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ultimate DIY CO2 with benefits… wine byproduct!

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OK, I know that it’s been done before, but here is my take on it. Like any DIY CO2, it includes sugar, water, and yeast of course, but the yeast is proper wine yeast, some of the sugar comes from grape juice, and there’s a little lemon juice for proper acidity. My recipe is a simplified derivative of this award-winning version (White Niagara).

First, I offer a note on the number and volume of reaction bottles. I know from experimentation that I need 2-3 gallons of actively fermenting solution to provide enough CO2 for ~150 gallons of planted tank. I could use a single 2 or 3 gallon bottle, but given the time it takes for a new solution to reach peak activity, and then the taper in the end, that would yield highly inconsistent CO2 production over the course. Better would be two 1.5-gallon bottles, better yet three 1-gallon bottles, and so on. What I have settled into is five 0.5-gallon bottles with one replaced every 5 days. At any given time, I have 3 bottles in near peak production plus 1 ramping up and 1 ramping down. Every 5 days I mix up a new bottle and harvest one. Quite nicely, this works out to about 1 glass of wine each for me and the mrs every night at dinner. Cheers. Now the details:

For each half gallon batch, I use:
- (1) 11.5-oz can of Welch’s “100%” frozen concentrated grape juice (yellow lids denote 100%, white lids are their cocktail mixes), any flavor. They have red, white, raspberry, cranberry, and peach…all good. Some people make a big deal about not using any juice with preservative in it, thinking that the preservative could inhibit the yeast activity. In reality, (1) good luck finding a cheap supply of truly 100% juice; Welch’s is “100% juice…(tiny print at the bottom) with added ingredients” including preservatives; and (2) regardless, I’ve never had any issues getting the yeast going. Of course, you could invest in higher quality juice to yield a higher quality product (they say you can make a lousy wine with great juice, but you cannot make great wine with lousy juice).
- (1.5) cups sugar, any old granulated sugar. Just the grape juice alone does not have a sufficient amount of sugar; it would not ferment as long or as vigorously, giving less CO2 for your tank and less alcohol for your beverage. So I bump it up with the granulated. Between the juice and this amount of supplemental sugar, my hydrometer tells me this mix has the potential to yield 13% ABV (26 proof). In reality, the yeast dies off when the alcohol reaches about 10-12%, yielding a beverage with just a touch of residual sweetness. You can use less sugar if you prefer a drier wine product. If you prefer a lower ABV, you can also add sulfites to kill off the yeast at whatever ABV you desire.
- (1) teaspoon lemon juice. I know, lots of the DIY CO2 recipes call for baking soda to keep the pH up to supposedly make the yeast live longer. In my experience, it is not the pH that kills them, it’s the alcohol.
- sprinkle of wine yeast. I prefer Red Star brand and I use the varieties Montrachet and/or Premier Cuvee. I get the packets for $0.50 each at the winery/shop down the road. 1 packet usually does 5 gallons, so I can easily do 10 half-gallon batches from 1 packet (nearly 2 months) and probably twice that, keeping the packet in the fridge between uses. You certainly can start a new bottle with live yeast from the old bottle, but the more times you do that the more you run the risk of an ‘infection’ with a wild strain that could have off flavors. It’s only a nickel’s worth of yeast per bottle, not even $4/year, so I don’t cut that corner. If one wanted to get even more CO2 from the mix, and also a higher ABV, one could use champagne yeast: they survive to a higher ABV, but your final product will taste less like traditional wine.
- After these ingredients are in, add enough water to get the bottle a couple inches from the top (5.5 cups for me), leaving enough headroom for a little froth; you can top it up to a full half gallon after the bottle comes offline.

No mixing, no boiling (sterile-technique gurus gasp here), I just dump it all in the CLEAN bottle (rinsed when emptied, run through dishwasher on high heat setting). Yeast go in last so it doesn’t get buried under the sugar. Then let it sort itself out; it always launches no problem and the yeast do all the mixing. Depending on temperature, it takes a few days to get going strong. I get good CO2 production for ~3 weeks. Of course, rather than dumping the bottle when it’s spent, you can (1) put it on a pantry shelf for another couple months so it can completely finish fermenting and get a little age to mellow/mature, or (2) if you are really impatient you really can drink it immediately—it might have a little fizz to it, a little more residual sugar, and taste a little more like grape juice still than wine. But it is quite drinkable. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a top shelf product…we jokingly call it hobo wine, lol. My wife’s people are from the south and refer to such concoctions as Possum Holler Kool-Aid. Ah it’s not that bad. And it’s easily 1/10th the cost of store-bought cheap wines, plus you get the CO2 for your plants. Win, and win. Good luck with yours!

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- (1) teaspoon lemon juice. I know, lots of the DIY CO2 recipes call for baking soda to keep the pH up to supposedly make the yeast live longer. In my experience, it is not the pH that kills them, it’s the alcohol.
I noted that when using baking soda in my mixes (standard baking yeast), I didn't get as much CO2 production and the mix didn't last as long.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
This is absolutely amazing! Possibly epic...
Aw shucks, thanks. As you might have guessed, someone who makes wine (and beer) occasionally hosts 'social gatherings'. That photo was taken from the center of our dining room, with the tank sitting on a half wall into the livingroom, so the setup is a centerpiece when we entertain. You can imagine how that curious arrangement of tanks, colored bottles, and hoses piques people's interest and starts some great conversations. You don't have drinks at my house without learning some biology, lol!

