During harvest, carboy is a good word to know, if you don’t already know it.
Carboy* is a common term in winemaking. I’ve heard it now for about two decades, always wondering about the derivative. It’s usually talked about in wine cellars, and is a vessel used for a small fermentation. This is a clue as to whom else you might know that would use one with any frequency: home winemakers, home brewers, and cider makers.
So, I dug around and found what gave birth to that name, because within the name, there’s no obvious clue. It turns out that it’s from the Persian word “qarabah” (قرابه), and from Arabic qarraba, meaning “big jug.”
All I can deduce from this is that the pronunciation is close enough to “carboy” that that’s what it’s become in English. If you think about the words “car” and “boy,” the name for this vessel makes no real sense; but the “q” in qarabah has a “c” and/or “k” sound, just as Arabic for the “Koran” is “Qur’an.” Now pronounce the Arabic “garabah” and you’ll see how we went from the Arabic word to our Anglo pronunciation.
Usually a carboy is fitted with a rubber stopper and a fermentation lock. This prevents oxygen and bacteria from entering the vessel during the fermentation process, which in a small vessel is really important. I’ve had only one experience at winemaking, taking my Zin grapes and putting them into a vessel, which wasn’t a carboy. Within two days I had the best mold culture going in my neighborhood, and decided that I’m a better marketer than a winemaker. I can write about wines, and winemakers can share their wine… It’s a great union; the player and the cheerleader…
Carboys are 5 gallon jugs, and the glass is super hard, which is more shatter resistant than other glass. This is not only important in winemaking, but also necessary… as carbon dioxide is forming and putting pressure internally on the vessel. Carboys are also used by chemical companies, and no one wants to see any hazardous chemicals escape, if one of these carboys is accidentally dropped, right?
As Paul Harvey always said, “…and now you know the rest of the story.”
And… Happy Fourth Day of Christmas. Four calling birds = four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
From Dan, who’s a wine professional:
Just a note regarding carboys. In my 35 years in the wine business I have witnessed 4 extreme injuries as a result of these containers breaking while being held or moved. One incident virtually severed the workers hand. I will not allow any carboys inside a production winery. Be careful with these things. They are very dangerous. Use Stainless Kegs if you need storage for small quantities of beer or wine.