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I recently brewed a 5.5 gallon batch of witbier. After primary, I bottled 3 gallons of it and racked the other 2.5 gallons into a 3 gallon carboy atop 24 ounces of raspberries.

After the secondary fermentation had completed and the beer fell clear, there was a good bit of now-beige raspberry gunk in the bottom of the carboy, and just as much floating at the top. I had a hard time siphoning the beer off of the fruit. I used an auto-siphon wrapped in nylon pantyhose. That worked well for preventing the fruit from getting into the siphon, but it kept clogging at the base and I was unable to get the last half gallon or three quarts of beer.

I liked the way the beer turned out and I'll probably do it again, but in the future I want to have a better way to rack off the fruit. Have you done it before? What works well for you? I'm thinking maybe if I secondary in a bucket and build some sort of round screen that I can use to push all the fruit to the bottom - like a French press - then rack from above the screen...

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(Not an answer because I've never seen such a thing) That makes me think of an upside-down-umbrella contraption that you could open and close inside a fermenter with some sort of lever. You could use muslin or cheesecloth for the "shroud", and have the shaft effectively be an auto-siphon that pulls from above the filter. I'm not sure how you'd make the hinging mechanism, but it sounds like a fun thing to try and build. –  baka May 6 '11 at 14:34
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8 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

If you do use a bucket for the secondary then you can just keep the whole lot of berries in a muslin bag. Just don't make it too tight so there is enough circulation to impart the flavors. Other than that you may just have to convince yourself that it is an acceptable loss for some great beer.

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The muslin bag seems like a good idea, but it would have to be pretty loose as you say, then I think I would have to let it drain for a while, oxidizing the beer. The loss, IMO, was more than I would expect if I could figure out a good way to separate the beer from the fruit. I expect to lose beer to the pulpy mess leftover after racking, but what I ran into was a few quarts of beer with pulp floating around in it; it wasn't exactly tightly compressed. I imagine if I were to do a full five gallons with double the fruit, I'd be losing double the beer. I don't want to lose over a gallon! –  JackSmith May 6 '11 at 15:31
    
Just thinking out loud: you can rack with the bag in the bucket maybe slide it over a bit to get to near the bottom. It will drain some what while you are racking. Or maybe something with a looser mesh than muslin so the liquid will drain faster. –  nbushnell May 6 '11 at 15:43
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They have the false bottoms for brew pots. If they make one bucket-sized you could use that. Not sure you could get it low enough (because of the stands) to save the brew. This may fit. –  nbushnell May 6 '11 at 15:47
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When making beers that end up with a lot of trub I do this. Go to your local hardware store and buy a paint straining bag (they are usually by the paint sprayers) this bag will fit over a five gallon bucket with an elastic on the top of the bag and the bag fills the bucket to the bottom. (see here http://forum.finevinewines.com/forum_posts.asp?TID=7887 Rack into the bucket using any preferred method and then simply pull the straining bag out. I also use this technique to filter out hop trub after a boil. Works like a charm.

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I think the problem is that your fruit to volume ratio was tight. With only 2.5 gallons its pretty tough to get it seperated. When I make fruit beer I calculate in a higher %-age of loss because you can't siphon it all out. Raspberries are especially tough because they fall apart into many little bits.

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If I were making 5 gallons, it would require twice as much fruit and the fruit-to-volume ratio would still be the same, and I think I'd lose twice as much beer. I've considered running the beer through my wine press. I wonder if I could do that without too much splashing. Perhaps I could sulfite the beer after pressing to eliminate the oxygen... –  JackSmith May 9 '11 at 13:18
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I'm answering my own question with something I just thought up. If you've done this before, please let me know how it worked.

