I have a brewing buddy here in Birmingham who I swap bottles with from time to time, and who has been kind enough to give me some great advice and pointers about brewing along the way. A few of months ago, we were chatting via email about lagers, which are pretty much all that he brews. I mentioned how I hadn't gotten into lagering yet, as I didn't have the gear for it. He told me that he had a mini fridge that he had used many times for lagering, but that he didn't use anymore thanks to building a keezer, and asked me if I wanted it.
I expressed interest and asked how much he wanted for it. His price was a bottle of my big Irish red; he refused to consider cash, so I gladly agreed.
Time went by, both of us got busy with work and kids, I ended up having to pour out my batch of Irish red due to a darned bottle infection (and had to substitute another beer for the trade). He apologized several times for the delays, telling me that he just hadn't had a chance to clean it up, etc, but I pointed out that I could hardly complain about not getting my free gift in any set timeframe.
Finally, we met this week. We swapped beer, and he not only gave me the fridge, but two cases of bottles, as well.
The fridge is a G.E. model that looks like it came from the 1980s - at least, that faux wood grain paneling seems to think so. Inside, it measures 16 1/2" wide by 16 1/2 " deep by 24 3/4" tall. The bottom has a narrower footprint, only about 10" deep. However, it easily fits a five gallon carboy with airlock inside. It's tall enough to accommodate my 6.5 gallon carboy, but I haven't tried yet to see if it will fit in there due to the bottom. The fridge has a very slight lean to it, which will require me to either adjust the feet a bit or shrug my shoulders at the cosmetic imperfection in my free lagering fridge. You can probably guess which one of those choices appeals to me the most.
I went ahead and plugged the empty fridge up last night and set the temperature control to the warmest setting below defrost, then stuck my old floating thermometer inside. This morning, I opened it to find that it's 38 degrees inside - wonderful for lagering, but too cold for primary fermentation. Ideally, I'm hoping to get it in the 45-48 degree range, so I set the thermostat to defrost and will check it again tonight.
If the temperature simply stays too cold (which is very possible), I'm looking at having to purchase a temperature controller before I can use it for fermentation of a lager. Before I do that, though, I need to see if my 6.5 gallon carboy will even fit inside. If not, the question may well be academic; I could certainly cut the floor of the fridge to expand it, but I'm afraid that there are "guts" being housed there that would still be in the way.
I could look at removing the door and extending things out a bit, but that could well be a major pain to accomplish. Instead, if I can't get the fridge warm enough, I may instead focus on my "Mother of a Fermentation Chamber" that I am so happily using for my ales.
I've accidentally gotten it down to 59 degrees with only two ice bottles. The chamber will fit three bottles in the ice area, and I could certainly improve airflow by widening my existing ventilation holes (or by adding new ones). Additionally, there is plenty of room inside the beer area of the chamber to place another ice bottle or three. I've read of others that have gotten similar chambers down into the forties, provided it doesn't get too hot outside of them; my basement itself sits at around 65 degrees in the summertime, so I really should be able to make that work.
If the fridge is still too cold, I'll try bringing the temp down in the fermentation chamber. One way or another, I'll make this work.
Lagers, here I come!
I already have the ingredients on hand to brew a dark ale (thanks to a Father's Day gift), so that is the next beer up for me. Following that, however, will be my first lager - a Munich Dunkel. As I told another brewer on reddit, I've gotten to the point where I'm starting to feel like I have a handle on ales, that I know what I'm doing. In other words, it's time for me to be humbled again, as lagers are known to be more technically demanding.
I'm looking forward to it.
Tags for this post: lager, lagering, fridge, mini, beer, brewing, homebrew, DIY