Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Beer Week: Racking & Bottling Stage

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*Disclaimer: This post is intended for people of legal drinking age, 21 and older. Drink responsibly.*


Alright, day 3! Let’s talk about racking and bottling!

Be sure to read the entire post before racking/bottling your beer.
A note: Your beer you brewed yesterday should start bubbling a few hours after you pitch the yeast. This is good, it means the yeasties are fermenting that wort! The first few days will be an especially furious ferment, but it will taper off after that.


Racking is simply the process of moving the beer off of the yeast cake in your primary fermenter and into your secondary fermenter, which is just another fermentation bucket or glass carboy. Some beers, like the nut brown we will see tomorrow, only need a primary ferment, as they will be done quickly; however, others that need more time to complete before bottling will need a secondary ferment. In fact, a lot of beers will need that secondary. You want to get the beer off of the yeast cake to prevent it from contributing off flavors to your beer. Racking will also help to clarify your beer.
If you are using the honey wheat recipe we went over yesterday, you will want to allow about 9 days before racking into secondary. You will need your secondary fermenter, your auto-siphon (or racking cane), and the length of hose mentioned on day 1. You will want to sanitize all of these things and empty out your secondary fermenter.

You should place your primary fermenter on a table to let gravity help you out. Attach the hose to the end of the auto-siphon and lower the end of the auto-siphon into your primary fermenter, but not quite all the way to the bottom. You want to avoid sucking that yeast cake into your secondary. It’s not the end of the world if you end up getting some of it though, as it will settle out again. Make sure the other end of the hose running from your auto-siphon is sitting in the bottom of your secondary fermenter and give that auto-siphon 2 good pumps. The beer will begin flowing into the second bucket. You may have to mess around with it a bit, but the goal is to transfer as much beer as possible into the secondary, while leaving as much yeast as possible behind.

Here you can see where the hose is attached to the racking cane, as well as what the krausen left behind on the bucket.

When you are done, simply throw the lid and airlock on it and give it about 2 weeks to 18 days more to finish. From here on out, fermentation will continue, but will be slower. This is alright, because the flavors need time to mingle and combine.
As a general rule of thumb, home brewers usually use the 1:2:3 rule. This simply means 1 week in primary, 2 weeks in secondary, and 3 weeks in the bottle. Each beer is different and some may need more (like this one), while some may need less (like the nut brown we will see tomorrow).
NOW, on to bottling! When your secondary ferment is done, it will be time to bottle, so let’s gather up our supplies! You will need your bottling bucket, caps, capper, bottles, auto-siphon, hose, and bottle filler. I also like to bring out the fermentation bucket that I am not currently using for holding sanitizer solution. 

You can buy the bottles you will need, or you can take a route that is a little more fun in order to obtain bottles! DRINK BEER! That’s really it….just make sure to use bottles where you have to pop the cap off. If you have to twist the cap off, you can’t use it for bottling your beer. It’s great if you are a Sam Adams fan like me. Just drink the beer, wash the labels off and run em through the dishwasher. If your lady is as awesome as mine, she might even take care of that for you. 

Before you sanitize, you have to ready your priming sugar. Since fermentation is done, pretty much all the sugars in the beer are gone and the yeast have gone into a suspended state. We want to add a little more sugar in so that they wake back up and ferment a little bit. This isn’t really for alcohol content, but rather carbonation. The yeast will wake back up and eat the sugar, releasing CO2. Since the bottle is capped, there is nowhere for it to escape and it will be forced back into the beer. This is the part that will take 3 weeks to get done. Sure, you can drink it before that….but only if you like flat beer that hasn’t had time for the flavors to finish mingling. To do this, I just use plain white sugar. Boil 2/3 cup of white sugar in two cups of water. Now set it aside and let it cool.

