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One thing that can free you from following the seasons for temperature control without the expense of a full blown refrigerator is to get a cooler that's just a bit bigger than your fermentor. Put the fermentor in and fill the rest with sanitizer (or anything else that can help keep the water from going funky, like a bit of bleach). By itself, this will keep the wort temperature more steady than the fermentor being just in the air, but you can also keep an eye on the temp with a fermometer strip (I think Northern Brewer carries them. I know MoreBeer does.) and toss in ice as needed to keep the temps down. I once did a California Common this way and kept the fermentation temperature pretty close to 60 even though the room around it was more like 70.
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On the missing-airlock-liquid front: I've done a number of beers now where I wanted to simulate an open fermentation like some of the old-school commercial breweries use, so I just sprayed a bit of sanitizer on some aluminum foil and loosely covered the top. One thing about the contaminants is that the bacteria and wild yeast can't climb up on their own, so unless there's something like a fly buzzing around it, even without any liquid in the airlock, nothing is really going to get in. I use the foil technique on all my yeast starters and haven't run into any troubles yet with a couple dozen batches. Also, the dry yeast has plenty of oomph with a low original gravity beer like that that the rehydration shouldn't make much of a difference. The first batch I made was a Belgian dubbel, so it was pretty high gravity and needed liquid yeast. I broke every yeast management "rule" in the book by not doing a starter, seriously underpitching my yeast, completely failing to aerate my wort (as in, at all. I was afraid of screwing something up, so I babied the fermenter and didn't even shake any air into it), and getting a little overexcited and racking the beer way too early. It certainly didn't turn out as well as my later batches have, but to me it didn't matter a bit. I still made my own beer, and that was just awesome. I'm sure you'll get that same experience in a few weeks when you pop open your first! One question about your batch: Did you take that original gravity reading after mixing in water in a partial boil? Your original gravity is on the low side for an American pale ale, but it's tricky taking a gravity reading with a partial boil because it's hard to get everything really well mixed before you pull your sample. You can calculate the original gravity based on the amount of malt extract you use and the volume of the batch, and that value is pretty much solid as an original gravity. It might be that it's just a lower gravity pale on purpose, but if you measured something lower than the recipe estimates, I'd probably go with the recipe value instead.
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Jul 20, 2011