Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bottling Brews

The long weeks of buying beer, drinking it, and amassing bottles has finally paid off. It's bottling day, people. As Heather and I were mapping this whole brewing thing out, she said that she didn't want anything to do with the first part of the process--the boiling, the extract dissolving, the wort chilling and the yeast pitching. I think in her head, I was going to destroy her entire kitchen and the apartment would reek of barley and hops for the remainder of our lease. Those things did not happen because I am a careful man and a wonderful husband.
Heather did agree to be present for the second major step of the process--bottling. The conceit of bottling is pretty simple: add sugar, put in bottles. The kit that Heather got me even came with a bag of superfine priming sugar so I didn't even have to measure it. I just had to dissolve it in two cups of boiling water and let it cool to room temperature. The biggest pains in my ass were, A) cleaning and de-labeling the bottles (I could have kept them on but I didn't want my beer to share a spotlight with Sam Adams and Magic Hat) and B) sterilizing everything and maintaining a clean work environment. These steps were taken before Heather got home from work. I only needed her there for the main event. I lined up my bottles, I set up my bucket, I re-lined up my bottles; I was so ready for this. Now if Heather would just hurry the hell up. Stupid employment.
Finally she arrived. We set to work. First thing's first, we take the lid off the fermenter for the first time in two weeks. I learned in yeast class that I should have been taking hydrometer readings every now and again, but I found that out a week and a half too late. God damn it. Maybe next time. We got the lid off and there was a thick layer of yeasty gunk on the inside wall of the fermenter. I take that as a sign that the process worked. After the yeast is pitched into the wort, there is a one to two day lag phase and then the yeast bubbles vigorously leaving behind a bunch of crap. Heather had a different reaction: "eeeeeeeewwwwwwww"
I added the sugar solution to the bottling bucket and then syphoned the beer from the fermenter to to mix it with the sugar, leaving behind the bottom layer of yeast sediment that has built up. An important thing to be aware of is that the beer should be exposed to as little oxygen as possible. Stirring the sugar in is not necessary; the swirling from the hose is enough to mix it in. I then attached the hose to the spigot on the bottling bucket. The hose comes with a neat little attachment that regulates the flow of liquid, making sure it doesn't spray or splash.
This is where Heather came in. One person could do this, but I wanted her around to speed this process up. In my mind, the longer it takes, the higher the risk for contaminants. I put the bottling bucket on the counter and got on the floor to take advantage of gravity--a dignified position. Her job was to bring me empty bottles, take them away once they were full, and cap them. It kept me from having to move. She had a little trouble with some of the caps, but discovered that she could get more leverage if she also moved to the floor. So there we were, two fully grown adults on the floor of our tiny kitchen surrounded with beer. I'm sure that image give you a lot of insight into our lives.
Aside from a couple of minor drips and bottle overflows, the bottling was a success. We ended up with a grand total of 43 twelve ounce bottles and a champagne bottle I had fitted with a grolsch bottle top. We put them all in cardboard six-pack caddies which are currently sitting on the bottom shelf of our book case while they undergo their secondary fermentation. The shelf has sliding doors so the bottles can be shielded from light. Two weeks from the bottling date, they should be ready to drink. You can be sure I'll let you know how it goes.

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