I've been so terrible about posting on my brewing lately! Truth be told, I've been terrible about a lot of things that don't directly affect my little man, as evidenced by the fermented carboys sitting in my dining room for a few weeks now.
Saturday (May 5) was National Homebrew Day, so after weeks of saying I was going to bottle the beers on hold, I sucked it up and bottled with my husbands's help.
I truly hate bottling--it's the worst part of brewing in my opinion; it's messy and wet, it takes forever, requires no creativity, and then you have to wait at least 4 weeks (usually 6 or more) to actually enjoy the beer! In addition to saving up for that sewing machine, I'm also saving up for a kegging system so we don't have to deal with the bottling BS anymore.
This time around, it wasn't as messy or as time-consuming as normal (a blessing with a 3-month-old). I attribute this not to a new-found groove my husband and I have created for ourselves, but to the fact that we had CASES of clean and empty bottles due to the months of inactivity. Things really only needed to be rinsed out and sanitized rather than our normal homeless person shuffle through the recycling bins for empties to re-use. Plus, I had two cases of empty 22's and 3 growlers, so that took up about 3 gallons right there (out of 5).
Since I find no creativity in bottling, I've started thinking of ways to actually make it more fun. This time around I decided to bottle with flavorings.
My homebrew club decided that June would be raspberry beer month (brew any style as long as you added raspberries), so I made a chocolate milk stout and bottled it with some of last year's raspberry jam (strained of seeds). For some reason, I couldn't figure out from the recipe I used how much sugar they recommended for bottling, so I guessed using 5oz. from a partially open jar in my fridge. I boiled the jam with the same amount of water, ran it through a wire mesh strainer, and then added it (cooled a bit of course) to the beer in the bottling bucket while it was still siphoning from the carboy to make sure no yeasties were killed in the process.
Here are some pics of our not-so-scientific process:
Step 1: First we make an appetizer to make sure we don't get cranky while we bottle. Saturday's cranky-killer was crab stuffed mushrooms. If I get any requests, I can post a recipe...
Step 2: Fill up your sink with sanitizing solution. We use Isophor, an iodine solution that doesn't require rinsing. Your husband should also attach the really dopey looking bottle cleaner to the faucet (and break the aerator on the faucet in the process). This makes bottle rinsing a lot easier.
Step 3: Sanitize your bottling bucket, siphon, and wand.
Step 4: Set up the carboy in a higher spot than the bottling bucket and siphon your little heart out. The most important part of this step is making sure that none of the yeast cake (the beige goo at the bottom of the carboy) gets into the siphon itself by keeping the end of the wand above it. If you don't, you'll have cloudy beer (important for competition and not freaking your friends out). Also good to note: siphoning without making a mess takes a bit of practice, and finally I'm getting pretty good at it after a few years of brewing. When you're done siphoning, you should only see the yeastie mess on the bottom and probably a 1/4 of beer.
As I mentioned before, this is a good opportunity to put your bottling sugar in (whether it's corn sugar, maple syrup, or in this case raspberry jam) since it will mix it in as it siphons and take out any heat that might be big enough to kill the yeast.
Step 5: Take a really cute picture of your kid so that you can embarrass him later in life by illustrating what drunks his parents were while he was an infant. This step is obligatory for all new parents, ps.
Step 6: Clean, sanitize and drip-dry your bottles. We just use the dishwasher rack, but you can buy expensive bottle trees to dry them if you like. We're cheap, and frankly, this doesn't take up any storage space in the interim, which seems to be an issue with my brewing equipment lately.
Step 7: Move that really heavy bottling bucket up onto a table or counter (or even a stool so that the spigot hangs off with enough room to stick a bottle under it. We also use a bottling wand (it has this really cool "stop pouring" button in it so you make less of a mess), so we need at least an extra 12 inches. I also put a paper towel pile under neath to catch any drips. If I don't, the drips turn into splatters and we're walking around sticking to the floor in random spots for at least week afterward.
Step 8: Put that beer in those bottles! As you can see, you really just shove the bottle onto the wand, let her fill up, and then take it off. As an FYI, the more empty the bottle gets, the slower the beer moves and the longer it will take to fill each bottle. I highly recommend filling up the larger bottles first (growlers, 22's, etc.) before your arms are getting tired.
Step 9: Cap the bottle. We've got a capper, which literally just smooshes (technical terms here) the cap around the rim of the bottle. If you do it wrong, you'll know--the cap will fall off immediately, you'll see it's crooked, etc.
Step 9: Wait. A lot. This is the worst part by far. For most beers, I'd recommend waiting at least 6 weeks, but sometimes (especially if it's warm out) you can drink them after 2. Some beers really benefit from a long aging--particularly those that are really high in alcohol. I made a belgian tripel last year that is so much better after 9 months of waiting than it ever was at 6 weeks.
I still haven't bottled the "Baby Bicker Brew", my ode to my little man, (but that should happen this weekend!) and then I'm allowed to brew another beer. I'm thinking a Red IPA for the summer...thoughts?