Okay, so now, let’s sanitize everything again. With two buckets, and all the equipment, it can be a pain. I like to start by making the sanitizing solution in the bottling bucket. Make about 4 to 5 gallons of it. Now position the other bucket below the spigot. Open the spigot and let all that sanitizer flow into the second bucket. This will serve to sanitize both buckets as well as the spigot. Scoop a small bowl of sanitizer solution out and put your caps in there. You won’t need to sanitize the capper. You will need to sanitize everything else. You can do the bottles by hand like I do or get a vinator bottle rinser and use it with sanitizer solution. I just don’t have one yet.

With everything sanitized, take your cooled priming solution and pour it into the bottling bucket. Go ahead and rack the beer from the secondary fermenter into the bottling bucket on top of the priming sugar. This will mix the two together. BE SURE that the spigot is closed. The last thing you want is to start racking and have your beer flow out the spout and onto the floor. Now set up your bottle filler with the spout closed.

*A note about the bottle filler: It will not fit directly onto the bottle spigot. What I do is use a no. 6 drilled stopper and a 1.5inch length of the hose that I cut off. The stopper slides perfectly onto the spigot and then one end of the hose goes into the other end of the stopper. The other end of the hose attaches to the bottle filler. It’s not the best solution but it hasn’t failed me yet. If you can come up with another method, go ahead and use it, this is just the method that I use since the stoppers are cheap and I already had one on hand for brewing one gallon batches of mead.

I like to do the actual bottling with 2 people. Place all your sanitized bottles next to you. Have your helper ready with the caps in the sanitizing solution and the capper at hand. Now, open the spout. Take a bottle and insert the filler into it all the way down to the bottom. The bottom of the bottle will depress the spring and allow beer to flow into the bottle. Once the neck starts to fill, slow it down. You will want to fill it to JUST below the top. When you pull the bottle down off of the bottle filler, there will be about an inch to 1.5 inches of headspace. This is just right for the carbonation to work properly.

Now, hand it to your helper. They will take a cap out of the sanitizer, place it on top of the bottle, and use the capper to crimp it down. Then the bottle is finished and will be ready to drink in three weeks!!! Now, while your assistant is capping, you can fill the next bottle and so on. Continue this until there is no more beer coming out of the spigot. I like to tip the bucket and get as much beer bottled as possible. Every ounce counts! When there is less beer available than it takes to fill a bottle, you are done. You can go ahead and pour whatever is left into a glass and get yourself a taste. It is drinkable but not your finished product. I tasted the honey wheat at bottling and it wasn’t that great….but three weeks later after aging a bit more and getting carbonated, it was DELICIOUS! Don’t forget to clean your equipment before storing it!

Okay, so now, you’re pretty much done! You should have about 50 bottles of beer that will be ready to drink in three weeks. Take them all and put them in a box at room temp until you are ready to drink it, then chill and serve.

I like to use the box that the brewing equipment came in. I store it in the kitchen covered with a towel. You don’t want light getting at it while it is finishing. 

Three weeks later, when it is time to serve, remember that there are still little yeasties in there. They will have settled to the bottom by now. We could make it without yeast if we had expensive equipment to microfilter and force carbonate like large breweries do. It’s a moot point though, plus, I feel that it takes some of the charm out of a do-it-yourself handcrafted brew. Some people like the yeast in their beer, some don’t. If you don’t want it in there, just pour the beer into a glass until you start to see the yeast come out and just don’t drink the last little bit. I have found that I like mine with some, but not all of the yeast in it. If you decide you want to try it with yeast, pour half of the beer into the glass then swirl what is left in the bottle before pouring it. Not only does it mix the yeast back in, but it also makes you look dignified and sophisticated. 

The honey wheat should come out looking similar to the picture below. It will be light in body with a nice sweet flavor and very low in bitterness. It will be smooth and dangerously drinkable. The taste will lie to you. It will feel and taste like a light beer, but hammer down two of ‘em and you’ll quickly understand that this beer is about 8.5 to 9%ABV.

That’s all for today! Happy Brewing! Be sure to stop by tomorrow for my very own nut brown recipe.

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