Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day 8 - Bottling Time!

Well, it's day 8 and finally time to bottle my beer.  I had hoped to bottle yesterday but then watched a few more YouTube videos in preparation and found that most recommended testing specific gravity for two consecutive days just before bottling to make sure all fermentation had stopped.  If there's no change in the specific gravity, then the beer is ready to bottle. So instead of bottling yesterday, I took the lid off, checked specific gravity, put the lid back on and walked away. It was really hard walking away since I'd been looking forward to this all week.

So the anticipation was that much greater this morning. I got up, poured a cup of coffee, said hello (and goodbye) to Bob and headed downstairs to my beer.  I can't tell you how excited I was when the specific gravity read the same as yesterday - 1.020.  I had been given a green light! 

So, I started by sanitizing all the equipment I'd be using - the bottling bucket, the siphon tube and hoses, bottles, bottle caps, even my bottle tree.  This is probably the step I like least but one that can ruin your whole batch if omitted or not done properly.

Next, I boiled the corn sugar mixture - this is to be added to the beer once it starts flowing into the bottling bucket.

There, everything is ready to go!

Since I needed to siphon the beer from the fermentation bucket to the bottling bucket, I set the bottling bucket on the floor so it would be lower than the beer level.

Sorry I didn't get any pictures of the siphoning process but I had my hands full at the time.  I couldn't rest the siphon tube in the bottom of the beer since there is a heavy layer of sediment on the bottom and I didn't want to siphon that up with the beer.  So, I had to hold the siphon hose the whole time so that the tip was always below the level of the beer but just above the layer of sediment.  It wasn't so bad though. It actually went a lot faster than anticipated.

Once the beer started flowing into the bottling bucket, I added the corn sugar mixture.  This is a very important step in that without it, the beer would be very flat.

It was recommended that a small amount of beer be left in the bottom so as not to risk pulling up the sediment.  I probably left more than I needed, but why take a chance.  Not that it would hurt anything to get a little sediment in your beer - it's just largely yeast and hop residue.  Craig on YouTube says a little sediment in your beer just proves it's a natural beer!

Still, it's not very pretty!

Thankfully, the beer looks a lot better. Smells pretty good too!
Next came the bottling...

I raised the bottling bucket off the floor onto the table and then attached my bottle filler tip to the spigot via a long flexible tube.  The bottle filler tip is a neat gadget that when inserted into the bottle and pushed down lightly on the bottom of the bottle, the beer begins to flow, and then when the tip is lifted off the bottom, the beer flow stops. Makes it really easy!

Not the most flattering picture, but... I'm down in the basement brewing beer, for Pete's sake!
Each bottle is filled to a level just above the shoulder leaving approximately 1 - 1 1/2 inches of air space in the neck. This allows space for the CO2 that is generated as the yeast consume the sugar that I added as the beer flowed into the bottling bucket.  Once the bottle is capped and the yeast start consuming the sugar, the CO2 will build up.  Since it has no place to go, the pressure will build up, the bottle will become pressurized and the beer will become saturated with CO2. In other words, the beer will become carbonated.

I actually tasted the last little bit of beer that was left in the bottling bucket.  It wasn't bad, just a little flat.  That's because it's not yet carbonated.  Hopefully, in about three weeks, there won't be anything flat about this beer!

Anyway, the last step was capping each bottle - much easier than I would have guessed. This really neat bottle capper came with my beer kit.  I only messed up one cap out of 49.  Not bad for a rookie!

Now!  The beer just needs to stay in a cool dark place for 3 more weeks. Then a taste test!  Hope I can wait!

Oh! One more thing,,,Happy Birthday Mom! I still miss you!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Day 3 - Beer Brewing

Well, it's Day 3.  I was distressed this morning to find that the bubbling in the airlock on my fermenter had stopped completely. I know what I read yesterday - basically to just get over the bubbling.  My police sign is still on my fermentation bucket telling me to back off, but I like for things to go exactly by the book. The book says I can expect bubbling to go on for 2 - 3 days.  Mine barely bubbled 24 hours.


