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Fermentation and lagering Temp Control Fridge Solutions

All,

I am researching different approaches to managing temperature for fermenting and lagering and am looking for folks different experiences. I live in the NE US (Southeastern PA) and currently ferment in the winter, raising the temp with insulated carboys and heating with temp controlled fermawraps to maintain temp. Then I lager in my 4-keg capacity keg fridge. However, I would like to control temp in both directions and ferment any time of year. Summer garage (where I’d ferment) temps range from 70sF to mid-90sF and typically 30sF to 50sF in the winter.

I brew 10-15 gallon batches, currently fermenting in glass carboys or Speidel plastic fermenters. But am considering switching to some sort of conicals over time (so need to accommodate a mix of the three containers).

I have been thinking about building a plywood/insulated chamber with a home A/C unit to cool, and rigging up some kind of heating method (fermawraps), but now think I want to go with something more commercial grade and reliable. I need reliable, clean, easy to maintain and easy to integrate into my brewing process. I want to brew uncompromisingly great German lagers so want a solution that will work well.

I am considering either:

  1. Multiple individual fridges (wine fridge type appliance) that will each accommodate a batch of carboys, Speidel tank or conical for fermentation, then lagering of the batch.

  2. Buy a commercial fridge (www.beverage-air.com/Main.aspx?pid=269&tab=270) that can hold several carboys/tanks/conicals and/or kegs.

  3. Build/buy a multi-chamber wooden/insulated structure and a glycol chiller and run the lines to cool each chamber. (imagine two or three chambers separated in a large rectangular wooden structure, each chamber would hold a batch of carboys/Speidel/or a conical).

Does anyone have experience with either of these methods (or other alternatives). I really don’t want to mess with rigging up a bunch of full-size house fridges rigged up for this and want a solution that works well and is at least semi-elegant. My concern about the commercial beverage fridge is that it is a lot of space (I’m only buying one of these) so somehow needs to support multiple batches and lagering (varying temp ranges). But people seem to love these.

Any ideas and experiences are greatly appreciated!

I’m thinking the most economical option would be a home built chamber. Couple options.

Use an air conditioner set to cool as low as possible. Tricking the thermostat to go lower than factory settings. That is the lagering chamber. Then have louvers/fans that allow cold air to move to the warmer fermentation chamber next door.

Or use glycol. With this you will need a freezer to keep 10 or more gallons cold. Having the glycol pumped into the chiller box with a radiator and fans to draw the cold out. Either having louvers/fans or a separate pump/radiator in each chamber.

The 1st option being less expensive.

Sure you could buy a separate fridge for each unit if you like. I’m guessing those BevAir units will run over $1000.

[quote=“Nighthawk”]I’m thinking the most economical option would be a home built chamber. Couple options.

Use an air conditioner set to cool as low as possible. Tricking the thermostat to go lower than factory settings. That is the lagering chamber. Then have louvers/fans that allow cold air to move to the warmer fermentation chamber next door.

Or use glycol. With this you will need a freezer to keep 10 or more gallons cold. Having the glycol pumped into the chiller box with a radiator and fans to draw the cold out. Either having louvers/fans or a separate pump/radiator in each chamber.

The 1st option being less expensive.

Sure you could buy a separate fridge for each unit if you like. I’m guessing those BevAir units will run over $1000.[/quote]

“Most economical” isn’t a major driver for this for me. I have pro brewer friends who bought a bunch of Chinese stainless tanks (40 barrel size) and now complain about bad welds compared to German tanks. You get what you pay for and you have to live with what you buy.

I have an A/C unit that I hacked to keep running…but now haven’t spent the time to build a box to chill. I have a complete woodworking shop so can fabricate anything out of wood. But I’m not sold on it being the best way to go.

Thanks for the feedback!

You are correct that sometimes you get what you pay for.

If you buy one of the fridges and they go belly up in 3-4 years, you need to by a new one. Another $1000+

If you build a chamber and the a/c goes out, you buy a new one. $300 or less.

Also, I think you could insulate a home built chamber better than the BevAir units. Though you would not have the glass door to look at things.

I’m in the middle of this type of project right now myself. I’m going the home fridge route since we just replaced our main kitchen fridge freeing up the existing one. I don’t really see much difference in the bev-air fridge and a standard home fridge except the glass door.

I’m a bit of a computer geek so I’m using an Arduino to control the fridge compressor and a reptile heater for cooling/heating. I separated the fridge compressor circuit from the light so I can have the fridge plugged in and still have the light work when the controller has the compressor off.

My whole house is wired with ethernet (including garage) so I can plug in and control/monitor the fridge from anywhere. That’s the plan anyway. I’m still assembling the parts and writing code :slight_smile:

[quote=“LJb”]I’m in the middle of this type of project right now myself. I’m going the home fridge route since we just replaced our main kitchen fridge freeing up the existing one. I don’t really see much difference in the bev-air fridge and a standard home fridge except the glass door.

I’m a bit of a computer geek so I’m using an Arduino to control the fridge compressor and a reptile heater for cooling/heating. I separated the fridge compressor circuit from the light so I can have the fridge plugged in and still have the light work when the controller has the compressor off.

My whole house is wired with ethernet (including garage) so I can plug in and control/monitor the fridge from anywhere. That’s the plan anyway. I’m still assembling the parts and writing code :slight_smile: [/quote]

That’s where my head is right now…replacing the fridge in the kitchen. Some people seem to love the bev. fridges so I don’t want to exclude them from the options. The drawbacks to them seem to be: too big for single batches, unless you get the small ones and even those are expensive for what they are. And the glass door lends to less insulation and less efficiency.

I’ll have to look into the Arduino stuff. For the life of me I cannot find a packaged solution for this that offers flexibility and web-based capabilities. All of the parts are available and are cheap…many folks have wired houses these days, but no elegant solutions out there that I can find. I’d like to hear more about your experiences with that platform and integrating parts and programming. I would think X-10 or something like that would have this market sector nailed.

Regarding the enclosure, I am leaning towards a fridge versus building my own chamber because I don’t have enough experience with how the materials wear, what might leak, efficiency, dealing with condensation, etc. And don’t care to experiment and wake up one morning with a mess. But otherwise I’d prefer to build something myself. I think I can get over the issues with keeping an A/C unit from freezing up. Just not sure about leaky doors, condensation, etc.

Thanks!

[quote=“bbrew”]I’ll have to look into the Arduino stuff. For the life of me I cannot find a packaged solution for this that offers flexibility and web-based capabilities. All of the parts are available and are cheap…many folks have wired houses these days, but no elegant solutions out there that I can find. I’d like to hear more about your experiences with that platform and integrating parts and programming. I would think X-10 or something like that would have this market sector nailed.

Regarding the enclosure, I am leaning towards a fridge versus building my own chamber because I don’t have enough experience with how the materials wear, what might leak, efficiency, dealing with condensation, etc. And don’t care to experiment and wake up one morning with a mess. But otherwise I’d prefer to build something myself. I think I can get over the issues with keeping an A/C unit from freezing up. Just not sure about leaky doors, condensation, etc.

Thanks![/quote]

Yeah, I didn’t find anything pre-packaged either. There are bits and pieces out there from people who have done something similar. I didn’t even think to look at x10. I’ll post my code when I get done. Probably start a build thread :cheers:

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