Better Bottle Fermenter Information - Blowoff tube pics and cleaning info

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kcpup

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I’ve been meaning to do this post for a while. When I started brewing a few years ago, like many I started with a “deluxe starter kit” from my LHBS. It contained a 6.5 gallon glass carboy as the fermenter. Over time, I have converted my brewing to Better Bottles. This post will detail the “why” of the switch, details on how I use a blowoff tube for fermentation, and how I clean them.

I used the glass for a few months on my first batches. I purchased a Brew-Hauler for the glass carboy. It helps for moving it but the thing is so darn heavy when filled with wort. I brew in the kitchen, and most of the year I tote the fermenter to the basement. A few weeks later, I tote it back upstairs to rack for packaging (bottles at first, now kegs).

That upstairs/downstairs thing was a pain, and a risk with the glass carboy. I’m a strong gal, but the ungainly size and weight made me feel I was risking life and limb on those stair climbs. My sweetheart isn’t always here when I need a hand moving fermenters. I wondered if I could find a lightweight fermenter that would allow me to still see what was going on inside the fermenter. I didn’t want to let go of the ability to see inside without having to open the container. I tried a white plastic bucket fermenter ...missed the visuals.

Enter the Better Bottle.

Love them. LOVE them. LOVE THEM! I can carry these and not risk my life or a batch of beer. They are easy to store, because they’re so light they can sit on top of stuff, etc.

Now for the disadvantages:
1. They don't have adequate headspace for vigorous fermentations with a 5 gallon net amount. (I typically put 5.25 gallons in the Better Bottle (BB) so I net out 5 gallons).
2. They are plastic. You don’t want to use brushes, because they’ll scratch and create campsites for bad bugs that can spoil your batch.
3. They have a wider opening than glass carboys, so you’ll have to get new stoppers and/or carboy caps.

On to the advantages:
1. They are lighter than glass.
2. They are easier to open/close than plastic buckets.
3. You can see inside. I wanted to love the plastic buckets…but I missed looking at what was happening.

Other information:
• They're food grade plastic.
• They're BPA-free.
• They're made in the USA.
• The BB website has a lot of info about caring for BB. An excellent resource.
• I have tried another brand of “Better Bottle”-like fermenters (Vintage Shop brand). They aren’t made the same – the design is different. I did not like the Vintage Shop version as well – I won’t be buying another. It quickly developed small permanent “dents” from moving it around. While the walls are thicker, they’re not reinforced with the BB bands so it isn’t as sturdy. I liked that there were permanent lines for the 5 and 6 gallon marks. There was a $2-3 difference (I tried to save a few $). While I use the Vintage Shop version, I use it only when necessary. It is an acceptable product, but I like BB much better.

Enough of my rambling. On to the good stuff!

Cleaning Better Bottles

In my search for a good blowoff arrangement, I ended up calling the manufacturer of Better Bottles. The man I spoke with was super helpful and knowledgeable. During the conversation, I asked him about cleaning. Here’s some cleaning information:
• There is a 1-1.5 inch line of fermentation “gunk” that forms at the top of the better bottle right before it begins to taper to the neck. This line forms on the top band of the BB. Since I leave my wort in the primary for 3-4 weeks, that gunk is pretty stuck on there. Also, the bands on the BB are textured, and the gunk really sticks to them.
• My primary cleaner is OxyClean. The BB Guy said OxyClean can be used, but you’ve got to be careful – it’s powerful stuff. Don’t pour the powder directly in on the plastic. First put in the Oxy in water to dissolve it, when pour it in. Ensure that any Oxy concentration rate is low – read the package. I actually make mine a lower concentration than the “general cleaning” amount on the box…it cleans up my BBs fine. What I do is put my Oxy in a bit of warm water, dissolve it and pour it in the BB and swiftly fill it up to my desired level. The BB Guy explained that the reason you want to be careful with Oxy is that high concentrations of Oxy over a period of time may weaken the bottle. He also didn’t recommend soaking in Oxy for more and a few hours at the most…not overnight.
• BB Guy cautioned about using super hot water – don’t do it. It won’t melt the bottle, but over time it can weaken it. He said to use water you can comfortably put your hand in. I’m typically a “blazing hot” water washer type, so I backed off.
• BB Guy had a great suggestion about getting that fermentation gunk off: put a soft washcloth into the bottle with some water. Swish it around and the washcloth will pull the gunk off.
• Here’s how I clean my BBs:
1. I rinse them out with warm water and leave some warm water in there (about .5 gallon).
2. I put my orange carboy cap on top and shake the heck outta the bottle. This “water scrub” takes off a good portion of the gunk.
3. I put in a small squirt of Ivory liquid dish soap and put about 1.5 gallons very warm water in. I replace the carboy cap, and invert the carboy on a bucket with a hand towel on the lip. The towel keeps the BB from sliding into the bucket. I’ll let it soak for a while…sometimes a day. [I used to do this with Oxy, but after my conversation with the BB guy I made this change to my process.]
4. I dump out the soapy water and rinse out the BB. I inspect it carefully to see if there’s some gunk still present. About 60% of the time, there are some scattered gunk spots left.
5. If there’s remaining gunk, I do the Oxy soak. I invert the BB like step #3 above and leave it for an hour or two.
6. Still remaining gunk? If yes, then I pour our most of the Oxy water and leave about .25 to .5 gallon in the BB. I put my washcloth in there and swirl it around. Most of the time the BB is inverted/partially inverted with carboy cap on top and I’m spinning it around. Works well.

