3

I would like to start leaving beer and mead in secondary at a location that I may not be able to get to on a regular basis (sometimes not for several weeks) and have a few questions for anyone who might know the answers:

  1. How long will a normal 3-piece or s-shaped airlock remain full of water and "useful" with no supervision. I know that humidity and temperature will play a factor but does anyone have any experience on how long it has lasted for them before drying up?
  2. Aside from setting up a blow off tube into a big jug of water does anyone know of any alternatives to a standard 3-piece or s-shaped airlock that would last a longer time? Sure the blow off set up will work fine but I'm hoping for something a big more "elegant"

Thanks in advance for any advice you can offer.

  • I will put my word here since it does not answer your questions directly, but there is my advice: If you will set the fermentors and them go away, I don't recomend to use a "elegant" airlock. The fermentation can be vigorous and you could end with a clogged airlock rocketing out of your fermentor, beer everywhere, big mess, etc. Or the liquid could just dry as you are saying. So I really think that a blowoff tube could be safer to leave alone. There is some things that could make it feel more 'elegant' than just a hose coming out of the fermentor. – jards Jan 21 '15 at 16:54
  • Sorry, I've missed the part where you states that you'll doing only secondary fermentation this way... So forget about my advice. What kind of fermentors you will use? – jards Jan 21 '15 at 16:54
  • 1
    @jards I use a Better Bottle for secondary. – Michael Jan 27 '15 at 19:33
7

Question 1 is hard to answer because its so dependent on the relative humidity and air flow of the room in question. I wouldn't assume an airlock with water would be safe for more than 4 weeks without checking on it or topping it off.

Vodka is sometimes recommended as an airlock liquid, but I think its is a bad idea for long-term storage. Being roughly a 50/50 mix of ethanol and H2O, its going to lose a considerable bit of its volume as the ethanol evaporates. Your airlock is NOT air-tight (despite the name) so this evaporation is not easily preventable. Also, ethanol is a weird form of sugar and can attract some kinds of hardy bacteria. Leave a glass of whiskey out exposed for a few days and you'll notice that SOMETHING from the air is chomping away at it.

I would go with food-grade glycerin, sold at pharmacies. It won't evaporate and is harmless if a little gets sucked back into the fermentor if the temps drop (its used to add a little "body" to wine so it might actually improve your beer/mead).

Here's a good thread on the subject.

|improve this answer|||||
  • +1 : for the glycerin idea (both to battle evaporation and as a potential body-enhancing additive). – Henry Taylor Jan 21 '15 at 15:14
  • 1
    Thanks @Graham, I had never heard about using Glycerin before. I will def. check this out. – Michael Jan 27 '15 at 19:35
  • 1
    when you mentioned glycerin (a common ingredient in e-cigaret juice) made me think of another alternative, propylene glycol. It is a common food additive, however it is toxic (dangerous only in large quantities) and should prevent bacteria growth in the air lock. – BenCamps Jan 28 '15 at 22:37
0

I don't think water would remain useful for very long at all. It will stagnate and become fertile ground for lots of little nasties.

I recommend filling your airlock with cheap vodka. The alcohol will prevent microbes from growing in the liquid for a long time. As long as your airlock is properly capped, it should be fine for several weeks, and probably several months. The only time I ever had an issue was with an airlock that I (inadvertently) filled with a flavored vodka. After a few months, I'm guessing the alcohol dissipated enough for the flavored sugars to become a Petri dish! :(

The S-shaped airlocks have less surface area and therefore are subject to less evaporation. However 3-piece or S-shaped are not ideal during initial fermentation when blowoff is possible. I also wouldn't recommend leaving a brew for several weeks during this phase, either.

|improve this answer|||||
  • I should have clarified that I never use just plain water, I always use water & starsan. I wonder which (between vodka and starsan) would evaporate less quickly. I agree that the s-shaped airlock has less surface area but it seems to me that it also holds less liquid. You really think vodka would last several months? – Michael Jan 21 '15 at 3:36
  • Vodka keeps essentially indefinitely when it's sealed it the bottle. – djs Jan 21 '15 at 6:23
0

There is a variant on the "blow off into a separate jug" approach, which involves placing your entire fermenter in a water-filled container (a pail or tub) to provide temperature stabilization and then run the blow off tube down into that water. Basically getting two functions out of a single tub of water.

If you found a tub with a diameter just slightly larger than the exterior of your fermenter and if you strapped the blow off tube in tight against the fermenter, the whole could be considered a single unit.

--- Edit : Another Idea ---

You could modify a standard 3-piece airlock by extending the outer tube with transparent plastic pipe from an aquarium store. By making the airlock 4-6 inches tall, it could hold more water/vodka/sanitizer which would then take longer to evaporate away.

|improve this answer|||||
0

I have used the normal 3-peice with water for years to make wine and several of the wines I make have to sit in the secondary for 1 1/2 months between racks. I have never lost more that 1/2 of a safe amount of the water and have never had to top it off. But, I keep my wine in a stabile / controlled environment.

If you are worried about your environment, you can do what many home brewers (and I imagine even larger brewers) had done for a long time before helpful inventions like the 3-peice or s-style. Run a hose out of the top of your carboy into a glass / pail / drum of your favorite liquid. I am sure you can find something you can fill that will not entirely evaporate.

|improve this answer|||||
0

I use clingwrap, secured by a heavy duty rubber band. I punch two pin holes in the wrap to ensure excess CO2 can escape. Not very elegant, but very effective!

|improve this answer|||||

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.