Temperature Control - Next steps

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TheCache

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Hi all,

I'm a relatively new brewer, having about 20 batches of extract plus steeping grains behind me and so far I have been very happy with the results. I have been considering what to take as a next step to better control the process and have decided that getting more solid control over my fermentation temperature is the right step at this time.

I use a fermonster for all of my fermentation and have located all the consistent temperature zones in my house, based on time of year, etc and so far it has worked - Saisons in my 80˚ garage in the summer, Lagers in a 58˚ utility room in the basement during the winter. It works, but sometimes require moving the fermentation barrel. Like say when I want to increase the temp to assist an IPA with cleanup I have to carry it from the utility room to a more used part of the house where the temperature stays closer to 70˚.

Because I brew a variety of beers I need the ability to both heat and cool during fermentation and cleanup. I plan on making the utlility room my primary fermentation room for the next couple of years. I have read a few of the threads regarding Morebeer's Coolstix (or Ball & Keg's version) and am considering using both a Fermwrap (for heating) and a Coolstix or variant (for cooling). Both controlled by an Inkbird two stage thermostat.

A couple of questions:

1) What's the advantage / disadvantage to the set up above versus taking over an older fridge as a fermentation chamber? I usually only have one 7 gallon fermonster going at a time, and if a beer takes longer (like a Belgian) I could also transfer to a secondary and just leave it in the relatively cool utility room. Space is a consideration which is why I am trying to avoid the fridge version, but it's doable if that is truly the better option.

2) If I go with the fermwrap/coolstix setup, what do you think of running the Coolstix tubes into a bucket of water in a fridge that is also in the utility room. It's used for other things so I can't completely take it over, but I do use it for cold crashing. I have read that sometimes keeping the bucket of water chilled to keep cooling consistent can be a problem and I want to free myself from everyday monitoring and futzing as much as possible.

Which ever way I go I plan on putting the thermometer into a thermowell to get the finest control I can.

Thoughts?
 

zacster

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After a kitchen remodel this past year I had the problem of what to do with my beer fridge, which sat in a corner of the pantry. My wife kept asking if I still need it since I'd stopped brewing for a while and it was in the way etc... But then I reminded her of two things: First, when I'm not brewing we use it as the overflow fridge, putting six packs, juice, drinks in it so that when the main fridge runs out we always have cold on hand. It isn't full but it is useful that way. Second, SHE LOVES THE BEER when I do make it!

So to answer the question, I'd go with a fridge. Mine is just a mini fridge, a variety recommended here, with the shelves taken out. I run a temp controller for precise control of lager fermentation. The thing it doesn't do though is heat, so with the temps outside being in the high 20s today it was actually too cold in the pantry to ferment an ale at 65-70. I've been going around the house with my laser thermometer to find a good spot. When using the fridge for fermentation I have a pair of 3gal BetterBottles that are square and fit nicely in it, or I can put a corny and 5lb CO2 tank for serving. It is a completely single threaded setup but is all I need. There is never a second batch waiting except in my mind.
 

apache_brew

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After finding a free vertical freezer on the side of the road, the only reason I’d ever consider fluid cooler (glycol) system was if I would have simultaneous fermentation’s taking place. I’m so glad I found it. Inkbird 308 and a heating pad wrapped around the fermenter are all I need to ferment at any temperature and crash. No futzing with coolant lines, refilling ice baths, etc..

I think a thermowell is overrated. The probe taped to the side of a thin plastic or stainless fermenter and covered with insulation is plenty representative. Less parts to clean too.
 

Birrofilo

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As you have a Fermonster, you could consider also a Brewjacket Immersion Pro.
Its advantages are its simplicity (no liquids to manage) and the low or inexistent footprint.
Its disadvantages are cost and the risk the stick becomes damaged if you don't clean it properly. Also, if the stick is only partially immersed, efficiency is lower.
 

Pappers_

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The coolstix does seem to be a bit of a PIA, maybe, and not really controlled. Its like what i did when I first started brewing - I had a big plastic tub in the basement, put my fermented in it, with water and frozen jugs, with a thermometer. I would swap frozen jugs in and out, depending on the temperature. Its a lot of futzing, but generally works and was better than fermenting at 70F, I thought.

I like @Birrofilo 's advice about the immersion pro, I've thought that if I needed to control temp for fermentation at home (I brew at a shared brewhouse these days) , that I would perhaps go this way. I have limited space in our current city apartment. When we lived in a house int he burbs, with plenty of room, I used a chest freezer with digital controller. If you have room for that, its an easy-peasy approach.
 
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TheCache

TheCache

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The thing it doesn't do though is heat,
Yeah, this is part of my problem. My utility room in the winter can run around 58˚. This works fine for the initial few days of ale fermentation, but when the initial growth activity drops, the temp can be too cold and I end moving the fermonster out to the main room where the temps stay around 66-68. So what I need is the ability to both heat and cool. In the summer the same room tends to stay around 68 so I usually end up placing the fermonster in a tub of water with ice to keep the initial activity in the 65-68 range.

All of this works, but because I am dealing with "manually assisted" ambient temps I find that the fermentation tends to be up and down a bit... I don't think I need radical temp control, my room stays between 58 and 68 dependent on the season and usually fluctuates 3-4 degrees between night and day.

So I need a system that can account for a 10 degree seasonal difference and a few degree daily difference. If I need larger control like or a summer Saison I will go back to the manual method and find a good place in the house with the right general temp.

I kind of like @apache_brew 's idea of a warming wrap inside a mini fridge or chamber. I may have to go back and review my space and see if I can manufacture my own chamber... The fermwrap looks good and is not too expensive for the heating side. And as interesting as the coolstix style option works, a fridge might give me more flexibility for lagers and crashing. Arghhh.

Damn this hobby! If DIY wasn't so fun.

Thanks all for the input.
 

Surly

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As a, “new” brewer with twenty batches I would say you know what you are doing. And for me temp control was my biggest step forward. Converting an old friend is a grand adventure.

I would add though...

I sense with the number of brews and the depth of your interest in moving forward that you look long term. Temperature control is essential. But in what context will you place it?

What size brewery do you want to build? How long would you take to get there? As you expand what other resources might you need to acquire or fund?

My point is...put your identified need for temp control into your larger plan. Don’t go too small if you will soon outgrow your initial investment.
 
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