Upgrade path: fermentation

As you can probably tell, my enjoyment from beer making comes just as much as (if not more) about perfection of my production process as it does refinement of my recipes. My system is capable of making great beer as is, so it is mostly through my pursuit of [what I would consider] process perfection that I present to you part two of my series on where I plan on taking my beer making process in the coming months.

Fermentation chamber shelf

I have a lovely full size all fridge (fridge without freezer compartment) for use as a fermentation chamber. I currently reinforce one of the otherwise weak wire shelves with scrap wood to allow it to support the weight of a filled fermenter… not a great system. I plan on building a strong plywood shelf for the bottom of the fermentation chamber in the near future. This will allow me to maximize space usage, and make my fermentation chamber look a bit more legit.

Starter scheduling

Far too often my starter hasn’t crashed as much as I’d like it to. When it’s time to pitch I’m forced to make the decision to pour “starter beer” into my fermentor, or to decant hundreds of billions of healthy yeast to access an undersized yeast cake. In either case, the beer has turned out fine, but I’d really like to nail this nonetheless. To achieve this I need to be more deliberate in the scheduling of my brew days to allow for a full 48 hour cold crash of my starters (rather than 24 hour), and also try to obtain my yeast closer to my brew days so that only a single growth step is necessary. There is no real cost involved in this, just slightly more diligence to my brewing schedule.

Conical fermentor

Like many homebrewers, I’ve dreamt about having my very own conical fermentor since getting into the hobby (about 5 years ago now for me). My current method involves fermenting 11 gallon batches in 15 .5 gallon sanke kegs, and this works generally well. Cleaning of these fermentors usually involves removal of the spear, rinsing of the keg, and then filling it with 15.5 gallons of PBW solution… which is a lot in my opinion. A straight clean-in-place procedure on these fermentors doesn’t seem to work well for me, with the connections becoming easily clogged with hop debris… Though I should give this another chance as I just added a hop filter to my brewery… Furthermore, I’d have even greater success with this in the future with some improvements to my keg cleaning set up.

A bit more detail on how I use these: I ferment with the spear removed, just using an airlock and bung. I do insert and utilize a sanke spear to transfer to beer into my serving kegs. With this method, my beer should approach the practical limit of oxidation protection at the homebrew scale. On the downside, cleaning the spears by themselves is difficult; it’s not entirely practical to dry hop in this setup; and wastage during transfer to serving kegs is high due to beer being pulled from the bottom of the fermenter.

The costs of this upgrade are the most significant out of anything I’m considering. In terms of impact, only select styles of beer are likely to benefit from it (dry hopped beers, beers utilizing other fermentor additions, or perhaps beers utilizing very low flocculating yeasts). The main benefits are the ease of cleaning (I would use a spray ball and clean in place), personal satisfaction (oooh shiny!), and perhaps some further enjoyment of the hobby (yeast harvesting, less headache, et cetera).

In summary…

Unlike the previous part of this series where I considered some of the changes I detailed as low priority, I am quite sure that I will take on everything mentioned in this post in the near future… and that’s very exciting indeed!

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