Temperature controlled fermentation is the most popular and effective way of improving your homebrewed beer. The simple process of maintaining a constant temperature during fermentation will ensure the beer you’re brewing tastes so much better. Temperature control is so important that it can mean the difference between average beer and amazing beer. It will also ensure you can achieve the particular style of beer that you’re intending to brew.
Mother Nature Vs Beer
When you live in a place like I do, where quite often you’re subjected to 4 seasons in one day, you may have a fight on your hands. For those of us that live in Australia, you know straight away that I’m talking about Melbourne.
Brewing in the cooler months isn’t too bad. The worst thing that can happen is your yeast can go to sleep, work slower or give you a crisper flavour than your intending. Brewing in the summer can be more difficult, you can produce off flavours and potentially kill your yeast from heat stress.
Location, Location, Location….
As a beginner, you need to find a place in your house that has the most consistent temperature. For example, in the closet of a room somewhere in the middle of your house that will avoid sudden changes in temperature.
When I first started brewing I used the garage. Yes I know, not consistent at all, why would I put a fermenter in the only part of the house that’s not insulated? That’s simple, I didn’t have the knowledge at the time and the online resources we have today were not available.
It’s not as bad as it sounds because it was not in the middle of summer or anything like that. I did have some limited knowledge about brewing, so I used an immersion heater and wrapped the fermenter with a couple of beach towels. There is something about immersing a heater inside the fermenter that doesn’t quite sit well with me anymore. I’m not sure about how hot that heater is getting to maintain the temperature for 23 litres of beer.
Can immersion heaters kill off the yeast or produce unwanted flavours? Do you currently use one? I would love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments further down.
Get a Fridge
One of the pieces of advice any brewer would give a beginner is….. Get a fridge. As you think to yourself “I thought you had to keep the beer warm to ferment it?”
A fridge with a temperature controller and a heat source inside is the most popular method of temperature control during fermentation for most homebrewers. This is what we call a fermentation chamber.
Fridges for fermentation chambers are super easy to come across. Keep an eye out on buy swap and sell pages, garage sales or hit up friends and family for the fridge they may have sitting around not in use. You can easily pick one up for around $40 or sometimes even free.
The next bit of kit you will need after scoring a fridge is a temperature controller. There are heaps of these on the market but they all function the same. Temperature controllers have a sensor probe and 3 power sockets which are power inlet, heating outlet and cooling outlet.
What you do is tape the probe to the side of the fermenter inside the fridge. Set the desired temperature on the unit that you need to ferment at and the controller will then turn on the heat source or fridge as required to maintain that set temperature.
Other features usually included on temperature controllers are temperature differential, temperature profiles and compressor delay to avoid any damage to the fridge.
The STC-1000 is a popular temperature controller but it needs to be wired up. It’s recommended if you get an STC-1000 that it’s wired up by an electrician or at best someone that knows what they are doing. The last thing you want is to electrocute yourself, blow up the unit or burn your house down.
Then there are plug and play controllers such as the Keg Land MKII or the Inkbird ITC-308, that are good to go straight from the box. All you need to do with these controllers is program your desired settings.
A heat mat generally is the preferred type of heat source for a homemade fermentation chamber. Place the heat mat somewhere in the fridge not making contact with the fermenter. This will be enough to maintain your required temperature provided you’re not living in a really cold environment.
Once you have acquired the fridge, temp controller and heat source you’re just about good to go. But you’re most likely going to need to build some sort of shelf around the housing at the bottom of the fridge where the compressor is. Here you can use your creative side as I did with some bits and pieces I had laying around in the garage, which you can see in the pic below. If you have a full-size fridge without the freezer you should have the room to place the fermenter on the bottom shelf, make sure it’s well supported to hold a full fermenter of beer.
Are you lucky enough to have the perfect environment for fermenting? Do you live in an extreme environment? If so tell us about it in the comments below.