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Old 12-04-2011, 04:36 PM   #1
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Default Fishies to Fermenting; aquarium chiller fermenter

Moved to Florida and have been dumb founded by the heat... Haven't brewed since last March because of the heat.

So, after inheriting an aquarium chiller and some aquarium pumps--I searched this forum and grabbed some ideas to put this stuff to use. The project came together surprisingly well with mostly stuff already around the house!

An old cabinet that I had made and insulated for the conical a while back, an rv pump, etc...

Not sure if this is the best setup--but brewed a wit beer yesterday--and the setup certainly works as is.

With a standard immersion chiller I got a 12 gallon batch down to 80F. The bath of r/o water (about 10 gallons) in the cooler was chilled from room temp to 42F in a few hours with the 1/10 hp aquarium chiller. Within a hour of circulating the bath water through the immersion chiller in the fermenter--the wort got down to 62F and the cooler water increased to 52F.

Curious if anyone has any thoughts on improvement. Take a look, and after the pictures, I will comment on my concerns.















easy to sanitize...







Project manager: "Brewer" the dog.

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Old 12-04-2011, 04:53 PM   #2
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concerns:

Condensation: The plumping creates some condensation. The fermenter doesn't "sweat" (at 62F anyway) but the hoses coming from the chiller to cooler and the hoses coming from the cooler to the fermenter(s) do. They drip a wee bit. With electrical stuff in there--I am not a huge fan of that.

Will insulating those lines fix that? Anyone know of source of removable hose insulation, if so?

With the conical I wanted to try a lager. I figure that will "sweat" condensation at lagering temperatures. Anyone lager in MoreBeer conicals? Do they sweat--or does the insulation prevent that? Any sources for such insulation? Maybe just a sanke keg sweater?

Anyone know of sources of insulating tubing in the 3/8"- 1/2" size range? Maybe that would be an easy fix for the sweating tubing?
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Old 12-04-2011, 08:21 PM   #3
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Insulating cold lines is always a good thing, from both condensation and efficiency viewpoints. Indeed I'd insulate both sides of the cooling loop between the chiller and the conical. If you can't easily find suitably sized foam "tubing" you can just roll sheets of foam around the lines, tape them in place, then cover them with a foil sheath to keep moisture-ladened air from soaking the foam.

btw, I'm feeling sorry for that chiller, having to live in its own exhaust heat in an unventilated and insulated space. Poor thing ain't gonna last long like that...

Cheers!

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Old 12-04-2011, 09:01 PM   #4
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I second moving the chiller out into the open.

You should be able to find pipe insulation at any big box store or local hardware store.

If your chamber is sealed the fermenter shouldn't sweat much.

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Old 12-04-2011, 10:19 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jtsims21 View Post
I second moving the chiller out into the open.

You should be able to find pipe insulation at any big box store or local hardware store.

If your chamber is sealed the fermenter shouldn't sweat much.


Thanks for the answer on the coolant lines...

As for the chiller

There is no right side of the cabinet (it is open to the room for ventilation)... There are also two fans (see pictures above) venting air out that side... That should be plenty of ventilation I would think... Feels cooler in the box than in the room with the fans...
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Old 12-05-2011, 01:13 AM   #6
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The project manager demanded a run at the beach and on the way we stopped by the Home Depot. Found some cheap insulation for the coolant lines. Cleaned up the electrical wires a bit too...

Gotta say this chiller rocks...

The wit is going crazy fermenting and it takes about 2 or 3 minutes per degree to drop the temperature. Have the Ranco controller set at 62F and dropped it 60F just to see if it would. The pump kicks on and 12 gallons of active ferment dropped two degrees in a little over 5 minutes. The coolant bath went from 45F to 46.5F.

Thinking I might be able to crash cool pretty dang quick. Definitely not the most attractive system--but works really well!

Some pics:






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Old 12-05-2011, 01:55 AM   #7
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That is a pretty cool, but all that equipment seems so expensive and bulky, why not just get a used fridge and slap one of those controllers on it and call it a day?

That said, creative use of tools.

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Old 12-05-2011, 02:39 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by edecambra View Post
That is a pretty cool, but all that equipment seems so expensive and bulky, why not just get a used fridge and slap one of those controllers on it and call it a day?

That said, creative use of tools.
Two words: The wife.

Buying a new fridge was a no go. This was the least expensive route because most of the stuff I had on hand already.

The chiller and the pumps came from family that tore down a fish tank (free). Figured I could find a use so grabbed them when offered... The r/v pump came from an old r/v (free). The igloo cooler was our beer cooler that never got much use (I know--sad--but we have another one).

We use to live in Alaska (believe me cooling anything up there is not a problem!) and the Ranco controllers and the insulated box was set up for heating rather than cooling (it use to stand upright) up there. I wanted to use the box somehow. On its side works pretty well for this.

