3-way Valve Chiller Connections

If you are using a plate chiller such as the Blichmann Therminator, there are various ways to connect your hoses and configure your wort-out flow such as back to the Kettle for Whirlpooling/Chilling, or direct to your Fermenter.

Some of these options are fixed, some are removable, some are reconfigurable by swapping hoses, and then some employ various valves and pipe tees to direct flow where desired.

This page will illustrate the fittings needed to attach a 3-way valve to the chiller to enable switching from Whirlpool to Fermenter with ease, as well as illustrate the various connection options depending on budget, existing fittings in the rest of your system, as well as space and orientation considerations. These options may or may not also apply to coil-type Counterflow chillers. (a plate chiller *is* a counter-flow type, just in a more compact form)

First, let’s take a look at the overall wort flow:

The wort is pumped out of the kettle, then to the plate chiller, then either back to the Kettle Whirlpool port OR to the Fermenter.

When using a plate chiller, it is necessary to properly sanitize it before use. This can be accomplished two ways:

  • Soaking the chiller in, or pumping StarSan (or other NON-Chlorine based sanitizer) through the chiller, then draining.
  • Running Boiling Wort through the chiller immediately at flame out.

The first option requires more work, more sanitizer, and connections are made after the process.

The second is as equally effective, without having to use additional sanitizer, but *all* connections have to be made in advance as the chiller will be too hot to handle after running the hot wort through it, and if using a Blichmann Thrumometer which has a max-use temperature of 120℉, would permanently warp the device. (it is made of Aluminum which deforms at high temperatures)

The solution with such equipment as the Thrumometer is to either use the chemical sanitizer option and then connect everything, or utilize a 3-way valve to direct flow – first back to the Kettle Whirlpool port until the wort is either below 120℉ or entirely chilled, and then through the Thrumometer direct to the Fermenter. (Knock Out)

The advantage to a 3-way valve, is it offers the versatility of doing a hop-stand/Whirlpool addition at any desired temperature, a trub collection Whirlpool for clarification, *and* monitoring the wort out temperature via the Thrumometer as it flows to the Fermenter with possible additional chilling ability depending on desired final temperature. (such as with a 2-stage chilling process using ground water, and then recirculated ice water for Lagers, or during the hot Louisiana Summer.) It also allows you to keep the chiller mounted to a stand or table at all times.

BrewHardware1 carries two types of 3-way Stainless Steel valves, a ‘T’ variation and an ‘L’ variation. Both are currently $36 and are configured with 3 Female (FNPT) ends. They don’t currently offer a Tri-Clamp (TC) version.

Stainless Steel 3-way Valve

The difference between the variations is how the flow can be directed. Here is their illustration of possible flow options using each variation. (note, the ‘L’ type also has a completely ‘off’ position not shown, and note that the ‘T’ type can’t be completely shut off for all ports)

Diagram showing the different flow directions of both 'T' and 'L' type 3-way valves.

Either type will work for this use case, but the ‘T’ type offers the advantage of making draining the hose back to the Kettle through the valve and into the Fermenter (or sanitized container) easier to reduce plumbing losses.

Basic Offset Connection

Due to the close proximity of the Wort & Water ports on the Therminator (and most plate chillers) the first step will be to determine the desired offset and needed parts. As the Therminator has ½″-Male NPT fittings for Wort, we’ll start there.

Option #1 – Straight Pipe Nipple

Pipe Nipple – length as needed

Here, we’ll connect a pipe nipple to extend the MNPT thread out past where the valve would interfere with the Garden Hose connection. Depending on your hose and connections, this will likely be anywhere from 3–5″. Since the pipe nipples have Male threads on each end, we’ll need a Female Coupler to mate it to the Therminator:

½″ Female NPT Coupler

The 3-way valve will then thread on to this pipe nipple.

These two together currently cost about $7.50–8.50 depending on pipe nipple length.

Option #2 – Street Elbow

½″ NPT 90º Street Elbow

Alternatively, BrewHardware offers a 90º Street Elbow with a Female NPT fitting on one end, and a Male NPT fitting on the other. This reduces the parts needed, *and* allows you to mount the valve away from the Garden Hose fitting.

This part (replacing the two above) is currently only $4.

However, both of these options have the usual NPT drawback—tightening the valve in a convenient orientation may not be possible depending on the threading. The Elbow is particularly susceptible to this as it may finish tightening in a useless position, still in conflict with the Garden Hose fitting. While extra Teflon tape can possibly mitigate this (and should be used regardless) there is a better option: Tri-Clamp.

Add-on Option – Tri-Clamp

Tri-Clamp fittings allow you to orient each piece as desired. They are also more sanitary and easier to clean as they have solid surfaces without threads or nooks and crannies to collect bacteria or other nasties. The downside is they are MUCH more expensive than NPT fittings. (or Ball-lock Quick Disconnect or Cam-lock style fittings) Cam-locks and Tri-Clamp options both can be ‘fixed’ in position by their clamping. Ball-lock style swivel at all times and aren’t suitable for heavier items like a 3-way valve.

Therefore, from either the point of the Street Elbow or the Straight Pipe Nipple extension, we can employ TC fittings (or Cam-lock) between the male NPT side from the Chiller and the Female NPT port of the valve. We need these parts in this order (TC shown):

That’s a ½″ Female NPT stop-threaded 1.5″ TC Flange, followed by a TC gasket, Tri-Clamp, and a 1.5″ TC Flange to ½″ Male NPT thread which goes into the valve.

