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Ask The Masters

Question: I am doing my second fermentation with the fridge and I am amazed the temp. difference between the air and the fermenter. I have a homemade thermowell that I've placed about half way down into the bucket to get actual wort temperature. To keep the wort at 69°, the interior fridge temp has been running about 45°! My question is about the secondary. To get another batch going, is it Ok to secondary in my basement which always runs about 70°? I'd like to get another batch fermenting and don't want to wait another week for secondary to be finished.

Master Calvin responds: You should be fine going to a secondary in a room at 70°F if that's the temperature you want the beer to be. The reason the primary needed a lot of cooling is because the primary fermentation itself was generating a lot of heat that needs to be pulled out of the fermenter. That won't be a problem once fermentation activity slows to a crawl in the secondary. Using a plastic bucket or glass carboy might also be restricting heat transfer. HDPE (plastic) has a conductivity that's about half that of the equivalent thickness of glass, which itself is one-sixteenth the conductivity of a similar thickness of stainless steel. Hence, a plastic bucket requires a much larger temperature differential between the air and the beer (in your case 25°F) than a stainless container would.

Kudos for using a thermowell. You can now see the actual temperature that you're using to ferment your beer! Unlike the pros, most homebrewers measure only the air temperature outside the fermenter or, at best, measure the temperature of the outside of the fermenting vessel's wall. This can lead to a reading that is actually much lower than the actual temperature of the fermenting wort.

Something to consider: Is there open, active airflow around your fermenter? If you have a refrigerator or freezer where the cooling is mostly via conduction from the cooling coils (or side walls), then you might have fairly slow airflow, even close to stagnant. If you have a forced air system that actively moves the air, as many refrigerators but not as many freezers use, then the air flowing rapidly past the fermenter walls vastly improves the heat transfer process.

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