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Biere 2: The embottling

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll remember I recently expanded my fermentation repertoire by introducing beer brewing to my life. And how awesome it is turning out so far is beyond the scope of this humble blog. But just real quick: it is very awesome indeed.

Since I decided to follow a kit ‘n’ kilo approach (a kit of malted grain plus a kilo, give or take, of liquid malt extract), it’s been a super easy process. Mix everything in the vat, wait for it to start burping, and then wait for it to stop. There’s an optional step when it starts burping that involves telling everyone all about it and speculating about a career change, which I encourage.

Anyway, once the burping has ceased, you start checking the beer with your hydrometer every day. When you get three days in a row with the same reading, that’s a pretty good sign that your fermentation has ceased. See, the hydrometer measures the relative density of the liquid, which is an indicator of how much sugar is in there. The yeast eat the sugar, so when the readings plateau, that’s a sign that all the sugars have been eaten and your yeasts have full tummies. It also suggests it’s bottlin’ time. It’s important that there’s no sugars left, for reasons I’ll explain later.

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Bottlin'

So, you wash a million billion bottles and dry them on the cool bottle drying tree, and then you disinfect EVERYTHING that may or may not but probably come in contact with the inside of the beer bottle and the stuff you’re putting in it. I use a food-safe diluted iodine solution, via spritz bottle, and don’t skimp on it. Next step: recruit a trusty housemate, a milk crate, and a bottling wand if you can at all manage it. A bottling wand is a truly magical piece of plastic piping with a little valve at the end. You attach it to the tap on your beer vat, and when you turn the tap on the wand will fill but none will flood the laundry! Then you thread it into a dry, sterile bottle, and when the bottom of the wand meets the glass, the valve is released and in floods your lovely beer. I got M to do this bit because I wanted to play with the CAPPER. (The milk crate is for sitting on.)

The capper is a sleek chrome lever on a pole that you use to cap the bottles. Cap. Capper. Get it? It has a wee cup on the underside of the lever, in which you sit a bottle cap, and when you lever it down onto the mouth of the bottle,the cup forces the edges of the cap down into a snug little hat on the bottle. Magic! Forceful magic, which took a lot (A LOT) of trial and error and wasted caps before I got the hang of it.

Right! So you’ve got a vat of brew, a trusty housemate sitting on a milkcrate, a capper and a wand. But hold your horses: where do the bubbles come from?

And that brings us back to sugars. So while the beer is fermenting in the tub, the gases released by the yeasts escape the liquid and burp out through the airlock (see above). They run out of sugars, they run out of burps. But! You want bubbly beer, right? You want to CAPTURE THE BURPS. And you do that by reawakening the yeast and sealing the environment in which they’re doing the burping. First up: reawakening the yeast. MOAR SUGAR! You can buy awesome little baggies of hardened sugar drops, which is frightfully handy. Two pellets for a longneck (750mL). Plonk plonk. Add beer via wand! Cap! Voila! You’ve refed the yeast and sealed the environment. The wee yeasties will wake up and tuck into the sugar, and then start burping again. But this time you’re ready: those burps aren’t going anywhere. Not until it comes time to crack the lid, thus changing the pressure and fizzerating the liquid!

So that’s how you bottle! Neglect ye not to sample your fine juices as ye bottle!

Meanwhile, since I’m new at this and thus every bottle is a joy and wonder, I made labels for all my precious bottles. The Beer Labelizer is a great browser-based Flash dealie that lets you select a design and enter details, then save the resulting label as a jpg. For long neck bottles, about six labels per page seems to make a good size, and if you print them out on a plain old laser printer, you can paste them onto the clean dry glass with milk. True story! Dip the back of the label in the milk, then press it onto the glass and wipe away the excess. Works a treat.

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Pro, yo.

My first batch (the pale ale) will be ready in early October, while the dark ale will be ready in early November. I AM VERY EXCITED FOR THE BEERS.

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