Sunday, February 1, 2009

The trials and tribulations of bottling beer

Bottling BeerOnce the beer had fermented it soon became bottling day. I had originally intended to bottle the weekend before but couldn't manage to get a few hours of dedicated time to do it. But yesterday I had blocked out the entire afternoon to focus on getting my 1st batch of homebrew into the bottles. For many homebrewers, bottling day is filled with mixed feelings. You're either excited to finally get your beer into it's last stage before consuming or your dreading the time consuming process.

Preparation for bottling day actually started a while ago when it was bottle washing and label peeling day. The entire process to get enough bottles clean for a 5 gallon batch was very time consuming. Bottle preparation is actually a multi-step process as follows:

1) Every day rule: As soon as you finish a beer from a bottle that you intend to use later, you need to rinse it out thoroughly as soon after you're done drinking it.

2) You need to soak the bottles in very hot water for an hour or so to loosen the glue from the labels and then scrap them off. While the labels may come off easily, the glue sometimes does not.

3) Once the labels and glue are removed, you need to thoroughly wash the inside of your bottles with a bottle brush and or a high pressure rinse.

4) The day before or the morning of bottling day, you need to sanitize the bottles. I use a StarSan soak and hang the bottles upside down to drain. No rinsing is needed.

After you've done all that, your bottles are ready to go. But there are several other items to wash and sanitize as well. Anything that will come in contact with your beer will need to be sanitized: auto-siphon or racking cane, food-grade hose to transfer beer through, bottling bucket, bottling wand, stirring spoon, bottle caps and capper, and of course your hands too.

Once all your equipment is sanitized and ready to go, you'll need to prepare some priming sugar if you intend to bottle carbonate your beer. Those of you who keg your own beer are probably laughing right now, they don't need to bother with most of these steps.

It only took me about 15 minutes to get some priming sugar prepared. I followed the advice of several Twitter users and used a guide found in John Palmer's "How to Brew" book on preparing a primer. Since I didn't have any corn sugar handy, I ended up using regular table sugar. Using the Nomograph table on page 113 of Palmer's book, I calculated that I wanted to use about 3.2oz of cane sugar to give me roughly 2.3 Volumes of CO2 in my beer with a beer temperature of about 67 degrees F.

I boiled 16oz of water along with the sugar for about 10 minutes, then cooled off the liquid to room temperature and added it to my bottling bucket. Then I used my auto-siphon and transferred the beer from my Better Bottle secondary fermenter into the bottling bucket. The siphon process went fairly quickly. The only problem I had was getting the transfer hose to behave itself and stay in the bucket initially.

Once the beer was transferred over into the bottling bucket with the primer sugar I put the bucket up high on my workbench. I then got a nice big tub to use to do the bottling process in. Having a container to catch any spilled or overflow beer is essential to keep beer from getting all over your floor.

Turns out it was a good thing that I had a container as I ended up having a massive leaking problem with my bottling wand. I probably ended up wasting a couple of bottles of beer in the entire process due to that. It was my fault for not testing all of my equipment before bottling day as I would have caught that problem earlier and avoided the excess leakage of beer.

Once the actual bottling process began, it took a good hour or so to fill all of the bottles. I ended up getting 26 full bomber bottles of beer out of my 5 gallon batch. That's about 3 bottles shy of what I was hoping for. I did have a half a bottle left over at the end and I used that for tasting purposes.

Once the caps were all on the beer, I put all the beer bottles in my basement utility sink and gave them a good rinse off. The sides of the bottles had gotten sticky from overflowing and leaking beer, so keeping the bottles clean for storage was a must.

After the beer was put away, I still couldn't rest because now I had to wash all of my equipment that I had used that day. The fermenter, bottling bucket, hoses, wand and everything else had to get a good rinsing. While I didn't bother doing a thorough washing, I did ensure that all of the sticky beer was rinsed away. I'll have to ensure I wash everything again with PBW before using the equipment again however. But that can wait for my next batch.

Whew. What a long bottling day. The entire process probably took me 3.5 hours from start to finish. I know I made a few mistakes during this process, but then again it's been a long time since my last bottling day (10 years). I took a lot of notes and filled out the rest of my Brewer's Logbook with last minute details. That way, if something ends up going wrong when I end up drinking it, I can look back and figure out the steps I did and make corrections later.

I did manage to save a little uncarbonated beer for an initial tasting. The beer was room temperature but that's OK, I just wanted to see if this stuff resembled anything like a beer. To my surprise, it had a nice beer taste. It didn't taste like a porter, but then again I had deviated greatly from the initial recipe and used a much lighter base malt. So it looks more like an Amber than a Porter. Still, the roasted malt taste came through and you knew was more than just a Pale Ale or an Amber.

Once the remaining yeast get a chance to eat the priming sugar and carbonate it over the next 2 weeks, then I'll take a bottle or two and chill 'em down and do an official tasting. Looking forward to that day, which just happens to be Valentine's Day. More on the finished product in a couple of weeks.

Related articles:
- Bottle washing day.
- Homebrew batch transferred to secondary.
- Brewing the first batch of homebrew of the year.
- Putting together the home brewery.

This article came from FermentedlyChallenged.com
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