Last November, I switched from 12 0z. crown cap bottles to liter and half-liter swing tops. Instead of laboriously processing around 50-plus crown cap bottles, I fill and close either 18 liter bottles or 36 half-liters.
That’s the good part. The bad part is carbonation! All our bottling instructions call for a certain amount of priming sugar. Problem is, that quantity of sugar is based on the relative proportion of beer and headspace in a 12-oz. bottle. When you go to larger bottles, it all changes!
I’ve had liter bottles blow the entire swing-top bail assembly clear up to the ceiling, followed by half the beer in the bottle shooting 3 feet in the air! If it doesn’t gusher, pouring produces a glass full of foam. Not the desired result.
To make it worse, no one in any of the forums has offered anything resembling useful advice. I’ve received sage advice about the volume of CO2 produced versus the volume of headspace and how this affects carbonation. Others feel that the standard half cup of sugar for 5 gallons applies in all cases. Some folks advise conditioning for at least 2 months. I’m not that patient.
Finally, I remembered my friend Jeff who has always used liter swing-tops and has won competitions with his home brews. His advice? For liter bottles,no priming sugar at all! And normal headspace (i.e., just the neck). With a liter of beer, the fermentation of the residual sugars in the bottle produce enough CO2 to produce adequate carbonation.
I plant follow this in my next bottling. I’ll report back on the results.
While I love brew day, I’ve always looked forward to bottling day with trepidation. Sitting on the floor, messing with a bottling wand on the end of a recalcitrant hose, fighting with a crown capper, stiff back — no fun!
A few modifications to the process have turned bottling into a much less onerous task.
- My wonderful transfer pump has made the transfer from the fermenter to the bottlingbucket a lot easier. No more hoisting the filled bucket from the floor to the counter (I am getting on in years). In fact, the bottling bucket now sits 2 1/2 feet above the workbench (see below).
- From Billy Broas’s Homebrew Academy, I picked up the idea of eliminating the hose between the bucket spigot and the filling wand (except for about a 2″ bit). Now I just push the bottle onto the wand.
- I bought two 30-inch wooden stools. For bottling, one goes on the workbench with the bottling bucket on top. This allows me to sit on the other one while bottling. Getting the bucket on top of that stool would have been a serious problem before the pump came along.
- The final change is swing-top bottles (like Grolsh beer bottles). I have both liter and half liter bottles, as well as about a dozen and a half Fisher of Alsace bottles (66 cl.) from my first try at home brewing. I soak the tops in sanitizing solution and just snap them on after the bottle is filled.
Bottling day may still not be a joyous occasion, but it’s certainly less of a chore than it once was!
One of my first posts was a screed on the proliferation of beer styles. Since then, I’ve started reading the Brewers Association’s Classic Beer Styles Series. Having worked through the Porter, Mild Ale and Brown Ale guides I’ve come to several conclusions:
- Understanding the history of classic styles provides an insight into both the history of taste and the history of brewing techniques and technology. Now I know the difference between a Burton Union and a Yorkshire stone square and the problem such appliances were designed to solve.
- Historic styles are far more fluid then current thinking about styles would lead us to believe. Initially, Porter was aged and Mild wasn’t. Later, after Porter fell from favor, Mild became a darker, less hopped alternative to Bitter. When bottled, Mild was known as Brown Ale. Then along came Newcastle and redefined Brown Ale.
- We really have no idea what the earliest versions of these styles tasted like. Porter, for example was brewed from Brown Malt, which hasn’t been made since 1800, and then aged in wooden vats for up to a year. Modern attempts to reproduce Brown Malt suggest that the classic Brown had relatively low levels of diastatic enzymes. This would have produced a wort containing significant quantities of non-fermentable sugars which would have been fermented in the aging vat by brettanomyces or lactobacillus, giving a rather sour beer. Not at all like a modern Porter.
Recently, no less a personage than Stephen Beaumont has raised this same question regarding styles. His take on the subject is definitely worth a read.
I’ve doing a lot of reading about the desirability of a full boil for extract brewing. The idea of having the sugar concentrations the same as you’d have with a grain-mash wort was persuasive. Today, I decided to give it a shot. Some observations:
- The extracts (LME and DME) seemed to dissolve more readily. LME tends to settle on the bottom of the brewpot and needs a lot of stirring to avoid scorching. With the larger volume of water, it felt like I did a lot less of it. at the end, much less scorching.
- 6 gallons of wort takes a long time to come to a boil. “Have a home-brew?” I had three!
- Once it starts to foam you have to be fast to avoid a boilover. Unfortunately, I wasn’t. Thankfully, concrete is eminently washable. The propane burner is, sadly, really ugly.
- 6 gallons of boiling wort is something you don’t want to carry in from the patio. Luckily, I had purchased long hoses for my immersion chiller.
- 6 gallons of wort also takes a long time to cool.
We’ll see in a few weeks whether the extra work was worth it.
P.S. Never again will I skip the hop bags. I’d forgotten how much of a pain massive trub can be.
Just went down to the brew shop to check on the yeast starter I put up late Sunday afternoon and found a lovely layer of apparently dead yeast on the bottom of the flask. So much for brewing tomorrow.
I’m beginning to question my decision to switch over to liquid yeast cultures. This is the second liquid culture I’ve had fizzle on me. I’ve put in a good bit of wasted effort and now my planned Thursday brew day is shot to hell. It’s either drive down to The Green Growler in Croton and get another vial of yeast culture, put up another starter and wait 3 days — or just give up and pitch a packet of old, reliable Safeale #US-05.
