Before getting into it, I have Words of Advice for first-time homebrewers:
DO NOT try to siphon beer the hard way with a plain racking cane and hose. Don’t be a pleb like me, thinking you can get away with regular siphoning. You will end up wanting to hang yourself with your own siphon hose. The effort, frustration, and time is not worth the cost savings. Just buy an auto-siphon. Trust me. (Unlike me, my colleague friend made some wise upgrades for his first homebrew)
Anyways, back to the beginning.
Making the sanitizer again
I learned from at least some of my mistakes last time.
This time, I did the math for a quarter batch, so I wouldn’t make a full five-fucking-gallons of solution.
7.085g Star San to 4.73L distilled water. (Uneven numbers are annoying; my jugs were 4L even, so I had to measure out a bit extra.)
Which brings me to the distilled water. Apparently, the solution will keep “indefinitely” if you use distilled water. (If you have hard tap water, you’re supposed to toss it after just a few hours.)
But here was a new lesson to learn: keep your Star San upright, or the paper insert from the cap gets all gross.
Is it beer?
It was time to take the lid off and see if there was beer in there… or a new mold civilization…
The lid was exceedingly difficult to get off, and I needed J’s help.
He said “It smells awesome!” So that was a good sign. I agreed that it did indeed smell like a malty beer, and not poop.
Aside from the floating rafts of yeast pirates (sailing the high seas of ale), it looked and smelled like beer. A nice amber colour, I thought.
Struggling with the Hydrometer to check Gravity
In case you’re a newb like me: the hydrometer is the thing that measures the “gravity”.
Through my learning process, I would keep forgetting what “gravity” meant (as I admit on the Glossary post). So, for everyone’s benefit:
Gravity describes the concentration of malt sugar in the wort. The specific gravity of water is 1.000 at 59F. Typical beer worts range from 1.035 – 1.055 before fermentation (Original Gravity).– Mr. Palmer from How to Brew Glossary
Instead of remembering this, I had focused more on what numbers I was supposed to hit. Which would be fine, except I’m not particularly good at that either, lol. On the “brew day”, I was too tired to really determine the exact number for the Original Gravity (OG).
Anyway, I decided to go through the motions of checking the Final Gravity (FG), to see how far off mine was from the recipe’s FG. If mine turned out to be way off, I had no idea what I was supposed to really do about it.
After sanitizing the stuff, I gingerly dunked a “test tube” into the beer (trying to avoid disturbing the yeast bros). Then, I dunked the hydrometer into the tube, sending excess beer splashing.
(I’m sure I aerated the beer too much in this activity, but my aeration transgressions were about to get much worse later.)
Similar to last time, I squinted at the buoying hydrometer and tried to make out the number at the liquid line… “What the fuck am I looking at?”
Going by the instructions that came with the hydrometer, I was supposed to read the number where the meniscus crests. (Right?)
You’re not supposed to take the reading when it’s leaning on the sides… but it never stopped leaning. I could nudge it towards the middle, but it would lean again. “How the hell do people do this?”
Putting that detail aside, I still didn’t know what I was looking at… it kinda looked like the reading was between the 1.000 and “10” line (1.010?)… so I was like, “Is that supposed to be 1.050?!” Long story short, we watched a couple videos about this stuff, and I just decided my reading was “close enough”. Or maybe not, who the hell cares.
The “Priming” sugar
Priming = adding some fermentable sugar prior to bottling. This carbonates the beer.
The recipe instructions recommended “5oz of priming sugar for a 5 gallon batch”.
Well, I was fairly certain this wasn’t going to end up being 5 whole gallons in total (despite how often I’ve said the phrase “five-fucking-gallons”). I wasn’t sure how much dextrose to actually use.
I didn’t want too little (the yeast have to eat, man) or too much (I don’t want the bottles exploding and creating modern art on my ceiling).
How to Brew recommended 4.7oz corn sugar (brought to a boil with 2 cups water) for 5 gallon batches.
I decided to go with a tad less than that (4.6oz).
None of this was very scientific.
Washing and Sanitizing bottles
I should’ve listened to myself and done this part the day before.
I’d thought the flip-top bottles were already mostly clean, but I peered inside and most of them had residue on the bottom. For most of them, I let them soak in hot, soapy water for a bit. Similarly, I could’ve sworn I’d been good about rinsing out my growlers, but some of them had stuff at the bottom too.
It was also annoying that some growlers were too long and couldn’t be submerged in my small-batch sanitizer…. maybe I should’ve made five-fucking-gallons of the solution after all. I ended up pouring sanitizer into the growler and swishing it.
