Thursday, July 3, 2014

Beating the summer heat at the brew house

Most ale yeasts need to ferment no higher than 70°F-75°F at the absolute high end. When our yeasty friends are hard at work turning the wort into beer, the temperature inside the fermenter raises several degrees. We live in a third floor apartment where if it's in the 90s outside it doesn't get cooler than the mid 70°s with two window air conditioners on full blast. That might be comfortable enough for us, especially when enjoying a nice cold homebrew, but not so much for brewing at the peak of summer.

A swamp cooler is the easiest and least expensive way to lower your fermentation tempertures. Even a 10 degree drop can make all the difference. I also used sanatized, frozen water bottles to cool my wort before pitching the yeast.

Last summer I beat the heat with a low-tech swamp cooler. It's as simple as putting your fermenter in a tub, filling it with water, and putting frozen bottles in the water. As long as the bottles are rotated regularly you should be able to brew any ale all summer long. Depending on how many water bottles you use, you should have no problem getting the cooler 10°F-15°F lower than the ambient temperature of the brewhouse.

A more precise route to control your brewing temperature year-round is to build a fermentation chamber. Depending on the insullation material and build quality, a fermentation chamber can usually hold tempertures 15°F-20°F below the ambient tempertures where it is located. Here's my hideous eyesore of a chamber that my girlfriend called "The coffin". As you can imagine this is no longer in our home and I'm not allowed to build things anymore.

As horribly unsightly as mine was, a fermentation chamber like this can help control your
fermentation temperature in the summer and even get to lager temperatures in the winter.

The best and easiest way to control your fermentation temperature is to hook up a refrigerator or chest freezer with a temp controller. A digital controller runs about $80, and you can usually find a fridge on Craigslist for short money.

Ironically after the United States' exit from the World Cup, several Belgian yeast strains can ferment as high as 85°F. Just like the Belgians withstood the Brazilian heat in extra time, Belgian yeasts are the easiest way to beat the summer heat without worrying about controlling your fermentation temperatures.

I haven't brewed any Belgian styles in over a year and a half and have been meaning to do so again. At my last trip to Beer & Wine Hobby I bought ingredients for a Belgian Pale Ale and a Belgian-style Dubbel on a whim. I hadn't even started recipes before I got there and I proceeded to fill my basket to the brim. I'll be sure to post more as brew day approaches.

What's your plan to beat the heat in your brew house this summer? Share in the comments!

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