Monday, March 29, 2010

Bottling my Noble Pale Ale.

Before I brewed the beer on Sunday, I had a beer to bottle to make space in the spare room.
As anyone who has ever bottled will tell you, it's a bit of a pain. Washing the bottles, drying them and then sterilising and, if you're unlucky, rinsing. There are ways to make the job a little less tedious.
I'll run through what I consider almost the optimal bottling setup for the average homebrewer who doesn't have cornelius kegs and a beer gun.

Bottle washing brush
Bottle tree
Auto syphon
25l bottling bucket with little bottler
Bottles/Swing top bottles
Crown caps
Twin lever capper*
Star san or other no-rinse sanitiser**
spray bottle of star san
Gorilla Bucket or other large trug
Pot for priming solution
Priming sugar/malt/glucose
Kitchen weighing scales
Brewing thermometer
Brewing paddle
Small paint brush

*The twin lever capper is sub optimal but I have to admit I quite like it, if you want a better one then go for a bench capper.
**If you can't get star san then you can use a mixture of 25l of water with 30ml of vinegar and 30 ml of thin bleach added. N.B. DO NOT MIX BLEACH AND VINEGAR NEAT IT WILL PRODUCE TOXIC CHLORINE. Pitch them one after the other into the water.

First thing up which is the hardest is to fill the bath with warm water and a drop of washing up liquid, not too much just enough to create a light foam and soak your bottles for a while then scrub them with the bottle brush. If you are smart when you empty a beer, you rinse it out and ensure that yeast does not go hard and crud up inside it or washing becomes a bit of a nightmare.
I am lucky insofar as I have a lot of German friends due to my job and one or two of them gave me their empties in cases rather than bring them back to Germany for a refund, they get a few botttles of homebrew off of me now and again, the arrangement suits everyone :)
Once the bottles are washed and in their cases then I bring them downstairs and fill the trug with star san and water to the recommended dosage. Star san is great stuff, it's a blend of organic acids that are used in the brewing and dairy industries to sterilise steel tanks, it is safe to drink the stuff at the recommended concentration, it is a very effective sanitiser and you don't rinse it off the bottles.
So once the bottles have had 30 seconds in this stuff they're ready to go on the bottle tree.
Which has been thoroughly cleaned also and sprayed down with star san.

That's the bottles sorted. It's a multi tasking operation so while some of this is going on you also need to add some of your beer via the syphon to the pot and add the priming sugar you decide on to this, I tend to use malt as I don't like white sugars in my brews as they produce a cidery off taste I don't like, some say it's irrelevant, I don't believe it is.

You can use either your kit instructions or calculate the amount of sugar to style, there are lots of online calculators for this and most brewing software can do it, I use beersmith, it's great.

Bring that solution to 70 degrees at least for about three minutes and then you've sterilised the malt, which you can't presume is sterile from the factory.

From here you take your cleaned and sterilised bottling bucket (whish also doubles as a fermenter when you remove the bottler attachment) and you add your priming solution to the bucket and then syphon the rest of your beer on top and mix it with your paddle or spoon.
The advantages of a bottling bucket vs other methods are too numerous to mention, suffice to say it is the best method despite what others will say. The old school method is to add a spoon or a half a spoon of sugar to each bottle, for a start it's fiddly.

Fill your bottles one by one, if you want you can put a cap on top of them straight away and cap later, in this pic I am on my first case of bottles which were swing top before I got on to the crown cap bottles in the second and subsequent case.
I also filled one budget barrel but that's easy and the same process as filling your bottling bucket, I'll post again about filling and maintaining barrels it's not for this one.

Next step is to cap the bottles, using a wing capper is something you learn, take it easy, don't press down too hard or you might either break the bottle or put a ring shaped dent in the top of the cap. You'll get it after a while, a lot of people don't like the wing cappers and go straight for bench cappers, I have to admit I get on with it and don't think the extra cost of a bench capper is justified.

And the end result of the half days work was the following.

I meant to start this post as what I did, and I did that but it also became an instructable, so I hope it helps some and gives an insight into a method that I find good for bottling and kegging.
There are lots of ways to do it, but I find this one easiest for me at present.