7. Rinse and let air dry. The BB Guy said to dry them on their sides…it will go faster. I tried it and found that I agree. Shake as much water out as you can and set it on its side. More water will pool at the bottom. Keep shaking it out and in a day or two it will be dry. I put a piece of clingwrap on top of the opening to keep dust from getting in during storage.

Blowoff Tube for BB

There has been a ton of posts here on HBT and other sites asking for help re: blowoff issues with BB.

I did what many people do – use foam control. It helped but with some yeast that like to climb (and doing higher temperature ferments for certain Belgians), I still had gobs of stuff blowing off. I couldn’t use an airlock because the additional pressure during the high-growth phase had them popping out.

My first solution was to take a plastic bucket some extract came in and used a utility knife to cut a hole in the bottom of the bucket big enough to fit around the BB neck. I sanitized the bucket, placed it on the BB, and put the lid on. That worked okay – there was a relief of pressure, but still stuff climbed out and went on the BB and the towel I use to cover the BB. A mess! Also, in the heat of summer, fruit flies were buzzing about and I was worried they’d crawl up into the bucket and maybe into the fermenter…yuck.

After a while dealing with this issue I decided to get the blowoff cap BB makes. I could not find a brewing store that had it in stock, so I called BB directly. They generally use distributors for sales, but will on occasion sell directly. Since my part was hard to find they obliged. These caps are expensive – about $15 each. I bought 2. They are made well. I wish they didn’t cost so much, but I’m glad I made the investment.

Next, a trip to your hardware store for a few pvc plumbing items: one 90 degree elbow, one 90 degree threaded on one end elbow, and a piece of ¾ inch pvc pipe. After cutting the pipe to your desired lengths, you’re ready to rock and roll.

I’ve got photographs below of the items and the assembled blowoff setup.

Advantages to this setup:
1. No pressure on the yeast during early fermentation – they can grow and blowoff as much CO2 as they want – the air just leaves.
2. The milk jug is stable. I’ll put a bit of water in the bottom for ballast. On really aggressive fermentations, stuff will come all the way out and into the jug. No mess! Just a good clean of the jug and it’s ready for another fermentation.
3. If I’m really freaked out about “fruit fly risk” in the heat of summer, I’ll put more water in the jug just to the end of the pvc pipe….barely below the pipe opening or just at the opening. Even if a fruit fly got into the milk jug [none have so far], it would drown in the water before it could climb into the pipe.
4. Easy to clean and sanitize. I throw the 5 parts of the blowoff assembly (2 pipes, 2 elbows, BB cap) into the StarSan before I assemble them. Cleaning is great, too – throw them in some warm Oxy water and they clean well. The upper pipe can get really gunky. Oxy works well, but if it doesn’t get it all, I use a chopstick and washcloth/paper towel to get the last of the gunk off. If the pipes ever get so gunky I can’t clean them, I’ll just recycle them and get another PVC pipe.
5. No more mess on my fermenter and towel!
6. After the krausen has receded and convection is no longer easily visible, I replace this with a standard airlock. I typically wait 4-6 days.

This will not work for everyone’s brewing process and preferences. I spent a lot of time finding detailed information on using BBs and finding a good blowoff solution. I thought I’d “pay it forward” in thanks for all the great help I’ve received on HBT by sharing this information for others who use or are considering using BBs.

Pictures below - bad pics but my phone takes better pics outdoors.

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stevo155

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I love the BB...extended soak with Oxiclean is all I've ever needed to clean them.

( this is an old picture...I have a chest freezer now but use the same blowoff setup )
 

KCBigDog

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I love that blowoff. I've been using the universal BB bung with tubing pushed through. I'm worried that the tubing is too small though.

I might have to copy your method.

What size threaded elbow did you use that screws into the BB cap?
 

bodhi314

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3/4" NPT for the threads... Just bought this setup a couple days ago.

BB are the bomb - I still ferment in glass, but just ciders.
Short term ferments go right into BB!

Cheers
 
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kcpup

kcpup

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Bodhi314 is correct, it's 3/4 inch. Enjoy the setup - it works great!
 
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kcpup

kcpup

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Anyone know where I can find the threaded cap online?
I had a heck of a time, which is why I eventually called Better Bottle directly. I couldn't find an online or local source for the blowoff cap. Here's the contact information for Better Bottle:

http://www.better-bottle.com/contact.html

Call them. I explained I couldn't find a source online, and they agreed to let me buy the blowoff caps direct.

As I mentioned in the post, they're expensive. However, if you brew beer with yeast that likes to climb out of the fermenter, they're worth the investment IMHO.
 
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