Bottling Day

Bottling day was postponed, as my schedule just didn’t allow me enough time to set aside in order to accomplish this task. The beer remained in the fermentation bucket for an additional six days before I was able to pop the top on May 11, in anticipation of bottling. Along the way, I took one reading, 7 days after fermentation had begun. Maybe I was antsy or just wanted to see the progress and make sure I was getting the necessary gravity.

The original gravity (O.G.) reading came in low after the boil, when it was placed in the fermentation bucket. The AIH Pale Ale recipe said the O.G. should have been 1.052, but I recorded 1.048, a difference of .004. This difference in the two readings comes down to possibly not using all the liquid malt extract (LME) that came with the kit or misreading the hydrometer when I took the original reading. Initially, I knocked off the low reading to not getting all the LME out of the kit. I contacted AIH, they said just the opposite that I probably read the hydrometer wrong.

It was until I consulted the HomebrewTalk Forums, finding MANY topics about this problem, but this thread, seemed to make the most sense. While I am still concerned about the low reading, I continued on. After seven days, I cracked the top on the fermentation bucket to sneak a hydrometer reading to start calculating the finishing gravity.  Like that  of the O.G., the finishing gravity came in lower than expected as well. The target was 1.015 but was the actual reading finished approximately 1.008-1.010. Seeing as fermentation wasn’t complete, I placed the top back on the bucket and stashed it in a dark closet at approximately 72 degrees F.

The second week came and went and I was approaching three weeks before I finally had time set aside to bottle the 5-gallon bucket. I pulled out the PBW cleaner, as well as the Star San, to sanitize the equipment and began the process. I had purchased 48 bottles for the beer, it was a slow process cleaning and sanitizing, but one that should never be overlooked. Something I didn’t factor during the late 90’s when I attempted to home brew the first time around. This time around, it’s more thorough and I have slowed down to get everything right.

While home brewing wasn’t new in the late 90’s, I don’t feel I had a good hand on what all was required, especially as it came to clean equipment to brew good beer. The idea, since I drank a lot of beer back then was to reduce the cost, but failing in preparing, temperature control and rushing caused more problems and headaches, than heading to the store for a six pack. Still, I did learn quite a bit from my first go with home brewing and felt much better prepared this time around, as well as a bit wiser.

Once all the equipment and bottles were cleaned and sanitized I brought the fermentation bucket out and set it on the counter. I placed the clean bottling bucket underneath it, on a chair. The auto-siphon was connected to the rubber hose and set aside. I removed the airlock and popped the top on the fermentation bucket and got reacquainted with the beer I had just boiled and fermented. With the bottling bucket in place, I slide the racking cane into the bucket as I prepared to start the bottling process.

I had boiled two cups of water and dissolved the priming sugar into a small pan in preparation for bottling. The priming sugar dissolved quickly as I let it boil for a few minutes before removing the heat and pours the solution into the bottling bucket. This solution is to help promote carbonation, after the beer was placed in the bottles.  I placed the auto-siphon in the fermentation bucket and started the flow by lifting the racking cane to draw the beer into the hose. The flow began into the bottling bucket, as I emptied a majority of the fermentation bucket leaving a thick, tan trub at the bottom.

With the home brew now in the cleaned and sanitized bottling bucket, I cleaned the plastic hose before attaching it to the bottling spigot and bottle filler. I had 48 caps soaking in Star San, next to my 48 bottles, on the drying rack, two empty, cardboard cases ready for filling. The only concern at this point, how many bottles would I break capping the beer. The two level bottle capper isn’t a great tool, as it magnetically holds a cap in place on the bottle. My fear was activating the capper and crimping too hard, shattering the neck of the beer bottle. This was realized after just four bottles, when I crimped too hard and found my broken bottle in a puddle of beer on the kitchen floor.

Aside from that one incident, the bottling went smoothly, as I finished my first bottle, crimping the cap, sliding the bottle back in into the case and continuing on with the remaining bottles. It took about 30 minutes to fill all the bottles, but am already considering a high pressure bench bottle capper. Once the bottles were filled and packaged into their cases, it was back to the dark, hall closet, where they would remain while they bottle conditioned for the next 10-14 days at approximate 72 degress F, before pulling out a few bottles to be placed in the mini-fridge to be chilled before cracking it open to see how this AIH Pale Ale turned out.

Prior to filling all the bottles I collected a sample in the graduated cylinder in order to take my final gravity reading with the hydrometer. It was a big moment, as I was hoping the number would be close to 1.015, which was listed on the recipe. Spinning the hydrometer, I watched it come to a stop as the bobbing subsided and I attempted to take the reading. It required a few more spins before bubbles didn’t cloud the reading. It was a bit disheartening to see the F.G. of 1.014, which was closer than what the O.G. was.  Using the formula, original ‘gravity – final gravity x 131.25′ would yield the ABV or alcohol by volume. Both reading were lower than what the recipe indicted, as my beer resulted in a 4.4-4.7% ABV, which was well off the anticipated 5.2% ABV.

A closer look at the math of the recipe, doesn’t yield 5.2%. An O.G. of 1.052 minus a F.G. of 1.015 equals 0.037. Multiple this by 131.25 and your final ABV becomes 4.8%. So indications are I am closer than what the recipe indicates. However, going back to this thread on the HomeBrew Talk Forums, there are factors that could lead to an erroneous reading and in the end, don’t worry about your O.G., just use what the recipe states. If I follow that logic, I get a difference of 0.038, that when multiplied by 131.25 equals 4.98, rounded up to 5.0% ABV.

The more I look into the “why” of my gravity readings, it does appear that I recorded an incorrect O.G. as I failed to see where the lens of the water level came to in the graduated cylinder. Using that reasoning, then the 1.048 O.G. level I recorded becomes that of the recipe, 1.052 and the F.G. is 1.014, possibly as low as 1.016, which yields an ABV between 4.7-4.9% ABV.

Keeping everything in perspective, the taste is the most important factor. If when bottled conditions tastes good, then it will be a positive experience. However, if the taste doesn’t come off, it’s back to speculating where I went wrong or what caused the off taste experienced. I will be sharing a bottle with my beer co-worker, Johnny who’s got a great knack for tasting and writing reviews. I told him to provide an honest assessment of my first home brew. Like everything else in life, this is a learning process.

I have spent a few hours skimming home brew forums, listening to podcasts and watching videos to make the next time more successful than this time. That said, I am looking at a single hopped IPA, using Citra along the lines of a 3 Floyds Zombie Dust clone.