Friday, October 9, 2009

Oh No! Fermentation Overflow

Cider is said to ferment vigorously. There are stories about people finding the sticky stuff spattered across the walls, or bubbled over flooding the floor. But we're making five gallons in a fermenting bucket that holds more than six, so I didn't think we had anything to worry about. I was wrong.

The fermentation lock had been happily gurglely-burgleing since yesterday, just like it's supposed to. We make beer sometimes too - that sound is something you just get used to. I'd even stopped looking at it, sitting there on the kitchen counter.

But then, as I was heading out the kitchen door, it kinda snuffled instead of gurgled. That got my attention. The fermentation lock was completely filled with greenish bubbly apple goo, and there was a puddle growing across the lid. Thankfully, I saw it before it completely blocked the fermentation lock - that's when you could end up with fermenting goo on the ceiling. Aries wasn't home - I was going to have to fix this by myself.

I mopped up the lid before it overflowed, and put a big platter underneath the fermenter, just in case. I didn't want this stuff flowing all over my counter or kitchen floor if I could help it. I know keeping the brew from getting contaminated is important, so I didn't want to take off the lid, but knew I had to do something to allow it to continue outgassing and still contain the overflow. I did a quick online search. I needed to replace the overflowing fermentation lock with a tube running into a container half-full of water. The container would hold the overflow, gases could still escape, but nothing would get in.

The fermentation lock fits into a plug that fits into a hole in the lid of the fermenting bucket. We have plastic tubing for when we're filling beer bottles, but it was too big to fit into the hole in the plug, and too small to fit in the hole in the lid. I needed to figure out how to make an air-tight connection between the tubing and the hole in the fermenter lid.

I thought about cutting a wine cork and hollowing out a hole to make a thin little gasket. That sounded like a good way to cut off a finger. I thought maybe one of the gaskets from the bottle tops might work, but they were too flimsy and didn't fit tight enough. I mopped up more overflow from the lid and kept thinking.

I was going to have to use the plug from the fermentation lock; I just needed some way to join it to the larger-diameter tubing. I went through the bag of beer-making supplies again. Eureka! When filling a bottle of beer, we use a hard plastic tube that fits into the bottle. It has a spring-loaded valve on the bottom to press against the bottom of the bottle - when the bottle is full, you lift up on the tube and the beer stops flowing. It's designed to fit inside the tubing; it looked like the perfect size to fit into the plug too.

I pulled off the valve, and fit the tube into the tubing. I dunked the whole set-up into some weak bleach solution to sterilize it, running some through and out the end of the tubing. I pulled the fermentation lock out of the plug and stuck the hard plastic tube in instead. It fit perfectly. I didn't want the hard tube to fall over, possibly letting it leak, so I tied it up to the towel rack above. Then I stuck the tubing into a carafe partially filled with water, and it worked! Pretty good, don't ya think?


Annodear said...

Yay for the internet!! Green bubbling goo foiled again!

*Very* impressed.

Annodear said...

Nice save ;-D

Anonymous said...

Phew, that was a close one. Hooray for ingenuity!

Aussiemade said...

Wonderful to have the net to search for answers! But what incredible ingenuity. I hope Aries was suitably impressed not only at your ingenuity, more importantly that you saved the cider!

Sadge said...

He said his solution would have been to drain out some of the cider. But there are a good 4" between the level of the liquid and the top of the lid, and it was fermenting vigorously enough to have completely filled that area and still push out the top so I think he would have had to drop the level by so much (and probably still wouldn't have been enough). After a couple more days, it settled down somewhat. Yesterday we were able to put the regular fermentation lock back on, but it will probably continue to ferment for weeks yet.