Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Step-By-Step Bottling

After all the hard work that went into conceiving a recipe, brewing a batch, sanitizing equipment, and fermenting for several weeks, bottling and packaging can seem like an afterthought. Chances are you've moved on to the next project, or are at least dreaming it up, and the couple hours needed to properly bottle seem like they could be spent on better things. Not so. Bottling - or kegging, for some brewers - is a vitally important step on the road to great beer and must be treated with the care and attention that every brewing task demands.

As with every step that takes place after the boil, all surfaces that are to come in contact with the beer must be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. This means buckets, siphons, tubes, bottles, caps, everything... After cleaning and flushing each bottle with hot water, I fill them with a
solution of Starsan, an acid-based sanitzer developed for the brewing industry. Starsan is amazing stuff: strong enough to kill unwanted bacteria, but gentle enough to not require rinsing once the solution is drained. It also produces a thick bouffant of foam that works into every nook and crevice.

After sanitizing the bottles and bottling bucket, it's time to prepare a corn sugar solution that will carbonate the beer in the bottle once the cap is sealed. This process is pretty amazing and is definitely a little mystifying if you haven't seen it before. In a nutshell, the fermented beer is transfered, by
a sanitary siphon, from the fermenter to the bottling bucket (a 5-gallon plastic bucket with spigot at the bottom), in order to separate the beer from the yeast and hop material (brewers call the mix trub) that coats the bottom of the fermenter.

While the transfer is taking place, I measure a little more than 3/4 cup of corn sugar and mix it with 1/2 cup of water and place it on the stove burner. I mix and bring the solution to a boil for 5 minutes. The sugary mix is rapidly cooled in an ice water bath, added at room temperature to the beer in the bottling bucket, and stirred with a sanitized spoon. Once the slightly sweet beer is sealed in the bottles, the yeast that has inevitably stayed suspended in the beer during the siphoning will consume the simple sugar converting it to a tiny amount of CO2, which is trapped in the bottle and dissolves into the beer over the course of about two week. Caps are applied, in my case, with a hand-held capped that can be cumbersome, but gets the job done.

Voila! You have produced a bottle-conditioned beer.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

1st Annual Brooklyn Pie Bake-Off

Had a great time at the 1st annual Brooklyn Pie Bake-off Benefit at Spacecraft in Williamsburg today. I counted 125 people at the height of the festivities, so it goes without saying that my case of beer didn't last long. Thanks to everyone who made it possible, especially Glenn Robinson of Bags For The People, Leslie Henkel of Abrams publishing and Stella and Cristina at Spacecraft.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Steam Beer

I brewed a steam beer or california lager last winter and thought I would give it another shot. Version 1.0 turned out to be really great, wonderful taste and aroma, but I wanted to tweak the grain bill slightly to give this take a darker, copper-toned color and maltier profile. I blogged about the original version here.

This brew was my first after reading Ray Daniels' Designing Great Beers, and I think it will benefit from the techniques I learned from Daniels' well-researched book.

Lager yeast cells prefer colder fermentation temperatures and require more time to finish than ale yeasts. The German word lager roughly translates to "to store," and German brewers developed unique lager yeast strains by storing their brews at near-freezing winter temperatures. The yeast cells adapted to the chilly environment and resulted in clean, crisp, malty beers. The California lager yeast is unique in that it works optimally at around 60degF, which is around the average winter temperature of it's birthplace, San Francisco.

A popular beverage in the 1850's, California lager would be a historical curiosity if it wasn't for its only modern incarnation: Anchor Steam.

Here's my recipe:

OG: 1.050
35 IBU

Grain Bill:

6 lbs Marris Otter pale
3.9 lbs Canadian 2-row pale
1.47 lbs British crystal 65degL

Mash: single infusion, stabilize at 154degF. Ratio: 1.33 quarts/lb of grain
Batch sparge


.75oz Northern Brewer 60 minutes
.5oz Northern Brewer 30 minutes
.5oz Cascade 5 minutes

Yeast: California Lager (Wyeast)

Brewday: 10/24/09

I finally got a chance to use some new brewing equipment that I have been developing for this session. First, my new water filter allows me to filter sediment and chlorine from my hose
water and begin my brew outdoors instead of carrying water out from inside. I modified a home filter unit with a hose fitting to and definitely noticed a clean, chlorine-free smell.

I also switched to a 10-gallon mash tun, which gives me the flexibility to mash larger grain bills and even upgrade to 10-gallon batches from my previous 5-gallon limit.