Time to go back to the land: Planning to be as off-grid as I can - in the process there'll be music, guns, guitars, a smattering of politics (really kind of over that), CNC routing, yeah - a bunch of other stuff, too. Conservative with libertarian leanings - no wookie suit, yet. Μολὼν λαβέ - ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒE
So the “brewing beer” part is done and your beer has been in secondary for at least two or three weeks now. Let’s look at the process and equipment needed for bottling homebrew beer. We’ll need to gather and sanitize bottles, caps (or PET bottles and caps), a bottling bucket, a bottle filler, a bottle capper, and priming sugar. Of note – many (most) – of these items will come standard in a brewingstarter kit – making that an excellent option.
Row o’ bottles
As always – SANITIZE EVERYTHING!
The first step will be to elevate your fermenter bucket– kitchen counter or workbench height works great. I usually move my beer at least several hours ahead of time to allow any sediment to settle. It’s also a good idea to put a book (or a board) under the back side of your fermenter to tilt it so you have the maximum depth above any sediment for your racking cane.
*Note to self: Don’t use your brewing books for this as you might need them for reference! (DAMHIKT)
Mix a small batch of One Step to sanitize your bottle caps – just leave ’em submerged in the sanitizer until you need them. Dissolve 3/4 cup (4 oz) of corn sugar into 2 cups of boiling water, cover and let cool. You can substitute 2/3 cup of white sugar if that’s what you have on hand. Rack your beer into your bottling bucket and gently stir in your priming sugar solution with a sanitized brew spoon.
Let’s get to it – Bottling Homebrew beer
Now it’s time to move your bottling bucket onto your counter or bench. Using your bottle filler, slowly and gently fill each bottle to within 3/4 inch of the top. The level will drop a bit when you remove the filler leaving the perfect amount of headspace. I replace the stock bottling bucket spigot with this which allows me to attach the filler directly spigot – no tubing needed – filling the beer bottles by just lifting the bottle up to touch the filler tip. Put a cap on your freshly-filled bottle and crimp it on using your bottle capper.
Using a Red Baron (Emily) capper for homebrew bottling
Set them aside in a cool dark place to let the yeasties do their carbonating magic! Give ’em two weeks (or more if you can stand it)!
This is the type of bottle capper included in most kits – easy to use, and sturdy. You may have problems with some bottles – it prefers the standard “longneck” style.
The Super Agata Bench Capper is a nice upgrade – this is my go-to capper. It works with a wide variety of bottle sizes and types (it has a nice adjustment range). Unlike handheld cappers, the shape of the bottle neck is not critical.
couple of batches using traditional methods and the other half in PET bottles with carbonation drops. I could not tell the difference myself, nor could beer aficionado friends detect a difference in blind tastings!
Bottle conditioned beer.
What about Kegging?
At some point along your brewing journey, your thoughts will turn to kegging – I’m just an enabler by suggesting it so early, right? 😉
Why on earth would you want a potato planter, anyway? Don’t potatoes grow just fine when direct-sown in garden soil? They certainly do – but higher yields with less work are very appealing to me. Forcing the plants to grow vertically conserves garden space, and increases your harvest!
There’s no fresher produce than home-grown.
The concept –
Instead of direct planting, some folks use tires, buckets, or tubs as planters to grow “lazy bed” potatoes. This planter box method has some distinct advantages. Made with recycled pallet lumber, cedar, redwood, or even pressure treated boards, this design works quite well. I know there’s controversy over the safety of pressure treated in contact with food plants – so you’ll have to research and make that decision for yourself! For purchased lumber, I’ve found fence or deck boards to be the most cost-effective.
Note: If you are fortunate enough to have a supply of black locust lumber readily available, call me!
What does it look like?
This simple design shown below allows you to add layers of compost-rich soil, along with the boards of your choice as the ‘tater plants grow, causing the potatoes to grow upward. This creation of vertical space gives the plants more room for a higher potato yield as the season progresses. It also provides an opportunity to unscrew a bottom board and sneak in an early harvest of new potatoes!
Let’s build one –
You’ll see that constructing your very own potato planter is simple. You’ll need four vertical stakes, a pile of boards, some Torx T25 wood screws, seed potatoes, and some composted garden soil mix. Dimensions are really not critical – just use what you have readily available.
For mine, I ripped some 2-by lumber into 1 ½” x 1 ½” x 48″ stakes. I cut a point on each of them using my miter saw. Again using the miter saw, I cut the fencing boards for the sides into twelve pieces measuring 25 ¼” and twelve pieces measuring 24″. Next, I used my Irwin Quick Grip Clamps to clamp the top and bottom 25 ¼” boards to two of the vertical stakes – leaving a 5/8″ overlap on each side. I pre-drilled all of the screw holes to limit splitting. It was much easier to lay all of the boards out on each side and do the pre-drilling at once.
