Home Brewing Question: how to siphon?
June 22, 2004 11:41 AM   Subscribe

HomeBrewFilter. I bottled last night and took great precautions to sterilize everything effectively. Then I found myself with the siphon hose in hand, the fermenting bucket up on the table and the bottling bucket down on the floor, and realized I had no idea how to accomplish the siphon without putting my mouth on the hose and sucking. This seems incredibly un-sterile but I couldn't recall ever doing it any other way. I was using a glass racking tube with about 5' of hose attached. Is there some better way to do this? Or should I not worry too much about it?

Incidentally, the bucket I was siphoning from does have a built-in spigot, but it's at the bottom of the bucket, where all the sediment is.
posted by scarabic to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You can fill the tube with water by sticking your thumb on one end and putting the other end under your faucet. Then put your racking cane in the fermenter, put the other end in your bottling bucket, and let go. Siphonation.

Of course, this dilutes your beer a little, but you probably won't notice. There are probably certainly better methods, but this has worked for me in the past.
posted by goethean at 11:53 AM on June 22, 2004

I've never home brewed, or siphoned anything sterile, but whenever I've siphoned questonable liquids, I submerge most of the hose in the liquid, put my thumb over the end not in the liquid, and pull the hose back out. now its mostly full of the liquid, and when you remove your thumb, it should siphon. You could, of course, use something more sterile than a thumb for this.
posted by duckstab at 11:53 AM on June 22, 2004

You want one of these (Northern Brewer sells 'em here).

I've used the suck method, the fill with water method, the blow method (look for 'carboy caps' on this page), and the "automatic racking cane" method (above). The latter the best method by far, with the "carboy cap" option a distant second.

As long as you try to be sterile though, you'll probably come out with good beer. Don't worry! Relax! Have a homebrew!
posted by maniactown at 12:04 PM on June 22, 2004

The tips above work well, but if you homebrew a lot I suggest picking up an Auto Siphon. Such as the Fermtech Auto Siphon. Makes it easy to start or re-start a siphon.
posted by Tallguy at 12:06 PM on June 22, 2004

I do what goethean suggests, but I pour off the water into a different container before siphoning the beer into the fermenting bucket.
posted by TurkishGolds at 12:31 PM on June 22, 2004

What is the proof of your home brew? Alcohol will sterilize.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:58 PM on June 22, 2004

I'll third the autosiphon recommendation.

If that doesn't work, then filling the hose with water works, but you may want to be wary of what water you use. If your tap water is trustworthy, then it should be fine, but I've had some strange flavors from using un-purified tap.

Also, 5' may be a bit long for a tube. If you're going to brew a lot, I'd cut it down to a length where the tube hangs from the racking cane to maybe a foot above the bottom of the bottling bucket. Tube are cheap enough, so I don't see any reason not to have a dedicated one for each task.

Or, you could just grow a beard of Papazian-ian proportions and intimidate the beer into the correct bucket, like Mickey Mouse in Fantasia.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:00 PM on June 22, 2004

As long as it isn't the ancient/fabled blue moustache.
posted by littlegreenlights at 1:07 PM on June 22, 2004

can't you just use one of those squeeze bulb thingies, like the 2nd pic on this page?
posted by badstone at 1:15 PM on June 22, 2004

Response by poster: Cool, thanks everybody! I guess I'll pick up one of those siphon starters. Damn... every time I do this I start out thinking I have all the equipment I need!

thomcatspike: remember that beer is created by adding yeast to a nice nutrient solution. The trick is that yeast needs to stay alive in it, and if yeast can, many other things can, too.

[tip 'o the glass to all]
posted by scarabic at 1:31 PM on June 22, 2004

I tried the auto-siphon and didn't like it. I found that it aerated the beer quite a bit. But maybe they have improved it in the past few years. Or maybe I was using a shitty one...I got it at the LHBS
posted by goethean at 1:36 PM on June 22, 2004

I put the question to my homebrewing hubby, who replied:

"The syphon thing comes up a bit on the [homebrewing] news group. Someone always drops in a plug for the Auto Siphon™ thing. I just soak my hand in the sanitizer (iodophor), wrap it around the end of the tube and then suck on my hand. I always found that filling the hose from the tap first was troublesome, since the hose always ends up dragging in the sink or on the counter top -- both of which would be totally seething with bacteria."
posted by web-goddess at 6:27 PM on June 22, 2004

Response by poster: That's an interesting suggestion, web-goddess. Come to think of it, I have a plastic ball joint I could use as a mouthpiece, and then remove. I'll give that a shot before I invest in the Auto Sipon.
posted by scarabic at 7:15 PM on June 22, 2004

When I did this I just used my mouth. The beer was always fine, 'course I tried not to be overly saliva-ish. It was trickier to keep cat hair out of the process since it's lurking everywhere in my house. Mostly, I figured that mankind has been making decent beer for a few centuries longer than we've been able to do it in sterile conditions, so I didn't worry too much. I only had recurring troubles when I rushed to cap the bottles (a few were on crooked) and didn't use iodophor liberally.
posted by dness2 at 8:59 PM on June 22, 2004

Response by poster: Yeah, how did those trappist monks manage it through the ages? Boiling water, I suppose?
posted by scarabic at 10:35 PM on June 22, 2004

