Garage Lagers

You guys that ferment lagers in the garage…how do you control temps? I’ve been using swamp coolers for my lager fermentation and it works ok but I only have two and I’d like to get a few more going over the cold months. Temperatures in Virginia are not very consistent though. We have temp swings from below freezing to almost 60.

The outside temp varies but the basement not so much . Mine stays around 55 deg I keep it close to the door and its around 50 deg.I have a remote thermometer that I moniter.

Danny not that I’ve done it but a simple plywood box would help with temp swings.

I do my lagers in December using water filled swamp coolers (have two going currently, and plan 1 or 2 more before the end of the year). I check the temperature of the water bath 3-4 times during the day and either move the bucket or crack open the door to my colder garage to get more chill if needed. During the day when I’m at work and the garage door has to stay locked, I add a 1/2 gallon ice bottle. I have been able to keep the temp. between 46-50 doing this. When it’s time for lagering, they stay out in the garage. Last year I did freeze my bock during lagering, but no harm. In fact it turned out wonderfully.

This is exactly what I do except last year I used snow since it was plentiful . This year if we get enough snow I’m planning to build a snow cave for lagering . I froze a beer myself and it turned out wonderfully clear so I’m not worried about lagering outside.

Yea the lagering aspect I’m not as concerned about. It’s getting it through fermentation at a consistent temperature. Doesn’t sound like there’s an easier way than the swam coolers I’m using unless I go ahead and pony up for a chest freezer or build a cold room.

There really is no way to accurately regulate temps when relying on ambient temps, I would say swamp is your best bet.

Honestly keep an eye on Craig’s list and make it known to friends/family that you are looking for a old chest freezer. I found one about 30 minutes drive from me and got it for about $40 in less than month of looking. My issue at the time was space. Then you can get unwired temp controllers for next to nothing, or if you’re lazier (like me), get a wired one for around $70-80.

It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, all you are really paying for is the insulated space and a condenser. Then you can buy an aquarium bulb for warming the chamber. (I would definitely spring for a 2-stage controller).

Another thing to keep in mind is you only really need to keep temps low for 3-4 days on ales, and maybe 6-7 on lagers, then you basically keep them at 65-70* ambient to finish up fermentation.

Yea I have a 7cf chest freezer with one of the cheap single stage controllers. Works as well as the $80 one I have on my serving keezer.

I lager in the 7cf one but it can only fit 3 kegs and a 5 lb cylinder with a bit of space for hops and yeast storage.

I was thinking along the lines of applying heat as necessary to lager in my barn tack room. It’s a concrete floor, two board and batten exterior walls and two interior framed walls with 1/2" oak on one side and plybead panelling on the inside, now wishing I had put insulation in there…
I have running water in the barn, copper plumbing, and it’s only frozen a few times when weather is in the teens with strong winds for a few days in a row. When I keep a small space heater near the short section of pipe that’s in the wall I can keep it from freezing on those coldest days. I think it’s mostly freezing in the spigot because I’ve never had a pipe burst in there.
Anyway…long winded way of saying I THINK I can keep the tack room above freezing pretty easily…I could use a temp controller on heat with the space heater and just measure ambient temps. The concrete floor should stay cold on the days that exterior temps rise so that should help with some consistency.
Anyone see anything wrong with this plan? @rebuiltcellars don’t you lager in an outdoor shed or something? In Finland?

I think that is a god idea. I’m trying to move everything down to the basement instead of doing ales upstairs and lagers in the basement. I have an old cabinet I’m going to line with half inch foam and stick one of those small ceramic heaters in there on a controller. By the way you can get an ink bird controller on Amazon for like $16. It’s not the pre wired one but it’s a simple build just need an outlet and a recycled extension cord. I already have one on a keezer but am going to get another.

Ah, yeah I seemed to remember you having a temp controlled setup, so I was wondering about the initial question!

By the sounds of your space, I would dedicate the chest freezer to primary fermentations, then lager in the barn as you say. You could build a pretty decent and cheap chamber out of the rigid foam insulation panels and maybe some spare plywood, and box in the area that is warmed by the space heater. A few of those panels fastened together, caulk at the joints, you could fit a lot more kegs/fermenters in there for lagering!

Keep in mind you likely have a few degrees to play with below freezing depending on the abv of the beer. I routinely set my temp controller to 32* for lagering and I don’t have frozen beer.

The chest freezer only has space for one fermenter and I’ve been doing 11 gallon batches to fill two kegs. I bought a 13 gallon fermenter but it won’t fit in the chest freezer either. So I’ve been using the swamp coolers and 2 fermenters and lagering in the chest freezer.

ugh what a bummer. I can fit one ale pail on the floor of mine, and squeeze a smaller carboy next to it (though it has to sit diagonally and I’m pretty sure I dodged a bullet as the carboy had a real big crack in it!). Then I can fit another ale pail on top of the condenser ledge, but it needs a blowoff tube as it won’t fit an airlock.

I need to use a blowoff tube on one also that doesn’t quit fit. I’m toying with spraying the opening with starsan with a piece of foil and starsan soaked paper towel on that instead of an airlock. The chest will be full o co2 anyway

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I would think in the warmer parts of the US you could rely on the concrete to be a constant fer yer ferment control. Concrete won’t change up or down very much so then build a box out of styro foam to protect the air temp from its massive swing… Of course, weight the box down so it sets tight to the concrete… Last winter I did finish my ales in the garage, which kept a constant 30* for quite some time…. mmmmmm beer Sneezles61