Scheduling brew days isn’t easy. Even though I’m a work-from-home IT consultant, there are enough client meetings, deadlines and dates with friends that finding the better part of a day to do my brewing can be a chore. Having to plan 3 or 4 days in advance can really be a pain. And then to have the bloody yeast die on me? It’s more than an Old Bunny can stand!
With dry yeast, it’s “Hey, my afternoon meeting got cancelled! Let’s brew!”
I may just go back to dry yeast for my basic ales (English Brown, ESB, American IPA and the like), which are what I best like to brew and drink, and save the liquid yeast for the fancy stuff like Belgians and Imperials.
One day too many spent freezing my butt off watching a boil in the driveway! I’ve decided to go electric.
I’m starting in a small way, by adding a 3500 watt heating element to my 8-gal. brewpot. I decided to go this way after reading a bunch of stuff on the High Gravity web site. The 3500 watt element has a few drawbacks but can apparently be controlled with a simple on/off switch (instead of an electronic controller). Not only that, but the total cost, including a weld less bullhead fitting, was $80. If it works, but leaves me unsatisfied, I’ll bite the bullet and go for the 4500 watt element and the $300 electronic controller.
Moving inside of course creates ventilation issues. When I built the shop, I installed a small bathroom exhaust fan in the ceiling to handle the heat and steam from yeast starters and pruning syrup boils. Boiling 6 gallons of wort for an hour needs something a bit more serious. Several forums led to the conclusion that something like 500 cfm would be a good idea.
There already is a convenient vent grating the size of a concrete block up under the ceiling, and a quick search on Amazon produced 2 six-inch ventilation fans at 250 cfm each. These will be mounted in a plywood sheet over said vent hole, probably with a large RubberMaid bin as a hood.
Finally. there will be a knee-high shelf to hold brew pots and fermenters and the addition of a 220-volt outlet to power the heating unit. This installation will also mean reconfiguring the metal stooge shelves that hold my supplies, gadgets and bottled brew.
As the project moves forward, I’ll post project reports and pictures.
Wish me luck.
On of the things I’ve always like least about the home brewing process is gravity — our dependence on it. First, you schlep a brewpot full of very hot wort in from wherever you set up your propane burner. Then you pour it into the fermenter and lift the fermenter up onto the workbench (that concrete floor is cold). The, after your rack, you hoist the filled carboy up off the floor. And so on and so forth forever.
Enter the transfer pump! This little gizmo is possibly the best investment I’ve made for my brewshop. The brewpot stays on the floor and the pump transfers the wort into the fermenter up on the workbench. When I rack, the carboy is also up on the workbench. When it’s time to bottle, I can put the bottling bucket up on a stand (so I can bottle standing up instead of crouching on the floor) and just pump the wort into it. Life is good!
At a bit under $150, it wasn’t cheap, but it was worth every penny. I got mine from William’s Brewing in California. I also had to upgrade to 1/2″ tubing instead of the usual 5/16″. This included a new hose barb for the valve on my brewpot (also from William’s), as well as new spigots for bottling buckets, a new racking cane and a new filling wand. The latter were all available from BrewPS.
So now I don’t finish the brewing day with a stiff back and the wort flows wherever I want it to. My joy is almost complete. Next step is an electric brewpot, but that’s another story.
Update: While transferring the wort described in my “Full Boil” post, the intake screen of the pump became clogged and it stopped pumping. This was partially my fault as I had been lazy and not put the hops into hop bags. Also, carrying the chilled wort back into the brewshop stirred up the hop particles badly.
Attempts to remove the screen housing to clean it were to no avail. The thing wouldn’t budge!
I wrote to William’s last Thursday seeking advice and today I got a very terse response:
“I have sent you a replacement pump today. Please send the defective one back to us and note what is wrong with it.”
Now there’s a company that understands customer service!
To the Old Bunny Brewing web site and blog. I’ve been homebrewing, on and off, for around 10 years. The latest “on” phase goes back about 2 years when my friend Joe Fisher of Man Skirt Brewing inspired me to get back into the “business”.
Since then, I’ve brewed over a dozen batches of beer and converted a storage room off the garage into my brew shop, complete with utility sink and ventilation. My eventual goal is to switch from propane to electricity for my brewpot and move the entire operation indoors.
So far, the time constraints imposed by work have limited me to extract brewing but, now that I’m semi-retired, I hope to get into all-grain brewing once the weather warms up.
Besides homebrewing, I expect I’ll be blogging some about the greater world of beer. There’s a lot going on — stuff that I really like and other stuff that I really don’t — and I tend to be rather outspoken about both. Also, there’s a lot of great beer being brewed here in the Hudson Valley and I’ll be writing about that from time to time.
In the mean time , “Relax! Have a homebrew!”
Two different news items caught my interest the other day. One was an NPR presentation discussing the Grammy’s attempts to rein in the growing number of award categories. NARAS felt that the huge number of categories devalued the award. On the other hand, a number of niche musicians expressed outrage at the elimination of their category, explaining that Grammies, however devalued, were a necessity for career advancement.
The other item was a blog post decrying the growing number of craft beer styles. New “styles” were being created, the author stated, to accommodate beer variants that violated the criteria of existing styles (Black American IPA, for example), simply to allow these beers to compete in the current judging structures. Some commenters agreed the these new, increasingly narrower styles were an abomination. Others felt that these detailed styles were useful to let the drinker know what to expect when he ordered a beer.
I tend to be a subjectivist in these matters. No matter how much description you dish out, it still can’t substitute for tasting the bloody beer. To me, the ultimate question is, “Do I like this stuff?” As far as competition goes, I suppose winning a ribbon is nice, but if I win a local competition by choosing a category where I know I’ll be the only entry, how valuable is that?
I’d be interested in finding out how others feel about this sort of thing.