So of course I turned to Craig on YouTube.  He recommended that I first check for leaks and  explained how.  I followed his instructions.   I may have had a small leak, but I'm not 100% positive.  He then said I could take the lid off and check the brew. That made me a little nervous, but I did as instructed. He said if my beer was fermenting,  I would find a ring of sediment around the sides of the bucket just above the surface of the beer.

Well, when I finally got the lid off, there it was - this beautiful ring of sediment, right where he said it would be!!!  What he didn't mention though was the wonderful scent of beer that suddenly filled the room!  Why haven't I noticed that before - that beer has such a wonderful smell? 

Anyway, I feel better about everything tonight.  I'm gonna try to quit focusing on it until Monday afternoon when I plan to check the specific gravity. Craig says if specific gravity is 1.010 or lower, then I can start bottling.

Now that's something to look forward to!

PS: Sorry I didn't get pictures of that beautiful sediment ring, but I was so nervous about taking the lid off, I didn't even think about pictures.  Maybe when I'm a more experience beer brewer.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

From frozen pops to beer!

Last week I made frozen fruit pops.  They were OK, but probably would have been much better had I used the old fashion recipe of frozen strawberries and a heavy sugar syrup. Instead, I used fruit and fruit juices and made healthy fruit pops. While healthy is certainly better for you, it's rarely tastier than the real stuff.

This week I'm brewing beer. I'm sure I read somewhere that it's actually healthier to home brew since you don't have to worry about how to keep the beer drinkable while it sits on a store shelf. Certainly sounds reasonable to me.  I won't know about taste for another three to four weeks.

Yesterday was Day #1.  Of course, I started with a kit - everything a beginner could possibly need to brew two cases of beer, right down to bottles and bottle caps.

I read all the instructions front to back as well as the Beginner’s Guide to Home Brewing. A few things still didn’t quite make sense so I went to YouTube and watched a dozen or more videos on home brewing.  There were literally hundreds, but I soon found my favorite –  Craig has over twenty years home brewing experience and a keen sense of humor.  Not only that, he really seems to love what he's doing and especially what he's making. So I followed Criag’s example: put on my Corona baseball cap, opened a beer and went to work!

The first step in beer making is to sanitize all your equipment - anything that will come in contact with your brew. A no-rinse sanitizer came in the kit, so all I had to do was mix the packet in water and then pour it into the fermenter bucket, put all other items in the bucket, close the lid and gently swish the liquid all around. I loved the fact that I didn't have to rinse.

Next was to start the brew!!  

Just so you know, real beer is made from malted barley, hops, yeast and water. While there may be additional ingredients depending on the type of beer, these are the four main ingredients and are basic to most recipes.  I found it especially interesting to read in my handbook that Germany is probably the spiritual heartland of real beer and actually has a law in place that dictates the use of these four ingredients by all brewers. So, it's real beer I'm brewing here!

Anyway, per instructions,  I put 1 1/2 gallons of water on to boil and then slowly added the malted barley and hops.  The directions then said to boil for 20-30 minutes.  The mixture had a tendency to foam up and over the top,  so I had to keep turning the burner off so it would subside.  This happened a couple of times, but I did manage not to let it run over.  I'm already thinking though that I need a bigger pot before I brew my next batch.

I set up my fermenter bucket downstairs in my basement since the temperature down there runs somewhere between 65 and 75 degrees.  I didn't know at that time that the ideal temperature for fermentation is 65 degrees, but I did know that it was probably much too warm upstairs. I had to put 3 gals of cold water in the fermenter and then pour the hot malt mixture into that, so I knew I'd never be able to fill the fermenter upstairs and then carry it down the steps. The problem I did run into though was I then had to carry a very hot, very full pot of malt mixture from the kitchen, through the house and down the steps. Without a doubt, I need a bigger pot. I'm thinking too, that I should probably just do everything downstairs to begin with.

