Author Topic: Upgrade decision. Advice needed  (Read 678 times)

Offline cmooreseymour

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Upgrade decision. Advice needed
« on: August 14, 2014, 06:19:39 AM »
I've been brewing for 5 years.  Every summer, I upgrade a portion of my equipment and need some advice before I make my decision this year.

Current setup: glass carboys, corny keg, small chest freezer, extract brewing. I currently ferment for 3 weeks at a controlled temp in the freezer, carb/keg and low temps and serve. I'm able to brew once a month with this system.

I would like to upgrade to a second keg, so I can brew more often and have two beers always on tap.  This would result in either having to ferment at room temperatures or buying an additional fridge/freezer and external thermometer ($250+, not really an option with my first kid on the way in October).

Should I buy the second keg and CO2 splitter, brew every other weekend and ferment at room temps or upgrade to all-grain equipment and keep brewing once/month?

Palmer and Zainasheff constantly PREACH controlled fermentation temperatures, which leads to my dilemma. THANK YOU in advance for any and all advice and opinions.

Cheers,
Cliff

Online Jimmy K

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Re: Upgrade decision. Advice needed
« Reply #1 on: August 14, 2014, 06:52:15 AM »
I would also preach controlled fermentation temps, but can you achieve good temperatures outside the freezer? If it's cool in your house or basement you could ferment there - at least for part of the year. This depends on where you live, but parts of my house are a steady 65 in the winter.
 
Another question - do you want to brew more kinds of beer or just more beer? If you just want more beer you could do 10 gallon batches and keep the current monthly brew/ferment/serve schedule going.
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Offline cmooreseymour

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Re: Upgrade decision. Advice needed
« Reply #2 on: August 14, 2014, 07:22:29 AM »
Jimmy,

Thanks for the input.  I live in NC (in the military) and my house stays mid 70s in the summer, high 60s in the winter.  A dark closet might suffice, but I don't want to trade beer quality over quantity.

As for the 10 gallon batches, I would need a larger brew kettle and two 5 gallon kegs would still max out my freezer.  I would prefer to brew a different batch every other weekend, but this would not allow me to ferment in the freezer, as mentioned before.

Still thinking this one over...

Offline kramerog

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Re: Upgrade decision. Advice needed
« Reply #3 on: August 14, 2014, 07:35:49 AM »
In the winter you should be able to brew easily.  If you brew in a water bath, your fermentation will stay close to ambient avoiding fermentation temperature spikes.  I use an aquarium heater at the end of fermentation to make sure that the fermentation finishes warmer than the rest of fermentation so that the yeast clean up after themselves.

In the summer, you can brew saisons and sours.  You can also add ice packs to the water bath to brew other beers.

I think that you will be hard pressed to find time in the next few years for all grain once you become a happy father.

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Offline nbarmbrewer

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Re: Upgrade decision. Advice needed
« Reply #4 on: August 14, 2014, 07:58:08 AM »
Could you just sell your current chest freezer on craigslist and find a bigger one on craigslist? That is if you have room for a bigger one which I assume that you do since you are thinking about getting another one, or you could find another small chest freezer and build your own temp controller using a STC 1000.

Online HoosierBrew

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Re: Upgrade decision. Advice needed
« Reply #5 on: August 14, 2014, 07:59:14 AM »
In the winter you should be able to brew easily.  If you brew in a water bath, your fermentation will stay close to ambient avoiding fermentation temperature spikes.  I use an aquarium heater at the end of fermentation to make sure that the fermentation finishes warmer than the rest of fermentation so that the yeast clean up after themselves.

In the summer, you can brew saisons and sours.  You can also add ice packs to the water bath to brew other beers.

I think that you will be hard pressed to find time in the next few years for all grain once you become a happy father.



+1.  I used a plastic tub of water and frozen bottles for years. Worked well.
Jon H.

Offline cmooreseymour

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Re: Upgrade decision. Advice needed
« Reply #6 on: August 14, 2014, 08:10:12 AM »
Once agian, fellow homebrewers on HA came through.

I think I'll pull the trigger and buy the second keg and CO2 splitter and try the water bath ideas at room temp for now.  If I'm not happy with the consistency, I can always find a fridge/freezer on Craigslist for $100 and the external thermometers are $50 on Amazon (or build the STC 1000). 

The problem with just buying a larger freezer is that I still need carb/serving temps (30s, 40s) and fermenting temps (60s, 70s).

Thanks for all of the advice, keep any opinions coming and good luck brewing!

Offline kylekohlmorgen

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Re: Upgrade decision. Advice needed
« Reply #7 on: August 14, 2014, 08:10:33 AM »
You're doing it right, my man. Fermentation control is more important than fancy equipment or even all-grain recipes. I'll bet your beer is great.

Sounds like you're patient and deliberate with equip purchases, so you've got the tools to add another fridge/controller for a fraction of $250. With baby on the way, its a good time to ramp up cellar capacity. You'll need supply in those first few months!

Scour Craigslist until you can find a used dorm room fridge. If not free, I can usually find them for under $100, and sometimes they pop up for much less. You can usually haggle, so I'll bet you can pick one up for $50. Just make sure it fits a bucket/carboy.

