Bottling Day

 

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It seems backwards to feature bottling beer before actually making it, but that’s how it worked out. There was a batch of beer that predated Baby M. that needed to be bottled and it’s a great opportunity to talk about beer and all the greatness involved with homebrewing.

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Secondary fermentation chamber – ready to bottle.

The beer to be bottled was a strong IPA.  We dubbed it “Hoppy Go Lucky”. Brewed on October 29th, we transferred to secondary on November 13th because I knew Baby M. was coming. I also knew beer keeps much longer in secondary because it is off the yeast and out of danger for suffering autolysis.

Two days later we were off to the hospital, the beer safely transferred and stowed in the dark corner of the crawlspace in the basement where we let the magic happen.  We managed to remember to dry-hop on November 29th as per our schedule, but then things got away from us with nordic ski season and a new baby.

The beer goes in here with a little sugar water on its way to the bottles.

The beer goes in here with a little sugar water on its way to the bottles.

We finally hauled it out the other day to bottle it, hoping for the best but knowing we were pushing it.  IPA‘s are among the shorter timelines, usually taking 6 – 8 weeks from start to finish.  This one was six months in the making, so it is either going to be awesome and we discovered something, or likely it will be ok, but a little off due to age. At least it is full of hops, which were a huge reason why IPA survived on boats back in the day.

Bottling, in a nutshell, consists of adding some corn sugar that has been dissolved in water to the beer, and then siphoning it carefully into sanitized bottles, slapping a fresh

cap on the top, and letting it sit in a warm place for about two weeks.

Super technical fix for the leaky spigot.

Super technical fix for the leaky spigot.

A little bit of live yeast remains in the beer after it is transferred, and the addition of the new sugar gives the yeast a little something to eat, creating carbonation in the bottle.  At this point you hope you added the right amount; too much and your bottles blow up. Not enough and you end up with flat beer.  So far we’ve been lucky.

After filling all the bottles and rinsing off the sticky overflow (which isn’t much once you get good with the bottling wand), one must exercise great self-control to keep from “peeking”. We’re always tempted to open the beer a week early, and we’re always disappointed and left feeling either guilty for wanting to pour it out or obligated to drink it flat.  Most of the time one more week in the warm room does the trick and we enjoy an effervescent brew..

Fill 'er up!

Fill ‘er up!

So why does one get into homebrewing? In our case, we were interested in the chemistry and academic nature of the job, and we live in Utah. I know, you’re thinking, “Utah? It’s dry there. No wonder you would want to make beer.”  Well, you’d be sort of wrong.  There are so many local brewers here making really interesting stuff, and yes, there are some seriously jacked up liquor laws here. But these local brewers like to brew big, high-alcohol beers in large bottles.  They inspired us to do the same. They also don’t recycle glass in this state, so we decided to do our part to directly recycle bottles by refilling them.

And then there’s the matter of the Beehive Brew-Off competition for home brewers.  We entered five of our beers last year and came away with a 2nd place in the Imperial Stout category. Probably more exciting for us was the feedback we received from professional brewers about how we could improve our beer.  For five bucks an entry it was well worth it just for the feedback.

So how does an average beer-lover with a little curiosity and some spare time get into this?  We were lucky; a friend gave us a bunch of brewing equipment with the request that we put the letter Z in our beer names for his dearly departed doggie.  We bought a few more items and a simple extract beer kit for a Brown Ale from Northern Brewer.

21 22's and 13 12's ready in 2 weeks!

21 22’s and 13 12’s ready in 2 weeks!

Their kits and accompanying instructions were an awesome way to start out and they have videos and even live chat for your beer questions (and for when you panic because your yeast didn’t seem to activate).

I love to shop locally too, and we have two amazing beer brewing shops here in Salt Lake.  The Beer Nut and Salt City Brew Supply are both well-stocked and full of people who know beer and will share their knowledge with you freely. I have recently taken to buying all my yeast at the last minute from one of the two because then I can assure it has been in the fridge until I use it. They are also among the only places open on Sunday, which is a likely brew day. So when you run out of something, they “got your back”.

Finally, we like to do our part to recycle glass since the state of Utah doesn’t.  We have a great partner in Yellowfinn Sushi in Sugarhouse. Their manager saves 22 oz Sapporo bottles for us and those labels come off easier than any other. Greg and the rest of the crew are our favorite taste-testers too.

Taste tester-in-training.

Taste tester-in-training.

This weekend we’re brewing an Imperial Stout with thoughts to the 2013 Beehive Brew-Off. It’s a 3-4 month beer, so we might nail this timeline a little better.

We started with extract brews, which essentially are malt syrups that you boil and add hops and yeast to, ferment and bottle.  After fourteen successful batches we decided to move to an all-grain process; basically you move back a step and steep grains in hot water to extract your own malt syrup.  It greatly extends the brew day (from roughly two hours to more like five). It also requires more equipment and a lot more attention to detail. The return is that for many beers, like IPA’s, there is a certain sweetness that you don’t want in the beer and you can’t seem to shake when using the extracts.  It has something to do with the fact that not all of the sugar is eaten by the yeast and is left to foul the taste.  I’ll say that you don’t notice it as much until you do, and when you do you’ll never go back to extract.  That said, darker beers do well with extract and it is the only place to start to learn the process.

 

 

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