Bottling the Belgian: A Photo Odyssey

Homebrew Talk - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Forum

Help Support Homebrew Talk:

JetSmooth

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 2, 2010
Messages
1,869
Reaction score
47
Location
Baltimore, MD
Yesterday was the day to bottle batch 0301, or as I’m presently calling it “Bigend Golden Strong”. After seven paitent weeks (!!!) in the fermenters, collecting and cleaning any Belgian bottle I could get my hands on, and sparingly sampling for gravity and maturity, it was time to put ‘er in the bottles for ANOTHER paitent conditioning phase.



After personally consuming some four or five Belgian beers, I realized there was no way my liver could sustain a pace fast enough to allow for the 30 – 4o bottles I would need to contain the eight gallons of beer. I found someone on Craigslist selling 12 new bottles and a pack of corks for $25, which is just under the going rate (and less shipping since I had them picked up by a friend in D.C.). Another friend saved a few bottles for me. But the big break was discovering Meridian Pint in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington. Just a short Metro ride from the office, I found out they saved their bottles for local homebrewers in a program they call “Bombers for Brewers”. What fortune! In two trips, I netted about 40 bottles. Sure they were nasty and needed to be de-labeled and cleaned. But to save the cash, I was in. Several nights in an Oxyclean soak, many rinses,and a scrub in the sink and they call came out as good as new.​

I set the two corny kegs out on the back porch a few days before bottling as we’re in the crisp, near-frost weather of October. Three nights in the low 40′s and days only in the 60′s and I considered the beer “crash-cooled”. I didn’t use any other finings like gelatin, so we’ll see how these clear up in the bottles. I figure the extra yeast will be good for bottle conditioning anyhow.​



The first order of business (aside from pulling the gear from under the stairs and mixing up some fresh Star San) was boiling the priming sugar in a quart of water, allowing to cool a little, and then racking on top of it from the corny kegs. Photo looks a little awkward, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t dipping into the yeast cake on the bottom of the fermenter with the auto-siphon. I didn’t really need to worry about it too much with the first batch. Wyeast 1762 Belgian Abbey II is a flocculating monster! That was a really tight yeast cake! The 1388, Belgian Strong Ale was a little looser and I did suck up a little bit. But it was minor in the long-run. Swirled ever-so gently with a sanitized mash paddle to ensure a good, even mix.​



Since y’all are reading a homebrew post, I’m going to assume you know the rest of how to fill bottles. The fun part came with the corks and cages.



One tip I will mention is I spritzed some aluminum foil with Star San and tore off little pieces to cover the filled bottled to minimize any floating infectoids while I set up the Colonna capper/corker. Speaking of the capper/corker. I need to send a huge “thank you” to Dan at beerandstuff.com for the loan of the Colonna. When I embarked on this Belgian, I didn’t realize what I was getting myself in for with the bottling. I commented on Dan’s post about corking his Belgian and he generously offered to help with the loan. There’s a bottle with your name on it, buddy!​



Prior to doing the filling bit, I fiddled with the capper to determine the best way to get consistency in my corking. Dan was smart and had marked the setting with a sharpie (genius!), but I needed to figure out how far to pull the handle down to lave the cork out 5/8 of an inch. Many online articles mention using a cut-down and drilled out stopper. I didn’t have that, but I realized pulling the handle down until my fingers were pinched in the works stopped the cork at just the right point. Don’t ask me how I discovered that. Anyhow, the cork goes in.​



A freshly filled bottle goes in underneath.​



Handle comes down until … *OUCH!*​



Next, the plate has to be removed. This is because there is still about 5/8 inch of cork in the compressing funnel at the top. To get the bottle out, it needs to be pushed all the way down.​



One full rotation of the handle later, and the cork is released! Look at how perfectly seated that cork is, if I do say so myself.​



Here’s the happy brewer, so pleased with himself.​
 
OP
JetSmooth

JetSmooth

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 2, 2010
Messages
1,869
Reaction score
47
Location
Baltimore, MD


At this point, the Turtle needed a nap, so my photographer left me with no procedural photos of the next step. The basic concept should be pretty self-apparent. The wire cages get put on top and a pen, racking cane, or some other “stick” are twisted around to tighten it down. Traditionally, they are twisted six half turns clockwise. Next time you open a champagne bottle or corked beer, try to count how many counter-clockwise twists it takes to free the cage.





