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Going All Grain without Fermentation Temp Control

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dgoldb1

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Would it be more benefitial for me to stick with extract brewing and get a fridge with a temp controller for a controlled fermentation or spend that money for going all grain? I'm aware that both would be great but I can manage that financially right now.
 

kornbread

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In my opinion, the two most important things in brewing are sanitation and temperature control.

If you use the right recipe, follow proper procedures, sanitize everything that comes in contact with your post boil wort, pitch the right amount of properly prepared yeast, and control the temperature of fermentation, then you can make some great beer using malt extract.

A temp controller isn't as glamorous as a cool all grain set up. But, I believe that it is the simplest and most effective way to improve your beer.
 

elkdog

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If you don't have a reliable way to control your temps, I think that's more important. I did water baths and whatnot, but when I got a dorm fridge with a temp controller, my beer improved a lot more than it did when I went AG. My subjective list of "upgrades" in order of the difference they make for your beer:

1. Good, Reliable Sanitation
2. Temp Control
3. Full Boil
4. Going All-Grain (which is a lot of fun)
5. Understanding my water chemistry (which made going AG really pay off).

Disclaimer: I've had seriously wonky water chemistry here and at my last place, and hated the idea of buying water, so number 5 may not be so crucial for everyone.
 

fcwegnm0b

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I have a double-sink thing in my kitchen.. I leave the carboy in the sink filled with cold water... ice can help too. keeps it at a nice 65F.. nice gradual (less than a degree F per hour) temp adjustment... and it's free. I agree with kornbread... controlling fermentation temp will make better beer than simply doing a AG batch.

Actually your first few AG batches may not compare to your extract batches (mine didn't).... the people who make the extract know what they're doing and do it well. Takes a few batches to get your AG process nailed down.
 

elkdog

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I have a double-sink thing in my kitchen.. I leave the carboy in the sink filled with cold water... ice can help too. keeps it at a nice 65F.. nice gradual (less than a degree F per hour) temp adjustment... and it's free. I agree with kornbread... controlling fermentation temp will make better beer than simply doing a AG batch.
I have a double sink, too, but I can't imagine my wife going for that solution. Sounds like a good one though- nice work.:mug:

My fermentation chamber/dorm fridge is in my home office. It's like a tell-tale heart when it's actively bubbling (like it is now), only it reminds me of what an awesome thing I did.
 

MetallHed

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Spend the money and get fermentation temp control.

Hands down the best thing I've done for my brews... even extract ones. I've kept a couple from my first "non-controlled" batches, compared them with the controlled ones... and they are terrible compared to my current brews.
 

AnOldUR

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Since you're in MD, I'd say you should go AG. It's plenty cool enough outside that with a little planning you'll be able to control temperatures without a dedicated fridge.

I have a couple of dorm refrigerators, but didn't use them on my last batch. Why waste the electricity? Started with the carboys on the basement floor (58 degrees ambient), after four days moved them to a workbench (62 degrees ambient), then after 10 days move them up into the house (68 degrees ambient). For the 10 days the wort held a steady 63-65 degrees, then I let it slowly rise up to 68 to finish. You have to keep a close eye on wort temperature, not ambient, to determine when it's time to move.

By spring, when it begins to warm up, you'll be able to afford some kind of refrigeration system. Temperature control is very important, but you don't have to spend a lot of money now to accomplish it.
 

Paramecium

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I agree with most of the other replies. The best bang for your buck as far as beer quality is concerned will be controlled fermentation temps, diligent sanitation and I also feel proper pitching rates. If you can do all that you will be making great beer.
 

Clonefarmer

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Do you have a basement you can ferment in? An ice water bath is another option. Brewing with the seasons is another option. Kolsch this time of year ale in the spring/fall and belgian/saison in the summer months. People have been making excellent beer long before temp controllers and refrigerators. Don't let the lack of one stop you from brewing all grain.
 

mudarra

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All grain will suffer the same errors as extract brewing with a poorly controlled fermentation.

