The Blichmann Therminator was the second investment I made in a Blichmann product, but I’d say it was the most valuable and revolutionary for my brewing process. For years I used an immersion chiller, and for many of those the chiller was undersized for the 10 gallon batches I was brewing. The difference was mind-blowing. I’ll say this: If you only buy one fancy-schmancy brewing gadget for yourself, make this the one.
The Therminator is a plate chiller. Cold water circulates across one side of the plates and the hot wort counter-flows across the other side of the plates. The result is a very effective heat exchanger that can easily cool 11 gallons of hot wort down to 68 degrees F in less than ten minutes and can leave you with all the hot water you need for cleaning up.
When I bought mine, I didn’t choose to include the optional connection accessories, but if I had to do it again I would. The Blichmann Quick Connectors, which I discussed in another post, are awesome for connecting hoses from the boil kettle to the chiller, and from the chiller to the fermenter. I’ve never used the back-flush adapter, but I’m not really sure how useful it is. The spray nozzle on my garden hose fits right over the wort in/out ports, so I just hose it out a few times in each direction, drain it, and store it for the next use.
A regular garden hose will easily connect to the water flowing out of the chiller, but for the flow in it wasn’t as commonsensical. I went to the local hardware store and bought an adapter that has a female garden hose connection on both sides, each able to rotate independently of the other. I tighten it on to the chiller first, then connect the hose coming from hose bib in the garage. If the hot wort is flowing through the chiller at a good clip, you’ll get some extremely hot water that I collect for soaking and rinsing parts and tubes.
I live in an area where the ground water temperature averages about 56 degrees F over the course of the year, which contributes to the efficiency of my system. The Therminator is so efficient, however, that anyone will benefit. There are relatively easy ways to augment the chilling process to get down to your target, even in places where ground water is much higher in temperature.
You can sanitize the Therminator in one of two ways: Use a sanitizing solution such as StarSan, or boil it in a pot of water. Originally I soaked mine in StarSan or pumped StarSan through it, but I read somewhere that acid solutions will erode the metals over time. Accurate or not, that seems reasonable to me, so I’ve gone to boiling The Therminator for at least 15 minutes in my original (now spare) five-gallon boil kettle. It costs a bit in propane, but I think it will help extend the life of the Therminator.
I used the chiller with a gravity feed for a dozen or so batches and it worked wonderfully. Because the flow rate drops as the boil kettle drains, I had to regularly alter the cold water flow to maintain the temperature going into the fermenter, but that was really the only drawback. I will say, though, I really appreciate how a pump accelerates the process and allows me to ignore the cold water flow.
I use whole hops almost exclusively, and in a few situations I’ve had large hop chunks wedge themselves in the chiller, restricting the flow. Most have come out by “blowing it out” using a garden hose with a trigger nozzle. There has only been one time where nothing I tried cleared the blockage, including a half-assed attempt to use my air compressor. Eventually I decided to boil it like I was sanitizing it. As the water started to boil, the hop plug blew out (not violently, but be careful if you try this!) and I was once again able to run liquids through it.
The Blichmann Thrumometer is a very straightforward product: A solid tube of aluminum with an embedded liquid crystal thermometer. As wort flows through the tube, the thermometer changes color quickly relative to the temperature of the flow. A 3/8 inch tube fits nicely over each end, with or without clamps. It came as a surprise to me that Blichmann offers only this one small bore, but it in retrospect it really hasn’t been an issue.
To sanitize, I soak mine in a StarSan solution for at least five minutes. I’ve dedicated tubing to the Thrumometer, so I just run the lot into a bucket of sanitizer right before flame out and it’s ready when it’s time to chill. One end of the tubing connects to a Blichmann 3/8 in. 90 degree connector screwed on to “wort out” of The Therminator, and the other end goes into the fermenter.
The Therminator and Thrumometer are solid investments. I expect that I’ll have to replace the Thrumometer in time, but it’s already lasted a couple of years and made filling the fermenter much easier. The Therminator has unquestionably saved me countless hours of time and gallons of water. I can’t think of a better combination for making a brew day more efficient.