Monday, November 17, 2014

First Look - BrewsBySmith Fermentation Kit

The latest piece of brewing hardware to make it's way into my brewroom is the BrewsBySmith Fermentation Kit, I've grown so attached to it already that I don't think I could ferment another batch of beer without one. At the heart of this precision two stage digital controller is the ubiquitous STC-1000 controller. The controllers can be found online just about everywhere these days and they usually range in price from $10.00 to $22.00. Technically known as a 1.7 Inch LCD Microcomputer Temperature Controller the venerable STC-1000 controller is available in 110 volt or 220 volt models and can come with several different firmware versions. The firmware is what ties the STC-1000's hardware devices together and determines which key functions the controller will support. The firmware version is responsible for the controller's menu navigation, the order that the settings are displayed to the user and if the controller supports Celsius or Fahrenheit. The default firmware that ships with the STC-1000 off the shelf comes with support for Celsius and basic temperature control. BrewsBySmith STC-1000+ controllers ship with the latest v1.06 firmware to deliver greatly increased precision and functionality over other off the shelf model controllers.

BrewsBySmith Controller
The BrewsBySmith Fermentation Kit was shipped to my door using USPS Priority Mail 2 Day delivery and an hour after unpacking it had the STC-1000+ fermentation temperature set point configured and ready to go. The controller already had its firmware updated to v1.06 allowing me to be able to set up and read the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit which made my life a lot easier. STC-1000+ firmware supports separate adjustable delays and allowable temperature swings for both the heating and cooling outlets. It also has a tricolor LED that lights up red when the heat outlet is energized, blue when the cooling outlet is energized and the LED turns off when neither one is energized. For the serious brewer the STC-1000+ adds support for six individually programmed fermentation profiles each having ten set points for over the top control of the most complex fermentations.

Right out of the box the controller's heat outlet set point was set to 78F, so I lowered it to match my yeast's target fermentation temperature of 70F. Next I checked to see that the heat outlet's differential temperature was set to 1F to let the controller know it should energize the heat outlet whenever the temperature falls to 68.9F. The heat outlet's delay set point was already set to 5 minutes to prevent the heat outlet from cycling on and off too often.

The default set point for the cool outlet delay was set at 5 minutes and matched the heat outlet's set point. The cooling outlet's differential temperature set point was to set to 1F to let the controller know it should energize the cold outlet whenever the temperature rises to 71.1F. To control the temperature inside a refrigerator a 100 watt light bulb, or a 32 watt Fermwrap heating element, are plugged into the heat outlet of the controller and the then put inside the refrigerator. With the refrigerator 's power cord plugged into the cold outlet of the controller when temperatures fall too low the heat outlet will turn on as the cold outlet turns off.  

Paint Can Heater With 100 Watt Light Bulb

The average daily temperature where I live has been bouncing around between the low to mid 20's to upper 50's for the past few weeks and I've had no need to use the cool outlet at all to maintain a 70F set point. The controller turns on a 100 watt light bulb to power the paint can type heater sitting inside a foam lined fermentation chamber, when ever the temperature falls more than 1F below the 70F set point. The chamber is basically a finely crafted wooden cabinet, that I built myself, that's been insulated with three inch thick high density foam board top, bottom and sides. The chamber sits inside my brew room, in an unheated but insulated garage, that has been hovering between 55-60F all week. The 100 watt light bulb heater has output more than enough heat to maintain the perfect 70F temperature for the WLP-400 Belgian Witbier yeast and the foam insulation holds the heat in so well the heater hardly ever turns on.

Stopper, Thermowell, Probe And 100 Watt Clamp Light Heater

For the DIY'ers out there BrewsBySmith sells all of the parts needed to build and wire their complete Fermentation Kit. The STC-1000+ controller, stainless steel thermowell, temperature probe, fermwrap, rubber grommet, pre-machined case, outlets, power cord, 10 amp time delay fuse, optional tricolor LED and complete DIY instructions. Basically you get everything needed to build a complete Fermentation Kit except having to pay someone to assemble it for you. It's a great DIY project that will provide you with accurate temperature control over your fermentations when used with a freezer, refrigerator or to increase the functionality of a wooden fermentation chamber like the one I use. For the folks like me who would love to take on another project, but can't seem to find the time needed for building their own, BrewsBySmith sells the complete STC-1000+ Fermentation Kit delivered to your door already assembled, tested and ready to use.

The BrewsBySmith Fermentation Kit Modernized My Fermentation Chamber
Although advertized as for use with carboys, by making a one inch round hole in the lid of a plastic Ale Pail I was able to use the grommet with a bubbler airlock and the thermowell to mount the temperature probe inside the fermentor. I also mounted the temperature probe from an outdoor digital thermometer, covered with a block of Styrofoam and taped to the outside wall of the Ale Pail to display the ambient temperature inside the fermentation chamber. At the height of fermentation there was an almost three degree difference between the wort's 70.5F internal temperature and the chamber's ambient air temperature of 68F.  Using the controller to monitor and maintain the actual wort temperature, instead of the chamber's ambient air temperature, provides the most accurate temperature control over fermention. You can find detailed part descriptions, current prices and available discounts on DIY parts and completely assembled STC-1000+ Fermentation Kits at the BrewsBySmith website. Don't forget to mention that Screwy sent you. 


  1. Love the paint can idea, as I have recently seen photos of melted fridges! I might need to add this to my want list. Maybe when my current two stage controller dies?

  2. Joe the paint can heaters are as safe as turning on a light bulb and do a good job providing just enough heat to maintain temperature without much overshooting.

    Since posting the original article I have also laid the FermWrap underneath the fermentors to provide additional heat and reduced the diameter of the 'paint can' so it fits in between both fermentors. The Irish Red Ale finished fermenting in about 10 days and the hydrometer samples tasted really good.