Start with that. And a good book of recipes. Jamil's "Brewing Classic Styles" has plenty of extract recipes for making great beer.
 

elkdog

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Do you have a basement you can ferment in? An ice water bath is another option. Brewing with the seasons is another option. Kolsch this time of year ale in the spring/fall and belgian/saison in the summer months. People have been making excellent beer long before temp controllers and refrigerators. Don't let the lack of one stop you from brewing all grain.
This will work, if those are styles you want to brew. I personally would never intentionally make a beer that tasted like a belgian (not that they're bad, I just don't like them), and want to brew American/English beers all year. The precision of an external controller on a fridge or insulated box with an AC is really nice. I tell it to keep my beer at 65, and it does. 2 days later I want it to free rise to 68... and it does. Having gone AG while using ice baths, etc (in a basement in NJ that stayed at 57 all winter and got up to 70 in the summer), and then gotten more precise temp control, the latter is what made for a quantum leap in the quality of my beers.
Going AG gets you a bit more control over the fermentability of your beer, and allows you to brew some styles more authentically than you could with extract, but it doesn't necessarily mean your beer will get better. As I said above, I really enjoy AG brewing, but I've enjoyed drinking my brews a lot more since I got the fridge. Controlling your process makes your beer better. Do what you need to do to make really good beer- if you feel like you can control fermentation temps well, then go AG. I personally did it backwards, and can only wonder how good my beers could have been.
 

Mysticmead

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do both!! get a temp controller and a big enough kettle for full boil and then do BIAB for the AG. works great and is probably the least expensive way to get into AG. I started with a 40qt turkey fryer and spent $7 bucks a a cloth store which got me enough material to have my wife make 2 grain bags and 2 hops bags.
 

Ace_Club

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As much as I agree that fermentation temperatures are important, I think that you can easily control fermentation temperatures without needing a fridge and controller. It's easy to monitor temperature in a basement (especially in the winter) and even use a water bath/wet t-shirt/fan combo if the basement ambient gets a little warmer.

That way, you can switch to all-grain and have proper fermentation temps. Best of both worlds for the cost of one.
 
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dgoldb1

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Yiks, pretty much right down the middle in terms of opinions, not what I was hoping for. Going all grain will cost me about the same as getting a small fridge and a Johnson control unit ($150)...I'm still undecided though...
 

elkdog

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Which removes more prominent limits in your process? Do your beers taste a little off in ways that could be temperature related, or is your primary frustration that you want to brew with Maris Otter and other malts that are hard or impossible to source as extract? Both options open up new possibilities- which one will couple with your particular brewing process and goals to make a bigger immediate difference?
I've harped on temp control, but if you don't think that's a big issue for you, or maybe it won't be an issue until the weather warms up, maybe go AG now and temp control later? If your beers are a bit funky, though, temp control might be the silver bullet. It's up to you.
 
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dgoldb1

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Now I'm kind of leaning toward temp control first, then going to all grain. Does anyone know of a nice, small fridge that will fit an Ale Pale or 6 gallon carboy nicely?
 

sjbeerman

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I would definitely go with temp control vs. switching to AG if I had to choose one. I'd consider temp control as part of the basics of brewing good beer. It goes along the lines of good sanitation, proper pitch rates, etc. Temp control is something I have been struggling with for a long time now. I currently use a water bath, which kind of works but requires a great deal of attention. It's not the ideal solution, but it's all I have right now. I would really like the MB heated/cooled conical, but it's very pricey. I may end up purchasing a freezer.

P.S. This site is the best source for homebrewing I have seen. Tons of great advice on here!!
 

kornbread

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I believe you should be able to do both. Spend the money on temp control.

Then, you can piece together a modest all grain set up with very little money at all. You could do Brew in a Bag or pick up a cooler at Goodwill or a Salvation army store for a couple of bucks and with a little research you're off an running.

If you don't have a pot big enough for full boils then split the batch among a couple of different pots.
 

a_w_taylor

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@dgold - How are your current extract beers? Have you done a partial mash? Where do you currently ferment?
 
