Sunday, January 16, 2011

All bottled up!

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Bottling Day!

Bottling day has finally arrived!  I stopped by my lhbs (local home brew supply) and picked up a few items to make my life easier: a spring-valve bottling wand, a vinator, a brew hauler carboy sling, and some bottles.  The bottling wand is a length of hard plastic tube with a spring valve at the end.  Once you get the siphon going, you pinch it closed with a plastic valve and attach the wand on the end of the hose.  Then, all you need to do is insert the end of the wand in the bottle and press it against the bottom of the bottle to begin the flow of beer.  When the bottle is filled, just lift up on the wand and the flow stops!  Ingenious.  The vinator is a device for sanitizing bottles.  It consists of a small dish filled with sanitizer, with a thin tube mounted vertically in the middle.  You turn the bottle upside-down, insert the tube into the neck of the bottle, and press down.  This pumps sanitizer up into the bottle where it coats the inside and then drains out.  Again, ingenious.  Finally, I needed to buy some bottles (my plan was to empty enough the old-fashioned way, but I didn't get nearly enough in time).  Fortunately, my lhbs was selling a used case of 12 20-oz amber bottles with ceramic ez-tops (like the Gorolsh bottles) for $3!  So, I only had to buy one case of 12 bottles to supplement.

Bottling turned out to be pretty easy, but prepping and sanitizing the bottles was someone time-consuming.  First, I soaked them all in water with a scoop of oxyclean overnight to remove any labels and gunk.  Then, I brushed the inside of each one with a bottle brush and rinsed them 3 times.  From there, I put them all in the dishwasher and ran it on "rinse only".  Finally, I sanitized them all with the vinator, and put them all back in the dishwasher rack to drain until bottling time.

The beer was in the 5 gal carboy, and needed to be primed before bottling.  Priming consists of adding a little bit of sugar to the beer just before bottling.  This re-activates the yeast in the bottle.  The yeast eat the sugar and give off CO2.  The CO2 fills the head space in the bottle, and then forces itself into the beer as the pressure in the bottle builds, carbonating the beer - a process known as "bottle conditioning".  So, I dissolved 4 oz. of corn sugar in 2 cups of boiling water on the stove.  I poured the sugar water into a 5 gal bucket, and then siphoned the beer from the carboy into the bucket.  From there, it was a simple matter of siphoning the beer into the bottles using the spring-valve bottling wand.  Then cap, and viola!  The beer is bottled!  It is supposed to sit somewhere warm (~65-70 deg F) and dark, and relatively easy to clean in case a bottle explodes from the built-up pressure.  So, for now the cases are sitting in a plastic tub in the upstairs bathtub.  Now I just have to wait 3 more weeks...

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Racked Out

I racked the beer to a 5 gallon glass carboy for secondary fermentation.  I went back and forth on this.  Some time on revealed that many home brewers have moved away from two-stage fermentation.  The basic idea is this: after primary fermentation has finished, there is a layer of sediment (called trub) that settles to the bottom of the fermenter.  Conventional thinking was that letting the beer stay in contact with the trub for too long would result in off-flavors, and cloudy beer.  So, by transferring (racking) the beer into a second container, you get it off the trub, and get a clearer beer.  The thing is, many brewers now say that letting the beer stay in contact with the trub for a few weeks may actually help the flavor, and that clarity isn't really adversely affected by it.

Well, I decided to go ahead and do it for a few reasons.  For one, I thought it would be good practice for how to siphon, etc.  Secondly, I was just plain anxious to see (and taste!) my new beer!  But primarily I thought it would be helpful when it comes to priming and bottling.  Priming the beer involves the addition of sugars right before bottling, allowing some fermentation to occur inside the bottles (referred to as "bottle conditioning") and resulting in carbonation of the beer.  In order to do this, my options were to a.) add the priming sugar directly to the primary fermenter, potentially stirring up the trub into the beer, b.) adding the priming sugar to the carboy, requiring a funnel, or c.) rack the beer into the carboy for secondary fermentation, and then rack it back into the bucket with the priming sugar.

But really, I just wanted to taste my beer.  :-)  And I have to say, it's pretty good!  I should be able to bottle it next week.  Another couple weeks in the bottles and I'll have my first finished beer!