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Old 04-07-2009, 04:01 AM   #1
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Default Fermentation cooler vs refrigerator vs son of fermentation

These all sound like great options but what is the consensus on what is best? Let's consider cost, temp range, temp consistency, ease of use, space requirement, everything. I've read about all three options but want to hear them compared.

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Old 04-07-2009, 04:28 AM   #2
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what do you mean when you say "fermentation cooler"?

If you are taking about a simple water bath with ice this is how I would rank them:

Fermentation cooler: simple, little to no labor, cheap. Will require more maintenance to monitor and adjust temp.

refridgerator: a little more complicated, a little bit of labor to mount the temp controller, price can vary depending on how much the fridge costs (I used an old fridge inherited from SWMBO's great aunt) plus the cost of the temp controller. requires virtually no additional monitoring if setup right.

son of fermentation: much more complicated, a lot more labor you will need the proper tools and some ability if you want something that looks and performs decent, cost will be between the cooler and the fridge depending on how much the fridge cost and how fancy you want to finish it. Will require occasional additional work to monitor and add ice.

If you are asking about a freezer converted to fermentation chamber, then I would say that falls in between the fridge and son of fermentation chiller in the amount of labor and knowledge required to add the collar, and again price will vary depending on if you are buying new or can find cheap/free freezer. Like the fridge it should require no additional messing with once set properly

Thats how I see the options. I have been exploring them all myself, and am currently using the fridge but have plans to build a keezer/fementation chamber using the freezer to hold kegs for serving and building an insulated chamber on top for fermenting. So it will be high on the cost, labor, and knowledge side. let's hope I can pull it off

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Old 04-07-2009, 04:33 AM   #3
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Sorry, by fermentation cooler I meant a conversion of Ice Cube type beer cooler to a fermentation chamber. I've read articles on this and am curious about it. Let's just call what Ceedubya was referring to as an evaporation tub and include it as well. That's what I'm doing today. I've got a spare bathroom with a tub that currently has three fermenters in it. My wife is probably as supportive of my homebrewing habit as any could be but is getting tired of being one full bathroom short of what we were when we bought this house. I'm getting about 63 on a thermo strip on the fermenters at a 72 ambient air temp so this works great aside from the wife irritation. My mother also complains when she visits.

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Old 04-07-2009, 05:34 AM   #4
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I have done many different, cheap ways of trying to control fermentation temperature. They all work to varying degress but require attention. I now have a fermentation fridge with temperature controller and would never go back. If you want to brew lagers it is almost a requirement. I also picked up a locums job that has me away from home several times a month so the fridge allows me to brew even when I'm gone as I can set it and forget it till I come back.

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Old 04-07-2009, 12:02 PM   #5
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How many fermenters are you able to get into your refrigerator?

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Old 04-07-2009, 06:40 PM   #6
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I built 2 SOF chillers and have been brewing with them for a few years with fairly good success. Basic DIY skills are all that's needed to build one.

There are a few down-sides to these things. Setting the temperature is a bit tricky. I have to set the thermostat about 10 degrees cooler than my target temp once high krausen is going. The yeast will out-pace the thermostat at high krausen if I do not set it lower than target. After high krausen, I adjust to target. Lagers are actually easier to control vs. ales because the fermentation temp is more stable due to the reduced yeast activity. I have to set the thermostat almost to its lowest setting to maintain 48F, but I set it and forget it. The first round of brew sessions were a PIA to be sure, but now that I've figured things out, it works.

The other thing is changing out the ice. For ales, I only have to change out daily for the first 3 days, since my basement does not go above 70F in the summer. Then it needs no ice. For lagers, the ice needs to be changed daily (for a month!). That sucks.

This has been MY experience, if someone else wants to share their story.

If I had the moola and extra space, I would have a dedicated fridge with temp control just for fermenting, especially for lagers.

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Old 04-07-2009, 07:21 PM   #7
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Best investment for me so far was a chest freezer for fermenting in. Completely set it and forget about it. Just set the temp controller to your desired temp (ale or lager) and your done. You can find cheap freezers on craigslist. I got a 7cu for so whirlpool (the costaco one) for 35 bucks, add 50 or so for a temp controller and I can fit one 6 and one 5 gal carboy in there. reletively cheap and by far the easiest IMO

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Old 04-07-2009, 07:35 PM   #8
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Since space is an issue for me so I use the SOF. I altered it a bit to fit a corner in the extra bedroom. It has certaintly got the job done for me.

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Old 04-07-2009, 08:12 PM   #9
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Since I'm getting a fridge for free I'm going to give that a try. The chest freezer option does sound like a good one as well. I'll keep that in mind if I decided I need more fermentation space.

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Old 04-07-2009, 08:42 PM   #10
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Swamp Cooler
The swamp cooler is a cheap way to lower your temps by up to 15ºF in my experience. It is not accurate and makes a bit of a mess.

Cost:
Tub - $10.00
Insulation lid - $5.00
Ice - free
Total - $15.00
Pros:
Very cheap, you probably have everything you need already
Can lower temps
Requires no knowledge or skill to construct
Cons:
Messy, it is called a swamp cooler for a reason
Cannot accurately control temps, control is achieved by adding more or less ice, by using a fan, or a couple other ways
Refrigerator with Temp controller
An upright fridge with a temp controller installed is a nice option but requires more funds and more fab skills.

Cost:
Fridge - $300.00
Controller - single stage - $56.00 : Dual stage - $70.00
Misc. Wiring - $20.00
Total - ~$400.00
(You can ALWAYS find an upright fridge on CL for free if you have some patience. See my side-by-side conversion in my sig. My setup cost $100.00)
Pros:
Upright format allows easy access to fermenters without a lot of lifting
Exact temperature control across a full range of temperatures (ales, lagers, conditioning)
Large capacity if you use a big fridge, I can fit 8 carboys in mine
Can position fermenters at a height so you can siphon into a keg, secondary, or bottling bucket without moving fermenter.
Cons:
Requires more technical knowledge and the ability to do some electrical work
Costs more than a swamp cooler
May be less efficient than a Freezer conversion
Freezer with Temp controller
The chest freezer can easily be converted to a keezer for serving beer and double as a fermentation chamber. Installing a collar is easy.

Cost:
Freezer - $300.00
Controller - single stage - $56.00 : Dual stage - $70.00
Misc. Wiring - $20.00
Total - ~$400.00
(Like uprights, you can ALWAYS find a chest freezer on CL for free if you have some patience. My keezer without the taps cost about $100.00)
Pros:
Exact temperature control across a full range of temperatures (ales, lagers, conditioning)
Most efficient because the colder air stays in even when you open the door
Easy to make a collar
Can be used for serving and fermenting
Large capacity if you use a big freezer
Cons:
Requires technical knowledge and the ability to do some electrical work
Costs more than a swamp cooler
Difficult to lift fermenters in and out
cannot siphon in position
Son of a Fermentation Chiller
These are the most work intensive but can be built custom so you could potentially keep it in the house (see the Fermoire). Most expensive and require the most technical expertise. This is the only type I have not built (sorry).

Cost:
There are infinite way to do this. The cost really depends on what you intend to make. I think most units shown here and elsewhere have been in the $400.00 range.
Pros:
Made custom so it has as much insulation size and cooling capacity as you want
Cons:
You have to build the entire thing and supply it with fridge internals or use ice for cooling. Ice requires continued maintenance.
Maybe others can add to these things....
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