Here's a picture of my malt mixture:

I managed to get the hot malt liquid downstairs without incident and poured it into my fermenter.  The next step was to add enough liquid to bring the level up to 5 gallons and then sprinkle the yeast across the top. However, while my instructions didn't say this, I had heard somewhere on YouTube that the temperature of the liquid had to be around 75 degrees before pitching in the yeast so as not to kill the yeast.  So I checked the temperature of my mixture, now referred to as "wort" or unfermented beer, and it was 100 degrees.  So I waited about 10 minutes and checked it again.  It was still pretty close to 100 degrees. Ten minutes later, it still hadn't changed much.  So I looked up my friend Criag on YouTube.  What Craig does is check the temperature of the wort before he adds the additional water and then adds the water in increments, checking the temperature between each so that based on temperature, he knows whether to add cold or warm water. It was too late for me to do this so I just had to wait it out. What I'd done was fill my fermenter with water before I'd even started boiling my malt mixture, so that by the time I was ready to pour in the hot mixture, the water in the fermenter was probably pretty near room temperature. Had it been really cold, I wouldn't have had to wait so long to get the temperature down where it needed to be.  Next time, I'll do it Craig's way.

Anyway, live and learn.  I did finally get to sprinkle my yeast over the top of the mixture, which then called for another 10-minute wait.  Lastly I gave my unfermented beer a good stir and then placed the airtight lid on the top and inserted the airloc. The airloc is a one way valve that allows the release of the CO2 that builds up when the yeast start working on the sugar.  This is where the alcohol comes from as well. The instructions called for a little water in the airloc so I should be able to see it bubble a little bit when fermentation begins.

I checked on my beer before I went to bed and the bubbling had begun.  My beer was fermenting!! I was brewing beer!!

Day 2: I didn't sleep well last night. I got cold and woke up worrying about my beer being too cold.  I went to check on it and it was still bubbling away.  The temperature in the room was 67 degrees.  So I went back to bed. 

I checked on it again when I got up and it was fine.  Then when I checked later this afternoon, the bubbling had slowed almost to a stop.  I panicked!  All the information says the bubbling will go on for 2-3 days.  What was wrong? Did it get too cold, or maybe too warm?  I know there is no leak because I can't even get the lid off.

So I went back to the computer and searched for my answer.  Turned out, I was not the first to have this problem   The answer was right there and pretty much said that counting bubbles is useless - that it actually has little to do with what's happening in the fermenter. It just means that the largest amount of fermentation is over and there's not a lot of excess CO2 that needs to be vented out. It also had this cute little cartoon that I printed off and taped to my beer bucket.

I haven't been back to check on the beer since.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Just call me Prissy

I have a hard time drinking wine from a paper cup, or even one of those clear plastic wine glasses.  I prefer real glass. Crystal is even better.  Even when we camp out those two Friday nights a year, I pack a wine glass.  Don’t ask me why, it’s puzzling to me as well.  A couple of my friends say I’m just prissy when it comes to wine-drinking.  That only makes me chuckle. That, from beer drinkers.

My pottery-loving friends drink wine from a pottery goblet. I do too, when I’m at their place. Pottery is nice; But still, compared to crystal?
I was hard to convince until recently...
My friend Helen has taken pottery now for a couple of years.  I spent a day at Seagrove with her last year and came back with a new appreciation for pottery. We visited seven or eight potters. I not only saw some extraordinary pieces but actually got to watch a potter at work at his spinning wheel.  It was truly amazing.  
 Seagrove, North Carolina

No, I didn't come back with my own set of wine goblets, but it did change the way I see pottery.  I've actually come to enjoy a "goblet" of wine with friends. And when I chance to recognize the potter's name engraved on the bottom of the goblet - well, drinking wine from it them becomes much like a religious experience.
Where am I going with this?  Well, thanks to Helen, I now have my own pottery goblet. I've not given up glass/crystal by any stretch, but drinking wine from a pottery goblet is becoming as routine for me as drinking wine from a crystal one. And since I know this particular potter personally, there's even more religion in this house.
My friend Helen - the Potter
My wonderful new wine goblet! Thanks Helen!
Yes, I've had a change of opinion here.  But wine in paper or plastic cups? Never!
Just call me Prissy!