Aeration Wands (Pure Oxygen) for Beer Brewing

by Brad Smith on March 14, 2017 · 8 comments

This week I take a look at the Anvil Oxygenation Kit (aka Aeration wand) which lets you aerate your wort using pure oxygen without spending a ton of money. The oxygen wand is actually my favorite new brewing toy and I’ve used it on beer, meads, wines and cider with great results.

The Importance of Aeration

I’ve written extensively on how important aerating your wort before pitching your yeast is to for proper fermentation. Boiling removes most of the oxygen from the wort, and yeast cells need oxygen during the early “lag” phase when they are rapidly reproducing. Ideally you want to get 8-12 part per million (ppm) of oxygen in the wort before pitching your yeast. Having the proper oxygen level leads to faster startup, more robust yeast cell walls and less stress on the yeast.

While you can aerate your wort by shaking or injecting air using a small aquarium pump, neither of these methods will get you all the way up to the 8 ppm minimum needed. For that you need pure oxygen.

The Anvil Aeration Kit

For many years I put off purchasing an oxygen aeration system due to the high expense of buying an oxygen tank, regulator and aerator. However now many companies are producing “aeration wands” which are usually stainless steel tubes with a very fine (typically 0.5-1 micron) aerators at one end. These are immersed directly in the fermenter right before you pitch your yeast. In a relatively short time of 60-90 seconds you can reach the ideal 9-12 ppm for most worts, though a very high gravity wort (1.080 or higher) might take a little longer.

With the wand you purchase either with a standard oxygen regulator to use with a large oxygen tank, or a small oxygen regulator suitable for use with disposable oxygen tanks used in small welding kits. The disposable bottles sell for about $10 at Home Depot or Lowes. Note that these small bottles are not technically “food grade” oxygen so you may want to consider a small inline filter if you go with the small bottles. Also the small bottles only work for a few batches so if you brew a lot you may want to consider a commercial size oxygen tank.

Many vendors sell similar kits, but I went with the Anvil aeration kit from Blichmann (affiliate link) which is a very simple regulator, tubing and aeration wand. It is 100% stainless so you can immerse it in star-san or even boil it to sanitize if you like.

Using an Aeration Wand

I aerate my wort or must right before I pitch my yeast. All you need to do is attach the oxygen tank to the regulator, remembering that the small disposable tanks use a reverse thread so you need to turn them counterclockwise to tighten. Sanitize the wand so you don’t bring along any infections. Next immerse the want in the wort and slowly turn it up until you see light bubbling on the surface. I prefer to run mine at about this flow rate as most of the oxygen is going into the wort and not being blown out the top surface.

Unfortunately you don’t have a flow gauge on these simple systems so you need to guess a bit. John Blichmann recommended aerating for 60-90 seconds to get to 9-10 ppm unless I’m brewing a very large beer (or wine or mead) above 1.080 in which case I might run it 2 minutes. High gravity worts absorb the oxygen slower and also require more oxygen. I’ve also found references saying very high gravity worts/musts such as mead or wine might also benefit from a second oxygen addition within 12 hours.

And that’s it – just remove the wand, pitch your yeast and enjoy a healthy fermentation. Don’t forget to clean the wand thoroughly or even blow a little oxygen into your cleaning solution to make sure it hasn’t picked up any wort or must.

What About an Inline Aerator?

I did take a look at the various inline aerators that many vendors sell and are used in many commercial systems. These are typically fittings inserted into your wort transfer line that essentially aerate the wort as you are transferring it from the boiler to fermenter. To a large degree these have many of the same problems as the aeration wand as they typically don’t have a flow meter, and unless you know the flow rate for both your wort and oxygen tanks (like a commercial brewer might) its difficult to tell how much oxygen you are really adding. You also have the added complexity in assuring the aerator has been properly cleaned after use.

