Temperature influences all aspects of beer. Brewing can be broken into three parts. Brewing beer, Fermentation, Storage/Serving. While Brewing beer, the mash temperature will influence the wort you create. Books have been written on this process and maybe future Gear discussions will tackle this topic.
Fermentation is also influenced by temperature. Both hot and cold temperatures can alter the activity of yeast, which will in turn alter the flavor of the beer produced. Most home brewers have no control over their fermentation temperature. They find a closet or basement and ferment at room temperature. Certainly good beer can be produced this way, but controlling fermentation temperatures allows a brewer to better predict and control the final flavor of the beer.
Storage/Serving temperature is probably the most widely known aspect of beer. “COLD BEER HERE!” The temperature a finished beer is served at alters it’s flavor. Some beers are served extremely cold. Some should be close to room temperature. Whether you are bottling or kegging, many home brewers find themselves buying a small fridge or kegerator to hold their beer and serve it at a temperature they specify.
A Temperature Control Box is a device that will read the temperature of a particular area and turn a second device on or off. It can be connected to a heater and used to keep a fermenting beer warm. It can be connected to a freezer and used to keep a fermenting beer cold. It can be connected to a fridge or freezer storing beer and turn the unit on/off at a specific temperature. This is handy because most refrigerator and freezers have dials 1-10: Cold and Colder. If your goal is 45 degrees, good luck. Connecting it to a Temperature Control Box lets you set your goal- 45 degrees and if the unit gets colder then it turns the freezer off. When it’s gets over 45, it turns the unit back on. Temperature control is achieved through this on/off method.
Analog Controls are the same as a refrigerator. They have a dial which may or may not be reliable. You need to watch the temperature and through a combination of watching the temperature and fine tuning, your goal temperature is achieved. They run about $65 to $80.
A Digital Control is the same thing, except DIGITAL! A digital control is more reliable/accurate and it has some subtle features such as a delay on the on/off so a motor isn’t burned up by constantly cycling on and off. There is also a finer control on the temperature control as well as the temperature difference before an freezer/heater is turned on/off. It’s essentially a more sophisticated control and you guessed it, it costs more! They run about $80 to $100.
I built one for about $50.
One of the Cheap Bastard conversations I have with people deals with time invested. If my time is worth X, is this project worth it? I’ll leave that for you to decide. Material cost about $50 and it took me about 4 hours to build. At $10/hour that’s $90 or a wash. At $20/hour then it’s a loss. If your a parent with limited time I would argue this project isn’t worth it. Support your local Home Brew Store and buy a Temperature Control Box off the shelf.
On the flip side, I enjoy building gadgets. That’s my thing. Brewing is a hobby that involves many skills and can go in many directions. Most brewers focus on the obvious, making beer. I enjoy making beer, but I can say honestly, I enjoy making gear more. I would be very happy building brew gear and never brewing. Crazy? Maybe.
After gathering all the parts, I opened a New Glaurus IIPA, put some music on, and started my project. I took a break to have dinner and a second break to play with the dog. Four hours and I could have done it faster. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a good use of my time and at least $40 in my pocket ($90-$50). And then there’s bragging rights. Where did I get that? I made it and it cost half as much as yours. For me, that’s often the best part.