After brewing there are two main destinations for your beer: bottles or kegs.
This illustrated guide helps with the first, showing you exactly how to siphon beer into bottles.
The instructions here explain how to sanitise and start a siphon, preparing you for one of the main jobs on bottling day.
First off, let’s look at the equipment. This is my siphon:
I use a clear silicon tube fitted with a couple of useful attachments. While it’s possible to bottle beer with nothing but a simple tube, it’s easier with these extra items:
A long metal tube that is placed into the beer during siphoning. Being rigid, it reaches to the base of the fermenter without any trouble.
The siphon tube on its owns tends to move a lot and disturb the trub (the yeast and hop debris that sinks during fermentation) that’s settled to the bottom.
The red clip, near the number 3 in the photo, is used to hold the cane in place on the fermenter (see below).
The large orange teet to the right is a foot that slides to the end of the cane to control it’s position in the fermenter (again, see below).
A rigid plastic pipe that fits snugly to the siphon tube at one end; the other tip has a spring loaded valve that regulates the flow of liquid.
It opens when pressed down and defaults to closed.
The wand lets you move between bottles without splashing beer everywhere and is therefore very useful.
The clip is generally left open, but closes the siphon if squeezed shut, trapping any liquid inside.
Cleaning and Sanitising the Siphon
While many home brewers get their siphon going by sucking on it after a swill of vodka, it’s not difficult to sanitise the kit properly and remove the risk of infection.
Each time you use the siphon rinse it thoroughly with cold water. This removes all beer debris and saves time on bottling day.
Remove the attachments and leave them with the tube to dry in a well ventilated place. This could take a few days, but it’s worth doing before you store the equipment.
If you clean and dry the kit properly, the bottling day preparations are limited to a quick rinse before sanitising.
Rinsing The Siphon
Hold the racking cane to a tap and fill the tube with cold water.
Place the bottling wand lower than the cane and press the valve with your finger so the water flows through at a good pace. Run it through the system for twenty seconds or so to give it a thorough rinse.
Release the valve and stop the tap, maintaining water in the siphon by keeping the two ends pointed upwards. From now on you must keep the system full or the siphoning effect won’t work.
Sanitising Inside The Tube
Fill a small pot – I use my measuring jug – with sanitiser. I set aside some of the Star San from brew day to use now, although you could mix some fresh.
Quickly insert the racking cane into the pot of sanitiser, taking care not to let much water fall from the siphon.
Inevitably a little air will get in the system, but only large pockets will the prevent the siphon from starting.
Once the cane’s in the solution the system is sealed and won’t leak, provided you keep the bottling wand lower than the racking cane. If you don’t do that, the water can flow into the sanitiser and empty the siphon.
Now take the bottling wand and push it into an empty container, releasing the valve and starting the siphon.
You’ll see the sanitiser go down as the siphon takes it inside. It only takes ten seconds or so to change the water for sanitiser, but run it a bit longer to be on the safe side.
Completely fill the siphoning tube with Star San.
Stop the flow by lifting the wand from the container and leave for twenty seconds or more for the Star San to act.
At this point adjust the foot of the racking cane, if you have one and plan to use it. The foot lifts the end of the cane out of the trub.
In the photo below you can see it’s about 1 – 1.5cm from the bottom (the white, lower part to the right is the foot). The necessary clearance depends on the trub thickness.
Now spray the bottling wand and racking cane with sanitiser as the final preparation before moving to the beer.
I have a simple gardeners’ spray bottle that I keep filled with sanitiser for this purpose.
Quickly move the racking can from the sanitiser and dip it into the beer. Again, a little water will flow out but keep it to a minimum.
You can use the flow clip to partially stop the flow of liquid if necessary.
Generally the clip is most useful at the bottling end in the absence of a bottling wand, but I sometimes use it when manoeuvring the racking cane as well.
Don’t worry that the clip is far from the end of the siphon. Because you submerge the cane in the beer, it will refill the siphon almost to the clip, more than enough for the system to start again.
Siphon The Beer Into Bottles
With the cane safely in the beer, clip it to the fermenter.
If you have a friend helping they could hold it for you instead. The cane should be almost at the bottom of the beer, just above the trub. Ideally you won’t have to reposition it again, and will still be able to siphon out all the beer.
To really get every last drop of beer ask your bottling partner to nimbly move the cane while very slowly tilting the bucket.
Every time you agitate the fermenter the gunk at the bottom could get mixed back into the beer so be warned!
Start the siphon again by running the sanitiser solution into your pot until it’s replaced with beer.
That’s it, you’re off. Just push the wand into each of your bottles in turn until they’re full.
And don’t break the seal!
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