Now, we can attach the valve by clamping the two TC flanges & gasket together, turn it to a convenient orientation, and lock it in place with our clamp fitting.

These additional parts currently cost about $35. (you still need either the coupling and pipe nipple or the street elbow above to connect to the Therminator)

So far, we’ve got $75–79.50 invested in this project.

Out Ports

Kettle Whirlpool Connection

The next step is to decide how we want to connect the two out ports of the valve to the Kettle Whirlpool and to the Thrumometer. This should be decided based on what you are already employing in the rest of your setup for consistency, or whatever your budget dictates. Here are some options:

Kettle Whirlpool Connection Option #1 – Fixed Hose Barb

Male NPT to ⅝″ barb

This option has a fixed hose on the valve and whatever connection you need to attach to your Kettle Whirlpool at the other end. At a minimum you’d need a Male NPT to ⅝″-barb. Note, we recommend ⅝″ barbs instead of ½″ for ½″ID silicone hose as they make a tighter inside fit and reduce chances of leakage. (you still need clamps to attach the hose to the barb) If you are using smaller interior diameter (ID) hose, size the barb just above the hose ID for a tight fit.

This fitting is only about $4 – but remember, this is a *fixed* hose installation, at least at the valve.

Linear Hose Clamp – does not cut into Silicone like traditional worm-style clamps

Kettle Whirlpool Connection Option #2 – Ball-lock Style Quick Disconnect

This option adds a Male NPT threaded Ball-lock Style Quick Disconnect post to the valve port going back to the Kettle Whirlpool which then requires a Female BLQD with a ⅝″-barb clamped into the hose. This is a good option if you are already using the BLQD connectors elsewhere in your system.

The two (not including hose clamp) are about $22. That isn’t cheap, but it allows you to easily connect and disconnect the hose without fiddling with clamps, wrenches or screwdrivers.

Kettle Whirlpool Connection Option #3 – Tri-Clamp (or Cam-lock, not shown)

The most sanitary, versatile (and expensive) option is Tri-Clamp. (Cam-lock is significantly cheaper) This is a good option if you want maximum flexibility, sanitation, ease of cleaning, and you are already using them elsewhere in your system.

You’ll need a Male NPT to TC fitting for the valve out port, then a TC gasket, a Tri-clamp, and then a TC fitting with a ⅝″-barb to be clamped into your hose.

This connection option is $32.

Fermenter Connection

The final connection will be the other valve out port that will go to the Fermenter via the Thrumometer (and in this case, to an inline Oxygenation ‘T’ first).

Blichmann Inline Oxygenation Kit (extra Cool Touch disconnect not shown)

Again, we have a few options:

Fermenter Connection Option #1 – Fixed Hose Barb using a Blichmann Quick Disconnect

The inline Oxygenation ‘T’ and Thrumometer setup comes with Blichmann’s cool-touch Quick Disconnects. These are screw-on Female NPT fittings with a hose-barb. As the kit comes with them, all you need is a Male NPT thread on the valve out port. To achieve this, you can use either a close-nipple, or a better yet, a Hex Nipple which gives you a surface to tighten using a box or crescent wrench.

This part is only $5.50 and is a great option if pressed for cash since you already have the Blichmann QD to attach to it.

Hex Nipple to attach Blichmann Cool Touch Quick Disconnect

Fermenter Connection Option #2 – Ball-lock Style Quick Disconnect

This is the same as the Kettle side above. It requires a Male NPT to Male BLQD fitting attached to the valve, and a Female BLQD to ⅝″ barb clamped inside your hose going to the Oxygenation ‘T’.

That would be $22 versus $5.50.

Fermenter Connection Option #3 – Tri-Clamp (or Cam-lock, not shown)

Finally, go all-out and put a TC connection here too! You’ll need the same fittings as the Kettle Connection above for another $32. (vs. $5.50)

With both Kettle and Fermenter connections, there are TC barbs available as an elbow if needed instead of a straight barb so you can route your hoses conveniently. (the Fixed and Blichmann QD styles also offer built-in elbows, but the BLQD and Cam-lock types require a separate pipe elbow)

We’ll update this page with pictures of some actual installed connections when we have the parts in to show the finished result, and even video to demonstrate the use of the 3-way valve to direct wort flow.

Cost Summary

  • Basic Offset Connection to Therminator & 3-way Valve — $40–$44.50
  • Fixed Connections to Kettle & Fermenter — + $11.50, or $51.50–55.50 total (with linear hose clamp and using the included Blichmann Cool Touch QD)
  • Ball-Lock Quick Disconnects — +$48, or $88–$92.50 total (includes 2 linear clamps) this can be mix-n-matched with the fixed options or TC options.
  • Tri-Clamp — +$103, or $144–148.50 total (FULL TC connections after the Basic Offset & Valve) again this can be mix-n-matched with the above options.

1We include links to BrewHardware.com products here for several reasons: we’ve used them in the past, their shipping and response times are excellent, they have a wide variety of hard to find and custom parts, they can fabricate something if they don’t already stock it, and their prices are very competitive. You may or may not find similar products from other vendors.