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dgoldb1

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@dgold - How are your current extract beers? Have you done a partial mash? Where do you currently ferment?
Current beers are okay. Fermentation started out a bit warm with WLP007. Temp went up and down a lot though after the first 3 or 4 days (fall weather). I have only done two extract batches so far, but I have been reading up a lot on all grain.
 

a_w_taylor

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Check out the yahoo freecycle group or craigslist for your area - there is no reason to buy a new fridge/freezer. That might help defray your costs. If you have a basement I'd go AG over a ferm chamber. My beers have gotten 10X better since going AG. I only had 4 extract/partial mash brews under my belt before I made the switch. I ferment in a closet upstairs where I keep the house around 65 and my basement is around 58-60. My last 3 AG batches have been amazing.
 

Golddiggie

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Just in the basement. It is below ground level so temp fluctuation isn't so bad.
What's the temp range/average in your basement? You can always use a yeast that performs best in that range, making temp control less of an issue.

Where I am, my kitchen/brewery, runs 60-66F (between evening low's, and daytime highs) so I can ferment pretty well in that range. Before summer comes, though, I'll probably need to make a fermentation chamber, so that I can keep the brew in their correct range, or the range I want them to ferment at. That could be something as simple as an used freezer with a Johnson Control unit on it.

You could, also, make it so that it will warm the fermenting chamber/brews with something as simple as a light bulb (you'll need to figure out how to get that to turn on/off as needed)... I see more need to keep the chamber cool than to warm it up. Hell, you could even do something as simple as a large cooler, with extra insulation (or make an insulated chamber) and put ice in a tray in the top of it. That could (haven't done it yet, so can't confirm) provide enough cool air to keep things in the desired range. Just make sure the ice holder is secured really well, and is water proof (to avoid nasty messes)... I wish I could snag a space in the basement to set up a fermentation chamber come summer time... I might have to talk with my landlord about that... Although I might be moving around that same time. :D
 

fcwegnm0b

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I have a double sink, too, but I can't imagine my wife going for that solution. Sounds like a good one though- nice work.:mug:
Haha yea she's also pretty cool about an entire outdoor all grain setup, three fermentors, and an adequate supply of bottles dominating our one bedroom apartment's storage capacity. Keeper!


Don't let the lack of one stop you from brewing all grain.
After re-reading my first reply I realize I suggested the OP away from all grain. My point was quite the opposite... find a cheap and easy way to control your fermentation temp... there are many.. and start the all grain project. Hell yea.
 

brettwasbtd

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I think to answer the original question - temp control is most important. Even with water baths, I was having issues with off flavors. Not to mention its a pain to continually exchange frozen water bottles. It wasn't until i built my ferm chamber that I am getting the results I want from my beer, YMMV. Not to mention that I set and forget it...very convenient!

Also not sure if anyone threw this out, but full boil should be considered if you can't afford to go all grain and temp control. Also, if you have patience, a free to real cheap fridge can be found on Craigslist.
 

Homercidal

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Might as well chime in.

Both are nice upgrades. My opinion is that fermentation temp control is one of the most important factors in making the best beer possible. Do you like how you ferment now? Is it effective? Anyone can improve their fermentation temp situation with some creative DIY. A swamp cooler may be a huge upgrade to some people that don't do that. But swamp coolers can be a bit of work.

If you think your beer is suffering from poor temperature control, or if you simply want to make this very important aspect easier for you, then go for the fridge and controller.

AG brewing is fun, but extract beer can be as good if you follow some good practices and understand the process. AG will allow you to tweak the fermentability the way you want it. It can be fresher-tasting if you aren't getting fresh extract. It's definitely more rewarding if you have a hands-on mentality.

But I've had a few honestly very good extract beers, made by people who understood the factors involved, and fermented carefully. If you think you can manage brewing with a swamp cooler and having to futz with frozen pop bottles, AND you a really interested in AG because it look like fun, then go AG.

If you are a competent extract brewer and aren't getting the results you want from your currently fermentation temp process, or just feel like it's no fun, then get a fridge and controller.

Bottom line for me is that I think fermentation temp control is more important than AG.
 
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