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Question: With hot weather here, what are some good beers to brew? What are some easy ways to keep my beer cool?
Answer: It seems like in the LA basin that we are always fighting against fermentation temperatures that are a little too warm. Fortunately, there are a several good beer styles that aren't adversely affected by warm weather. I'm lucky enough to live close to the coast, where it rarely gets too hot for these styles. In addition, there are a number of fairly simple techniques you can use to keep the temperature down.
Like cold-weather brewing, the key to selecting a heat-tolerant beer style is to know the various yeast styles that are typically used. Many of the traditional brewing regions have a style that was popular in summer, because they found the yeast could take the heat. Another way to zero in on a style is to think of those beers that exhibit an estery, tangy note to their flavor profile.
One of the most popular styles is wheat beer. Both the American version and the German version do well in the mid 70's range. In fact, if brewed too cold, these beers will lack the unique estery taste expected in them. These beers also have the advantage that they are light, easy-drinking styles.
Somewhat surprisingly, the mainstream pale ales do fairly well at warm temperatures. In general, the English yeasts hold up better than the American equivalents. The other estery English styles such as Browns, Porters and Stouts do OK too, in part because the rich flavor of the malts tend to balance out the ester. Also good are Australian yeasts.
The record holder for temperature tolerance comes from Belgium. Most of the Belgian yeasts are good to 75 degrees without any problem. Wits, Saisons, and Abbey beers, all do well, and even require some heat to taste authentic. One strain, the Belgian Ardennes yeast (Wyeast #3522) is good to a sweat-breaking 85 degrees!
OK, so you have a specific beer in mind that can't take the heat. What can you do? The easiest thing to do is get a water bath. Just about any big water container will do. Even without additional cooling, the higher thermal mass will moderate the daily temperature swings. This will minimize the production of harsh, bitter phenolic or olive-like tastes. One additional step is to set up a fan with the air flow directed at the surface of the water. Evaporative cooling will bring the temperate down at least five degrees and as much as 10 degrees, depending on the humidity.
If you don't have a big water tub, you can use the wet tee shirt trick. Put your carboy in a shallow pan of water, and put a tee shirt over the carboy. Make sure the bottom of the tee shirt is submerged in the water, so that it wicks up. Again, put on a fan for best results. Keep an eye on the water level and top it up periodically. One step better is to use an insulated container for your water bath. I use my Gott-cooler mash tun, which holds a 6 ½ gallon carboy with about an inch to spare. I also bought two bags of blue ice. I throw one into the cooler and the other into the freezer. A towel on top keeps the whole thing insulated. During primary fermentation, when the yeast is producing heat, I need to swap the ice bags about twice a day. Later, though, once a day seems to be adequate.
Of course if you are lucky enough to have the space and the bucks to spring
for a refrigerator, that's the best way to go. If so, here are a couple of things
to keep in mind:
1) You'll almost always need a separate thermostat to keep the temperature high enough. Most refrigerators can't be set higher than about 55 degrees.
2) Don't worry too much about the electricity. You won't actually use very much when the setting is in the 65 to 70 degree range.
3) Wipe the walls down with bleach occasionally. Otherwise, mold and mildew will start to grow.
4) Once fall gets here, remember that the refrigerator won't keep beer warm. You'll either need to switch to lager, or install a small thermostated heater.
Now that you know how to keep that beer happy during the summer months, you're all set to get brewing for Pacific Brewers Cup. I'd like to taste some beers that didn't suffer though the summer months.