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Given the limited space of an apartment, what do you do to maintain a steady fermentation?

Do not consider budget to be a factor.

This is the sixth question in a series of discussions about small-space brewing. Please keep the discussion limited to fermentation.

See also: Equipment Storage | Mashing | Steeping | Boiling | Chilling | Packaging | Cellaring

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What about aeration? –  Dean Brundage Jan 25 '10 at 18:06
    
Yes, what about aeration? –  Homebrew Holli Jan 26 '10 at 0:13
    
FYI, it looks like several of the links to your other questions are broken, pointing to the wrong questions. –  Nick Jan 19 '11 at 0:17
    
I just corrected the links. –  Flyhard Aug 30 '12 at 10:16

9 Answers 9

up vote 3 down vote accepted

When I apartment brewed, I simply cleared out a corner closet for the fermenter. When it was warm out I would wrap a towel around the fermenter put a few reusable icepacks around it and wrap it again. This helped keep the closet cool. I looked for a closet that was furtherst away from any heat source.

If you have forced air heating and cooling you can place a fermenter next to a vent and then with a box cover the fermenter and the vent. You can also slightly slide a the whole box contraption to cover more or less of the vent.

If you are in an apartment, these are certainly good ghetto ways to ferment and control temps.

To aerate my wort I bought one of those inverted funnel like things that goes on on the end of the tubing from my racking cane. I racked from my 3 gallon kettle into the fermentor. The funnel thing did a good job increasing the air to wort contact surface ratio.

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I live in a very small house. I use a closet in the guest room for fermenting. I put my fermenter into a large plastic bucket full of water. The added mass of the water buffers thermal swings to keep the tempos more constant. I put an aquarium heater in the bucket of water when I need to warm it up. I put ice packs in the water to cool it down. Very cheap, easy, and effective.

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I like that aquarium heater idea! even down here in Sunny So Cal, the temps drop into the 50's at night and my red ale likes a 70-75 climate :) –  Ugly Dude Mar 3 at 20:43
    
I raise you this! I had a container of water and aquarium heater, but to warm up a second FV I coiled hose pipe tightly around it and placed both ends in the water with a pump on end to circulate warm water around the hosepipe jacket. Was very satisfying to look at. –  Another Compiler Error Mar 4 at 13:40
    
Sounds effective, but way too much work for a pragmatic brewer like me! –  Denny Conn Mar 4 at 16:03

My current kitchen space is limited and one of my biggest problems is that I don't have cabinet space for my carboy. One of the things I do to keep fermentation steady is cover the carboy with newspaper so light is not an issue. I also keep it in a corner of the kitchen farthest from direct light and away from baseboard heat so the temperature stays under control.

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keep you fermenter in a corner of the coolest room in the house (I used the guest bathroom for a long time.)

If you are using a glass fermenter, try this trick to keep it cool... Put you fermenter in a shallow pan that's a few inches bigger than it (water heater drip pans work good), fill the pan with a couple of inches of water, and put an old t-shirt over the top of the fermenter, with the bottom of the shirt laying in the water. The t-shirt will wick up the water from the pan and provide evaporative cooling to your fementer. In my experience, this will keep your fermenter about 5 deg cooler than the temperature of the room it's sitting in.

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For googling: This is what's known as the "swamp cooler" method. –  Dustin Rasener Sep 2 '12 at 23:29

I used to use a bucket fermenter (Ale Pail) and an Igloo Ice Cube cooler. It's not as nice as a carboy because you don't get to see what's going on, but buckets are stackable so they take up less space, and you can store other stuff inside them. I line my bucket with a garbage bage so the inside doesn't get scratched, then store all kinds of misc. homebrewing stuff in the bucket in the closet, so it takes up much less space (bottle caps, small bags of stuff, tubing, etc.). They're also easier to lift and clean. Carboys obviously also have advantages, but not so much when it comes to storage.

