Author Topic: Temperature controlled fermentation in a Blichmann conical fermenter...  (Read 19113 times)

Offline lehrian

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I have a couple Blichmann conical fermenters and because it is warmer where I live I can only brew lagers for about 2 or 3 months in Dec, Jan and Feb.  I have looked at ways to cool them, but I have mostly contemplated external means of cooling (i.e. a large walk-in refrigerator, custom cooling jacket, those cooling chips) but they all involved a really large investment (walk in cooler) or seemed overly complex (custom cooling jacket).  And I'm not so sure the cooling chips would provide enough cooling.  I recently received a mail order homebrew catalog that had a stainless steel coil style wort chiller (most are copper) and that got me to thinking about using it to cool the fermenter internally.  If I could mount the chiller inside the fermenter, make a connection thru the top of the fermenter to an external supply of ice water in a large cooler, use a digital thermostat like the Ranco or Johnson, put the temperature probe into the fermenting beer and have the thermostat turn on a pump to pump ice water thru the wort chiller when it gets too warm it seems like a workable solution.  It never dawned on me until I saw the stainless wort chiller.  The only other issue is that I would have to somehow insulate the fermenter so that it wouldn't run constantly and use up a ton of ice, but this seems reasonable.  Does anyone have any experience doing something like this?  Any concerns?  Any ideas?  Thanks for any input you may have. 
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Dave

Offline snowtiger87

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I think a much more practicle solution would be a small glycol chiller, whether it be homemade or bought. Look online for deals. I recently had an opportunity to buy one for $200.
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Offline kylekohlmorgen

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You don't need a store-bought "walk-in" cooler, just four walls, some insulation, a AC unit, and a controller.

Google "fermentation chamber" for more ideas, but here's a start:

http://www.franklinbrew.org/members/sj/ferm_chamber.html

http://home.roadrunner.com/~brewbeer/chiller/chiller.PDF
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Offline TrippleRippleBrewer

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My brother in-law uses a stainless conical and I think the plan is to build what amounts to an insulated closet with a window mount AC unit in one of the walls. For now he's free air fermenting and it's getting warmer out!

You would also be able to condition beers in kegs in a small room like this, and put glass carboys on the floor too. Cheap to build and a good solution assuming you have the room.

A recirculation system would require sanitizing the coils and you would need to make them removable. You would need to modify the lid and build the glycol system and insulate the conical too.

Would seem easier to me and my skills to go with the fermentation chamber personally.
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Offline ukolowiczd

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Brewhemoth.com fermenters make exactly what you're talking about. Not sure what liquid they use to chill them. Here's the link. Maybe calling them and asking how they use them.

http://brewhemoth.com/immersion-chiller

Offline kylekohlmorgen

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Brewhemoth.com fermenters make exactly what you're talking about. Not sure what liquid they use to chill them. Here's the link. Maybe calling them and asking how they use them.

http://brewhemoth.com/immersion-chiller

I never liked the idea of coil-chilling during fermentation. If you're exposing the entire exterior to the elements, fermentation isnt providing enough mixing to keep the temp constant throughout. Especially at 85F outside and lager temps inside.

It would also be a b**** to keep clean and a lot more surface area to harbor bacteria.

MUCH easier to control temp from the outside-in. Thats why the pros do it this way.
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Offline redbeerman

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I built a fermentation chamber from 2X4s, 2" foam insulation, copper refrigeration tubing and a glycol chiller.  The chiller would be the most expensive part, unless you get it for free. ;)  As you have the $$ for Blichmann fermenters I suggest wrapping refrigeration coil around them and then using blanket insulation over that and using a glycol chiller and controller for temp control.
« Last Edit: May 24, 2012, 09:51:12 AM by redbeerman »
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Offline lehrian

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ukolowiczd:  Thanks for the comments and thanks for the link to the commercial version.  That is exactly what I'm looking at doing. 

