Every now and again you realize how much you still have left to learn. But you know what, we only learn through experience, and in that light, nothing should taste better than a genuine slide of humble pie.
The plan for today was to bottle three mead recipes that have been aging for a while (think greater than a year), two in half gallon carboys and one in a one gallon carboy. I wanted to try something differently though. The last few times I have racked or bottled, by the end of the process I am fed up with the time it takes to get the job done. My racking tube has degraded over the years (I’m only on my second one), so I thought it would be a good idea to go pick one up.*
In the dearth of civilization that is Southern Maryland,** there is a single homebrew shop within regular commuting distance, Danny’s Homebrew. Danny is an all-around fantastic guy, and offers great prices through his quarterly truck orders, but I didn’t want to deal with waiting until the shop was open for a simple purchase like tubing. I figured Lowes would have it stocked on the shelves.
It was rather easy to find the plumbing section, and subsequently the plain clear tubing used for racking. Lowes had three sizes available, 1/4″, 3/8″ and 1/2″ clear vinyl tubing. In the back of my mind, I knew I had read discussions about ensuring the tube size you get matches your equipment, but I was in a hurry this morning to get started, and didn’t measure what I had at home before leaving. 1/4″ tubing was obviously too small, and 1/2″ was likewise obviously too large. 3/8″ tubing it was going to have to be!
So I get home after purchasing my shiny new $8, 3/8″ tube, and of course it isn’t the same size tube as I have been using. I figured I might as well try it anyway. I usually have to cut off an inch of tube after attaching to the canes in the first place because the fit is so tight I can’t get it off.
So I clean up the brewing space, wash the dishes and clear the kitchen counter, inventory everything I need for the job today, and sanitize away. After attaching everything, moving my bottles into position, and rinsing the bottle caps, I start the siphon.
At first it seems to work, but as soon as I stop pumping, the flow immediately stops. Bubbles are forming around both ends of the tube where it connects to the racking and bottling canes. This of course points to a leak in the equipment.
Not having any nice hose clamps handy (and they’d probably break the canes anyway), I tried to tape the edges as close to shut as I could. No dice. I still can’t rack properly.
So after 20 minutes of fumbling around with the tubes, I finally give up, but not until I’ve already transferred half of the carboy contents into bottles and a spare carboy I used for getting the siphon started.***
Alas, I am forced to pour everything into the new carboy, as I didn’t want to leave massive headspace in the original carboy. And the 1.5 bottles I had didn’t seem like they were worth bottling alone. Now everything is in a new 1/2 gallon carboy, with additional headspace and significant oxidation likely to occur. Oh well, here’s to hoping it takes on sherry notes, and not wet cardboard!
The two most common sizes for homebrew equipment are 5/16″ and 3/8″ tubing, and getting the wrong size can prove disastrous. You can’t shove a 5/16″ tube onto a 3/8″ cane, and shoving a 3/8″ tube onto a 5/16″ cane doesn’t seal properly to create a vacuum inside the tube. Make sure to know your equipment sizes the next time you head to the store to get tubing. It will save you a headache, and ensure you racking or bottling plans go smoothly.
* Over time, vinyl tubing degrades. This increases the drag inside the tubing, slowing the flow of mead through the tube.
** In all actuality, I really like Southern Maryland. But this is a rant, and during a rant, calling the state of industry in Southern Maryland a dearth of civilization seems appropriate.
*** I have made a modification to my racking process to avoid auto-siphon as I find these usually require two people. I’ll note this as another blog post topic for later.