by Dave Salaba
Do I have to sanitize my equipment, even the first time I use it?
You do if you don’t want the effects of contamination to rear its dirty head. Perhaps the most important procedure in beer and wine making is sanitizing your equipment, even the first time you use it. Rinsing your equipment with hot water just doesn’t cut it; you need to use a sanitizing solution.

There are many different types of sanitizers including Iodophor, One Step, C-Brite, and potassium metabisulfite. No matter which one you chose, it is essential that all equipment that comes in contact with your beer or wine is sanitized. We stock them all and can help you decide which is best for you

It’s been two days since I added my yeast to my fermenter, but the airlock isn’t bubbling. Is this a problem?

It might be. First, double check that the lid, airlock, and gaskets are tightly sealed. If not, the gas will escape through a leak rather than pushing through the airlock.

If your seals are good and there is no bubbling, check the temperature of your fermenter. We recommend using a stick-on thermometer (under $3). Fermentation slows, and can even stop, at cooler temperatures. Keep the temperature within the range recommended for the yeast type.

If temperature isn’t a problem, then the yeast is probably weak or dead. If making beer, are you sure it was below 80ºF before you added the yeast? High temperatures kill yeast. If making wine, did you use fresh yeast or a leftover package from last year? In either case, the solution would be to add more yeast as soon as possible, before bacteria can take over and ruin your beer or wine.

I bottled wine in December and now my wine is bubbly and my corks are getting pushed out of the bottle. What’s going on?
Sounds like the wine is still fermenting or under going a malolactic fermentation, in which case you bottled too soon. If you are making wine from grapes or fresh juice, you need to let the wine age until at least June or July of the following season before bottling. If you must bottle sooner, you’ll need to prevent refermentation by adding a combination of sulfites and sorbate to the wine before bottling. Otherwise wine may continue to ferment and create gas for many months.

What is a hydrometer and how does it work?
Hydrometers are weighted, sealed glass tubes containing a calibrated scale and which will float in liquids a bit like a fishing bobber. The hydrometer is the most common and important instrument the wine or beer maker has in his or her array of equipment and can provide valuable information before, during and after fermentation is complete. The instrument will tell the wine or beer maker the density of the liquid, or more simply stated,  how much dissolved solids are in the liquid ( in this case, how much fermentable sugar is in the sample that is tested). To use the hydrometer, you begin by taking a sample of the wine or beer and pouring it into a clean, sanitized hydrometer test jar (a plastic tube with a base). Fill the tube about 7/8 full and gently lower (do not drop !) the hydrometer into the liquid. Give the hydrometer a spin to remove any gas bubbles that have attached themselves to the hydrometer (gas bubbles will cause the hydrometer to give a false reading) and place the hydrometer test jar on a level surface. Look at the floating hydrometer straight on (not at an angle), noting the place on the hydrometer scale where the top of the liquid lines up with printed numbers on the scale. Most hydrometers have 3 scales in the calibrated chart: Brix/Balling, Specific Gravity and Potential Alcohol. Winemakers usually speak in terms of degrees Brix/Balling and brewers speak in terms of Specific Gravity. Both use the Potential Alcohol scale. On a piece of paper or a notebook, record the date and hydrometer reading. If the sample is taken before fermentation, the reading tells the beer or wine maker the potential alcohol. If taken during fermentation, the reading will give you an idea of how much more fermentation remains, and, if repeated, can tell you if the fermentation has stopped. A reading of zero or slightly below (0.990 SG) will tell you that the fermentation is complete. You can also take a final reading and subtract that number from the reading taken before fermentation to determine the amount of alcohol in your wine or beer. It is critical not to contaminate your beer or wine while taking samples. We suggest either collecting a sample while siphoning or using a sanitized wine thief (works like a straw). Be sure to sanitize anything used to dip, siphon, or draw off samples for your hydrometer.  Do not risk infecting your beer or wine by returning the sample to the fermenter; sample the flavor for yourself instead.