snowtiger87:  I assume you are suggesting that I use a glycol chiller to provide cold water to circulate thru the immersion chiller.  Or are you suggesting that I use glycol in the chiller?  I obviously need to get cold liquid from somewhere and the easiest thing I thought of was my ice maker, but a dedicated chiller might make it easier to run.  Thanks for the suggestion. 

kylekohlmorgen: I hear your concern about keeping it clean, but I figure if I use the same protocol I use on my fermenter (PBW to clean and boiling water to sanitize) that should keep things very clean and sanitary.  Also, with regard to fermentation not providing enough mixing to keep the temp constant, that shouldn't be an issue as with commercial unitanks the cooling on the straight walled sides causes the cool liquid along the walls to fall because it is denser and forces the liquid in the center to rise.  As the temp gets closer to freezing water actually becomes less dense (which is why ice floats) and the cycle is reversed which is why the unitanks (the good ones anyway) have a cooling region on the cone as well as on the straight walled sides so that the liquid in the cone will rise as it gets closer to lagering temps. 

As far as building a fermentation chamber, that was a thought, but I don't really have the space for it and I'm concerned about the cost of electricity as well as freezing up the A/C unit.  A little research on the internet showed that an A/C unit isn't designed to cool down into the 40's so you have to modify them to allow them to cool that low. 

I liked the pic of the unit that used the freezer to provide cooling for the fermentation chamber but that would require me to purchase a freezer AND build the fermentation chamber. 

So with the proof that this has been done before, I have ordered 50' of 316 SS 1/2” tubing, a digital thermostat and a thermowell to use to place the temp probe into the fermenting beer.  I already have a pump and a cooler so in a few weeks I should have the thing fabricated.  I'll let you know how it goes. 

Again, thanks for everyone's input. 

Offline harbicide

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I have been all over the spectrum of trying to cool a conical.  I have a 20 gallon conical that I first built an insulated surround for (2' X 2' X6').  My first attempt was using a room AC unit mounted in the wall of the surround.  This was controlled by an analog controller with the temp probe stuck on the opposite side of the conical.  I needed a fan blowing from the bottom up to keep the AC from freezing up.  This used a lot of electricity.

My next step was I bought a defunct home soda fountain in which I separated the chiller pad and evaporator.  I wrapped the chiller pad around a cornie which was filled with water.  I pumped the chilled water (about 2 gal worth) through a 50' coil of 3/8" copper that was immersed and centered within the conical.  A thermowell centered within the coil controlled both the chiller and the pump.  A 50' coil of copper is a PITA to work with so I upgraded to a 40' coil of 1/2" OD copper.

I now use a chest freezer (set at 28F) for my chill water reservoir (5 gal) and pump a solution of alcohol and water through the 40' coil.  I recently used this for 25 gallons of a lager and it had a hard time holding 50F.  It doesn't have any problems keeping 15 gals at 50F.  This was called 'Chill From Within' in the 5th Zymmurgy gadget issue.
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Offline troybinso

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Hey Harbicide, what was the ambient temperature of the 25 gallons of lager?

Offline harbicide

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Hey Harbicide, what was the ambient temperature of the 25 gallons of lager?

Ambient in the room was 62F.  I could keep the beer with minimal freezer run-time at 57F.  Ten gallons of chill water would have helped.  The beer still turned out well and lager like (WLP 830 yeast).
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Offline corkybstewart

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Here's mine.  It's no beauty but for around $200 including the AC.  I can brew lagers in my 110F garage in the summers.
I'd really just rather be brewing in sunny Carlsbad New Mexico

Offline tom

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Why not use a fridge or upright freezer?
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Offline corkybstewart

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Why not use a fridge or upright freezer?
Because conicals are pretty much too big for normal fridges, upright freezers generally have coolant lines for shelves..  I tried that before I built my box.
I'd really just rather be brewing in sunny Carlsbad New Mexico

Offline tom

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Ahh.
There are upright freezers built like fridges with removeable shelves.
A friend wrapped the outside of his conicals with glycol coils and heattape and then insulated over them with neoprene.
Anyone use a Coolbot for their AC controller  http://storeitcold.com/index.php  ?  Seems pretty expensive.
Brew on