Friday, January 7, 2011

Bottling the Brown Ale

This past Sunday (1/2/2011) was day 6 of fermentation, which meant that the English Brown Ale that was brewed on 12/27/2010 should be ready to bottle.

To be sure, I first needed to check that the final gravity was within the expected range of 1.011 to 1.015.

It looks like 1.012 in this picture, but in person it looked more like 1.013.  Either way, we were cleared to bottle!

Bottling begins just like any other part of beer making: with sanitation.  Sanitizing everything that comes into contact with the beer is extremely important.  Otherwise, bacteria could make its way into the beer and ruin the batch.

Since each batch of beer makes around 50 bottles, washing and sanitizing them all is quite a lot of work.

Once everything has been sanitized, we need to boil our priming sugar in 2 cups of water for a few minutes, then set it aside.  The priming sugar is added to the beer just before bottling so the yeast can make a little more carbon dioxide to pressurize the bottle.

Next, it's time to pry-open the fermenter again so we can transfer the beer into our bottling bucket.

 Here's what the beer looks like after fermentation:

Next, we siphon the beer into the bottling bucket, which contains the sugar water we prepared earlier.

I decided to strain it again for good measure.

EDIT: This was a big mistake!  By straining the beer at this point, I introduced lots of oxygen into the beer.  Since the fermentation was complete, all that oxygen stayed in the beer when I put it in the bottles, resulting in oxidation.  Although the beer is definitely drinkable, there is a slight off flavor that I've tasted in every batch of beer I've made.  I won't know for sure until I brew another batch, but I feel confident this is what gave me that off flavor.  The proper way to siphon the beer into the bottling bucket is to keep the end of the hose submerged and to transfer the beer as gently as possible.

Here's the trub left in the bottom of the fermenter.  Pretty weird looking, huh?  It's a combination of fats, proteins, and inactive yeast leftover from the fermentation process.

Before bottling, we need to mix in the priming sugar.

To bottle, our hose is connected to the spigot on the bottling bucket:

and a bottling wand is attached to the other end.  The bottling wand is nice because it only releases the beer when you push it against the bottom of the bottle.

To cap the bottles, there's this fancy little tool.  Just stick a cap to the little magnet in the center,

place on top of the bottle, and push down.

And repeat, and repeat, and repeat...

46 bottles later, and we're done!

The reason it's so important to take the original and final gravity readings is so you know when the fermentation has stopped.  If you bottle too early, there will still be sugar present in the beer.  The yeast continues to eat the sugar after the beer has been bottled, which is what carbonates the bottles.  If there's too much sugar for the yeast to eat, the bottles literally turn into explosives.

Don't believe me?  Just Google "homebrew explosion."

Also, the difference in the original gravity and final gravity tells you how much alcohol is in your beer.  This batch came out to be 4.86% alcohol.

The beer will take another 2 or 3 weeks to finish fermenting in the bottle before it's ready to drink.

The waiting is definitely the hardest part of beer making...



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