Fermentation cooler vs refrigerator vs son of fermentation

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Belmont

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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.
 

Ceedubya

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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 :confused:
 
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Belmont

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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.
 

Got Trub?

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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.

GT
 

foxtrot

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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.
 

schristian619

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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
 

HEGENSCHWARTZ

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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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Belmont

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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.
 

Boerderij_Kabouter

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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....
 

beerthirty

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I have tried a couple methods and prefer the freezer. I got a 23CF off of craigs list for $30 and temp controller was $60(it was a couple years ago). It will hold 7 ale pails and a cornie. By mounting a small pc fan to the inside of the lid it keeps temps from swinging due to air stratification. By far the best $90 I've spent on brewing. It didn't require any more skill than turning a screwdriver and is 100% maintenance free, until you get a blow off. Yah you have to lift the bucket into and out of it, but if you can't its time to brew smaller batches or find a new hobby.
 
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Belmont

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sweet. 8 carboys in one refrigerator? must be a HUGE fridge. I didn't think about the side by side possibly being easier than the top freezer style refrigerator in terms of accessibility. could you use the freezer compartment for carboys or pails in a side by side? Would you turn the freezer all the way down and the fridge all the way up?
 
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Belmont

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Does anyone know about the best refrigerator setup for fermentation temp control? How about side-by-side vs top freezer? I'm getting a free top freezer that is in really good shape as soon as I can borrow a truck to pick it up. I have a very old side-by-side that I'm currently using as my garage fridge(mostly beer in the fridge and frozen foods in the freezer). I could use either for my fermentation chamber but don't know which would work better.
 

woodenbuick

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I have a side by side in the house and a bottom freezer in the garage. The side by side is a pita to deal with. Always too small for the amount of food it takes to feed us. When company comes, I have to give up my beer fridge for food. There would be no way I could fit multiple carboys in the side by side easily. In the garage I can fit 3 carboys and multiple bottles in the fridge.
 

Boerderij_Kabouter

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Check my sig line for how to effectively use as a fermentation chamber. I really think it is the best way to go, unless you have money to buy a new upright side chamber fridge.
 

MacBrewsky

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I have two 28-bottle wine coolers that I had purchased from Home Depot for around $160 five or six years ago. After purchasing a large 300-bottle wine cooler, I was going to sell the little coolers on Craigs's List.

After reading several articles/posts on Home Brew forums like this one about controlling primary fermentation, I decided to use these small coolers as fermentation coolers. One is Thermoelectric/Peltier model (no compressor) and has a temperature control range of 45F - 64F. The other, a standard compressor unit, has a temperature control range of 36F - 64F. Each will hold one 6.5 gallon, Big Mouth Bubbler or two 5 gallon Big Mouth Bubblers.

I have only used them on two brew's, so far, an APA and IPA but they work well for those. My brewing room in my home ranges in temperature are 65F - 70F in the Winter/Spring, 70F - 76F in the Summer/Fall. I let the primary fermentation begin at room temperature. At about eight to twelve hours, once the Krausen forms, I move the fermenter into the wine cooler at 62F. Sure enough, in a few hours the temperature display on the Fernometer reads 66F - 68F. So, even if my room temp was 70F, I would be over the optimal high temp limit for the WLP001. When the bubble rate of the primary is less than two bubble per minute (five to seven days), I bring the fermenter out into room temperature. I leave my beer in the primary for ten to twelve days and then transfer to a secondary (usually for dry hopping) for another five to seven days.

Anyway, Home Depot has a 28 bottle wine cooler with a digital temp display and control on sale for $158.00. If you only do 3 to 5 gal batches, might be a good way to manage primary temperature.
 

sd_brewbie

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After my first brew I built a son of fermentation chamber. I modified the design to fit inside a cheap walmart plastic shelf/cabinet unit (found on amazon many had converted the same shelf to grow some other special stuff). It worked great and I would change out blue ice cooler packs in the morning and evening. Easy to maintain temps but you had to adjust the thermostat as someone else noted. My design would only fit a single carboy due to downsizing to fit in the cabinet. Total cost was just under $100 (spent about $40 on the shelf).

Used it for two brews and was going to do a third batch just before leaving on vacation for two weeks. Having to swap ice packs wasn't going to cut it. I found a chest freezer on craigslist for $100 and picked up an A419 temp controller (could have found cheaper options). Really love just dialing in the temp on the controller and letting it go. I can also fit another carboy in the chest freezer which is a plus. Downsides are lifting carboys in and out and my carboys won't fit with an airlock installed so all blowoff tubes now... I guess that is not a bad thing.

I enjoyed building my SoF chamber though I did not use it long. I plan on keeping it in case I want to do some lagers in my chest freezer, I can still brew an ale... but I am not planning to do a lager anytime soon.

Moral of the story if you have space get a fridge/freezer and be happy :)

Edit: I did not pay what is listed on the walmart website for the cabinet... Maybe in store is cheaper.
 

C-Rider

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I use a 7.2 cuft chest freezer. I can get like 5 of my 2 gallon buckets in it if needed. What's nice w/a chest freezer is you don't loose the cold air when you lift the top.

Each time you open a refer the cold air slides out the bottom and it has to work a little harder to bring "room" temp back to what you set your controller to., that said w/the amount of liquid in your fermenter it's not gonna change much if at all when you loose all that cold air.
 

tennesseean_87

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I think it's interesting that no one has mentioned using a dorm fridge for single-batch temp control. I think you could find one that you could fit a bucket in, it would take less space than a SOF or full-fridge, and it'd be fully controllable with little work.

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....
I think you're confused about SOF chiller. Plans say they cost $70, and they run off of ice, not fridge internals.
 
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