Space the bottom board at least 12″ up from the pointy end of the stakes. This will allow tapping them into the ground with a rubber mallet. Repeat this procedure for the opposite side. I continued assembling mine on my workbench, then took it out to the garden for final installation. When you first plant, you will start with one or two “courses” of boards. You will then add composted dirt mixture and side boards as the potatoes grow. Time, water, mulch and in a few months:
So, what do you think? Isn’t brewing all-grain beer fun?
Back to the end of the brew notes from the brewsession – I’m sure you noticed that after I whirlpooled the wort I didn’t use any form of accelerated cooling. While many folks use wort chillers (immersion, plate or counterflow), for this session, I just covered the kettle and waited for it to naturally cool to 185°F which takes about 25-30 minutes. More on that in just a sec…
Remember the bag of spent grains? Now that they have had time to cool, it is a good time to get ’em out of the bag and into a plastic bag or pail. What? you were going to throw them away? Nope – use them to cook with, make dog biscuits, feed ’em to your Euskal Oiloa Chickens or put ’em in the compost pile. You do compost, right? Just be sure to use them in moderation in the compost pile and stir the pile to aerate and encourage the aerobic bacteria! No waste, no worry.
Back to the brew process…I then transfered to a sanitized Winpak® Tight Head Pail that I used for fermenting…you’ll want the 70 mm wrench, too. Those caps seal very well…pretty much impossible to remove by hand.
Australian No-Chill Method
This natural cooling technique is known as the Australian No-Chill Method. By sanitizing the Winpak® Tight Head Pail with One Step and then filling it with 180°F wort, no contaminants will survive. Once you’ve tightened the screw cap, turn the Winpak® on its side and gently roll it around on the floor – now you’ve heat sanitized as well. You can leave the wort to cool overnight…possibly longer if need be…
While it might not be for everyone, it works great for me and makes imminently drinkable beer with a much-shortened brew day. That’s a WIN! (If no-chill is not for you – there’s a few links at the bottom for more traditional cooling equipment…)
As you fill the Winpak®, reserve about a quart and a half into a 1 gallon glass jug. Cap that off with a screw cap and place it in a sink of cool water to speed chill it for a starter. When you get to pitching temperature of 70-80°F, add your yeast, agitate well and cap off with a Twin Bubble Airlock and Carboy Bung.
The next day, verify the wort has cooled to pitching temperature, use the wrench to remove the cap from your WinpakÂ®, swirl the yeast starter and pitch (add to the wort). Cap the Winpak® with a number 11.5 bung and an airlock. You may want to use a blowoff setup for the first couple of days.
Cleanliness is next to…better beer
Good, you’re still with me…
Whether you’re intrigued or horrified, at least you’re still reading!
So far we’ve cut our necessary equipment by 2/3, time spent on brew day by a couple of hours and we are still making good beer! Icing on the cake? It costs less than $1.00 in power per brew session – compare that to the cost of propane!
The wort is now fermenting away as the yeast does it’s job…in a week to ten days it will be time to rack the beer to the secondary fermenter. I’ll keep it in secondary for two to four weeks and then bottle or keg…not sure which this time.
Let’s get a bit more in depth with how I put the brew system together:
Make that Electric Brew-in-a-bag All-Grain Homebrewing…
Have you tried brewing beer at home? Are you ready for the next step in homebrewing – but the expense and complexity of a traditional all-grain setup has you stymied? Gather ’round ‘cuz yer old Uncle Scott has the solution!
I’ll show you how to build an inexpensive setup with easily accessible components that will have you brewing all-grain beers indoors that you’ll be proud to share. (Or maybe not – that way there’s more for you!)
Photo: Scott McCray
Time issues and how to overcome them
I initially started homebrewing in the early 90’s as most folks do by brewing extract batches on the stove top. When I realized how good my own beer could be, I was hooked. As time passed, I gravitated to partial mash brewing – then soon after that to all-grain brewing. Unfortunately, the traditional methods for all-grain require a significant amount of equipment and time. You need three vessels – a mash tun, a hot liquor tun, and a boil kettle – and propane or natural gas burners for each. A typical brew day meant dragging all of the equipment outside and dealing with the elements for six plus hours. All of those factors along with working away from home contributed to me hanging up my mash paddle for over ten years.
One day while researching another project, I discovered this little fellow. Compared to the monster rigs I was reading about on the forums, 1500 watts seemed like it might be under-powered. But, hey – light-bulb moment – what about using two of them? I created a spreadsheet to run my calculations and it seemed like it might be doable. This was starting to get exciting!
You’ll need a mash paddle…this fits the bill nicely.
Other components you’ll need
Immersion Heater – 1500 Watt
HEET-O-MATIC 1500W,115V with a length of 7″ below the 1″ NPT fitting. Features a Type 316 stainless steel sheath & thermal probe. Includes an adjustment dial with reference scale of 0-11. Pilot light indicates when unit is heating.
