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Old 11-09-2009, 07:03 AM   #1
undertow
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Default Tips for brewing in cold climates?

I would be fermenting in the garage of my house. I don't have a basement, and the rest of the house needs to be 2-yr old proof. I really don't know how cold it gets in there, but it is much warmer than outside. Maybe this needs to go in the noob section, but I did several searches and did not find too many tips on how to keep the wort temp warm enough in colder areas. Most of the temperature control is for keeping wort cool enough. I was not sure if there were temp controllers that were readily available to control adding heat (something like the reverse of THIS). It does not appear that this can be reversed, but was wondering if anyone had experience with any.

My thought was to use a thermostat to turn on/off a heat source. I was thinking of an electric blanket on the carboy with other blankets around the outside for insulation.

If anyone has done anything like this, I would appreciate feedback... even if you are telling me it is a dumb idea.

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Old 11-09-2009, 07:41 AM   #2
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If you buy a two stage temperature controller, you can use it for both heating and cooling. It has two stages. So, in the cooling stage, you could plug in the freezer or refrigerator or whatever you're cooling with. Then in the second stage you can plug in one of those carboy heater strips and set the heating stage with that. That's what I do and it works perfectly.

The two stage works good for spring and fall when the temp could go one way or the other and you might need it heated then cooled. If you are ONLY worrying about heating it, you can just buy a one stage.

It will basically turn whatever you're suing to heat on and off to maintain the temp.

I use Ranco but sure you can use whatever you want, Johnson or whatever.

Here's the Ranco selector:

http://www.rancoetc.com/which-etc-model-need-a-6.html

They also sell a stopper and thermalwell there:

http://www.rancoetc.com/stopper-thermowell-stainless-steel-p-198.html

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Old 11-09-2009, 07:52 AM   #3
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A very lazy and cheap way of doing this is to get a big water bath (e.g. 60L plastic storage bin) then plunk your fermenter into it along with an aquarium heater.

Aquarium heaters are cheap and have built in thermostats, and you can add some insulation on the outside of the water bath if you like, for greater efficiency.

A few negatives to this method:
1. The thermostats on the heaters are good but not perfect, so they may need calibration.
2. Won't work if the ambient temperature is way below what you're hoping to ferment at.
3. Most aquarium heaters only go down to 20C (68F) so if you're trying to do a cooler ferment they may not work for you.

That said, I quite like this solution as it's low budget and simple. Just make sure you've got a hefty enough heater for your water bath and away you go.

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Old 11-09-2009, 09:57 AM   #4
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+1 on the aquarium heater. Buy a good one (I use Marineland Stealth). I also use a $5 pump from Harbor Freight to keep the temp evenly distributed.

I tried a new trick with my last brew to hold temps below the lowest thermostat setting. If you put the heater in a small bucket (1 gallon), then put that small bucket in the big water bath, you can control temps below 68F. It adds a little thermal resistance between the heater and the main water bath. It takes some fiddling to get it set right (i.e. how far to immerse the small bucket), but it seems to work.

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Old 11-09-2009, 01:12 PM   #5
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the cheap heaters are adjustable. I picked up the "store" brand 100W for under $10 it works like a champ.

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Old 11-09-2009, 01:31 PM   #6
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Since my loft is way too expensive to keep warm in the winter, especially with me gone during the day, I'm going to experiment with the heater/pump combo myself.

Another thing I do is ghetto lager in the winter here in michigan....we have a garage (which is the former loading dock of the department store this used to be.)

In our garage we each have wooden storage lockers, and once the deep freeze of winter kicked in, the lockers and the garage were only in the 40's during day time, and much colder at night. So I did a few lagers down there...It worked OK...you just need to make sure you have a couple straight months of steady cold temps...a few weeks to ferment and at least a month to lager in secondary.)

The only issue I ran into was discovering this ability too late into the winter, and abruptly running into spring like temps while one of my batches was still conditioning. But I plan on starting earlier in the season this year.

But if you have natural, steady and long cold, you would be surprised how successful this can be. I did 4 batches last winter, My cream ale using lager yeast, My Rogue Dead guy/maiboc using lager yeast, AA vienna lager, and a swartzbier...and all except the swarzbier were exquisite, very very clean...and the swartzbier was drinkable, but I ran out of true lager temps, so it wan't as clean as the others.

And all I did was chuck the fermenter in my cold closet for a month, bring iit up to my place for a d-rest, and racked it to secondary and lagered them for a month.....

Don't forget long before there were fridges, and temp control, there were lagers, usually in cold caves or underground vaults, kept cold only by ice and the ambient cold temps around it, and brewed seasonally. Heck MOST of the lagering in the 1800's were done that way....Ask Llabatt's and Molson up your way

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Old 11-09-2009, 01:40 PM   #7
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I find that the heat wraps at Northern Brewer work very well and you can combine them with a dual stage thermostat.

I was thinking about using one or more of those to maintain my mash temperatures as well.

FYI - it uses 40 watts as measured by my Kill-A-Watt.

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Old 11-09-2009, 02:07 PM   #8
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+1 on the aquarium heater. Mine has a knob that adjusts how much it heats, so I had to play with it to find the right spot. It doesn't really come on and off based on temperature- I think the dial just controls how often the heater clicks on and off. So, the more water in the tub, or the colder the ambient temp is, the cooler it runs. I can hold 65 no problem.

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Old 11-09-2009, 03:59 PM   #9
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Brew a lager.

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Old 11-09-2009, 09:08 PM   #10
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All - thanks for the feedback. I may try out the aquarium heater. that sounds quite simple and very affordable.

Lagering... maybe it is time to try it out. Once the temp drops in late December I will have to do some temp readings to determine what I can accomplish. My garage should not change temp too much throughout the day, but I need to verify. Well, that and a lot more reading up on how the heck to make a lager.

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