I recently bought a craigslist fridge, an STC-1000 temperature controller, a heat lamp (shown here), and hired a craigslist electrician to wire it up properly. That’s all I mean by “fermentation chamber.” It allows me to set any temperature I want (hot or cold), and forget about it.
As for instructions on how to install, google it, there are several excellent videos. I would rather like to justify my purchase, because it goes against the soul of this blog (low-cost beer making). I didn’t take this lightly. I do not like buying extra stuff. This cost me about $115 total (fridge $30, STC $16, electrician $60). If you’re smart, and wire it yourself, or get a friend to help, you obviously save a lot of money (in retrospect, I would have never hired the craigslist guy, he wasn’t very good at all).
You might want to consider getting a more efficient fridge; it will cost more up front, but save on energy costs in the long run. So, considering the initial cost and set-up of this behemoth (and energy demands, and space), what are the benefits?
This isn’t about making lagers
So why in the world would someone want a temperature controlled chamber to ferment beer in? I don’t like lagers, so that’s not it. When I think back, fermenting beer was the most stressful time. It’s the most important part of beer making, and yet we let the temperature of the house dictate the beer, which depends on so many factors (the seasons being the most obvious). I knew something was wrong when I was cranking the heat up in the winter just to ferment a 5 gallon batch of beer, and cranking the air conditioning up in the summer just to ferment a beer. That’s not sustainable. I’m confident my last Belgian Tripel came out cidery because of a large temperature down-swing on the fourth day of fermentation. So, while I have made over 50 batches that came out just fine, I think temperature fluctuations can ruin some beers (especially Belgians and high alcohol beers). Having said that, you don’t need one. Most homebrewers don’t have one. You can make excellent beer without one.
And yes, now I can make a lager.
Quality aside, the procedural benefits are just as exciting. It makes my process simpler and easier (and leaner, if you are familiar with that philosophy), all which are very important to me. Before, it was a lot of wasted movement. I had to lug my 5 gallons of beer to different places in the house: one spot to ferment, another to cold crash, and yet another to bottle (and yet another to carbonate the bottles). Now, it all stays in one spot: the fermentation chamber is where I ferment, add dry hops, cold crash, bottle (directly from the spigot, as usual), and finally – once bottled – carbonate (set to 70F for a week). Once carbonated, they go into the fridge, which is right next door. I might even use the ferm chamber to chill the beer on brew day, a sort of “no-chill” method (instead of chilling in my bath tub), although that would probably take all night.