My main concern with getting the beer off the fruit is introducing too much oxygen. I just remembered there was an episode of brew strong with guest Dr. Charlie Bamforth talking about preventing oxidative staling in beer. He mentioned that beer would keep much longer if it had sulfites added to it like wine does. He said breweries won't do that, though, because then they'd have to go through all the "contains sulfites" crap that wineries have to deal with. There was also a question on this site where I argued that I wouldn't worry about adding sulfites to homebrew, saying that it wouldn't be worth the hassle. Well, I may go back on my words a bit, at least when it comes to fruit beers. Here's what I'm thinking:

If I'm making fruit beer, I think I can run it through my wine press to get the beer off the fruit while preventing oxidation by adding the correct amount of k-meta to bring the beer to about 30ppm (enough to combat oxygen, while staying below the detection threshold). It's worth a try, I think. Next batch, I'll press it and see how it goes. Actually, I may not even have to press, but rather pour it through a funnel lined with a sieve, with a piece of tubing running from the funnel to the bottom of the bottling bucket to reduce splashing. If I can keep splashing down and add the proper level of sulfites, it might work well.

I'll come back to this question after I have a chance to try this and post an update...

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Why don't you just rack into a tertiary bucket for a few days and let it settle further to reduce the loss of volume. That is what I am planning to do for my Blueberry Blonde ale.

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Doesn't seem that you have actually done this "... planning to do...". Test it out first then post the results. If I asked the question, I wouldn't want to read things that might work, but what has actually worked to answer my problem. –  drj Aug 1 '11 at 6:47
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I have a year-old kriek I'm pondering the same problem with.

If you're not vegetarian, it might not be a bad idea to take a lesson from England's cask-conditioned ales, which are cleared in the serving vessel using gelatin. This might not make a great deal of difference as to how compacted the sediment gets at the bottom, but it will make the border between beer and lees a lot more distinct, and you might get more clear beer out of the whole deal.

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I did a raspberry cider and when I racked it from the primary, I poured it through a fine mesh (actually was a frying pan grease guard that fit just right over the top of my 5 gal priming bucket) that gathered most of the raspberry "guts" (I used canned seedless unsweetened raspberries from the local brew shop in the wine section, Oregon Fruit was the brand). I then used gelatin to clarify the remaining solution. Turned out a nice clear red color, and it carbonated just fine in the bottle.

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Did you add any sulfites? –  JackSmith Aug 1 '11 at 14:52
    
no. Since I was using canned processed raspberries, didn't think it was necessary as the canning process should have killed any yeasts. It honestly didn't occur to me that I should. –  drj Aug 3 '11 at 7:22
    
I actually meant to prevent oxidation, not to act as a preservative. I probably wouldn't worry about infection from canned fruit. But the pouring of the cider through the grease guard aerated it. Did you detect any oxidative staling of the cider as time went on? –  JackSmith Aug 4 '11 at 13:10
    
Still drinking it and it seemed to actually gotten better in the last 10 months. –  drj Sep 15 '11 at 5:03
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You know what? I have a witbier going in my closet right now that has orange peel in it and I've been worrying about this very process. I was thinking of inventing some sort of contraption that has a pole running down that has another pole inside of it. When I push down it would spread out a metal mesh that would keep the sediment from coming up the siphon.

HOWEVER, this seems really complicated to do AND clean, so I came up with a new idea I'm going to try this weekend.

I am thinking of taking some thin copper wire and wrapping it around the base of the siphon (just once or twice... just enough to make it secure) and then taking the ends of the wire and bending it over the opening about an inch away from it so that it forms a bulb (use both ends to create the bulb). After the bulb is made, just tie a single piece of cheese cloth around it to create a filter system. This way the bulb is big enough to minimize the suction force (which traps the fruit) while also allowing for water to flow around the fruit. I'll take a picture and let you guys know how it goes when I finish.

The idea is that when you run out of fluid in the carboy, you just press down on the bottom and the bulb collapses, allowing you to get every last inch. The overall cost should be........ 2 cents?

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Not really an answer--this should be its own question. –  JoeFish Dec 12 '12 at 15:38
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