This review is by Homebrew Finds Contributor Brad Probert. Brad is an engineer, expert homebrewer and experienced reviewer. Grab a link to Brad’s website at the end of this review.
Spike TC100 Temperature Control System
Controlling the temperature during fermentation is key to getting the right flavor profile out of your yeast. Sure, you can still make good beer without it, but you’ll be limited. It’s like walking vs. driving a car. Sure, you can get some cool places just by walking. But when you increase your mobility, you can explore more places that were out of reach when you were only walking. Getting back to fermentation, if you’ve got a cool basement and a heat wrap + controller, you can get control of ale fermentation. Add to that a cold water source and a method to circulate that water within your beer, and now you can also get control of lager fermentation, too.
Flex Fermentor [Hands on Review] with Neoprene Jacket
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Spike has what they call their TC-100 Bundle that they developed for their free-standing conical fermentors. They have this same system available on their new Flex stainless bucket fermentor. It starts with a neoprene jacket that you pull up and it snugs to the conical fermentor shape. It has pre-designed holes to ensure a perfect fit with the TC flanges, the fermentor legs, and the handles.
TC100 Heating Pad
The heat is provided by a unique thick, fibrous, rubber-like heating mat. The heat coming from the mat is low and warming. It sits inside the neoprene jacket, which helps keep the warming heat inside and focused on your fermenting beer, not wasting any to the surrounding environment. The mat wraps around half the circumference in order to keep the heating from getting too close to the thermowell port.
Cooling requires a cold water source that you provide yourself (cooler full of ice, glycol chiller, etc.). The TC-100 comes with a submersible pump that you put at the bottom of your cooler of cold water, and then connect it to plastic cooling lines in order to send cooling water to/from the stainless cooling coil. The cooling coil has a lot of surface area due to many spiral loops that run from the top all the way down into the cone at the bottom of the fermentor. This extra-long length means it works whether you are doing a full 5 gallon batch or a smaller batch. This cooling coil gets inserted through the 4” TC flange in the middle/center of the lid. The cooling lines connect to the coil by way of some slick 90-degree quick-connects that simply require you to push the tube in to seat it, and then press/hold the collar to remove.
TC100 System in Action with Flex FermentorTemperature Controller
Altogether this system is controlled by a simple digital controller. It has a receptacle with 2 plugs- one for the cooling water pump, one for the heater. On the controller, you push a couple buttons to move your temperature set point up or down, and then the controller kicks on the cooling pump or heater based on whether you are above or below the set temperature. The controller has a pre-wired temperature probe that you slide into the thermowell on the Flex fermentor, which then measures the temperature of the beer in the middle of the fermentor. The readout on the controller has both the set temperature and the current temperature measured by the probe.
Hands on Review
The cooling coil that inserts through the lid was simply impressive. The effectiveness of cooling coils is related to the surface area in contact with the wort/beer. And the large diameter coils on the TC-100 with multiple loops provide a lot of surface area. The craftsmanship of the coils was top notch with smooth surfaces as it corkscrewed down to the bottom, and a solid weld/solder joint where it passed through the machined 4” diameter plate that got sealed to the lid with a 4” TC gasket and clamp.
Light Lager Fermentation Plot
The heat pad was a different construction than I’ve seen before. It was a thick-ish kind of fiber that almost felt like a tire tread. Not seeing any wires running through it, I was skeptical so I plugged it in. It quickly warmed up and provided a nice even heat. Skepticism gone. The size of the heat pad was nice, too as it heated a wider band of fermenting beer.
The cooling pump was pretty typical, and I put it in my 10 gallon Igloo drink cooler filled with about 5 gallons of water and five 2L re-purposed pop bottles filled with water and frozen. That setup lasted me about 36 hours before the ice melted, running in my 65F degree basement, holding a 50-55F degree fermentation temperature. So I just cycled 5 bottles to/from the freezer every morning before heading off to work and then I wouldn’t run out of cold water. What was not typical, was the foam insulation that encased the cooling lines going to/from the cooling water source. It was one of those things that when you saw it you thought, “Oh man, that’s so simple. Why didn’t I think of that?” In theory, the insulation helps keep your cooling water from warming up on its way to the fermentor. But I think the real advantage is preventing the cold lines from condensing any humidity in the air and creating a drip mess on your fermentor/floor.
The neoprene jacket was custom-made for the Flex fermentor. It had the holes in all the spots where the fermentor had something (leg holes, TC ports, handles). What was great about this jacket was all of those cut-outs had high quality stitching all around the holes. That meant if I spilled beer on it, I could follow the machine washing directions without fear of it falling apart in the wash, or tearing at the holes as I slid it over the various features on the fermentor.
Overall, the TC-100 system worked as expected, allowing me to simply set the fermentation temperature and let it cycle the pump or heater on & off as needed. The coil was extremely well made, and its large stainless loops made for very easy cleaning afterwards. The neoprene jacket was extremely well made and helped not only the system function, but kept the Flex looking good even if its shiny exterior was covered!
Get the Gear
- Hands on Review: Spike Flex Fermentor
- Hands on Review: Spike Brewing Equipment Spike+ Kettle
- Hands on Review: Custom Spike+ Boil Kettle
- Our 10 Most Recent Reviews | Complete Library of Reviews
Submersible Pump for Cooling WaterCooling Coil Installed in Flex Fermentor LidEasy Disassembly for CleaningSpike TC100 Kit for Flex FermentorBe Sure to Plug in Heater Before Cooling PumpCooling Water Hoses with Foam Insulation
Special Thanks to Spike Brewing Equipment for providing the unit used for evaluation in this review.
By Brad Probert. Check out Brad’s website – beersnobby.com
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