I got my wife to make me up a label for it which I simply print on normal copy paper and then stick on with milk using a paint brush to brush it on the back of the label, milk is great, it's cheap and easy and it works like glue once it goes off.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

My first post and the tale of The Old Speckled Hen

If you're reading this the chances are that you either know me or have an interest in brewing, or both. I've decided that my brewing should be blogged as up to now it's just been written to forums and my handy moleskine brewlog. I'll also use this blog now and again to blog stuff I cook, I have to get used to this though because I did a risotto the other night and forgot the camera and was thinking afterwards that it would have been good to have photos for the blog, but it was tasty.

I knocked up a beer on Sunday, It's an old speckled hen clone, which is about my favourite cask ale.
Here's the recipe I ended up using.

Type: Partial Mash

Batch Size: 57.00 L

Brewer: Eoin

Amount Item Type % or IBU
3.75 kg muntons light
Extract 35.5 %
1.12 kg Lyle's Golden Syrup
Extract 10.6 %
4.00 kg Pale Malt, Maris Otter
Grain 37.8 %
1.25 kg Caramel/Crystal Malt
Grain 11.8 %
0.20 kg Wheat Malt Grain 1.9 %
100.00 gm Northern Brewer [8%] (60 min) Hops 42.5 IBU
37.50 gm Goldings [4.00%] (15 min) Hops 3.6 IBU
25.00 gm Goldings [4.00%] (5 min) Hops 1.0 IBU
0.25 kg Demerara Sugar (3.9 EBC) Sugar 2.4 %

I reused 4 cups Danstar Nottingham Yeast from my last batch because the yeast was a little fluffy and had a lot of break material in it.

Beer Profile

Est Original Gravity: 1.054 SG

Est Final Gravity: 1.014 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 5.2 %
Bitterness: 47 IBU
Est Color: 19.4 EBC Color:

Ingredients all laid out and ready.

A bit of history about the old speckled hen which I have taken from this thread which is also where I got most of the recipe from, I've added the wheat malt myself for increased head retention. I'm using pH 5.2 mash stabiliser for the first time.

"Old Speckled Hen was first brewed in Abingdon, Oxfordshire to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the local MG car factory. WHY? I hear you ask. Well, sit back, relax, and I'll tell you. The name is actually derived from the term "owld speckled 'un", used to describe an old MG car which was used as a factory run-around. Through time, this strange, canvas-covered saloon became covered with flecks of paint and was dubbed the "owld speckled 'un" by locals. There you are, simple and completely uninteresting. The brewing of Old Speckled Hen was transferred in 1999 from Abingdon in Oxfordshire to Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. These days Greene King brews all its beers in Bury St Edmunds, where ale has been a feature of life since at least as far back as 1086."

For my partial mash I used the brew in a bag technique and sparged as well as I could.
Despite the pH stabiliser my pH didn't drop below 6.1. I'll keep an eye on this because if it's not worth it then it's not worth it.

Brew in a bag ready to go, the bag was made by my ever so talented wife
The other pic is of the boil in full swing. I skimmed off the hot break material as well as I could, it saves on boilovers.
There was lots of cold break material and hops left in the boiler at the end.

Gratuitous gunk shot.(ooh err matron)

Once done , I ran off the wort, I ended up with 58l of 1.052 wort, which should end up about 5.2% ABV which is on target.

The whole lot then went into the fridge with a few cupfuls of the Notty sludge from my last brew.

The wife got me an old fridge for free off one of her forums and I modified it with some Kingspan insulation and polyurethane sprayfoam to fit my fermenter. I then bypassed the thermostat on the fridge so it's permanently on when plugged in and then attached it to an ATC-800+ which has the ability to turn on heat and cold circuits to maintain a temperature within a degree either side of a set temperature. I have a heat belt attached to the heating circuit and the cold is on the fridge. I have it set to 18c as I like the low flavour profile of the Nottingham yeast at low temperatures.

I did a bottling session the same day, I'll post about that shortly.