Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Bottle Is Best

Butch brews beer in the garage. He has a turkey fryer set that he uses for the burner (hooked up to propane) and the aluminium pot for the brew. I'll post that process sometime down the road (it's been done before online...MANY times but it would be fun to show it on video) but today I'm going to post about bottling. We don't have a keg so we just gather bottles from neighbors and friends (NON twist off, brown varieties) and make sure they are rinsed well before we are ready for bottling. We've struggled with fruit flies all summer because the first batch of bottles we had were only semi-rinsed and the flies made their way into the house every time someone opened the garage door. YUCK.

First, Butch soaks (washes) all of the bottles the night before and gets ready to wash all of the materials we'll need for the bottling. This step is necessary BEFORE sanitizing. Next, he sanitizes everything that will touch the beer. I have a picture of the bottle caps soaking in sanitizer and Butch, in the garage with the giant plastic tub we use for washing and sanitizing everything. The green bowl has the priming sugar dissolved in 1 cup of boiled water (cooled) for putting in the bottling bucket before we add the beer.

This brew is our fourth batch and it's called "hophead". It was a little different from the other three that we did in that it required "dry hopping" (sounds dirty, doesn't it?) which just means that, instead of adding all the hops while the beer is cooking, you add SOME of the hops after you move the beer to a secondary container. Our primary container is a five gallon pail with an air lock on the top so bubbles can get out but yuckiness can't get in. We moved it to this glass "carboy" to eliminate some of the hops and sediment on the bottom of the bucket. That stuff is really gross and looks a lot like the contents of a baby's diaper. In this glass carboy, you can see SOME of the sediment remains and ALL of the hops that he added the week before (floating on top). This will be a VERY "hoppy" beer which means it will be so stinkin' bitter that most people wouldn't really be able to drink it. Hops (did you know that beer production uses 98% of the world's hops?) were added to beer to make it bitter (on purpose) because it acts as a preservative (antibiotic properties) since beer was originally made before plastic and sanitizing were invented. Double yuck.

Here is what the top of the beer bottles looks like before it is filled. We put the cleaned bottles in the dishwasher and run it on super hot with no soap to sanitize them as best we can. We try not to open the dishwasher until RIGHT before we are ready to bottle. The key to non-skunkified beer is bottling with care.

 Butch attaches the plastic tubing to the siphon and then pumps it a few inches up from the bottom of the gunk in the carboy. We want the clearest beer so we watch the tube for floaters and other goo and try to keep that to a minimum. We are trying to get as much of the clearest stuff into the bottling bucket (five gallon pail with a spigot) as possible. This takes a long time because the tube is so small. Our arms get a little tired.

 Now comes the fun part. I take the plastic tubing off of the siphon and put it on to the little stick bottler. It's a neato invention. It's hard plastic with a little rubber stopper on the end. I put the other end of the plastic tubing on to the spigot and then one of the kids (who is the bottle-hander) hands me a bottle. I put the stick into the bottle and press the little stopper on to the bottom. The beer rises right up to the top and the second I lift up on it, the stopper stops the flow. When I remove that little stick, it leaves just enough space in the top of the bottle! The priming sugar feeds the little bit of yeast that is still active (after the beer has been just sitting for a few weeks in the basement in the primary and then secondary) and, if done correctly, will cause carbonation for a nice, bubbly brew. It doesn't really pay to open any of the bottles for another 4 weeks, at least, or you will have very flat beer (which might actually be still pretty tasty...just flat) so the hardest part of all of this is just to have patience. We've had two successful batches and now we have two batches bottled that we haven't tried yet.
 Oh, I forgot the most important part! We have two neighbors that brew their own beer so it's really cool to have other people to bounce ideas off of and have experienced tasters around. Here is one of our favorite neighbors who DOESN'T drink beer but who is awful handy. He got snagged into the capping job. He just grabs a bottle cap, places the capper on top and squeezes. This batch was approximately 2 cases (50 bottles or so). It doesn't take long for those bottles to disappear once they are ready to drink...not because we're lushes or anything. We just really like to share!
This has been a really fun and pretty inexpensive hobby that we hope to expand. I want to try wine and maybe a batch of root beer or some other girly kind of brew. I know we'll have some duds and some great successes but it's mostly fun and pretty educational as well.

I wonder if I can write off some of the kits as "educational materials" on our taxes for homeschooling? Probably not, but beer making covers History, Science, Math, Home Ec, Gym (those carboys and five gallon buckets are NOT light!), and all of the new terminology I've learned even make it a little bit about English!

Don't go all crazy now and destroy your livers with all kinds of beer. Brew and drink in moderation. You are a little bit smarter after reading this post and I don't want you to fry up some of those good brain cells!

I always blog responsibly. :0)