The whole process of washing and then sanitizing the bottles took me at least 1.5 hours.
Transfer to “Bottling Bucket”
You’re supposed to siphon the beer from the fermenting bucket to a new bucket (leaving the gross stuff and yeast rafts behind).
To prepare for this activity, I sanitized the racking cane, tube, and tube clamp. I did not have an auto-siphon, and planned to use the pleb method:
Fill the hose (attached to the cane) with some water or sanitizer while holding it up to keep the water from draining out either end. Put the racking cane into the beer, and then lower the hose to start the flow.– How do I start my siphon? on r/Homebrewing
Not as bad as sucking on the other end, but this is still pretty basic.
I had a brief victory of getting the tube attached to the cane (run it under hot water).
I decided to do some rehearsal siphoning before attempting the real thing. I had the clamp on one tube end and also practiced with clamping and releasing.
Guys, this is not easy. At all. I got annoyed and just decided….
I put the fermenter bucket on top of the chest freezer (gravity is supposed to help) and the new bucket on the floor. With the tube full of sanitizer and the clamp closed, I put the cane into the beer, and the clamp end into a container (to let the sanitizer come out until the beer comes out). I tried to take care not to let the cane suck up yeast from the bottom of the fermenting pail.
I must’ve summoned the homebrew gods who smiled down on me in that moment… it actually worked. It was a homebrew miracle. I transfered the siphon to the new bucket, and let it flow.
I fumbled with the new bucket a bit (the hose was short) and then realized I could put it on a chair (still lower than the fermenter).
This was a short-lived victory. While taking the lovely photo you see above, the cane shifted a bit above the liquid level and the flow stopped.
This was the beginning of a very annoying pattern that would prevail through the bottling process, which is as follows:
- Flow stops (because the cane shifts or something)
- Sanitize the cane and hose again
- Refill hose with sanitizer and reattach to cane
- Attempt to restart siphon (letting initial sanitizer and bit of beer go into another container at first)
- Rinse and repeat
Anyways, here’s where I stopped siphoning from the fermentor. I couldn’t get much more beer out without getting the gross stuff.
I added the cooled “priming sugar” liquid to the beer in the new bucket. You can probably tell, but that is still not 5 gallons of beer there.
The actual bottling (Finally)
There are not many photos of this, because it was tricky and a huge pain in the ass…
That pattern I mentioned earlier was a huge frustration. Every time the siphon crapped out, I wanted the throw the damn thing across the kitchen. I didn’t keep track, but it must’ve happened at least 10 times, and there were many unsuccessful restarts before a successful one (the homebrew gods are fickle, I guess).
Not to mention the fact that I’d try to close the clamp at the due time (1 inch shy of the top), but I sometimes couldn’t get it to cinch all the way fast enough, and then beer would spill over.
A lot of loud cursing happened.
I was also concerned by all the incidental aeration that was likely happening (the hose was not that long, and I couldn’t get the end of the hose all the way to the bottom of the bottle). I think some bottles were filled better than others. Eventually, I pulled the clamp higher so I could get more of the hose into the bottles.
Eventually, (40 minutes in) it seemed that I needed to raise the beer bucket higher. That helped a little bit, but I ended up with about 2 inches of beer still left in there.
This is the point where I really hit the wall. It seemed impossible to get that last bit siphoned out. I tried so many times to get it going again. I was almost desperate enough to just suck on the end of the tube to get it going again, but contamination seemed like the worst thing here.
Finally, I just couldn’t do it anymore.
I was thoroughly frustrated like last time. And my hands were completely pruned (I’d given up on the gloves long ago… too cumbersome).
I threw the cane and hose aside, sanitized a fucking funnel, put that funnel into a growler, and just poured that fucking beer into the growler. I was aware that this was far from proper procedure, and likely over-aerating the beer, but I seriously didn’t give a fuck. And over-aerating seemed preferable to contamination with mouth bacteria. There was still some left after the growler, and I put the remainder into a flip-top bottle.
Appropriate labels were made…
This bottling process alone probably took an hour.
Moral of the story: buy a fucking auto-siphon.
And now, we wait the 2 weeks. Hopefully they don’t explode.
I’d intended to do a separate post on yield, but never did.
The actual yield of this homebrew (the beer that made it into bottles, including the “over-aerated” ones):
- 4 growlers – 7.67 L
- 5 flip-top bottles – 2.5 L
Total volume: 10.17 L
Total “loss”: 8.73 L
(Recipe target was 18.9, lol)