. Any additions after the 20-minute mark, you can simply add to the HDPE container after racking.
The no-chill practice violates all of the usual rules for post-boil cooling and, in theory, introduces greater potential for all of the nasties that rapid cooling is meant to eliminate: things such as dimethyl sulfide (DMS), chill haze, and so on. In practice, however, brewers who try the method frequently report that their beers turn out fine. No-chill brewing remains an active area of research and development in the homebrewing community, so it’s up to you to decide whether anecdotal evidence is sufficient.
As homebrewers, we enjoy the flexibility to experiment with our ingredients and processes, and no-chill brewing is a potentially time-saving (and water-saving) example of how the benefits of breaking the rules might just outweigh perceived disadvantages.
From ingredients to equipment, process, and recipes—extract, partial-mash, and all-grain—The Illustrated Guide to Homebrewing is a vital resource for those who want to brew better beer. Order your copy today.