Survivors and fallen heroes

Bottling the Robust Porter

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It’s been 6 cold days since I brewed a Robust Porter during my first all-grain brewing session.

The bubbling action of the fermenter had been slack for the last few days, and it’s unclear if it’s due to a completed fermentation, or yeast forced into submission by the relentless cold. Time to find out…

In light of discovering that I used the wrong ratio of roasted malts in the mash, an earlier end to the fermentation seemed wise, to avoid adding dryness to the brew also.

I’m not a fan of bottling beer, perhaps because of the cumbersome equipment I always choose. I’ve bottled exactly 2 batches of the 5 or 6 extract brews I’ve brewed before. The 1st time I used the PET bottles that came with my Cooper’s kit. That was reasonably painless.

The 2nd time I used glass bottles, but could only afford a primitive, but cheapone-hand-&-rubber-mallet type bottle capper. Capping them were tedious and unpleasant.

After that I got my hands on a corny keg; an absolute low-hassle, let’s-brew-everyday pleasure to use. Alas, it is with me no more.

Bottling: Keep it Clean

Department of Sanitation

Meanwhile, back at the bottling plant I had setup my Department of Sanitation and started to sterilise my work area. The bottles were checked inside for anything like dust, grime or fallen insects before a thorough cleaning.

The bottling bucket also got the treatment. I’ve been storing my heaps of grains inside it (only airtight container I have that can accommodate all of it). The grain dust made a bit of a mess and I wanted to be sure to keep it out of the beer.

The bottle caps followed, then the priming sugar spoon, the slurry jars and finally the racking tube.

Nice Rack

Racking the beer from the fermenter into the bottling bucket was today’s new experience. I’ve been able to avoid this in the past, as previously my fermenter always had a spigot. But no such luxuries on the glass mini-demijohn.

With syphoning there’s always the challenge of how to get the flow going. Sucking on the pipe is obviously the easiest, but I wasn’t about to gargle with iodorphor-laced water and without it I’m sure any 1 of the gazilion bacteria in the mouth would gladly infect the beer.

Second and preferred option, which I practiced a few times on a water jug before doing it with my beer, is to fill the syphoning hose’s bottom half with (pre-boiled) water, and stick the top half in the fermenter. Then just let go and voila, flow.

After building up confidence with water in a jug, I gave it a go with my fermenter. It took a bit of juggling to keep the hose below the level of the beer, but above the yeast at the bottom. The first bit of water and beer went into a jug as planned and the rest, after a quick flick of the wrist, went down against the wall of the bucket.

Quickly enough the fermenter drained and left me with a bucket of un-aeratedbeer.

I Like to Bottle it Up

Lining up the actors for the bottling day play

Part of my brewing supplies are 24 x 440ml glass bottles, 10 of which were being roped in for this exercise. Not that I would need 10, taking into account the loss due to the fermentation boil over and the thick layer of yeast at the bottom, but backups are always handy.

I couldn’t get my hands on a bottling tube, so had tomanoeuvre the spigot while tilting the bottle against it, letting the beer run slowly into the bottle, being careful to avoidaeration.8 bottles filled to nearly the the top, leaving about a cup of beer in the bucket.

Some of the leftovers were used for a gravity reading, which showed the Final Gravity to be 1.018 and puts the beer at the outer edge of the lower range for a Robust Porter. The ABV is about 4.5%, which is unfortunately light.

Pre Taste

The rest of the leftovers became a tasting. The beer is pitch black, with the slightest hints of red along the edges when held to the light. The body, I would say, is light to medium, no head or lacing.

It doesn’t offer much on the nose, perhaps a hint of charcoal, but on the palate the first impression isdefinitely burnt wood, which dissolves into dark chocolate and coffee with a slight tanginess.

There’s a faint sweetness, low to medium bitterness and it tastes like espresso in the finish. I took another sip after letting it stand for a while and it tasted a lot like cold coffee. Can’t wait to see what it does over the next 10 days.

Crowing Achievements

It was almost time to cap the bottles, but first had to add priming sugars. Not having any proper priming sugars, I just used normal, white cane sugar. Beer Smith said to use 18.7g per bottle, but I have to assume we misunderstood each other. The last thing I want is bottles exploding due to over carbonation.

I went with roughly 1.8g per bottle. (I reran the numbers in Beersmith and the correct amount turns out to be 2.3g of sugar per bottle. Phew!)

Survivors and fallen heroes

I half regretted not practising the two-handed bottle capper on empty bottles first, but now with 8 bottles lined up, open andvulnerable, I wanted to get them sealed as soon as possible.

The first bottle got pinched between my legs, had a crown placed on top and the capper fitted. I squeezed down, discovering it required asurprisingamount of force.

Back when I used the bottle capper that had to be whacked with the rubber mallet, I was also surprised by how much force was needed to seal the crown. I broke a good few bottles while establishing just how much force it needed. With that method bottles tend to break from the bottom when you overdo it, creating a lovely mess.

I eventually forced the two-handed capper past where I would have imagined something should breaking, but nothing did. The bottle was sealed. I slowly tipped it upside down to test. It was dry.

The next crown went on about as easy, but just as my confidence grew bottle 3’s cap jammed the capper. Upon inspection it appeared that the crown was askew andonly partly capped. What I should have done was use a bottle opener to remove the cap and try again with a new one.

What I did instead was fit that capper back on and squeeze some more. I heard a crack right before the cap came off with a piece of the bottle neck still attached to it. 1 bottle was ruined and so was its contents, but at least it wasn’t all over the floor, or worse, my lap.

The rest of the bottles went slow and easy, lest I ruin another of my precious stash.

As I crimped the last crowns, I stood back and admired how little mess I made this time.

A second later I moved the bottling bucket, knocked over the still full hydrometer and sent a stream of beer running over the counter, down onto a little office table full of stationary just behind it and all over pens, notes and into a few drawers, before dripping onto the floor.

On the up side, it smelled of coffee and chocolate.

That 20 minute cleanup exercise aside, it was about as smooth a bottling experience as I could have hoped for.

Yeast slurry - for the next chapter

Before cleaning the rest of the equipment the yeast still had to be harvested. I drained the yeast slurry from the fermenter into a sterilised jar, which is going into the fridge and will be used in my next brew.

Now to just wait for 10 days while trying not to open the bottled beer one by one “just to try”, and then find a few willing guinea pigs to help enjoy and critique the fruits of my labour.

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