Monday, November 30, 2009

My Second Batch of Homebrew: Phase Two (Bottling)

You can read Phase One (Brewing) here

Yesterday marked three weeks since my wife and I brewed our second batch, an India Pale Ale named FML IPA. 21 days was a long time to wait, but it was worth it to give the beer plenty of time to clear up. I'm happy to report that things went a lot better this time, compared to the last time we bottled.

Homebrewing Bottling Equipment
Here's the equipment we used for bottling:
  • Five-gallon spigoted bucket
  • Large plastic brewer's spoon
  • Bottle washer
  • 24 new 22 oz. bottles
  • 2 previously used 750ml bottles
  • Bottle-caps to match
  • Capper
  • Hydrometer
  • Sampler for hydrometer
  • Probe thermometer
  • Bottling wand with tubing
  • Transfer tubing
  • Small saucepan
  • Corn sugar (measured amount for 5 gallons of beer)
  • Star-San sanitizer
We were a little concerned about infection because of a mistake we made in preparation for brewing (you can read all the gory details back in Part One), but cracking the fermenter revealed a perfect looking (and smelling) beer. Beer is indeed less fragile than the novice brewer gives it credit for.

Homebrewing Sainitized BottlesThe first step, as always, was sanitation. To start things off, we mixed up a 5 gallon batch of Star-San sanitizing solution in the bucket to be used for bottling. Then, we started rinsing out the bottles in batches of about eight using the bottle washer. Once rinsed, we dunked the bottles in the sanitizing solution and left them under the surface for two minutes. After the bath, we put the bottles into the bottom rack of our dishwasher (which acted as a poor man's bottle tree) to wait.

It's worth taking a second to note that there was no rinsing after the sanitizing bath, as Star-San works best while the bottles are wet and does not affect the beer whatsoever. It produces a lot of bubbles, and many people are put off by the idea of adding their beer to sudsy bottles, but there is no need to rinse it off. In fact, rinsing it off would leave the bottles unprotected briefly.

Once all the bottles were in the dishwasher ready to be filled, we used the mixture to sanitize the brewer's spoon, the sampler, and then both sets of tubes (with the wand attached) via the handy spigot. It took a little warm water to loosen the tubing up enough to fit on the spigot, but once warm, they fit nicely. The remaining sanitizing solution was then poured down the drain and the bucket put in place on the floor ready to be filled (again, unrinsed).

At this point we started to heat the corn sugar mixture and let it boil for five minutes with 16 ounces of water. Once boiled, we set the mixture aside to cool for about ten minutes. While it was cooling, we boiled the bottlecaps to sanitize them and cracked open the fermenter to take quick gravity and temperature readings (1.016 at 70°F). I tasted the beer from the sampler once the readings were done and was excited to find that, even though it was warm and flat, it tasted like an IPA.

Homebrewing TransferThen, we put the fermenter on the counter above the empty bucket, attached the transfer tubing to its spigot, and let it start filling the bottling bucket. The spigot was placed perfectly, allowing all but the dregs transfer nicely in just a couple of minutes. When the bottling bucket was full, we slowly stirred the priming mixture into the bucket with the brewer's spoon.

We then swapped the bottling bucket with the fermenter, attached the tubing and bottling wand, and got down to filling bottles. With the big 22 ounce bottles, it went a lot faster than last time, making the new bottles a worthwhile investment. Capping with the new plastic capper we bought was a lot easier than the old metal one—the plastic had a bit more give in it, meaning the capperHomebrewing Filling Bottles would bend before the bottle wouldbreak. This time, no bottles were lost to breakage.

Unfortunatley, the two 750ml bottles I had picked turned out to be a bad choice, as their flared necks made it impossible to get a perfect grip with the capper. We fear they might not be sealed correctly, but at least it is just two bottles. Quite a shame we won't be using them again, as the bottles are quite nice.

Once full, we put the bottles back in their box and put them back away in the bathtub to prime and mature for another few weeks. Things were so much smoother this time, and I'm very happy with our new purchases. According to my calculations, the ABV is around 6.43%, which is in the range I was Homebrewing Waitinghoping for. The beer tasted pretty damn good, and I'm confident that when I crack the first bottle in a few weeks, the beer inside will be pretty damn decent.

You can read the review of the finished product here

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