Newbie fermentation questions

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OK. After reading howtobrew online and other sources via google I think
I understand the three fermentation steps.

1. Primary (alcohol production)
2. Secondary (conditioning)
3. Bottle (carbonation and further conditioning)

The presence of oxygen is required at the start of the primary but to be
avoided like the plague during secondary and bottle. Some people seem to
think a secondary fermentation off the trub is vital, others don't seem
to think it matters one way or the other (generally speaking). The
danger of secondary is getting oxygen in the secondary fermenter and
producing vinegar. Somehow the presence of oxygen in the bottle is not
nearly as bad as in the secondary, or at least people seem to accept it
as a necessary evil.

If I read correctly and the above reflects an accurate understanding of
the situtation, then I have some questions.

1. What is a racking cane? I see the term used, I see what it looks like
and I still have no idea why you would use it vs just plain tubing.
Maybe they are easier to clean?

2. Do the auto siphons work for moving to the seconday & bottling? How
do you purge the oxygen from the line during the transfer to the
secondary? I assume it matters because some have suggested filling the
siphon tube with sanitizer. This does not seem like not a good idea, so
what other options are there?

3. What about using food grade mineral oil in the secondary so that
there is NO space above the wort and therefore no oxygen to skunk the
beer? Mineral oil does not seem to be a good medium for the presence of
bacteria, yeast or any other nasty.

4. How difficult is it to purge bottles with CO2 before bottling? It
seems that you would need some special device in order to use the CO2
cartridges that you can get a Wal-Mart. Is it even worth it if you could?

5. Is there a difference between PET bottles used for water, i.e.
Crystal Springs, and those used for soda pop? Are the soda bottles
engineered differently? Is there a danger of the water bottles failing
after being carbonated, assuming NORMAL carbonation. Obviously if you
put too much priming sugar in all bottles of all types are subject to

I'm sure the answer to these questions are self-evident to those that
have been brewing for a while. Google is a wonderful tool, but sometimes
it matters how you ask the question.

Thanks for your help,


Re: Newbie fermentation questions
On Wed, 31 Dec 2003 19:04:29 +0000, Frank wrote:

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You're working too hard, Frank!

Getting too much oxygen into the fermenter is said to produce a
"wet-cardboard" flavor. The beer can handle some small amounts of oxygen,
so purging your siphon or bottles with CO2 is not necessary.

Vinegar is produced from bacterial action, not oxygen. Keep things clean
and sanitary.

If you use a siphon to move the beer from primary to secondary, you won't
get as much oxygen into the beer as you would by simply pouring it. Keep
the bottom end of the siphon submerged to reduce splashing. Most siphons
seem to have a cap on the bottom to help reduce it sucking up sediment.

I start my siphon by putting the end of a turkey baster into the end of
the tubing and releasing the squeeze-bulb. Some people just suck on the
end of the tubing, others submerge the tubing to fill it and then hold the
ends until it's in position for siphoning. Whatever works.

A racking cane is a handy addition to the siphon. A length of hard plastic
tubing with a valve on the end. You put the valve end into a cleaned and
sterilized bottle, and when pressed against the bottom of the bottle the
valve opens, so beer can flow through the siphon and valve into the bottle.
When you lift the cane, the flow stops.

I'll take a pass on the rest for now. I'm sure the more-experiences
brewers here can answer them better than I.

Karl S.

Re: Newbie fermentation questions
Frank wrote:
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Well, not quite...oxygenation can be as bad a problem in the bottle as
in the secondary.  And it does not produce vinegar (that comes from an
acetobacter infec tion), it produces stale beer with a "wet cardboard"
or metallic taste.

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It's a piece of stiff palstic with a bend at the top.  Not required, but
they make life easier.

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Haven't used them, but I hear they work well.  I start sipohins by
fillojng the siphon tube with water and letting it drain into a cup
before directing the runoff to the fermenter.
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Oxygen does not skunk beer...exposure to light does.  Using mineral oil
in the secondary would be a cure worse than the problem is.

