Like most ventures, making your own wine or beer takes practice before the end product can really be enjoyable. Unsuccessful attempts at homebrewing usually result in a very gross, very hard to choke down concoction that would not be out of place in a witch’s cauldron. We know from experience that a terrible batch could be due to too much yeast in the brew, chlorine in your tap water, or even unsanitary equipment.
Even if you follow all the steps to perfection, there are a few additional things you can do to make your homebrew taste better and even safer to drink. One of these is to add Campden Tablets.
How to Use Campden Tablets
In basic brewing, there are four main ways to use Campden tablets: treating must and wort for wine and beer-making, counteracting possible oxidation during racking, purging chlorine from brewing water, and sanitizing brewing equipment.
Sanitizing wine and beer prevents the growth of bacteria and yeast. The tablets accomplish this by creating an inhospitable environment for wild yeast.
One thing we learned from endless trial and error is that homemade cider is commonly affected by acetobacter contamination; acetic acid bacteria grow unchecked and spoil your creation. Campden tablets easily dispose of acetobacters, preserving the taste of your cider and keeping it from going bad.
Adding the tablets to homemade wine or beer before racking (bottling) prevents unknown airborne bacteria from contaminating your bottle. In addition, the sulfite in the tablets acts as an antioxidant to trap oxygen, so it can’t adversely affect the alcohol.
Whether you’re making homemade cider, wine, or beer, you must first remove chlorine or chloramine from the water you plan to use. Most tap water contains traces of chlorine or similar compounds. These elements will kill yeast and make your beer and mead taste especially terrible. Chlorine will sometimes dissipate on its own, but chloramine needs a Campden tablet for removal.
Take our advice: having clean brewing equipment is imperative if you want to reduce the possibility of mold and bacteria growth. Some homebrewers claim that the alcohol you brew will automatically sanitize all of your equipment, but this isn’t true.
Your alcohol-in-progress could leave trace amounts of yeast or bacteria inside the containers or tubing, which could grow inside your next batch and become potentially harmful. Sanitizing these potential growths will ensure your next brew comes out clean.
What You’ll Need
You don’t need a lot of equipment to use Campden tablets, but you do need something to crush them and something to stir with so that the Campden powder will dissolve smoothly.
Mortar and Pestle
To get the best use out of your Campden tablets, you will need something to crush them with. Usually, this is done with a glass mortar and pestle, as these tools easily grind and crush ingredients, and the glass will prevent any flecks or pieces from becoming absorbed or lodged in the utensils themselves.
For some of these methods, you will need to beat the powder from your Campden tablet to get it to dissolve into a liquid, which could take several minutes. The best instruments for this are either an egg beater or a stainless-steel fork. Some brewers also swear by sanitized bamboo whips.
The number of tablets you need to use depends on what you intend to do and how much liquid is involved. When using the tablets to prevent yeast growth or oxidization, you will generally only need one single tablet per five gallons of liquid. Removing chlorine usually requires only half a tablet, and sanitizing your equipment uses about 16.
Treating Your Must or Wort
One tablet per gallon or 3.8 liters is enough to treat must or wort.
Step 1: Grind up the Tablet
Crush the tablet into powder. Using a glass mortar and pestle is the easiest way to accomplish this.
Step 2: Add the Tablet
Add the powder to your wine must or beer wort.
Use one tablet for one gallon or 3.8 liters.
Step 1: Grind the Tablet
Just before you rack your wine, crush a tablet into powder.
Step 2: Mix with Water
Mix the crushed tablet with one-third cup of hot water. Beat the mixture with a stainless-steel fork until the tablet completely dissolves.
Step 3: Mix with Alcohol
After dissolving the tablet into your water, remove about one cup of wine or beer from your supply using a siphon or wine thief. Next, mix the water with the alcohol, whipping it together to break up any forming lumps. Then, return the new mixture to the carboy.
Step 4: Rack the Wine
Rack the wine into its secondary container.
