The Carboy Dryer

This piece of equipment is highly useful! Though it isn’t necessary life is much easier with a carboy dryer.

carboy dryer

carboy dryer

The carboy dryer is made of a high quality food grade plastic. There are strategically placed holes and risers to allow airflow around and inside the carboy. The carboy is washed and sanitized as you normally would and then placed upside down on the dryer to air dry.

carboy dryer top view

carboy dryer top view

As I said, the dryer is not necessary but I highly recommend it. When I first started using carboys, I would clean the container and leave it upside down in the sink until it dried. This works well but takes up a lot of space in the sink.

Your sink is useless until the carboy finishes drying.

Using the dryer allows you to move the carboy to some other location while drying, a counter, a table or back into the brew closet.

I usually put handles on our carboys; I mentioned these in an earlier post. You can review the post here. I leave these handles on the carboy and that can make it difficult to balance on the dryer. This is why I use the dryer in my brew closet; I can lean the carboy in the corner to help stabilize it.

The Carboy Handle

This piece falls into the optional category; however it is a life saver.

carboy handle

carboy handle

We typically like to make wine in a three gallon carboy. The carboys get heavy and difficult to move around once they are filled with ingredients, not to mention they are made from thick glass and heavy to begin with. Having a solid handle attached makes moving the carboys around a ton easier. Lifting the carboy to the counter for racking was a two man lift before we began using these.

I have seen a number of ways to ease the load…from sling like totes to dollies on casters. The carboy handle is by far my favorite. The handles are made from a simple design and are coated in rubber/plastic for extra grip.

They fall under the wish I would have thought of that category.

To install loosen the wing nut until you are able to slip the mouth of the handle over the lip of the carboy. I like to slip the ring as far down the neck as I can. Then tighten the wing nut back up and voila! You have an easier way to lift and move the carboy.

The manufacturer cautions against over tightening the handle, I assume this is to prevent cracking the glass. If you are using quality carboys this shouldn’t be to much of a concern as the glass should be thick enough to avoid it being cracked.

TIP: Make sure you buy the correct size for your carboy. Believe it or not there are two sizes I have run across. One for a three gallon carboy and one that fits either a five or six gallon carboy and they are not interchangeable. In fact, I have bought the wrong size and the vendor I use was gracious enough to swap it out for the correct size. Another reason to talkk with the clerks in the shops you frequent.

I typically buy a handle for every carboy I buy. Once installed I leave them on.

Hope you enjoy!

Outfitting the brew closet

I have mentioned before when my wife and I started wine making we used an empty cabinet in the kitchen. We quickly out grew the cabinet. When we moved the last time we were blessed with a closet that is working out like a dream.

The closet is a standard coat closet in our mud room. For those of you that don’t know what a mud room is, it is a small room by the back door where the washer and dryer are.

At first we only used the floor space and the top shelves…as with most hobbies we accumulated more stuff and I recently put in a simple shelf/table.

The journey began when my wife made me a couple signs for a gift.

lab sign

lab sign

I should mention we don’t really brew. We use no heat in the process to keep things as simple as possible and we feel purer. One day we will employ heat but for now it is low on the priority list. The sign made us feel legit.

The other sign is more functional.

what's brewing sign

what’s brewing sign

With this sign we keep track of what is in process. When a batch was started, when it will be done and if it is racking or fermenting. We also label the flavor to keep it straight. This information is also put on the individual bottles.

Both signs were spray painted with chalkboard paint. The paint and the raw wood boards were purchased from a favorite haunt…Hobby Lobby! It is truly amazing what you can find at a Hobby Lobby. I have even seen our carboys there; though they are more expensive.

The closet (outside)

The closet (outside)

An outside picture of the closet. Now to see the inner lair…lol

the closet (inside)

the closet (inside)

The closet is about 2′ wide by about 21″ deep. More than enough space for now. Though I have future plans, if everything goes well, that will eventually require more of a small room!

closet shelves

closet shelves

The top shelf is where we keep used bottles. The used bottles are usually used for over pour or when we know we will consume the wine in short order. Most of these bottles are screw top or bottles from our Bernard Jensen’s Apple Concentrate.

The next shelf down is where we store labels, corks, tools, extra sugar and any other tools. We hang hoses from the hooks just on the right. The hoses are hidden from view behind the door jamb.

closet bottom shelf

closet bottom shelf

The bottom shelf I made. The shelf is simple: a piece of 3/4″ cedar, four screws and four – 2′ dowels. I built the shelf in the garage, disassembled it and reassembled it in the closet. It is really more of a table.

We store empty carboys, gallon bottles and new cases of bottles here.

closet floor

closet floor

The floor of the closet is where all of the science happens. We ferment and rack here. Since the shelf/table above is the same depth and width as the closet there isn’t as much light here…perfect for the process. We can fit two three gallon carboys and six one gallon bottles here.

In case you are counting that is 12 gallons in process. If done right it is about 12-14 bottles every three weeks.

Well that is a look behind the scenes. I hope I showed how a lot of wine can be made in a little bit of space.

Hope you enjoy!

