My Airlock Needs Water?

My Airlock Needs Water?

Recently I’ve heard from more than one confused beginning winemaker asking if their wine was ruined because they never put water in their airlock. It’s not all that surprising as a beginner has a lot to figure out with all the steps, additives, and equipment. I’m sure there are wine making shops that forget to mention that the airlock needs water. For a seasoned wine maker it’s just how things work. An Academy member by the name of Robert recently wrote in with just this problem. He purchased everything he needed to make a kit wine but didn’t know that the airlock needed water in order to protect his wine. At the time he wrote in his wine had been fermenting for two weeks and was well past the vigorous fermentation stage. So let’s take a look at which airlocks require water, which don’t, and how they work in the first place. Which Airlocks Require Water? Some airlocks require water and others don’t. The most common styles do require water and those are the “S” shaped and three piece airlocks as shown here. The water forms a barrier between you and your wine. Because of the shape of the airlock the carbon dioxide being released by the yeast is forced to go through the airlock, through the water, and then exit the airlock. As the yeast produce carbon dioxide they cause pressure to build within the fermenter. When the pressure is great enough a bubble will go through the water barrier. This difference in pressure between the fermenter and the air outside the fermenter oxygen will not be able to flow through backwards through the airlock and interact with your wine. Waterless Airlocks There are several varieties of airlocks available, such as silicone stoppers, that do not require any water yet still allow carbon dioxide to safely exit the fermenter. The most common waterless airlocks are made of silicon and have many holes that run from the bottom of the stopper to the top. On the top of the airlock is a silicon flap that is pressed open by the escaping carbon dioxide. These waterless airlocks function much the same as the traditional styles. As the pressure builds in the fermenter the silicon compresses and the carbon dioxide goes out of the tiny openings in the stopper. Because there is already a gas leaving the airlock oxygen cannot get in. When fermentation slows down and is not releasing as much carbon dioxide the tiny holes will close up and keep oxygen from getting in. These are great because you don’t have to worry about the water being blown out the top or drying up over time. Water filled airlocks can flow backwards and dump the water in your wine if fermentation has ended and there is a temperature drop in the wine. What Can Robert Do Now? Here’s my advice to Robert. Regardless of how long your wine has been unprotected it’s best to get it under a properly filled airlock as soon as possible. Once your wine is protected we can discuss what to do next. Next, visually...

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