Winter months and fermentation

Things slow down at Suburban Brewing over the winter months, with temps in the garage to low to allow for steady fermentation.

If you face this issue also you have a couple of options: look for a yeast strain that can ferment your brew within the ambient temp ranges you’re experiencing (this can be challenging in some areas - maybe a lager yeast that can handle up to around 12 C might work depending on your circumstance), or utilise some sort of temp control.

Controlling fermentation temp is actually one of the key areas you can focus on to improve your consistency. One head brewer once told me they think a consistent fermentation temp is more important than sanitation in home brewing. While I’m not sure I agree with that statement, I do think it’s a highly important area.

The first kind of fermentation temp control I ever saw was a mates grampa zipping up an insulated jacket around a plastic fermenter. This might stop some of the smaller fluctuations, and despite its daggy look, isn’t that far off the mark in term of insulating a fermentation vessel.

I’ve tried various positions in my house, including in my lounge room near the heater over the winter months. These can solve the ambient temp issue to a degree, and with some form of insulation (I used sleeping bags), can keep you in a reasonable fermentation range. What this approach can’t do though is keep a “consistent” temp (the issue that brewer was so concerned with).

There are also cheap heating mats and belts that can offer some degree of warmth if that’s all that is needed. I’ve never gone down this route, mostly because I question the safety of these cheap imported products and don’t want to leave them switched on I my house. If you don’t share these concerns, then by all means, this will probably help over winter. If I was to buy one of these products, I’d perhaps look at the mats used for germinating seeds, these strike me as a slightly more robust piece of equipment.

The high end solution, and in my opinion most likely to yield positive results, lies in the large range of automated temp control units: either with a coil or spear submerged within the fermenter, or controlling a fridge/modified freezer that contains a fermenter.

These automated units have temp probes and in some cases can keep your fermenting beer to within +/- 1 C of your intended temp. What’s more, some of these units can actually heat and cool, so are perfect all year round.

Is a temp control system a big expense to lay out for something you arguably can do without? Yes. Will it pay you back in far more consistent and ultimately better beer? In my opinion, absolutely.