Outfitting a Carboy

Our wine making became more of a hobby when we bought our first carboy. Since then we have tinkered with how we like to set them up, we first started putting chalk stickers on them and later we found some thermometer stickers. My wife and I are sort of a freaks about organization and tracking information. We like to mark our bottles with flavor, date started and date it should move on to the next step. This is how we do it now.

Enter chalkboard paint…

chalkboard paint

chalkboard paint

This stuff is great. We use it for a lot of different projects, so I usually have some on hand. Start by gathering the following items:

  • 3 or 5 gallon carboy
  • masking tape (preferably wide tape)
  • computer/copy paper (newspaper will work too)
  • thermometer sticker (available at most brew stores)
  • chalkboard paint
  • exacto blade
  • emery/sand paper.
thermometer sticker

thermometer sticker

I love these thermometer stickers! We put them on carboys and bottles. I even have one on the inside of one of the house windows to monitor the outside temperature.

It is important to monitor the temperature of your wine during fermentation and racking. I place the thermometer sticker sideways on the carboy because it fits better on the carboy I use…you can put it where you like. I just find putting it with the label makes it easy to see.

placed thermometer sticker

placed thermometer sticker

Next, I use the masking tape and computer paper to protect the carboy during spaying. I like to try and keep the edges as straight as possible and evenly spaced. That is OCD talking.

TIP: Using the wide masking tape makes it easier to tape to the carboy while leaving room for the paper. I usually secure only one side of the tape, put the paper on and then make sure the tape is secure on the paint side.

taping off the square

taping off the square

After securing the tape, you will want to lightly sand the glass where you are going to paint it. This helps the paint stick. I used emery paper. Emery paper is a special type of sand paper for glass. Sand paper will work, I only have the emery stuff because I have a glass bottle cutter it came with. We use the bottle cutter to make candles (a topic for another day!). Be careful to rub the paper in small circles and try not to “sand” the masking tape.

sanding the glass

sanding the glass

Once you are satisfied with this, it is time to paint!

Patience is a virtue at this point. Take your time and put several light coats on and follow the directions on the can. I used Krylon and their instructions state you have to put two coats on to get a good chalkboard surface. Each coat can be applied in 15 minute increments (I put on four to five coats at minimum). The paint is dry in the first three hours but needs at least 24 hours to cure before applying any chalk. It is also recommended to do this outdoors.

spraying the surface

spraying the surface

After waiting three hours you can remove the paper and masking tape. I like to lightly score the line between the tape and paint with an exacto blade to help keep the edge clean. If you have some over spray or paint spots outside your line, you can carefully scrape it off with a razor blade.

cleaning the edge

cleaning the edge

After 24 hours your carboy is ready for a batch! Now you can stay organized and write on the surface to keep track of flavors and batches.

TIP: The chalkboard paint surface will work best if you prepare the surface before using it. To do this color the entire surface with chalk and wipe clean with a damp rag. You can use this trick for any chalkboard paint project.

finished carboy and gallon bottle

finished carboy and gallon bottle

Hope you enjoy!

 

The Stir Stick

I had some interaction with a new friend last night, Wines by Ari. Ari is also writing a blog about wines and has been brewing some wine at home. Check out her blog by clicking the link above.  Anyway we were posting back and forth about heating your sugar and water versus stirring and she made a comment/question I get a lot.

She posted “That’s cool…I guess you get a arm workout in the process :)”

My wife and I used to shake our bottles when we first started. Back then, we used one gallon bottles only and shaking them wasn’t to difficult. Now we use a three gallon carboy to ferment in and only use the one gallon bottles for racking. I admit, shaking the carboy proved to be more difficult and we thought about using the same method Ari does. We were ready to concede to heating the sugar and water on the stove top. But, what pot to use? Will it ruin the pot? How hard will it be to clean? Should we buy a pot just for brewing (that would be a big pot for a three gallon batch)?

Then the most amazing thing happened.

My wife and “partner in wine” gave me one of the best Christmas presents I ever received! A beautifully crafted stir stick.

stir stick

stir stick

The stir stick is just shy of three feet long. It has a metal center covered in food grade plastic and can be used with a three or four gallon carboy. The tip, on the left of the above/below picture, is made of plastic and has arms that fold down. A user folds the arms inward and puts the tip through the neck of the carboy. Once inside the carboy, the arms open up when the tip touches the bottom of the vessel. See below…

stir stick closed and opened

stir stick closed and opened

This stir stick is then attached to a drill; preferably a cordless drill. Presto, stirring with no effort. We usually stir three or four times for about 30 seconds each and this is plenty. The first time we used the stir, our mix was totally different than what we were used to. It was mixed much better and when the yeast was poured in we had activity all the way to the bottom right away. The bubbling started sooner and was more vigorous.

Tip: Don’t use the stir once the yeast is added, a gentle swirl is more than enough to get the yeast moving through the mix. Too much oxygen is not good for the yeast.

Unfortunately, the stir doesn’t work in a gallon bottle and I haven’t seen one designed for a gallon to date. Maybe I should make and market one! When you graduate to carboys, I highly recommend you get one of these. They are well worth what you pay for them.

These are usually about $20 to $30 dollars. Stir sticks come in both food grade plastic and stainless steel with a couple different designs. Ours was purchased through Amazon.com.

Hope you enjoy!