To me the oxygen wand seemed like a simpler solution for the average home brewer, and honestly I love this thing having used it on beer, mead, cider and wine up to 10 gal batches (38 liters) with good results! I can aerate wort in as little as 60-90 seconds and since I started using it my fermentations have started quickly and finished strong. For more challenging fermentations like high gravity beers, wines and meads proper aeration is critical for getting a good strong start.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s post. Thanks for joining me on the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter or my podcast (also on itunes…and youtube…and streaming radio station) for more great tips on homebrewing.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark March 15, 2017 at 10:19 am

Seems you have or received more information on this wand and regulator than the site itself gives to normal customers. I am out an extra $21 for buying the wand with regulator. It is only for use on disposable tanks which I do not want to use for the reason you give, plus throwaway society sucks, and Home Depot tells the customer they do not carry any disposable canisters even when they do. Hassles and for what? Lack of info provided. I expected better of Blichmann and Palmer but am currently unimpressed with Anvil.

If there is an option for a normal, full-size regulator the site does not state that anywhere on the page for the wand and regulator. Now I have to make more trips to the welding supply store and to an additional store so that I can use the wand portion itself with a normal O2 bottle and regulator. Perhaps experienced people already know these things but some of us are new to the hobby and industrial gases, etc. and a little basic info provided would help. Again, I am currently unimpressed with Anvil.

I do appreciate your reviews (and other articles) and am hoping the wand at least provides me with some good service once I get what I actually need better figured out. Cheers.

Brad Smith March 15, 2017 at 1:34 pm

Mark – sorry you got the wrong regulator, but I was aware they had two options and I happened to order the one with the small regulator on purpose. The disposable bottles have lasted a long time – I’m getting 8-10 treatments out of a bottle which for me is quite a bit of brewing. I believe Anvil does also sell a version with the larger regulator, but I think many brew shops carry the smaller one as the small tanks are easier for most people to source.

Roger Duncan April 3, 2017 at 7:55 am

Hi Brad,
I have had friends who use O2 with aerator stones on their wort, with great success. I however, use the plastic shaft with the impeller blades at the bottom. I whip the daylights out of my wort for a couple of minutes, to the point of foaming up, then pitch my starter or yeast. I have done a 12% Belgian Strong Ale, with this method and it chewed right through, all the way to the end, without a hitch. Sometimes, I think we get too hung up on gadgets that, while handy and effective, may not be worth the extra expense and trouble, storing them and keeping them clean. One thing I will say about my whipper, is that, it comes with a stainless bit on the end, for the drill motor to attach to. Those bits break out quickly. I just sawed the end off mine off and place it directly into the chuck of my drill motor. Just my thoughts on the subject and am very happy and satisfied with the way my system works..

James Williamson Jr April 7, 2017 at 8:53 am

Northern Brewer has an upgrade available for the oxygen wand that has a flow meter to better control your aeration. Northern documentation recommends .5 flow rate, which conserves gas with a better utilization of disposable bottle. I also use an inline filter from my old rig.
nhttp://www.northernbrewer.com/media/catalog/product/cache/2/image/450x/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/4/1/41855-oxygenation-kit-2.0-upgrade.jpg

Brad Smith April 9, 2017 at 2:04 pm

Whipping or agitating the wort is a great way to aerate your wort, but it will not quite reach the ideal level of oxygen needed for fermentation. Its certainly better than not aerating at all, but to get to say 9-10ppm you do need to actually use pure oxygen.

Roy Curtis June 15, 2017 at 12:43 pm

Great information Brad. I just purchased this kit and plan to try it out this weekend. Regarding the time you mention of 60-90 seconds; Is this for a 5 gallon batch? Should I be adding more time for larger batches?

Thanks!

Brad Smith June 30, 2017 at 12:19 pm

Yes – that is for a 5 gal batch. A larger batch would only be a bit longer.

Kris October 10, 2017 at 1:07 am

Brad,

Just ordered an O2 wand for my fall brew.
I brew 15 gal batches, usually higher gravity IPA’s. Would I thenneed to triple the 60-90 sec aeration time of a 5 gal batch (i.e. 3min-4.5min) to get enough O2 in the wort? Or is it non linear with the time vs volume of wort?

Thanks in advance.

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