Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Limitations of Time & Space

No, this is not a physics post.  It's about the demands of 'real life', the realities of space limitations and trying to find the time to get everything done. 

What's In The Fridge?:
Those of you who have been following my brewing know that I currently have a 5 gallon keg of Strawberry Cider in my beer fridge along with 2 recently kegged 5 gallon kegs of Chamomile Ale.  That makes 3 kegs plus my 20lb CO2 tank taking up space in my fridge.  Also, I was planning to brew an Oktoberfest Lager this coming weekend.  I could still squeeze one more keg into my fridge if I needed to, but not a carboy (the vessels I use as fermenters).  Carboys are 'fatter' than Cornelius Kegs, so they take up more space in the fridge. 

Lager vs. Ale:
Lager beers, like the Oktoberfest I want to brew this weekend, are fermented at lower temperatures than Ales.  Ales typically ferment in the temperature range of 64-75 degrees, depending on the yeast strain used.  That's why I, before the summer months, I have to keep my fermenters in a water bath with an aquarium heater to keep the fermentation temperature steady and in the proper range. 

Lager yeasts, on the other hand, work best in the range of 45-60 degrees, depending again on the yeast strain used (though Lager yeasts can be used at Ale temperatures for some styles).  That means, to keep the fermenter at the proper fermentation temperature, I will need to keep it in my beer fridge - or get a second fridge just to house my lager fermenter(s). 

I'm not sure I'm quite ready to buy another refrigerator, so my only other option is to make more space in my current beer fridge.  To do this, I will need to get at least one keg out of the fridge so that I have room for the fermenter for my Oktoberfest.  The best way to do this would be to bottle the contents of one or more of my kegs. 

A 5 Gallon Cornelius Keg

Bottling From The Kegs:
I haven't bottled anything in quite a while and, months ago before I got back into brewing this often, I got rid of some extra bottles I had due to space concerns.  Now I'll need to take an inventory to see how many bottles I have and whether I have enough to bottle a full 5 gallons worth of beer or cider from one of my kegs.  If I come up a bit short on bottles, I can always raid my recycle bin.  I have at least a dozen 12 and/or 22 oz bottles in there that I can de-label, clean and sanitize to use for my own beer or cider. 

Since I still want to allow my Chamomile Ale to condition for a few more weeks before I bottle it, that leaves my keg of Strawberry Cider.  This past weekend, I added a bit more extract to the cider, and now the flavor is right about where I want it to be.  So the cider is the keg I'll be looking to bottle sometime this week. 

A Jet Bottle/Carboy Washer - Hooks to Sink Faucet

My first step will be cleaning and sanitizing my bottles.  I'll also need to de-label any newer bottles I plan to use, which can be accomplished with a soak in a simple ammonia solution to dissolve the glue on the labels.  Once the labels are off, I give the bottles a good cleaning with a jet bottle/carboy washer.  This device provides a powerful spray to clean the inside of each bottle.  Once cleaned, the bottles go onto my bottle tree to dry.  This device holds the bottles upside-down and allows them to drip dry. 

Bottle Drying Tree

Once clean, the bottles then need to be sanitized.  For this, I use a sanitizing solution injector that sits atop my bottle tree.  I press each bottle down onto the injector a few times, and the inside gets sprayed with sanitizing solution.  Place back on the bottle tree to drip dry again and then the bottles are ready to be filled. 

A Sanitizing Solution Injector

Using A Counter-Pressure Bottle Filler:
There are a few different ways you can bottle your beer or cider from kegs, but the best way is by using what's called a counter-pressure bottle filler.  This is a device with a few different valves and knobs, which allows you to fill a bottle from your keg without any significant drop in pressure or loss of carbonation. 

A Counter-Pressure Bottle Filler

The counter-pressure filler has two input valves: one for liquid and one for CO2.  The liquid side is hooked up to the keg you want to bottle from while the CO2 side is, obviously, hooked to the CO2 tank.  To start the process, the bottle to be filled is placed below the filler and the filler is lowered into the bottle until the stopper seals the mouth of the bottle.  The relief valve on the filler, which lets pressure out of the bottle, is opened slightly and then the bottle is filled with a blanket of CO2 by opening the CO2 valve and allowing the gas to fill the bottle.  The air in the bottle is displaced and escapes through the relief valve.  The relief valve is then closed, allowing the pressure inside the bottle to match the pressure inside the keg.  Then the CO2 valve is closed. 

Now that the bottle is filled with CO2 and its pressure matches that of the keg to bottle from, the liquid valve can be opened.  Then the relief valve is opened very slowly; just enough to allow the beer or cider to start flowing from the keg into the bottle.  There should be very little to no foam during the filling process, since the counter-pressure filler allows you to keep the majority of the keg pressure on the beer or cider as you fill each bottle.  Once the bottle is full, the relief valve is closed, followed immediately by the liquid valve.  Then the relief valve is cracked slightly and the filler is removed from the bottle, which is immediately capped. 

This may sound like a lot of work but, once you get going, it actually goes pretty quickly.  I made things even easier for myself by constructing a bottling table to mount the filler and capper on.  I will video myself filling some of the bottles when I'm ready, so you can have a look at my bottling table and the whole bottling process. 

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there.


  1. As a semi-professional brewer i reccomend you to buy a real bottle washer

  2. This bottle washer looks simple to use.. is it ?