The $150 Ranco 2-stage temp controller is a fantastic out-of-the-box solution. However I built my last 2-stage temp controller for about $50, and you can cut more cost by picking everything up via Amazon. The electrical DIY scares some people away, but its not difficult with proper instructions.

I haven't written up my build (yet), but I'd be glad to help you out. Shoot me a message if you have questions or want pics, wiring sketch, parts list, etc. I need motivation to put it all together anyway.

These references should be a good start:

http://mostlyharmlessbrewing.com/2013/08/24/keezer-temp-controller-stc-1000/
http://brewprof.com/weekend-diy-homebrew-project-dual-stage-temperature-controller-stc-1000/2/

If you go this route, I have a few suggestions from my experience:

1. You might try to find a STC controller that reads in Fahrenheit. They are a few bucks more, but I still can't get used to the reading Celsius, especially since my other controller reads in degF. Plus: 'Merica.

2. Though all of the other builds I found didn't, I added a relay to switch on the fridge rather than directly switch from the controller. My controller relays have a 10 amp max, and the max draw from these fridges can be higher than that.
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Offline Steve in TX

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Re: Upgrade decision. Advice needed
« Reply #8 on: August 14, 2014, 08:17:00 AM »
If you go this route, I have a few suggestions from my experience:

1. You might try to find a STC controller that reads in Fahrenheit. They are a few bucks more, but I still can't get used to the reading Celsius, especially since my other controller reads in degF. Plus: 'Merica.
There is a firmware hack that fixes this and adds other features. Requires and ardunio micro controller to perform the flash.


Reddit thread - http://www.reddit.com/r/Homebrewing/comments/20b0ll/flash_your_stc1000_with_new_firmware_adds_new/


I made a simple table that is taped to the wall with all of the conversions. After a while I started thinking in both C and F.

Offline cmooreseymour

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Re: Upgrade decision. Advice needed
« Reply #9 on: August 14, 2014, 09:39:57 AM »
I love all of you guys geeking out on this homemade thermostat.  DYI homebrewing for sure.  Is there anything wrong with this external thermostat?

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0002EAL58/ref=s9_simh_gw_p79_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-6&pf_rd_r=0GPQ990Z8VEBQN76E4M5&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1741301142&pf_rd_i=507846

And how much money are you saving in the end with the STC + parts?  I've never heard of this option, I'm intrigued.

Offline Steve in TX

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Re: Upgrade decision. Advice needed
« Reply #10 on: August 14, 2014, 09:45:05 AM »
The analog Johnson is fine. I use it for my Keezer, but the STC for fermentation. I feel like I get better control with the digital readout over the dial. The Johnson also has a pretty wide trigger point. + 2* I believe.


My STC ran about $40 with parts + an hour of assembly and wiring. A pre-assembled 2 stage controller would run ~$100.

Offline cmooreseymour

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Re: Upgrade decision. Advice needed
« Reply #11 on: August 14, 2014, 10:16:38 AM »
Thanks for the big post, kylekohlmorgen, too.

I'll probably try the closet or "swamp cooler" method at first.  I've heard a water bath with an ice pack thrown in every day or so can keep temps in the 60s for ale yeast.  Jamil and John really preach temp controlled fermentation and I don't want to sacrifice quality for quantity.  I can always go with the Craigslist freezer/Amazon thermostat if I really get worried.

Online Jimmy K

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Re: Upgrade decision. Advice needed
« Reply #12 on: August 15, 2014, 06:50:25 AM »
You're doing it right, my man. Fermentation control is more important than fancy equipment or even all-grain recipes. I'll bet your beer is great.
My thoughts too. I was practically cheering when I saw an extract brewer with fermentation temperature control. **"Finally somebody's listening!!"**
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Offline erockrph

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Re: Upgrade decision. Advice needed
« Reply #13 on: August 15, 2014, 08:10:09 AM »
If you want to dabble in all-grain, BIAB is a great way to get your feet wet. When I made the jump to all-grain, I kept my extract gear and scaled my batch size down to 3 gallons. The only thing you need to get started is a bag.

I'm in a similar boat with my current setup. I have a chest freezer and controller that serves double duty as my lager fermentation chamber and my kegerator. Fortunately, I have a basement that is perfect for ale fermentation pretty much year-round. But now that I have the ability to brew lagers year-round, I have been. Which means my kegerator isn't always available for serving. Personally, my next major beer purchase will probably be a dedicated kegerator.
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Offline cmooreseymour

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Re: Upgrade decision. Advice needed
« Reply #14 on: August 15, 2014, 08:32:43 AM »
Thanks again for all the advice and encouragement, everyone!

The only reason I haven't bumped up to all-grain is that I work 6 days/work (in the military) and don't want all the extra time on brew day (especially with a kid on the way).  I currently use steeping grains, but want to look into BIAB as soon as I make this upgrade.

Most importantly, I love the beer that I make and love sharing it with friends.  Even though it's extract, I've always tried to brew on Palmer and Zainasheff's principles of: sanitation, yeast starter, temp controlled fermentation and SANITATION.