Beer-Off: From barrel to bottle

Watching the beer ferment was not so exciting. It was still a bit smelly and took up valuable bench space in our kitchen, but eventually I stopped thinking the ‘blooping’ noise was a dripping tap.

The instructions for the Coopers Australian Pale Ale recommends fermenting between 21-27 degrees but the guy in the home brew shop had recommended slightly lower at between 18-20 degrees over a longer period to achieve a better taste. I think he used some other descriptive beer words but to be honest I really only heard ‘better beer’ and decided to give the guy’s advice a go.

The temperature in our kitchen can go from very cold over night to really warm during the day, especially when I’m cooking with the oven, so ensuring the beer remained at a consistent temperature meant keeping an eye on the thermometer and adjusting the position of heat belt wrapped around the barrel, and usually turning it off during the day and back on at night.

Eventually the blooping slowed right down and Dave suggested we bottle at about 10 days. I realised I hadn’t finished buying up the really swish Japanese beer bottles I’d started to collect and when we went to get the rest they were out of stock. In a panic we then bought a dozen of similar looking bottles and invited the other house up for dinner to empty them with us. They didn’t hesitate to help the other team out here. I’m a bit disappointed in the new bottles as they don’t have the same clean lines as the original style did and look a bit more like your average stubbie.

Hallmark card hits the spot
Hallmark card hits the spot

After the rush of getting the bottles ready (read drunk), Dave then advised the beer was still blooping a bit much and it would be better to wait as this process would be more important than time in the bottle. In the end we waited nearly another week, so the beer had been in the barrel for around the 17 day mark, but 16 from when the yeast went in.

The equipment we used for bottling included the bottles, bottle caps, Coopers DIY Beer carbonation drops, oven, chopping board, the barrel of beer, bottle filler (long plastic tube that fixes onto the barrel’s stop tap) and a bottle capper.

Dave showed me how to set up a very efficient layout for bottling process. Bottles in the oven for sterilising, up onto a chopping board sitting on the cooktop ready for filling, drop in the carbonation drops (1 for the stubbies, 2 for the long necks), hold the bottle so the spring loaded end of the bottle filler touches the base of the bottle and voila, the beer spills out. Fill the bottle to the brim then pull the bottle away from the filler to release the pressure. This leaves a nice air gap in the bottle. The filling was probably the trickiest part, but after a few goes I got into a rhythm that didn’t involve most of the bottle being filled with foam.

Dave was a bit tired and hungry so gave me really short answers when I butted in to ask questions like, ‘is that just sugar’ and ‘what’s the plastic tube called’. I had one of those grass is greener moments and thought how Glenn would give me a longer explanation, but then imagined Lex staring at Glenn secretly wishing he’d give her a much shorter answer. So I just read the back of the drops packet (sugar and glucose to be exact) and googled the correct name for the tube (aka bottle filler).

I’d forgotten I hadn’t decided on which colour bottle caps to use yet and knowing that Lex had black ones, I went with the green instead. And gold for my lucky 13 bottle – but I can’t reveal too much about him yet!

I hear that Glenn is very excited about how excellent their beer tastes already, but I have to admit that even though I only licked a drip off from the back of my hand from some overflow, I’m pretty sure mine just tastes like beer. Dave did reassure me that I do know how to pick the taste of bad home brew, like the dodgy Pilsner he did once…

There was one green bottle cap hanging on the wall...
There was one green bottle cap hanging on the wall…

Read how I began the beer-off  process in ‘Beer from a can‘.


Beer-Off: Beer from a can

I’m not a beer connoisseur by any means. I like it, but fancy variations like schmancy wheat waved over the spring of sacred waters tends to be a bit lost on me. So I chose to make my go-to beer when faced with too many options on tap, the good old pale ale.

The guy in the home brew shop Moonah’s ‘Brew By You’, didn’t bat an eyelid when I told him my sister were having a beer-off, but he did enthusiastically give me advice for a reliable pale ale for a novice beer brewer (or maker as we’ve been advised by Glenn) to make. I walked out of there with a tin of Coopers Australian Pale Ale, a pack of Half and Half (consisting of 45% dextrose, 45% light malt and 10% corn syrup), and because I’m indecisive, a pack each of black and green bottle lids.

Eight plus years of cooking together has made Dave and I pretty harmonious in the kitchen  – I plan the elaborate meal and Dave cooks it.  So for us this was a reversal, where Dave had to patiently instruct me and try not to take over when my technique was not up to scratch.

Our house method was to find the equipment carefully stashed under the desk in the study, fill up the barrel and leave for a few hours sterilizing, empty and leave to dry. Warm the can in some hot water for easy dispensary into a quarter barrel of hot water to dissolve with the Half and Half  mixture. I made this first part a little too hot so even after adding cold and ice water, then had to wait for it to cool down to get between the recommended 21-27 degrees before adding the yeast. This is where I wished we’d started earlier in the day as we ended up waiting over night and had to heat it back up to 22-24 degrees before stirring in the yeast. I got anxious that the yeast wasn’t going to activate so when Dave called me into the kitchen later to tell me it was about to start, I had my eyes glued to the air bubble in the airlock s-bend for a good five minutes before I jumped for joy as it went ‘bloop’ for the first time. After that I kept thinking the kitchen tap was dripping.

I will admit I’m a little worried my conservative choice of beer isn’t going to be fancy enough compared to Lex’s choice of Indian Pale but only time will tell!

Dad used to wrap his barrel in a jacket, Dave wasn't so sure it needed one so I settled for a scarf.
I remember that Dad used to zip his barrel up in a jacket, Dave wasn’t so sure it needed one so I settled for a scarf.

Next up the bottling process in  ‘From barrel to bottle’