The brew pot was a birthday present, but I have converted keg kettles to brew with... However, the present worked out though--because I actually prefer to ferment in that more than the conical!

Way easier to clean up the kettle v.s. the conical (less parts) and easier to move around. The best part is I just boil a gallon of water in it on brew day to sanitize--steam sanitized in 10 minutes from when the flame goes on. Pretty slick for fermenter if you ask me. A tight seal on the top is totally unnecessary for primary fermenters--and the kettle stainless throughout--for way less than a conical. Stainless ladle = yeast harvest.

The kettle thermowell came with my converted keg kettles purchased years ago, but they suck for mashing--too slow to heat up and cool down--so I never used them.

I did have to purchase the stainless coils but cheap at New York Homebrew or something like that. The wife let me get those.

Also--I'll have to check the electric usage--but I am thinking this may be cheaper on the electric bills than converted fridge or freezer. Maybe I am wrong there--but the wit is going crazy and the chiller runs for only about 30 minutes every few hours to cool the bath water back down a couple degrees from the set point. The chiller is set at 45F and I could probably set it at more like 50F or so--to reduce it from cycling even more.

In contrast--my guess from experience--is that fridge or freezer set up with a controller--with 10-25 gallons of fermenting beer would be running 24/7 to keep that much fermenting beer at 62F. Cold air around fermenters just is not efficient at all. Stainless fermenters insulate the beer from the cold air too well. Buckets are the same. So is glass.

For our wedding--I had six, 6-gallon-buckets in large chest freezer making a butt ton of lager--that freezer never shutoff for two weeks and struggled to get the lager to 50F. Whole different story cooling 20-30 gallons v.s. 5-10 gallons of actively fermenting beer in a converted fridge or freezing.

So far this chiller has barely run to keep 12 gallons of ale at 62F. My guess is it will be pretty rocking for lagers. Especially if I insulated the fermenters to some degree. Maybe just put keg blanket over them.
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Old 12-05-2011, 03:34 PM   #9
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I think your personal past experiences are leading you to incorrect assumptions. A chest freezer should have had no problems keeping up with 30+ gallons of lager, or ale for that matter. If you experience things that seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom, it isn't likely that basic thermodynamic laws have changed. It is more likely that something else was going on.

If you had a jacketed and insulated conical, that aquarium chiller would be ideal. Since you don't, you simplest solution is to get a free or cheap (<$50) fridge off of craig's list, and put the conical in that. You may end up spending more on using the aq. chiller than getting a used fridge, especially if it is free. Controlling to the ferm temp (probe on/in the conical), rather than air temp, is the best way. If the probe is 'in' the wort, it should be near the conical wall to prevent overshoot and radial stratification. Placing the probe on the wall, then some insulation over it works best.

To make effective use of the aq. chiller/immersion chiller for ferm'ing, you would need to insulate the exterior of whatever ferm vessel you use. That may be more of a hassle than using a fridge, but is a personal choice. At 1/10 HP, your aq. chiller only has 1/2-1/4 the chilling power of an avg. fridge/freezer. It chills directly when using an immersion coil, so it balances, to some extent, the lower power.

For chilling wort to pitching temps in places with warm tap water, using city water until the wort is ~100F, then switching to an open recirc'ing ice bath is going to be more effective. Agitating the wort during chilling is critical to reduce chilling time. You could use the aq. chiller to get the cooler full of water cold, then use that for the final chill, but using the electricity to make ice instead would be a better overall solution.

There is nothing wrong with making do with free equipment, but you need to use it correctly and understand it. The are ways to improve you current setup, but I didn't want to get into it since the alternative seems so much easier to me.

One thing to consider with your semi-open fermenter. Once the active ferm stops, you will lose the CO2 blanket. The rate of loss will be related to the 'degree of seal', or lack thereof, but it will start as soon as the CO2 being produced is less that the desire of air to get in. If you retro-fit a coil into your conical, it needs to be near the top of the liquid to prevent stratification, and you would still need to insulate the exterior, or place it in a insulated box (like a fridge!). If it isn't welded in to the lid, sanitizing or pressurizing will be trickier.

In your situation, the only practical app I see for the aq. chiller is to chill the tower of your kegerator, but even that can be done easier with a fan. Although using the aq. chiller will give you bragging rights, without negatively impacting your beer.

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Old 12-05-2011, 11:45 PM   #10
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First off—Happy "Repeal Day"—the 21st Amendment was passed 78 years ago today!!!!

I think I am going to respectfully disagree... Based on my observations.

I tended to think the chest freezer was a better option (I have used lots of them for more than a decade), but after a couple days with this chiller--at least for keeping ales at 60-70F--this chiller is much better. And I think much more efficient. Maybe significantly so.

