Appendix III: Siphoning

When I initially published the first edition of this book in paper form, there wasn't a section on siphoning. This was because I assumed that anyone who was going to make mead would have brewed something else before and been exposed to siphoning at that point. The one review I got of the book (Brewing Techniques . September/October 1995, pg 92.) mentioned that the reviewer would have been clueless about how to siphon if he hadn't learned siphoning as part of having learned to make beer. Anyway, to address that complaint, I've added this short section on siphoning to the html version.

The theory of siphoning

Water (or any other liquid) will try and achieve a level surface. Another way of stating this is that water flows downhill. The goal of siphoning is to give the liquid a path from one container to another. Since it has to flow briefly uphill, the way to do this is to have a closed tube full of water, and then the weight of the liquid on the downhill side of the tube will be greater than the weight on the uphill side, and gravity will do it's thing. This is an over-simplification, but it holds until the uphill side gets into many feet of height. If you want a much more complete desciption of the physics involved, Halliday & Resnick, which was my college physics textbook has one, as does Charlie Papazian's Complete Joy of Homebrewing.

The practice of siphoning

What you want to do is achieve a tube full of liquid leading from the higher, full container to the lower, empty container. There are a few ways to do this. The easiest method I've found is to take your siphon tube, and fill it with water (just don't empty it out when you rinse it the final time after sanitizing it). It doesn't have to be absolutely full, but having the water within a couple inches of each end will be best. You hold both ends of the tube at about the same height, and lower one of them into the full container, and once it's in the liquid, lower the other one to the empty container. Your mead will start flowing. The other method is the tried and true “sucking” method. What you do is place one end of the tubing in the full container, bend down to the empty container, and suck on the lower end of the tube until the mead starts to flow.

In both cases, there are two things to watch out for. One is to have the lower end of the siphon tube close enough to the bottom of the container you're siphoning to that the mead doesn't spash around and get aerated, which can give your brew an oxidized flavor (tastes like wet cardboard. Bleh). The other is to keep the upper end of the tube below any floaties in the liquid you're siphoning, and above any sinkies sitting on the bottom.

Each method has its pluses and minuses. Working with a siphon tube full of liquid can be a little tricky your first few tries, and even after you've mastered the technique, you're liable to spill a little. You also dilute your mead a little with the water you have in the tube. Sucking on the tube adds the possibility that you'll get some bacteria from your mouth into your mead. The dilution isn't a big deal, unless you're working with a very small batch. When you're bottling, the dilution means that your first bottle goes to waste. As for infection from the bacteria in your mouth, you can always sterilize your mouth briefly with a little firewater. I'm partial to Wild Turkey or Rumpelminze.

One last thing that can cause problems for you is that if the liquid you're siphoning has a lot of dissolved gas in it (carbon dioxide in a carbonated liquid, for example), that gas will tend to come out of solution at the top of the siphon-tube. The only real way to solve this problem is to make the uphill leg of the tube shorter by tipping the upper container. If the amount of gas in the tube gets to be too much, the siphon will stop, and you'll need to restart it. No big worry, but it's a hassle. The point is, try not to have to siphon carbonated liquids, and if you do, keep the uphill leg of the siphon as short as possible.

#appendix #siphon

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