Alex asks:

I’ve brewed beer at home three times, but one thing has always proved to be a problem: How do I get a siphon going well for moving my cooled wort into my primary fermenting bucket, and then for bottling? When I put my mouth on the tube to start the flow, it de-sanitizes the equipment I went to great length to clean, and the flow often stops, making me have to repeat this process. It’s very frustrating! I’m sure there’s a better way.

I’ve also brewed beer a few times at home, and this part was tricky at first. You really shouldn’t put your mouth on the tube, as it introduces bacteria to the cooled wort, which could spoil the whole batch. I found a video (above, from homebrewingvideo.com) which illustrates an effective way of starting a siphon that works remarkably well. Basically you start the siphon with water from the sink, with the racking cane in a vessel of sanitizing solution. Hold the tubing up to the running faucet water until water starts flowing into the sanitizing solution vessel, then stop the flow with your thumb over the end of the tubing. Then start the siphon by holding the end of the tube low in the sink (lower than the sanitizing solution vessel) and letting go with your thumb. Liquid will flow from the vessel into the sink, and once it starts going well, cap the tubing with your thumb once again. At this point it’s safe to lift the racking cane and tubing assembly out of the vessel (keep your thumb over the end of the tubing, and the suction will prevent liquid from exiting the bottom of the racking cane), moving it over to your wort container. With the end of the racking cane in the wort and the end of the tubing lower than the wort vessel, release your thumb, siphoning the water into a waste container (or in the grass if you’re in your backyard) until the wort starts coming through, at which point you can move the siphon tubing to drain into your fermenter or bottle. This is a long convoluted explanation of the easily demonstrated method shown in the video, so be sure to watch that too. Happy brewing!

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18 thoughts on “Ask MAKE: Siphon for homebrewing beer

  1. Just get an Auto-Siphon then you can even easily restart the flow if you need to, without losing your sterilization.

  2. Thanks, Becky. I’m a novice homebrewer and I find siphoning something that makes me very nervous. As Alex said, it can be difficult siphoning the cooling wort into a carboy, and for me, the siphon tube clogs with hops and I have to clean it out and restart the process again. I need to learn the technique you describe and try it next time. The video is helpful.

    1. Dale, you may want to see if you can let your wort cool in the cooking vessel, and also settle, so that all the hops are as a sludge at the bottom, then when racking it into the primary fermenter, keep the racking cane a few inches from the bottom so that it doesn’t suck up the sludge. Same goes for the secondary fermenter or bottling; keeping that racking cane away from the sludge layer helps a lot.

  3. My pot and buckets have valves at the bottom and I just shove some sanitized tubing onto the spout.

    I do strain going into the bucket it’s pretty easy to shut it off & dump put the screen and start again.

  4. Peristaltic pumps are awesome for this, and can sometimes be found cheap on ebay/surplus. It wouldn’t be difficult to build one either (especially if just used to start the siphon).

  5. I’ve always just used the old brewers’ trick of sterilising my mouth with a generous swig of whisky! “Any excuse,” some might say…

  6. But if you find you enjoy brewing, investing in an auto-siphon or equipment with spigots (which can be made as well, just drill the right sized hole and put a spigot in. Most homebrew stores sell the spigots separately)

    If you are worried about sanitation with all that extra hardware, just remember, all the spigots I unscrew for easy cleaning.

    The only time I would use an auto-siphon over a spigot is with glass carboys.

  7. I bought my first home brew kit and it came with a syphon that is basically a piece of hard plastic tubing. The FIRST extra piece of equipment I bought was a $15 auto syphon. If anyone tells you you can sanitize with your mouth full of alcohol etc. they are full of it. I have never had an infection in any of my batches using an auto syphon.

    It’s worth every dollar of the price, easy to clean, easy to use. Another option is a special lid for glass carboys which has two openings on the top, One for a metal racking cane and one for a one way valve with a filter on it. Blowing into the valve pressurizes the carboy and forces the liquid into the racking cane.

    More info on brewing including a few videos on homebrewing can be found on my web site. http://www.blackheartbrewery.com

  8. Or use a sanitized suction device: aka turkey baster. Never used one for basting a turkey, but it’s nice for starting a siphon without your lips. A spigot is nice, but carboys don’t have em.

    If you shove the hose all the way in, let it fill, cover it with your thumb, and bring it to a lower level, you’ll also start a sure-fire suction, but you’ll want to make sure your hose is completely sanitized, and I know I often handle it during the process so doing that makes me nervous.

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Becky Stern is a Content Creator at Autodesk/Instructables, and part time faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts Products of Design grad program. Making and sharing are her two biggest passions, and she's created hundreds of free online DIY tutorials and videos, mostly about technology and its intersection with crafts. Find her @bekathwia on YouTube/Twitter/Instagram.

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