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Old 08-02-2012, 05:26 PM   #1
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Default Immersion Lagering Coil

So, it's a little finicky, but I need to keep my brewery footprint to a minimum, which isn't easy when you have 10 cornies and 30 gallons of fermenting capacity. I think this might be a pretty good idea... but will it work?

Use a cheap aquarium pump in a small 1 gallon cooler. Partly fill it with water, and then once or twice a day, stick a frozen bottle of water into the cooler.

Mount a copper coil downwards on a carboy cap. Make a third hole for the airlock.

Pump the water into the copper coil extending down into the wort. Wrap the carboy in a thermal blanket/insulation/neoprene wrap/etc (lots of options for this).

I figure just a couple liters per minute of ~38 degree water running through an Immersion Chiller should be able to at least keep the beer down below 60F. Maybe even colder? Not ideal, I know, but not bad. And the parts are cheap, the system could be stored in something not much larger than a shoebox. Aquarium pumps are like ten bucks. The copper is cheap. I have the rest of the stuff lying around.

Do you think I could keep reasonably lower fermentation temps (and perhaps even do a warm-ish lagering phase) with this set up?

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Old 08-02-2012, 05:38 PM   #2
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It would be difficult to keep the temps consistent and hit any particular target temps. You might be able to keep it within about 5-10 degrees, but that is far from ideal when you are talking about lagering. Your system would be fine for ale fermentations, but I think you really need to be more precise when you are talking about lagering temps.

Many commercial breweries use your basic concept to control fermentation temps by basically having immersion chillers in their conicals, and there are also plenty of homebrew examples, but you would typically pump temp-controlled glycol through the coils, not water.

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Old 08-02-2012, 05:56 PM   #3
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Thanks for the feedback. I really don't know how precisely I could manage the temps, but if you've ever left hot water in a carboy and waited for it to cool down... or when you BIAB and shut off the stove and wait an hour, and only lose 1-2*F... it seems to me that the system should be capable of delivering pretty stable temps, just based on the volume... assuming you keep the ice topped off.

For the $20-35 cost of finding out ($20 pump, $15 for copper tubing), and given that we both agree it would be beneficial for ales regardless, it'll probably be worth the investment. Obviously I could do a test batch with water for a few days and see what kinds of temps I'm getting. And the electricity cost should be quite low.

I'll give this thread a few days to percolate, see if anybody else chimes in with corrections, insight, dire warnings, etc...

I do suspect this system might take 6-8 hours or longer just to reach a stable temp in the carboy... but since that's pretty close to a typical lagtime for yeast anyway, it should be a good match.

And actually, I do have a Swiftech MCP655 mag-drive pump (adjustable speed) laying around in my computer hardware odds-n-ends bin. This would actually be a pretty good application for it, eh?

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Old 08-02-2012, 06:07 PM   #4
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Hook up an ebay aquarium thermal controller to the pump and monitor the vessel temperature. Adjustments will be needed to the amount of ice water needed for duration of cooling. Unfortunately, you might get cold spots in the vessel without any mixing, or stratification.

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Old 08-02-2012, 06:14 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by medusa1066 View Post
Hook up an ebay aquarium thermal controller to the pump and monitor the vessel temperature. Adjustments will be needed to the amount of ice water needed for duration of cooling. Unfortunately, you might get cold spots in the vessel without any mixing, or stratification.
I did consider mounting the pump on the carboy cap, or to the copper coils to get some vibration down into the beer to help circulate it better. I'm not sure how effective it would be, but do you think that would be worthwhile? Obviously, then you'd need to use a non-submersible pump.

I'll probably forego the temp controller on my first test run. I'd probably brew something like an alt-bier and just observe the system throughout the fermentation cycle and see how it came out. Even if it completely failed to work, I'd still have a drinkable brown ale... and I could see what worked, or didn't work, before adding complexity.
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Old 08-02-2012, 06:27 PM   #6
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On second thought, we don;t worry about cold spots when lagering in a cave or fridge, so don't worry about it.

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Old 08-02-2012, 06:32 PM   #7
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On second thought, we don;t worry about cold spots when lagering in a cave or fridge, so don't worry about it.
Well, since you brought it up, and since I have the idea of using the pump's vibrations, and since starters are improved by constant agitation...

Maybe transferring the pump's vibrations into the beer would be a good idea regardless...?
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Old 08-02-2012, 06:39 PM   #8
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I hope I'm not perpetuating a myth, but I didn't think you wanted copper in contact with your acidic wort after pitching your yeast. I'd lean towards using a stainless coil. It's not as efficient in heat transfer as copper, but it's inert in the wort.

I lager (ferment) in my swamp cooler out in my garage. My swamp cooler is a Igloo Ice Cube. I swap out about a 2 liter of ice every 12 hours, holds 50-52 quite nicely. Is this something you could do instead? Not as awesome I realize, but it works. I have a helles going now and it's hot here.

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Old 08-02-2012, 06:43 PM   #9
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I thought I read somewhere that you don't want to use copper in applications that have extended contact with beer after brewday. I think that copper will leech into the beer. Its ok for chilling because the yeast use the limited amount that is pulled in during chilling.

You may just want to look into that before you spend any money. Maybe do a proof of concept with copper if you the materials around "lager" some water - if it looks good, use a stainless coil.

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Old 08-02-2012, 06:47 PM   #10
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I thought I read somewhere that you don't want to use copper in applications that have extended contact with beer after brewday. I think that copper will leech into the beer. Its ok for chilling because the yeast use the limited amount that is pulled in during chilling.
We just had a similar discussion in another thread, but it's applicable here.

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The brewing illuminati say NO to copper in fermentor, yes in the boil pot.

Apparently, copper sulfate, a poison, can result if copper is present post-fermentation. While I doubt it's a serious problem, I wouldn't tempt the hand of fate.

http://thebrewingnetwork.com/shows/Brew-Strong/Brew-Strong-09-29-08-Metals-that-Affect-Your-Beer
If you're planning something like this, you might want to consider wrapping the outside of the fermenter with the coils of copper and have the whole thing sitting in a tub of water. That way the cold tubes would be coming in contact with both the fermenter and a waterbath as well.
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