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Best brewing thermostats for temperature control

Once a brewer has mastered the process of all grain brewing they often start to wonder about the other factors that make a good beer.

Most brewers of any experience know how important temperature to making a good beer is but it's the keenest brewer that wants to regulate the temperate that their beer ferments and conditions.

Keeping a beer consistently at the desired temperature is a boon for beer quality as this allows the yeast to perform to it's best characteristics. This is because, generally speaking, ales and lagers perform better at different temperatures (lagers lower than ales) and also because brewing conditions have often meant that beer is brewed too warm.

Hence, the experienced brewer will often elect to use a brewing thermostat to maintain the correct temperature for the yeast strain. The most popular choices are from the Inkbird range and devices which use the STC-1000 software such as the Ketotek and Elitech.

There's many an argument out there that making yourself a controlled fermentation chamber is one of the best things you can do for your beer, over and above using fancy (though vital) wort chillers and the like.

What then, is a controlled fermentation chamber?


Basically, it's a fridge of which you control the temperature.

Here's a common scenario for lagering at a consistent temperature.

By using an external overriding thermostat installed on a fridge (or even a freezer) you control the temp as you need and prevent the fridge from making your beer to cold, thus hindering fermentation from occurring. It means you can lager your beer all year around!

The beauty of this is, you can simply use an old fridge - cold is cold so you don't need to splurge out on a big showroom deal, as long as it works and there's room in which to place your fermenter or carboy, you are good to go. If your fridge has it's own thermostat, then set it to the coldest setting.

Old fridges are probably less energy efficient than newer ones, the choice is, of course, yours to make.

If you are using a freezer, you'll want to make sure that it is ice / frost free.

Using the probe correctly


Your thermostat will come with a probe - this is placed inside the fridge so the sensor reads the temperature inside the fridge.

Obvious right?

 OR you could tape the probe to the fermenter so as to get a close reading of the beer's actual temperature, rather than the ambient temperature of the beer. 

Why would you do this? 

In the long run, the temperature of the beer will probably equal that of the fridge, however, given you want the yeast to have the best environment to ferment, it will get to the desired temperature quicker. 

Here's a handy trick - if the probe is waterproof, you could consider placing it in water inside the fridge. The water will approximate the beer's temperature reading meaning you can mix and match and move fermenters in an out as you need. 

Cold crashing 


When fermentation is complete and you are ready to bottle or keg, you can of course cold crash with the fridge or freezer and you can use the controller to keep the temperature low as use need.

How to set up a thermostat controller for a fridge or freezer


It's a fairly simple system to set up - place the fridge's power cord plug into the controller. Place the probe inside the fridge. Now, having selected your desired temperature to match your beer's yeast recommendations, you set the temperature controller to that temperature.

The controller will control the internal temperature of the fridge by turning the fridge itself on and off as conditions change. The fridge itself will, of course, need to be set to be able to go as cold as you need.

I do wonder how good it is for the fridge to be regularly turned off and off - if you are concerned about this, go with the old fridge.

Using the thermostat to control a heating space


Thermostats are just as handy for heating your beer as well and again you can use a fridge or a specifically designed heating box.

Obviously, you need a heating source and your fridge most definitely must be turned off! A popular choice for a heat source is a heating pad or a heating belt. Some dudes use lightbulbs!

 Simply plug your heating source into the controller and place the sensor probe in the fridge as you would with when using trying to keep your beer cold. Select the desired temperature on your thermostat and you're ready to go.

Your chosen heating device will turn on when the temperature of your heating space falls below the selected temperature.

The fridge freezer trap


Don't get caught out by using a fridge freezer combo. If you want to keep your meat and veges frozen, you won't be able to as the freezer will be subject to the whims of the controller.

Pssst, do you want a unit that can control both cooling and heating?

Sure you do and the Elitech STC-1000 might just be the kind of controller you are looking for. 

elictech stc-1000 controller

The Elitech branded version of the STC model has the following features:
  • Temperature calibration; Refrigerating control output delay protection.
  • Auto switch between refrigerating and heating, with a return difference value.
  • Control temperature by setting the temperature setting value and the difference value.
  • Alarm activates when the temperature exceeds temperature limit or if there is sensor error.
  • Accuracy: ±1°C (-50~70°C)
  • 110 volt
Note the Elitech comes with the centigrade measurement. If you are looking to use use a thermostat with a Fahrenheit measurement then the bird's the word for the Inkbird range.

Search on Amazon for an STC-1000 controller and you might pause when you see there are all kinds of brands that offer the STC-1000. So what is it? It's actually the name of the software that runs these units. The software is open source so the firmware of your unit should be able to be easily updated.

Units which use the STC-1000 can be fiddly to set up, especially if they need wiring. This bloke has some great tips on successful installations.

Inkbird Pre-Wired Dual Stage Digital Temperature Controller


Probably Inkbird's most popular controller is the ITC-308. This unit is fairly cheap, easy to install and is tried and true for keeping your beer fermenting at the desired temperature.

  • Simple to use: plug it in, set the temp ranges, place the probe, plug in the heater/cooler into the marked outlet.
  • Easy to read manual
  • Be able to connect with refrigeration and heating equipment at the same time.
  • Easily calibrated with the press of a few buttons
  • Can display the temperature on in Centigrade or Fahrenheit.
  • Versatile enough for many different uses. Whether you need temperature control for fermentation, humidity control, greenhouse, kombucha control or to set up your temperature project system, the ITC-308 temperature controller is a great choice.
Check out this review from real users who brought the Inkbird on Amazon:

"I ordered this for my fermentation chamber I just built and so far this thing is pretty great. It keeps the temps within about a degree of my target temp and was pretty simple to set up. I presume the instructions have been improved as they weren't as difficult as some reviews had stated. If you are electrically inept such as me and just want to get your system up and running this will do the job extremely well for the price."

"This seems to be working great for a chest freezer converted to a fermenting chamber. Literally set this up in about 5 minutes, it's that easy. Put the temp probe in the freezer. Plug the freezer into the cooling plug, and plug the Inkbird unit into the electrical outlet. Works exactly as described. My Oktoberfest lager beer is bubbling quite happily at 52°F."

inkbird dual plug system"What can I say, this is the best value out there! excellent range of temps, very customizable and accurate, lets me stay within a degree. I use this for fermentation control and the price allows a practical solution. Very durable and the prob and cord are waterproof. I poked a hole in the carboy stopper and forced this prob and a small length of the cord through and now it hovers in the middle of the carboy for the most accurate control of temps. Highly recommend for beer brewers!

So there you have it, some genuinely pleased users of the Inkbird  plug and play temperature controller. Check out the prices on Amazon

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