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Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Fermentation Chamber Phase IV

Most home brewers realize at some point that in order to have properly aged homebrew ready to drink they must develop a pipeline, just like a professional brewer.  If you wait until you are out of beer to brew a new batch, you’ll be waiting for a number of weeks before the new batch is ready too drink.  I am no different.

An issue arises when you consistently make beer from a region of  fullersthe world with very different climate from your own.  There are two areas of the world that produce the beer I enjoy drinking and  neither are where I live.  The first being London style ales, and secondly Northwest American style Pale Ales.  Given these preferences and that I live in the Gulf-Coast of Texas, I find that I must artificially create the climates of these fd_NYTregions to ferment and age beverages native to those areas.  Yeast are funny things and if you take them out of their native environment they don’t behave the same.  This means that they don’t produce the same flavors either.  San Francisco sourdough bread is the same way.  You can make sourdough anywhere butF_123x98_breadbasket nowhere else can you duplicate the complex flavor of San Francisco sourdough.  This is why I need to have a fermentation chamber.

As described on my website at, I have 3 previous versions of the Fermentation Chiller.  The first being the “Son of Fermentation Chiller” that Ken Schwartz designed.  The second version eliminated the constant ice rotation by using a pump to move glycol from the freezer to the chamber.  The third was a hardened version of second with hardboard laminated to the inside and outside of the box to make it sturdier and nicer looking.  All of these were designed to hold two 6.5 gallon carboys with airlocks.  This year, since I was fermenting in January and February, I added a heater as well.

I began having problems with the glycol picking up moisture and the moisture freezing in the lines.  Then I started having trouble getting all the air out of the lines.  Either way, if the glycol won’t move from freezer to fermentation chiller, the thing doesn’t work.  This hatched the justification for Phase IV.

Back to the pipeline I mentioned earlier, the other issue I had is that with space for only 2 6.5 gallon carboys, I could not bulk age bottles or kegs and carboy cannot be pressurized.  So, in order to accommodate a pipeline, Phase IV would have to be bigger than Phase III.  A lot bigger.  So much space was I wanting that I considered buying a walk-in cooler to put in my garage.  After a 5 minute web search those hopes were dashed due to the $6 to $10 thousand dollar price tag of a walk-in.  Oh well, plan “B”.IMG_0111[2]

Plan “Bravo” would include the compressor and heat exchanger from a dorm fridge.  The goal is to maintain between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit (12 to 15C) inside the box and the compressor is designed to maintain cooler temperatures than that.  I found a used small fridge for $30 on Craigslist and proceeded to dismantle it.  I ran into a snag when I realized the compression lines (hot side) ran all through the walls of the unit.  After many hours of pulling the fridge walls off, I was able to remove the Freon system intact. 

IMG_0108[1] I bought two surplus squirrel cage fans to move the air around the box.  I picked these units because the square outlets are roughly the same size as 3 inch downspout (rain gutter material).  They were offered with the run capacitors which made them even more appealing.  I didn’t want to have to source other  unknown parts.

Construction is under way and I’ll submit another article soon with details on the construction.


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