I always did the mouth thing as well. Just to be on the safe side, use a little bit of listerine before starting. I've never ended up with a bad batch. Plus, it adds to that overall homebrew feeling.
posted by ttrendel at 10:59 PM on June 22, 2004

Silly Americans with your shiny capitalist glass carboys. Switch to plastic fermenters with taps. They keep the light out, are easy to carry and don't land you in hospital if you drop them on your foot. They eliminate syphoning, too. To rack between vessels, simply hook the hose up to both taps, then open both taps. The taps come with built-in sediment reducers as well. No saliva, no splashing.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:12 PM on June 22, 2004

Response by poster: Silly Americans with your shiny capitalist glass carboys. Switch to plastic fermenters with taps.


that's what I'm using, oh spicy one. But mine don't eliminate siphoning, as I explained in the first comment in this thread. I don't know what kind of screen or filter yours have that can handle that kind of silt and still let the liquid through. It a nice trick.

I gave up carboys almost immediately. Keep reading.

I learned to brew in high school, and my parents more or less allowed it. I guess they figured if I had the gumption to figure out how to make beer I was responsible enough to enjoy it.

Boy were they wrong. After my 1st batch, I decided I wasn't going to fuck with all those little bottles anymore, and that I would simply do my second fermentation in the glass carboy. That's right. With the top completely capped. It would be like a keg. Or something. Yeah. I'd figure out how to tap it later. Maybe pick up a cheapo water cooler?

I don't know what I was thinking, but I wrapped the stopper with tape to keep it in, and left it fermenting in my Mom's laundry room. I came home one day a couple of weeks later to one seriously pissed off mother. She took me into the laundry room, where an inch of swilly beer soaked the floor, and hundreds of shards of glass were *embedded in the walls*. I coulda killed her.

Ha! We laugh about it now. Really.
posted by scarabic at 12:43 AM on June 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

In Australia the spigots are positioned about an inch or so above the bottom of the fermenter. If you've got an inch or more of sediment, you're in trouble. The sediment reducer screws into the back of the tap and is basically a long plastic cone that's threaded on the wide end, with a thin triangular hole on the top side of the cone. Wort flows through the slit into the tap. The sediment stays on the bottom. You can even tip the fermenter forward to get the last of the wort out - the sediment stays under the tap inlet, while the wort flows over the top of the reducer and out.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:02 AM on June 23, 2004

I use my mouth. I've had two bad batches out of 60+ and they were not due to the siphoning (they tasted bad being siphoned out). I heard the founder of the Anchor brewing company on NPR years ago and he maintained that it's really hard to make a lethal batch of beer. The conditions under which the mash ferment just don't warrant it.
posted by plinth at 3:45 AM on June 23, 2004

scarabic - you could have killed her? Why? It seems like it was your fault.

I had no idea so many people home-brewed.
posted by agregoli at 7:32 AM on June 23, 2004

agregoli: I think scarabic meant that if his mother had been in the room when the carboy exploded, it likely would have killed her. But yeah, I had to read that sentence two or three times before I figured that out.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:52 AM on June 23, 2004

scarabic - you could have killed her? Why? It seems like it was your fault.

I think he meant, if his mother had been in the laundry room when the thing exploded, she could've been killed.

On preview: yeah, what DevilsAdvocate said.
posted by sailoreagle at 9:54 AM on June 23, 2004

Response by poster: Well, I definitely had more than an inch of sediment, no doubt about that. I used hop pellets and malt extract, too, so it could easily have been a lot more, although I did sparge some cracked grains as well. It would be nice to use the spigot, but it just ain't practical for that step. I'm guessing I'm not the only one in that boat, judging by the apparent widespread use of siphoning.

I'm thrilled that there are so many brewers here, btw.
posted by scarabic at 10:22 AM on June 23, 2004

Oh, I get it. Sorry, it just took a slower re-read.
posted by agregoli at 11:57 AM on June 23, 2004

I think more than an inch of sediment is excessive, but can happen with a lot of hops and with some yeasts. Did you strain out the grains first? How did you transfer from your boiling pot into the fermenter? If you just dumped the whole pot in that would explain the excessive sediment. I like to siphon this. First I chill it with an immersion cooler (copper coils through which I run cold tap water) and then siphon onto a carboy. This is where you really need to be careful about sanitation.

You could probably still use the tap by tilting the bucket slightly away from the tap, say by setting a book under it at the tap, and letting it resettle before racking. The tap is much less likely to introduce bugs or wild yeast than a siphon. However, first turn it upside down and fill it with sanitizer for a while to make sure the tap is sanitary.

I tried and hated the auto-siphon thing. It was hard to sterilize and added to much oxygen. If you are going to siphon, dip your already clean hands in sanitizer and then fill the siphon with water and put your thumbs over the ends. Hold the free end lower than the end of the racking tube as you release your thumb from the racking tube and plunge it into the bucket or carboy. Do not count on the low alcohol content for any sanitizing, even hard liquor is pretty inefficient at this.

A pretty good place to ask brewing questions would be at rec.crafts.brewing.
posted by caddis at 12:03 PM on June 23, 2004

Could you put some hose on the inside of the tap to snorkel it above your sediment?
posted by plinth at 6:29 PM on June 23, 2004

Putting a hose on the inside without infecting the beer would be difficult. Perhaps, if you had some arm length sterile vetinary gloves....
posted by caddis at 7:02 PM on June 23, 2004

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