So how do you improve on the Mr. Beer setup. Two simple steps (well, mostly simple).
- Siphon the wort from the fermenter to a secondary container prior to bottling. This will act as a simple filter. In effect, by siphoning, you skip the trub (or solid material on the bottom) and anything floating on the surface. This leaves just the wort which lives in between.
- Carbonate more effectively. Mr. Beer instructions say to put 2.5 grams into each bottle, but that doesn’t provide any means for managing a different level of carbonation for different types of beer.
Carbonation requires you to dump from the primary fermenter into a secondary because you can’t simply pour the sugar into the wort, this will either not mix, or you will mix it and aerate the wort which will kill the brew. So, it becomes a two step process. The setup I will show here is a little more complicated, and after working with this for about a year, I’ve realized it could be a tad simpler, but it works.
You will need a few things to make this work.
- A second Mr. Beer fermenter. Keep an eye on the website, the fermenter s go on sale for $10 quite often.
- A second locking spigot. I don’t trust the spigot that comes with the stock kit honestly. I feel like it would be too easy to bump open, or to have it stick on material trying to pass through. The locking spigot is much nicer, and less likely to cause problems. (Update 1/19 – I just learned the locking spigot is being replaced, and is not available on the website. I’ll update when I find it back on there)
- Some food grade flex tubing. I just got the clear plastic 3/8 ID stuff from Home Depot. It works, and is easy to clean. Just make sure the tubing will fit the nozzle on the siphon tube.
- A siphon tube. I found mine at the local Brew ‘N Grow here in Chicago. You can order online from them, and get the tubing to go with it if you like. Or, find a local home brewing store near you and buy the stuff there.
- If you want to get crazy like I did, then buy brass or stainless fittings from Home Depot that will let you pass through a lid on your secondary. You don’t specifically need this, because the wort will only be in the secondary for a few minutes. But, if you want to be particular, this will help keep foreign contaminants out of the wort.
Building the Transfer Setup
The pic above is of my siphon tubing setup. The (A) siphon tube is connected to a 2.5 foot length of flex tubing, which passes through (B) the fermenter lid using brass fittings, and finishes with a (C) 10 inch tube that sits inside the secondary. The 10 inch tube is what keeps the wort from splashing, and makes it possible to fully mix the carbonation sugar without aerating the wort. The (D) drain wand is what make bottling a snap.
This is how I setup my fermenters so that I can transfer from the primary to secondary quickly and easily. The (A) bucket is there to make the siphon work correctly. The (B) primary fermenter holds the now brewed wort. And the (C) target secondary sits just next to it.
This is a picture of the secondary, hooked up and ready to accept the transfer. The tubing is already connected and inside the fermenter, the end of the tube curls against the bottom so that it’s output is horizontal. This will allow for an even and low turbulence transfer. Also, the dispensing wand is attached. I added a bit of flex tubing to make it easier to use. Towards the end of bottling, you’ll need to tip up the secondary gently to get the last of the wort. Tipping is allowed here as there is no trub on the bottom of the secondary. Another point is that you won’t get a full 8 1 litre bottles with this method. I generally only bottle 7, as the 8th is usually only about half full.
This is the finished setup. From here, I take a couple of good plunges on the siphon, and get a good transfer going. Make sure to keep the tip in the wort without pushing it down into the trub. You can watch to see if you’re moving solid material in the tube, and if you are, make sure you move the end of the siphon away from the bottom or top. You can siphon down very close to the bottom of the primary without touching the trub. Pay attention to your tubing, as it will tell you if you have bubbles from an incomplete siphon setup (which you fix with another plunge), and it will tell you if you’re picking up solid material. Experimentation is key, but it doesn’t take long to figure out.
Carbonating your wort
Prior to transferring your wort to the secondary, you need to work up your carbonation sugar. First, a note about the type of sugar. I find that table sugar for Mr. Beer kits works fine. You can find arguments for different types of sugar, but table sugar is easy to use, and readily available. Basically, you don’t have to do anything special. This is my recommendation, but follow your heart.
You will need one specific item to make this work well, a jewellers scale which can measure in tenth’s of a gram. You can find them at tobacco shops and online. Measuring this accurately isn’t critical, but nice to be able to do. If you don’t care that much, you will definitely need a scale that can measure grams, and if you don’t care about being too exact (it’s not critical), then any $10 kitchen scale from Target or Walmart will work.
First off, figure out how much sugar to use. I use The Beer Recipator to work out my carbonation levels. That page will do the math for you to help you work out how much sugar you actually should use. The handy drop down at the top of the page contains links to most types of beer you would brew, along with the range of CO2 volumes that are appropriate for that type of brew. I generally pick the median value in the range provided. However, certain beers I like a tad differently, such as a wheat beer, when I would go a littl higher in the range to make it a bit more heady. In this example, you’re bottle priming, and the volume being bottled is generally 7.7 litres. Note, this isn’t how much you will actually bottle, but how much is in the secondary. Since it’s mixed evenly, you need to calculate based on the volume being mixed, not how many bottles you will finish with. Temperature at bottling is the current air temp wherever you are. The type of sugar is cane if you’re using table sugar, or pick the appropriate sugar if you want to use something else. Click calculate, and you’re done.
Next, measure out the amount of sugar as calculated. You’re going to dissolve this into 1 cup of water which will allow for a even mix with the wort in the secondary. Bring one cup of water to a boil, and pour in your sugar. Quickly mix it together and make sure it’s all dissolved. Cover the water, and let it cool, or find a way to cool it quickly, without adding anything new, or allowing the sugar water to come into contact with anything else. The boiling does two things, the first is to kill any biologic material that might have been in there, and the second is to quickly dissolve the sugar. When cooling, the water should stay covered until the temp has dropped to less than 130 degrees. It must be cooled so that it doesn’t melt/warp the secondary and to avoid killing any yeast in the wort. As soon as it’s cooled, pour it into the empty secondary. At this point, you can begin your transfer of the wort from the primary to the secondary.
Once the transfer is complete, bottle using the wand without adding sugar to the bottles themselves. Now, you’ll have a beer that is correctly carbonated and will taste much better for it.
- Make sure to clean all the siphon parts as well as is possible. Same with the dispensing wand. Take them apart, clean the insides and in all the crevices. Lots of little things like dirt, yeasts, and bacteria live there, so make sure it’s very clean before you start.
- Move your fermenter to where you plan to do the transfer about an hour or more prior to the transfer. This will allow the wort to settle if any material was stirred up during the move.
- Once you’ve boiled the sugar water, don’t uncover it or mix it until you pour it into the empty secondary. Any mixing or careless handling may add unwanted material to the bottles and could ruin your beer.