The Canterbury Ales: Chapter One (Racking and Bottling)

Racking (+2 Weeks)

The first peek!
The first peek!

It seems like forever ago that we started this process, but after just two weeks, it’s time to “rack” the beer – that is to say transferring the beer from the primary fermentation bucket to a glass carboy for secondary fermentation. It’s also time to (go crazy, folks) ADD THE CHOCOLATE!

It was pretty exciting after listening to the yeast in my beer work overtime. During this period, Florida reached some pretty cold temperatures so I had to move the bucket from the garage to our guest bathroom, wherein the yeast had a party and scared my dog with all of the banging around.

Looks … yummy.

The lid was tough to get off, but once we did, wow, it looked beautiful! It smelled like beer! I’m told the top looks good, but I honestly have no idea what that means. The next step in the process was to siphon the beer from this bucket into the glass carboy, where the newly added, delicious-smelling, I-almost-ate-them-all cacao nibs were waiting to get to know it. I learned that I probably need a longer hose for this, because unfortunately the short length meant lots of air bubbles in my beer.

Thanks to a friend on Twitter, I’m now super-paranoid that this has ruined my beer, but we’ll keep sending positive vibes toward it and wish for the best. The process took about an hour, including irritating sanitization and cleanup. The beer also left this gorgeous dog-poop sediment at the bottom. Mmmmm.

Bottling Day, Baby!  (+4 Weeks)

And there was much rejoicing! One step closer to consumption.

Hey, girl.
Hey, girl. Let’s get this party started.

Last night, I finally got the chance to bottle the (hopefully) delicious chocolate stout that will become Chapter One of my first brew series – The Canterbury Ales. Bottling has proven the most difficult aspect of this process thus far thanks to some issues with the wine thief not wanting to gimme my beer! The first step is always the same (and the least fun) – sanitize everything!! After that, it was time to cook up my priming solution. On the oven, I mixed 2/3 cup priming sugar with 16 oz. of hot water. I stirred the mixture and brought it to a boil, then adding it to the bottling bucket.

Once the bucket was “primed and ready” – get it?! – it was time to siphon the beer from the glass carboy into the new bucket. This is when things became stressful. Remember those delicious chocolate pieces I added in secondary? Well, they loved clogging up the thief so much that it would stop siphoning all together or at a snail’s pace with lots of bubbles. My husband had to remove the thief and clear it out, re-sanitize, then try again. I’m really hoping this process (wherein a lot of angry bubbles were spewed into my beer; it wasn’t a great hour … ) didn’t completely destroy my beer, so once again, let’s just think happy thoughts.

It’s kind of like careful surgery, except nobody dies.

Now that everything was in the bottling bucket, it was time to BOTTLE! But first, I took a gravity reading to check in on my baby one last time. It registered a 1.021 gravity, which based on the previous reading, estimates it at a 3.9% ABV beer. Ladies, that means we can drink a lot of these! But back to bottling … It’s important to note that I purchased 48 blank bottles from a local home brewing supply store, as well as shiny silver bottle caps. I tried de-labeling a bunch of random bottles, but it was so much easier spending $13.00 on new ones. (Lazy, but true.) Since I want to gift some of this beer, I wanted to make sure it looked snazzy. I sanitized the bottles and caps by running them through the dishwasher on hot water, with a hot dry, and no soap. Please do not dishwasher soap your bottles!

After we connected the hose it was, once again, time to show off my masterful bottling skills, except that it took me a few bottles to get back into the swing of things and by the end of it, I probably had about half a bottle on the floor. [Insert extreme sad face.]  Bottling beers is a pretty tedious process when you have 5 gallons to get through, but once you get a flow and system down, it’s not so bad. I really enjoy bottle capping the finished product – the repetition is sort of calming for me and I ended up pretty good at it. In total, I finished 46 1/2 (one sad half of a beer) bottles, so just 1 1/2 short of my perfect total.

Tell your beer you love it every single day. You never know when it will all be gone!

Since this will be my Valentine’s Day beer, I finished off the silver caps with these really pretty, glittery heart stickers I found in the scrapbooking aisle. Most of the bottles will be ready to go into the fridge and taste in two weeks, while the 12 marked with extra hearts will do its thing for an extra 1-2 weeks. It’s been suggested to let this beer age so I’m going to see what difference it makes!

And that’s it! Here’s to the next two weeks and hopefully delicious chocolate stout at the end of it. Cheers!

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