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The Importance Of Airlocks In Brewing Beer

During the process of fermenting beer, many homebrewers prefer to use airlocks rather than blow off tubes. Although not related to the sci-fi doors that you see in movies, an airlock is an interesting piece that is inserted into a drilled stopper, which is then securely placed into the top of a carboy, brew bucket or fermenter. What makes it interesting is that depending on the type of airlock you purchase, you can watch the bubbles during the whole fermentation process.

The purpose of the airlock is to sanitarily release the internal build-up of pressure from the sealed fermentation environment. If there is nowhere for the buildup of carbon dioxide to go, there is a possibility that immense pressure will build up inside the fermenter thus causing it to explode. That said, it does not tell you anything about the fermentation process. The bubbles that you see in the airlock simply indicates that the pressure from inside your fermenting vessel is being released up through the water. (more info below)
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There are different types of airlocks that you can get for your fermenter and these include the three-piece and S-shaped airlock. While the first is designed for aggressive fermentation, the latter is often used during secondary fermentation and aging.

We mentioned earlier that observing the bubbles was an indicator that the carbon dioxide was being released from inside the fermenter. But what if it is not bubbling? Should you be alarmed? Well no, as the lack of bubbling may indicate other things. It could mean that the pressure within the fermenter has lessen or the lid might not be sealed properly giving the carbon dioxide another way to escape. Another reason may be that the temperature of the wort is too cool to commence aggressive fermentation. If you have doubts if your wort is fermenting properly or not, you can always test using a hydrometer.

Another reason that bubbles may not be seen in your airlock is that the fermentation process may be done. If it has been at least the minimum time that your recipe calls for, then you should take a sample and test the specific gravity.