Hot and Humid Brewing
By Justin Andrade
Homebrewing, a passion that everyone should be able to enjoy. There are homebrewers all over the earth, as evidenced from the many styles and variations of beer at any well stocked grocery store. If wine is the drink of the ruling class, then so beer is the drink of the common man. Institutionalized by the monks of Europe and perfected through centuries of experimentation in regions around the world, beer is truly a drink for the entire planet.
If we look at the roots of the great beers based in Northern and Middle Europe, one common condition exists that aid in the fermentation process of this great liquid gold. A temperate and mild climate allows for ideal conditions for brewing man’s favorite beverage. In turn, when Europeans travel to the new world, they bring these traditions and methods to a similar climate in North America.
My passion for homebrewing grew out of confinement of recent events in the form of the global pandemic. I was lucky enough to be able to work from home, and while I often desired to homebrew, the opportunity was never available. In the past I had dabbled with small kits and stovetop disasters, but now it is different. I had the time and opportunity to venture into a full homebrew adventure, and I was not going to waste the chance. I decided to skip the extract homebrew and jump headfirst into all grain. With this type of brewing comes many challenges, however the rewards speak for themselves.
I cannot proceed further without first mentioning the main problem with homebrewing in my geographic region. Unfortunately, unlike my fellow homebrewers in the Northern and central part of the United States, I am located in about as close as you can get to the equator without leaving the U.S. I am located in the Southern tip of Texas, and our climate unlike Northern Europe or the Northern United States, is hot and humid 11 months out of the year. If you have ever been to the Southern half of Florida, then you get the picture. This is the problem. As a new homebrewer most of these issues related to climate are not mentioned by the big resources, message boards, channels, and books. There just doesn’t seem to be a useful resource for homebrewers like me. However, I know you are out there, and I feel your pain! Most of the homebrew resources show methods that normally don’t account for hot climates. The standard way of brewing is geared towards those that live in cooler climates.
So, what's the big deal, it’s hot, suck it up buttercup! Well, the issue is not my comfort, but the health of the beer.
The main issues surrounding homebrewing in a hot and humid climate are as follows:
• Ingredients and sources
• Hot side brewing (cooling the wort)
• Cold side brewing (fermentation temperature)
Let’s dive a little deeper, and look for solutions for these common problems.
As I mentioned before, my adventure into homebrewing started during the pandemic. As such the only local homebrew shop in my area went out of business as soon as I started. The next closest store is now over 4 hours away, remember Texas is a rather large place. The need for homebrew ingredients to be shipped becomes necessary. MoreBeer! became my “local homebrew shop.” Grain and hops normally do well when shipping, even when they must journey to the South. The issue comes with shipping yeast. Remember, yeast is a living organism and care must be taken to keep it alive. There are two main types of yeast, liquid and dry. Liquid yeast is more fragile and temperature sensitive. MoreBeer! does an excellent job of sending liquid varieties in ice packs and cooler envelopes. Dry yeast, while it can benefit from ice packs, does well when shipped, even in extreme conditions. So as a homebrewer in my climate, you learn to use dry yeast. Luckily, the days of old expired barely viable packs are over. The industry has really pushed variety and quality in the dry yeast arena. There are nearly as many varieties in dry now as there are in liquid. What I tend to do is double up on my pitch rate if I am worried about yeast issues in transit. Dry yeast is cheap and plentiful.
The next issue has to deal with cooling the wort after flameout. Up until this point, the process is exactly the same as folks in the northern climates. But I think some context is needed to grasp what we are talking about. Chiling the wort in normal homebrew situations consists of running a cold source around or through the wort. There are several methods, but most involve using tap water as a cooling source. The consensus is that we can obtain a final cooling temperature to within 10 degrees of our tap water temperature within a reasonable amount of time. This is due to inherent inefficiencies in thermal transfers. So is the issue in our circumstances. Let’s look at the average ground water temperature from the EPA.
Let it be known that I am in that small section of 72 degrees average temp. So, try as I must, by our standard, the lowest I can get down to is 82 degrees. Hardly at a temperature for pitching standard ale yeast let alone lager yeasts. Therefore, what are the solutions? Well, there are a few. The first is to mimic the conditions of our Northern brothers, by using colder water. This is my standard practice in all but the coldest of weather. This method works with all cooling apparatus, including immersion, plate, and counterflow chillers. Simply create an artificial cold-water source by filling a ice chest, cooler, or sink with ice water. Then you will need some type of submersible pump to circulate that water through the chiller and back into the source. . thus, creating a cool water closed loop. I would advise not engaging the cold-water circuit until you first run tap through the chiller, as this will cool the hottest wort first without melting all your ice. When researching this topic, one area that also struggles with hot temperatures and limited water resources are our brewing brothers from down under. The Australian homebrew community has been practicing the no-chill method for some time now. While not as popular in the States, the idea works well for those in hot and humid climates. The process is super simple. The only requirement is that you have a sealed container, or a lid for your kettle. At flameout, the temperature will be high enough to kill any microbes that may be in the wort. If you cover your kettle and let it naturally cool overnight, you can come back to sanitized and cooled work in the morning. There is some debate on issues arising from off flavors by using this method, but in my experience, it has not been the case. It may also be dependent on beer style, so give it a shot.
The last issue has to do with the cool side of brewing. Fermentation. As mentioned before, the normal outside temperature can make things difficult for the homebrewer. If we look at how early Europeans handled hot weather, the need for refrigeration became obvious. However, in those days, this took the form of moving the wort into higher elevations, and into caves. Thus, lagering was born. We can do the same. Moving the wort inside to a stable temperature works. Glycol chillers work, although they have become more available in recent years to the consumer, are normally regulated to larger operations. What do we do when we want to ferment at cooler temperatures but are unable to reproduce the environment?
Well, there are a few ideas that come to mind. Pressure fermentation is in fashion of late. This method suppresses some of the characteristics of ale yeasts to make them mirror more of a lager profile. The other idea is to utilize yeast that like higher temperatur es. Some of the kveik strains do very well in elevated temperatures. Adjusting your brews to match these styles of beer, to include farmhouse ales and the like can be to your benefit. Think about all those homebrewers that utilize heat belts, not an issue if you live in a hot climate.
So, if you live in a hot and humid climate and are just starting out in homebrewing, I hope that some of these ideas will work for you. Remember that where there is a will there is a way. Homebrewers are some of the most creative people when it comes to innovating ideas for the trade. We are always looking to improve our product and the experience. Tell Mother Nature, that you want beer and play by her rules, or bend them a bit, and you too can have awesome homebrew.
 Lagering in the heartland of beer Lagering Caves | A Perfect Pint Beer Blog https://www.aperfectpint.net/tag/lagering-caves/
 Ground water average temperatures https://waterheatertimer.org/Average-temperature-of-shallow-ground-water.html
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