When it's warm out, I put the fermenter in the Igloo cube cooler with water and ice. This is known as a "swamp cooler". The cooler is about 17"x17"x17", so you could store your buckets in there when not in use, and it would work with carboys as well. If you put a large bottles of ice in there once or twice a day (1.5-2L) you can maintain the temp in the low 60s very easily. It is not as accurate as a fridge of course and the temp will fluctuate, but if you are around to monitor it, you can get it to stay within about 4-5 degrees, even if the room is 80-90°F. This kind of temp control has given me great results and clean fermentations. Some people recommend draping a wet t-shirt over the fermenter also, since the wicking will also help with the cooling. I used to do this but have found it unnecessary for 5 gal batches, since you can fill the cooler up past the 5 gal fill line. Another reason I stopped doing the t-shirt, is because it has grown mold on it, which you don't want near your beer or in your apt. I also use the cooler for keeping beers on ice at parties :)

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I would employ a technique welders and foundry men use, which is called a heat-sink. If you are fermenting in glass, you have a small example of a heat-sink which is a thin vessel made primarily of sand. The vessel distrubutes heat slowly throught the walls due to the sheer amount of molecular product in the way of a transfer. You can maximize the heat sink potential by attaching other cool objects to your fermenter, like a jacket or preferably two vertical "c" shaped units of highly dense products like lite cast cement using vermiculite, a swollen mica product availible at your hardware store. This is better than insulation in that you can check your brew without fearing that you've changed anything at all given that the liquid and external solids have the same info.

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Sorry forgot to mention it blocks out light as Brewchez pointed out as a concern. –  Mike in FL Feb 17 '10 at 1:55
    
If you have your carboy in a larger vessel, with sand packed between, then you can just-add-water and turn it into an evaporative cooler as well. Water added to the sand will evaporate and cause a cooling effect--the trade-off to consider is that it also adds humidity to the air. Overall though it should perform well during hot days, for control you could consider a continuous-drip line into the sand at an adjustable rate. –  STW Jan 5 '11 at 15:54

I live in a 2-bed, 1 1/2 bath townhouse-style condo. Thanks to the graciousness of my roomate, the downstairs 1/2 bath doubles as the brewery. The main benefits of it (in my case) are:

  • Ground floor location + Slab foundation = steady baseline temp
  • No windows, easy to keep light out (the carboys are still covered with inverted boxes)
  • Electric auxilery heater makes it easy to bump the temp up to a steady 68f
  • A decent amount of floorspace given the dimensions of the room

I started with Mr Beer kits, and have switched out my equipment to 2x 3-gallon carboys. This lets me do:

  • 5-gallon batches, divided into 2x primary fermenters
  • 2.5 gallon batches (just divide a 5-gallon recipe in half)
  • 2 gallon Mr Beer recipes -- I had some stocked up from the original kit

Overall I'm a big proponent of using the 3-gallon carboys and 2-2.5 gallon batches, especially in the apartment. As a brand-new brewer they let me try a lot of different recipes quickly; they mitigate the risk of a bad-beer (I won't have to choke-down 5 gallons), and they give me an easy upgrade-route to making 5 gallon batches).

The fermenters hide under one side of the sink in the room, a cooler large enough for 24x bottles sits on the other side (I let the bottles carb in there, so any bottle-bomb would be contained). I also have other spare equipment stored near it, but only because there's no better room.

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My girlfriend thinks out living room looks cool with the couch semi-diagonal across the corner of the room. perfect space for 2 7-gal fermenter buckets.

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i've never had a problem in socal.. there are definitely 20°f temp shifts from day to night, maybe from 50's to 80's. honestly, i don't find any issue. this is a 2bed room 2 bath appt with basically no heat and no ac. i just keep it out of direct light.

i've never tested it side by side with one thermally isolated, but my basic recipes work just fine like this. i know and understand the urge to complicate something we love, but starting simply has worked well for me so far.

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Have you had others with a good perception taste your beer? I've met too many homebrewers who think their beer is fine until someone with an experienced palate tastes it to reveal all the various flaws. Temp swings really can have a acute affect on flavor and attenuation and is quite easily tasted in the final beer. –  mdma Mar 9 at 13:11
    
yeah good point. i was wondering about an oblivious palate. but it seems that everyone so far has given approval to all but one, where i went badly off recipe. –  venicejeff Mar 25 at 16:07

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