Step 5: Repeat Racking
Repeat steps two to four by adding Campden tablets to your wine when you rack the third and fifth times, skipping the second, fourth, and sixth racking.
Removing chlorine and chloramine from tap water requires one-half Campden tablet for every five gallons, or 20 liters, of water.
Step 1: Determine the Amount of Water
Gather all the water you intend to use and store it in a large container.
Step 2: Prepare the Tablets
Determine how many Campden tablets are needed to treat the water. For example, if you have five gallons/20 liters, use a sharp knife to break one tablet in half.
Step 3: Crush the Tablet(s)
Use your mortar and pestle to grind the tablet into fine powder.
Step 4: Add to Water
Pour the ground tablet into the desired amount of water. It will take up to 20 minutes for the tablet to remove traces of chlorine or chloramine.
To sanitize, you will need 16 tablets for every gallon of water.
Step 1: Prepare the Equipment
First, wash the equipment to remove any dirt or debris that might be caught inside. Sanitization will not work if there’s still gunk stuck to any part of your equipment. Then, place all the equipment you wish to sanitize inside a large bucket or container.
Step 2: Prepare the Tablets
Grind up all the tablets you intend to use. An easier alternative to crushing and mixing the tablets is to buy a powdered form and pour that into your water to make a sanitizing solution. The powder equivalent is one-sixteenth teaspoon per tablet.
Step 3: Add the Solution
Pour your sanitizing solution (Campden tablets and water) into the bucket with the equipment.
Step 4: Seal the Bucket
Sealing the bucket traps the sulfur dioxide gas produced by the solution. Sulfur dioxide cleanses the equipment, not the solution itself, so you must seal the bucket to sanitize properly.
Step 5: Sanitize and Dry
It takes about 10 minutes to sanitize your equipment fully. When the time is up, remove your equipment from the bucket and allow it to air dry.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Campden Tablet?
A Campden tablet sterilizes wine and beer to prevent bacteria growth. They also ensure there is no mold and yeast growth from wild yeast. They are a sulfur-based product, either potassium metabisulfite (KMS) or sodium metabisulfite (SMS). SMS has more sanitizing properties for wine and beer-making equipment, while KMS is slightly better at treating the alcohol directly.
Do Campden Tablets Kill Bacteria?
Yes, Campden Tablets kill harmful bacteria specific to wine and beer, making your homebrew taste better and safer to drink. They will also remove chlorine or chloramine from tap water and remove any bacteria inside your brewing equipment.
Will Campden Tablets Stop Fermentation?
No, the tablets do not stop beer or wine fermentation. However, they will slow the process for a period of time, so the wild yeast in musts and worts cannot grow. This slowing down of fermentation ensures that the wine or beer will not turn overly yeasty.
Because the tablets don’t stop fermentation, they cannot stabilize the wine. You must look into other methods if you want to find a stabilizer.
Are Campden Tablets Necessary for Wine?
Yes, they are. Without sulfite, finished wine can spoil or even turn into vinegar. But, of course, this is a process, and your wine will only ever spoil over time. But to keep it drinkable for a long time, Campden Tablets will prevent any bad changes to the wine’s chemistry.
Do Campden Tablets Go Bad?
Campden Tablets can go bad, but it takes decades, even as much as 50 years. SMS tablets, in particular, are preservatives. So, they won’t go bad for a very long time, perhaps even during your lifespan.
Are Campden Tablets Bad for You?
Campden Tablets are not bad for you unless you are allergic or intolerant to their active ingredient, sulfite.
The amount of sulfites in Campden Tablets is around 2.5-4 ppm (parts per million), which is small enough that those sensitive to sulfites shouldn’t react. Therefore, a sulfite allergy will rarely result in anaphylactic shock when exposed to trace amounts in wine or beer. Nevertheless, it’s crucial to note the use of Campden Tablets on bottles to prevent possible allergic reactions in drinkers.