I was thinking about insulating both the fermenters, but I think it is not necessary for ales based on this batch's performance. The room temperature is about 70-75F and the thick stainless pot is enough insulation for me; the chiller has run less than three hours over the last 24 hours to keep an active ferment at 62F. That ain't much (especially compared to the amount a freezer's compressor runs with a 12 gallon batch).

Both the fermenters (brew kettle and the conical) have thermowells so the temperature is of the fermenting beer (the conical just isn't fermenting anything right now—but will be).

I also have two freezers rigged up with thermostats and (have and do) use them a lot--so I am not blowing smoke out my butt when I compare the chiller's performance to a chest freezer's...

I don't know the math or the "physics" behind it--I am just a stupid attorney--but I'll tell you chest freezers run constantly (when lagering and near constantly for ales) whenever they are full of fermenting beer (20-30 gallons) AND the temperature controller is set to read actual fermenting beer temperature via a thermowell. My best guess to the reason is--because cold air doesn't efficiently transfer through the fermenter material (steel, glass, plastic--I have used them all). In contrast, the chiller with cold water bath and direct contact with the fermenting beer—uses the insulating properties of the fermenter material help keep the cold in—rather than fight those insulating properties by trying to get the cold in.

AND, if 1/10 hp chiller compressor is much smaller (and I assume uses less electricity than a freezer compressor)--than all the better. Like I said, for 12 gallons of actively fermenting wit beer--the compressor on the chiller has run less than three hours per day (so far). A wit beer is about as vigorous a fermenter as I have brewed—so probably pretty representative.

Even if you add the couple hours it took to drop the bath water down to 45-50F at the start--that isn't all that much. And that's without insulating the fermenter (which I am thinking is not necessary for an ale anyway--the temperature difference between the room and the ferment just isn't enough to justify it).

I will brew a lager next weekend and see if insulating the fermenter for lagers is worth the added hassle. It very well might be. I hope not. My gut says the stainless steel is probably good enough insulation. Probably depends if I am fermenting at 45F or 55F. The latter less likely and the former more likely needing insulation.

Again--I might be wrong--because I have not measure electrical use for either a freezer or this chiller--ever-->

But judging by the amount the compressors run (chiller vs. freezer)--the chiller runs WAY less. Again, probably because it is directly cooling the beer via the stainless coils inside the fermenter.

For example, the fermenter is set at 62F. When the temperature rises to 63F, the pump from the cold water bath (50F) kicks on. It takes about 3 or 4 minutes and 12 gallons of beer is back to 62F. That is WAY quicker than a chest freezer is capable of.

The bath water warms up about a degree as well, so the chiller kicks on when the bath water is 2F above the set point (52F). It takes a while to hit 52F since the bath water is heavily insulated in the cooler. Like I said, the chiller only has run a three hours a day (so far). The beer also stays at 62F for a while—a couple hours anyway (I haven't timed it). And that's without any insulation.

The extra couple of dollars I spend by not insulating the fermenter are meaningless to me. My goal is not to be the most efficient--but I won't complain if the chiller is v.s a fridge or freezer. My goal is to use the stuff I have on hand—AND most importantly to make brewing convenient.

On that later factor--convenience--I will tell you that not cramming a large fermenter in a fridge or freezer and then working in that tight space--is AWESOME. Insulating would take away from that awesome/easiness factor—so I would rather not if I don't have to.

Putting the fermenter out in the open--on a table--makes SO much easier to fill! I can use a bucket and easily to do so just by dumping it in. No need to pump from kettle to fermenter.

As for the loose lid on the kettle for fermenting... IME there is absolutely no need for a tight fitting seal on a primary fermenter. I don't even think there is much of a need to tightly seal a secondary fermenter--unless you are opening and closing it—or doing something that pushes the CO2 out of the fermenter's head space.

I use corny kegs for secondary fermenters and just unscrew the relief valve--leaving the beer open to the air. No problems whatsoever for over a decade. So long as there is at least a tiny degree of fermentation going on there is no need to seal tightly. If you are correct and CO2 leaves the head space--it isn't enough to impact the beer. I am drinking some beers I brewed well over a year ago and were in cornies with no relief valve for at least a couple weeks after the primary fermentation transfer. My bet the beer in the kettle is more than fine for at least a week or so after primary fermentation ends (if I left it there).

The comment on cooling wort down after a boil, I think you are right, but I haven't and don't plan on trying to do that with the chiller.

I can get to 80F with an immersion chiller in the kettle. Even the piss warm Florida tap water allows me do that relatively easily. That said, the chiller did work great for dropping the wort down from 80F to 62F before pitching the yeast. Don't remember but it was a matter of minutes. Warmed up the bath a bit--but the chiller chilled it back down in a matter of minutes as well...

Anyway—for those thinking of immersion style chilling devise for fermentation—it works well. Probably could just add ice to cooler every day or so and pump in the immersed coil via a fish pump. Then no need for the compressor style chiller. That might be a good cheapy version of this.
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