So, thusly informed, I put Batch 6 (an Octoberfest) in the much cooler basement. We’re bottling it next weekend, and should be able to tell whether we’ve solved our problem.
Short answer: We solved our problem.
Long answer: The reason none of our beers tasted quite right was that we'd let the fermentation temperature get out of control. The yeasts we used liked to do their thing within a fairly narrow temperature range, generally between about 65 and 75 degrees. Conveniently, that's about room temperature, and the instruction kits said "put this in a dark place at room temperature." So, into the ~75-degree closet they went. Work complete!
The problem with that approach is that fermentation is exothermic. As the yeast get busy, they generate heat, much like I do when I get on the treadmill or that time I set my hair on fire. The upshot is that, while the room was right around 75 degrees, the beer was closer to 80 or even 85 degrees, which caused all sorts of unpleasantness.
We put the Octoberfest (batch 6) in the basement, which is cooler than the upstairs closet. That beer turned out a little better, but still wasn't quite right. Turns out, we hit on the solution when we "built" the swamp cooler for the Steam beer (batch 7). Here's the very labor-intensive process we followed:
- Buy a sufficiently large tote from Target
- Place tote in a cool, dark place
- Put fermentor in tote
- Fill tote with Howard County's finest tap water
- Throw in a couple of frozen water bottles
- Periodically check the temperature and replace ice/bottles as needed
It winds up looking something like this
|Deer Park: Damn, that's good water|
The water in the cooler draws the heat out of the fermentor. Periodically adding ice/bottles keeps the temperature nice and low inside the fermentor and out, which keeps the yeast from causing off-flavors and unpleasantness. Science, bitches! The active fermentation (read: the heat-generating bit) lasts a couple of days, after which you can get lazy about replacing the water bottles. If there's one thing I'm all about, it's being lazy.
Since that post, we've used the swamp cooler for the Steam Beer (batch 7), Brown (batches 8 & 10), Porter (batch 9), all with great success. I have an Amber Ale bubbling away in there now. Time will tell how that one turns out.