Calm cloudless skies one day, cool drizzle the next. Sunlight probing the curtains at an ungodly hour, appreciated only by dairy farmers and five-year olds. Footy finals season; of course not featuring the Dragons after yet another disappointing season that started average and spiralled steadily downhill from there, with just a few teasing bright moments to fan hope. Lawn growing faster than my desire to mow the bugger. And then last week, my hop plant finally poked its head above ground to greet the new season. Hard to believe this little guy will be 5 meters off the ground by the end of summer!
Early spring is a great time to brew. The promise of long hot thirsty days to come, sausages and sundowners. But it has its challenges. Fast changing temperatures can make a mess of your brew. Older batches, conditioned carefully over winter, can go downhill fast as the weather warms. So it's important to keep an eye on the temperature, especially if, like me, your brewery is a back corner of the garage.
Technically of course, I do actually have a cellaring room that would be perfect for fermenting and conditioning at cool steady temperatures. It's right in the middle of the house, no external walls, loads of steel and wood and insulation around it. If Sydney was in Oklahoma, it's where you'd hunker down if a big twister was tearing apart the neighbourhood. But where I naively looked at the house plans before building and thought "lovely, cellaring room", my lovely wife looked at it when we moved in and thought "lovely, massive second pantry to go with the huge first pantry".
Of course it's easy keep an eye on temperatures, but harder to do anything much about it. If you're in the fortunate position of having an unused spare fridge, hook it up to a thermostat and enjoy perfectly controlled fermentation. But most likely you'll need to improvise. Insulation is key, so the biggest Esky you can get your hands on is a good start. Unless it's a total monster, you won't be able to fit your fermenter inside it, but a big Esky is great for conditioning your beer in bottles. As well as keeping the temperature steady, it will also prevent excessive light from spoiling your beer.
Simple cardboard can be a surprisingly effective insulation material, especially the strong thick corrugated cardboard that large appliances like washing machines (or beer fridges!) are packed in. Pimp out your big cardboard box with a lining of polystyrene and you'll have a cheap, effective poor man's cool room for fermenting and conditioning. Sheets of polystyrene come in annoyingly large quantities after any flatpack shopping expedition (unlike clear instructions), and it's better to reuse & recycle than to stuff your neighbours' rubbish bins.
A big tub of water is another low tech but effective technique. The bigger the quantity, the better it will insulate your brew. If the weather starts to heat up, just bung a couple of frozen water bottles in to bring the temperature down. As a slightly cheap and lazy bastard, this is my preferred technique.
Beer is best drunk fresh. So the best way to keep fluctuating spring temperatures from spoiling your brew is to drink it quickly. You know it's the responsible thing to do.
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