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Not necessary...the refermentation in the bottles scavenges the O2 in

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Yes.  Always use PET bottles designed for carbonated beverages.

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If you haven't already, read


Life begins at 60 - 1.060, that is.

Reply to denny_dot_g_dot_conn_at_ci_dot_eugene_dot_or_dot_us

Re: Newbie fermentation questions

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I may be wrong, but I don't think that oxygen is the culprit in getting
vinegar.  Vinegar is a result of bacterial contamination.  Proper sanitation
will avoid this.  The alcohol in the beer helps prevent contamination during
secondary and bottling, but you still need to sanitize everything like you
want to perform surgery with it.  I have never had an oxidation problem and
I don't worry about introducing some oxygen.  I only siphon and bottle
gently and it has worked so far.

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A racking cane is a rigid plastic tube that is shaped like a cane.  You
stick a flexible tube at the top and put the long end into your carboy.  I
start my siphon by filling the sanitize cane and tube with water.  Put a
finger over the end of the tube and put the cane into the carboy and the
siphon will start immediarely.  I wash my hands with standard antibacterial
hand soap before doing this and it has been successful so far.  If you want
to boil and cool the water first, go ahead if it will make you rest easier.
I don't bother because I figure my city tap water is already treated when it
comes out of the faucet.

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I have never used an auto siphon so I can't comment.  The amount of oxygen
in the siphon tube is so small that I don't worry about it.  Just remember
that your beer has a fair amount of dissolved CO2 in it.  When you transfer
the beer some of the CO2 will come out of the solution.  So, the oxygen
doesn't really affect the beer much.

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I would avoid the mineral oil because it is another potential source of
contamination.  My theory on bottle head space is that you actually want a
little oxygen present.  After the secondary, yeast activity seems to go
relatively dormant.  When you bottle with sugar, the yeast go through a new
life cycle.  So, I think that the yeast will use up whatever little oxygen
is there.  Plus, filling each bottle knocks a little CO2 out of the beer.
Again, it's just a theory.

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I don't use plastic bottles, but I would assume that any bottle with a screw
cap will work just fine.  I don't see plastic manufacturers going through
the hassle of making one type of plastic for carbonated beverages and
another for non-carbonated.

Re: Newbie fermentation questions

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A racking cane is a rigid tube which the reuglar tubing fits on to. It has a
strainer on the bottom to rack the beer off the trub.

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It also transfers from primary to secondary and replaces the racking cane.
It is a much easier method to transfer. It seems you are putting too much
emphasis on the oxygen thing. After the beer has finished primary
fermentation it is very unlikely you will end up with vinegar unless you
don't have good sanitation practices. You don't want to introduce oxygen
after primary because oxygen can make your beer go "stale" so to speak.
Making it taste like cardboard. As long as you don't splash around too much
and you are fairly quiet in your transfers you will be fine.
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No need to and have never heard of it being done.

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Kinda easy if you have a kegging setup. Again not nessesary

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Don't know..I bottle in glass. Clear bottles are bad because they let light
in. Light interacts with the hop oils and causes skunked beer. You can
always crack open a PET bottle to release some gas if it feels too hard and
might be overcarbonating.

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I have been brewing for thirteen years. All of your questions are great ones
and shows you will have what it takes to make great beer. Just remember
this...Clean everything thorough.. Sanitize the heck out of everything.
After Primary Fermentation...transfer gently and quietly. Relax and let the
beer do its thing. You will do fine.

Re: Newbie fermentation questions - Thank You
I appreciate all of the responses you guys have given me. I really
appreciate y'all explaining how bad sanitation causes vinegar, not O2.
Thanks for the explanation of how a racking cane can be helpful. I also
like the auto siphon idea now that some have recommended it. Also, some
of the other newsgroup posts about how to add priming sugar to the
fermenter before bottling are very useful. All in all this is a great
newsgroup and it is wonderful that you all are a part of making it that way.

Happy New Year,


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