Et Voila! All the beer together in a few group photos. 36 bottles of Belgian Golden Strong! Now, to wait the four months for them to condition.​
 
OP
JetSmooth

JetSmooth

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 2, 2010
Messages
1,869
Reaction score
47
Location
Baltimore, MD
Well, this is my first BGSA and only third AG brew (0301 is my serial number code for third recipe, first attempt). But my goal with this recipe is to nail it down and then do it frequently over the next four years to have enough to serve at my 20th high school reunion. I can't wait to have several years done and be able to do a vertical flight tasting.
 

fineexampl

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 31, 2009
Messages
652
Reaction score
3
Location
Edison
This is fantastic. Very nicely done. :) Really love that capper/corker.
 
OP
JetSmooth

JetSmooth

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 2, 2010
Messages
1,869
Reaction score
47
Location
Baltimore, MD
Yeah. I'm going to have to get one of my own. There was one on CL for $40. But I don't have any extra money right now.
 
OP
JetSmooth

JetSmooth

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 2, 2010
Messages
1,869
Reaction score
47
Location
Baltimore, MD
And now, out of the bottle. It's only been a week, which I know is dreadfully short, but I couldn't help myself. I won't open another for another month or two.







Just picked up the goblet at Goodwill for two bucks! It's Hipsteriffic!
 

Burgs

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 5, 2010
Messages
937
Reaction score
11
Location
Decatur, IL
PROST-ed! I love the pictures. Man, those bottles sure do look nice with corks and cages, and your label looks awesome on there too! Very nice job all around.
 

mychalg9

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 29, 2009
Messages
248
Reaction score
4
Location
Algonquin, IL
Wow, very nice! Now if you would just let me know when our *wink* reunion will be coming up.....
 
OP
JetSmooth

JetSmooth

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 2, 2010
Messages
1,869
Reaction score
47
Location
Baltimore, MD
lotbfan, I only saw this one, but I'm tempted to go back to Goodwill and see if there are any more.

killian, See if there are any bars in your area that specialize in Belgian imports and ask if they'll hold them for you. I have like 20 extra and will go back to my local for more so I have enough to bottle a second and third batch. That should mean I'll have 100+ bottles in rotation (!!!). Looks like I'll have to build some crates to store these on their sides.

Burgs, thanks. I'm super proud of this project. I may focus on Belgians for a couple of years. Not seeing too many homebrewers doing this with this bottling technique.

mychalg9, only if you have that five dollars I loaned you in second period. Hmm, let's see, with 20 years of interest ... ;)

n_g, my wife shot the bottling pics and I did the "sampling" pics with a Nikon D60. She's really starting to eclipse me in her photography eye.
 

Jaysus

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 2, 2008
Messages
947
Reaction score
27
Location
H'burg, PA
Excellent!

have you considered dipping a few in wax and laying them down for a year or two?
 
OP
JetSmooth

JetSmooth

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 2, 2010
Messages
1,869
Reaction score
47
Location
Baltimore, MD
Yeah, I might do that in champagne bottles with corks and crown caps once I've perfected this recipe. Though, I think a tripel may last longer, though. I expect these will peak at six months.
 

bknifefight

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 18, 2009
Messages
1,950
Reaction score
124
Location
PA
Great read and I love the pics. Is it a good idea to keep beers on their sides, as you mentioned? They would be in contact with a cork which is better than a metal cap, I imagine but I have heard keeping them on their sides is bad because more beer is exposed to the "air" in the bottle.
 
OP
JetSmooth

JetSmooth

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 2, 2010
Messages
1,869
Reaction score
47
Location
Baltimore, MD
I do have them all on their sides in a foot locker. I guess there would be more surface area, but I think the more important thing is to keep the cork from drying out. The beer carbonating should be producing Co2 and filling the head space. I wouldn't think that's as big of a risk.
 

jezter6

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Supporter
Joined
Nov 1, 2006
Messages
4,287
Reaction score
16
Location
DARLINGTON
Hey Jet - if you ever find yourself needing that capper/corker again - it's the same one I have and I'm only a few miles away if you find yourself 'in need.'
 

nakeddog

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 24, 2010
Messages
99
Reaction score
6
Location
NYer in Helsinki, Finland
I do have them all on their sides in a foot locker. I guess there would be more surface area, but I think the more important thing is to keep the cork from drying out. The beer carbonating should be producing Co2 and filling the head space. I wouldn't think that's as big of a risk.
You don't need to worry about the corks drying out. With the co2 pressure internally the cork won't dry out. I can't speak for beer, but Champagne/sparkling wine is recommended to be stored standing up, even with real cork.