Custom-made Brew Bag
Jeff makes his brew bags from high quality 100% polyester fabric using 100% polyester gutermann thread. The bags have a total of three rows of stitching, although one is hidden in the seam. Of the two visible stitches, one is a reinforced stretch sti
Let’s get started
Drilling for the immersion elements and installing all of the components
Your brew kettle is shipped already drilled for the thermometer and valve, so the first thing you’ll need to do is drill the hole(s) for your element(s). This can be done with a handheld drill – but you’ll need to go slowly and carefully. Step drill bits have a tendency to “grab” as they break through to the next step. Use cutting oil – 3-IN-ONE 10135 Multi-Purpose Oil works fine. Use an automatic center punch to dimple where you want to drill to keep the bit from “skating.” I placed mine about halfway between the bottom of the kettle and the false bottom support ring. (see pic – click to embiggen) If I had mine to do over again, I’d probably shift the two holes about 5 to 10 degrees closer together. This would have allowed the hop screen to fit between the elements – but they all work fine as is.
Once the holes are drilled, use a round file or a Dremel with a Sanding Mandrel to clean up any burrs.
Next, you’ll need to mount all of the hardware using Teflon Tape on all of the threads – don’t forget the silicone rings on both sides of the kettle wall. You’ll need a couple of crescent wrenches (an 18-inch and a 12-inch) to finish tightening the fittings.
Finally, you’ll want to fill the kettle with water to test the seals on all of your fittings. Once you are satisfied that you have no leaks, plug your elements into Ground Fault Circuit Interruptor-protected circuits and bring your kettle to a boil with just water as a dry run (errrrrrmmmm…wet run?). I use my setup in the kitchen of my apartment so I can pull power from two separate GFCI circuits to prevent overloading and tripping breakers. Note: It is NOT recommended that you power this system from a circuit that is not GFCI protected.
Brewing with your new rig
I wrote about this session over here – but this is a bit more in depth…
So your brew kettle passed the hot hydro test and you are raring to go – you do have your recipe ingredients ready, right? Well, I have one here in the hip pocket of my bib overalls I’ll share if you don’t:
This was originally going to be Midwest’s Sierra Nevada Pale clone modified with additional base and caramel malts for a 6 gallon batch. Best laid plans of mice and men and all that. I inadvertently grabbed the grains for a California Common Ale out of stock – as I was mashing I noticed the color was a bit darker than I expected. Oopsie.
I decided to roll with it, so now we have the birth of the California Uncommon Pale Ale. A bit over the top in IBUs for an American Pale Ale, but a tad weak for an American IPA. We shall see.
Safale American (DCL/Fermentis #US-05) Yeast 1.00 pkg
8.75 gallons water @60°F
So let’s get going, shall we? Put the false bottom in your kettle – being sure to put the lifting handle in as shown – away from the thermometer side. This will be critical when it comes time to remove the false bottom after the boil using your brew paddle!
6:10 PM – 60°F
Power On – 100% (Both elements – more on that later).
6:50 PM – 108°F
7:10 PM – 130°F
7:30 PM – 145°F
7:40 PM – Noticed power cord for second element had not been plugged in…d’ya think that could help?
7:45 PM – 164°F
Reduced power on both elements until thermostats clicked off.
Added grains to bag – “Doughing-in.”
7:50 PM – Mash at 153°F – Started mash timer.
8:55 PM – Increase heat – Ramp up to 170°F
9:00 PM – 170°F – mash out.
Reduced power on both elements until thermostats clicked off.
9:10 PM – Pull grain bag out and hang above brew kettle to drain.
Power on both elements (really both of ’em this time)
10:40 PM – 185°F started transfer to sanitized tighthead fermenter
10:45 PM – 180°F – gently tilted brew kettle to get the last of the goodness – Capped tighthead fermenter.
1.5 quarts of wort reserved into sanitized half gallon jug – set in water bath in sink to cool.
10:50 PM – Tightened fermenter cap with wrench – turned fermenter on its side and rolled it around to heat sanitize. Set in sink to cool.
11:00 PM – Dead on OG – 1.056
11:15 PM – Pitched yeast in cooled reserved wort.
11:45 PM – Airlock on yeast starter bubbling already.
8:10 AM – Opened tighthead fermenter – pitched yeast starter. Set up blow-off and left for work.
Two Heet-o-matic 40830 immersion heating elements maintaining a rolling boil on a 7.5 gallon boil size – this was about 20 minutes into the boil. The built-in thermostats were great during the mash to hold temperature, too – but cranked to 11 here. (yes, they actually go to 11 – heh).
…but my blog installation hurked a hairball.
Alas, none of my backups would let me do a direct restore, so I’m manually copying, pasting, updating links, and cursing. In the process, I’m purging out stuff that was really past its due date and preparing to get my slack butt back to writing again.
The page ain’t pretty – I still have a ton more work to do. Please bear with me as I ferret out broken links and try to get things back in good shape…
Update: Automated backups configured – hopefully I won’t have to do this exercise again…
I just can’t get enough of her voice – hopefully Liz Longley will become a household name soon! Funny that two of my favorite vocalists are both Liz – though one proclaims herself “Lzzy” (Lzzy Hale of Halestorm). Enjoy…
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