I love when 2 great hobbies intersect
It took some time. I got out of planted tanks with a move about 9 years ago (can't believe I used to throw away the DIY CO2), learned to brew about 6 years ago, and just in the past few months finally brought it all together. Hopefully this summer when the bees start cranking out the honey a third hobby will collide as I start using the honey to make wine to make CO2. Now if only I could get the bees to pollinate the plants...:biggrin:
 

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OMG I love the idea. LOL it actually had crossed my mind when I changed out my bottle the other day and got the big wiff of alcohol lol I was like hmmmmmm........ so yeah I think I will be following your formula for sure and maybe even experiment with different flavors and such.
 

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Ok, very cool!! I wasn't even thinking about doing CO2 with one of my tanks until I read this. I seriously just went and whipped up a batch using some pineapple juice I had in the fridge and installed it before even commenting. It's tempting to rig up another one and use up that cranberry juice for another tank.....

You win.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
I think I will be following your formula for sure and maybe even experiment with different flavors and such.
Awesome! Please share your results and any refinements you make! I'm sure there's lots of room for improvement.

This is very cool. Is mead made the same way? Is that what you plan on using the honey for? Or are you just going to use it to replace the sugar in your concoction? Think you could do grain spirits like this?
I haven't done much research on mead yet, but I think you use honey for all the sugar (no grapes or other juice or anything except yeast and water) with the pollen/nectar providing the unique flavor. Spirits are produced by distilling; you can distill any alcohol you make to concentrate it (you can freeze/jack it too although all of those are technically illegal).

I seriously just went and whipped up a batch using some pineapple juice I had in the fridge and installed it before even commenting. It's tempting to rig up another one and use up that cranberry juice for another tank.....
Great! Please keep us posted. I have heard that with more acidic juices it can be harder to get the yeast rolling--some people get the yeast started in a diluted juice and gradually build up the juice concentration as the yeast adjust to the low pH.

Your are using this in an aquarium? If yes it seems it would color the water.
Not sure what you mean. Nothing but CO2 goes from the bottles to the tank. If the line is very short and direct, you might get yeast in the vapor contaminating your tank. But each of my bottles has a 'triple riffle' at the top, like a bubble counter where the CO2 passes through some water. That let's me track the production of each bottle individually. And then they all run together and go through an aquarium bubble counter, which allows me to count all the bubbles together (~10/sec). Anything that was volatilized from the wine surface (which I think is pretty unlikely) would get filtered out in 1 or the other counters.
 

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Awesome post. Thanks for sharing. A few questions:
- Are the bottles made of glass or plastic? What material would you recommend? Sorry, I can't tell from the picture
- I saw the s-airlock on ebay for sale along with the gum stopper things. Before I order, I will take a look at the make-your-own beer/wine store. It's in a fancy overprice part of town so I may have to order my stuff online, including the yeast.

How do you get the CO2 from the fermentation to your tank? It looks like you concentrate it in one line. Do you have cut-offs for when you remove a mix? It looks like an awesome setup. I had given up on DIY CO2, but this is inspiring me to set it up again.

Thanks,
Fernando
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Are the bottles made of glass or plastic? What material would you recommend?
Mine are glass. I get them from a local dairy chain (Byrne dairy) that sells milk and juice in them. They let them go for a $0.50 deposit each, and I have stocked up. You can't buy jugs that nice for $0.50! You can buy similar jugs at homebrew supply outfits locally or online (example). I recommend glass. It's easier to clean well (plastic in a high-temp dishwasher will warp), inert, not permeable to gas like some plastic, and won't get brittle from long-term exposure to CO2.

- I saw the s-airlock on ebay for sale along with the gum stopper things. Before I order, I will take a look at the make-your-own beer/wine store. It's in a fancy overprice part of town so I may have to order my stuff online, including the yeast.
You might be surprised. I get my stuff at a local winery, which appeals to a high-end clientele. But they have a nice little DIY section with the triple-riffles and stoppers for $1 and quality yeast for $0.50.

How do you get the CO2 from the fermentation to your tank? It looks like you concentrate it in one line. Do you have cut-offs for when you remove a mix?
I glued ~12" of airline into the top of each triple riffle. I used silicone originally, but it doesn't make a super-tight seal against the smooth plastic of the riffle, so when they start to leak, I am re-doing them with JB weld (common 2-part epoxy). I also put a light coat of silicone where the riffle goes through the stopper. The other end of the airline goes to a metal T so they all run together in a single line to the glass bubble counter. From there to the sump where the bubbles feed into a powerhead that only runs by day, with bubbles escaping near the surface at night. I do not have a shut-off valve anywhere in the system, but that is a great idea! At least very temporarily (it would pop after a minute or so!). Without a shut-off, I lose pressure every time I replace a bottle and it takes a few minutes to build back up again. Thanks!
 

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This is the best diy co2 idea ever. It actually made my wife show some interest in it. Keep the ideas coming.

A little info of my diy co2 tube joining experience:
I used the clear plastic pieces in the picture above. I just hot glued them into a bottle cap. If you rub the tip of the gun on the plastic before you glue it, it softens up the plastic making the glue stick better. Im not sure how hard the plastic is on those tripple ripple tip things, but when i tried jb welding my tubing into the bottle caps the tubing kinda wiggled out and seperated from the jb weld after some time.
 
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