Nice job, BTW. I am gearing up to bottle my Belgian Strong next week, but I am using Champagne bottles with plastic corks. Didn't want to invest in a proper corker yet.
 
OP
JetSmooth

JetSmooth

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 2, 2010
Messages
1,869
Reaction score
47
Location
Baltimore, MD
Hmm. Maybe it's that it's okay for corked bottles to be on their sides while it's not for crown caps because the caps could corrode/rust. Maybe I can rethink my storage strategy then. :)

I opened a second bottle last night, to see where it was after two weeks. This one was with the Wyeast 1762. I thought this would be a better flavor because I preferred it during fermentation. But it was a lot flatter and had a sweet and winey flavor. Not bad, but not as good as the 1388.
 
OP
JetSmooth

JetSmooth

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 2, 2010
Messages
1,869
Reaction score
47
Location
Baltimore, MD
Hey Jet - if you ever find yourself needing that capper/corker again - it's the same one I have and I'm only a few miles away if you find yourself 'in need.'
Cool. Even if I'm not brewing again by December, I may bring a bottle or two by the MD brew day.
 

pnh2atl

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 5, 2009
Messages
216
Reaction score
3
Location
Georgia
I do a Belgian Ale every year for Christmas and cork them like you did. They run about $4 each for the bottle, cork and beer and it is easily the biggest bang for the buck I get at Christmas. I've got 10 gallons waiting for me to get around to it.

 
Joined
Aug 28, 2008
Messages
64
Reaction score
3
Location
Santa Maria, CA
I brew a Belgian Dark Strong every Spring, and then cork and cage a few bottles. I like the finished product when I take it to special events the following fall/winter. I use almost the same exact process, but I save bottles though out the year to build up a supply.

After a 2 month warm conditioning I put them in the bottom of my beer cellar and try to forget about them for a couple months.
 

movet22

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 26, 2011
Messages
211
Reaction score
18
Location
Haddon Heights
Sorry to revive an old thread, but a question for the OP:

how and where did you get those labels?? They are amazing! Do share your info!

PS- this thread has inspired me to try my first belgian. Prost!
 

29thfloor

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 28, 2011
Messages
261
Reaction score
8
Location
Pt. Pleasant
I'm planning on doing this with the Belgian Dubbel I have going right now. I saw that you ended up using 36 bottles - was this a 5 gallon batch? I'm just trying to figure out how many I need.
 

BrewThruYou

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 13, 2010
Messages
1,685
Reaction score
46
Location
Ambler
I'm planning on doing this with the Belgian Dubbel I have going right now. I saw that you ended up using 36 bottles - was this a 5 gallon batch? I'm just trying to figure out how many I need.
He mentioned his was 8 gallons of beer.

5 gallons would net a little over 25 bottles of Belgian 750ml. 5G = 18,927ml / 750 ml = 25.23
 

wedge421

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 29, 2008
Messages
952
Reaction score
14
Location
Harrisburg, PA
I did one batch of my dubbel like this and to this day I cant believe how much of a PITA corking is with that corker
 

BrewThruYou

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 13, 2010
Messages
1,685
Reaction score
46
Location
Ambler
I did one batch of my dubbel like this and to this day I cant believe how much of a PITA corking is with that corker
Yeah, I have one too. Did maybe 17 750ml Belgians, 2 375ml Belgians (empty Russian River), and the rest 12oz longnecks.

It's definitely an arduous process of removing the bottle after the cork gets stuck in there. I found it a lot easier to insert another cork and try to squeeze that down - the force would pop the bottle free.

I'm bottle conditioning until the holidays...I hope everyone appreciates how much work it was!
 

nebben

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 6, 2008
Messages
1,143
Reaction score
15
Location
Now legal in Utah
I've used my Gilda corker with excellent results. Just put the cork in, place firm pressure onto the corker, which is square on top of the bottle, and press it in most of the way. Done. No disassembling, no fidgeting. Reload a cork, put it on a freshly filled bottle, put the arm down part-way, release grips, repeat.


It took me maybe 2 or 3 corks on water filled bottles to practice, but once you get it right, you'll get it right every time, and it's wicked fast.
 
Top