My first homebrewing day had gone well if a little shaky. My first bottling day was worse.
Ready? Steady? What?
I set up everything in advance for Bottling Day. I had a draining rack to drain out the excess sanitizer from the bottles. I had space for the bottling vessel. I had a bowl to sanitize the caps in. I had my bench capper and a bottle for my wife to practice on before we got started.
My wife found a little plastic storage box in the bedroom that worked perfectly to hold sanitizer solution. It even had little wheels on it!
I sanitized my tubing, my bottling wand, and my spoon. Most importantly, I sanitized the inside of my bottling vessel and spigot. Once I took out the tubing and other things, the bottles would go into the solution for a couple of minutes, then into the draining rack, then into the process.
The plan was to take the beer out of the chiller and set it on top. The bottling vessel would sit on a chair about a foot and a half below the level of the fermenter. I would fill the transfer tubing with sanitizer (it’s in the storage container already, above), keeping my thumbs over both ends. The upper end would go in the beer and the lower end in the bowl that’s on the floor in the photo below. The bowl has sanitizer in it, too.
I’d release both ends of the tubing. Sanitizer would flow out into the bowl, followed by beer. Then I could put my hand into the bowl of sanitizer and use my thumb to cover that end of the tubing. That way I could transfer that end into the bottling vessel, release my thumb again and beer would flow.
And it all worked.
The only problem was, I forgot about the priming sugar solution that my wife boiled up for me. I didn’t put it in the bottling vessel before I began transferring the beer.
I should have just kept transferring but I didn’t. I stopped and drained the tube into the bottling vessel. Then I stuck the tubing back into the storage container of sanitizer.
The priming sugar went in then.
Trying to restart the flow the same way I did at first didn’t work. It didn’t work several times now that the level in the primary fermenter was lower. The more it didn’t work, the more upset I became. I was screwing it all up!
I broke a cardinal rule at that point. I sucked on the end of the tubing like I was sneaking gasoline out of a car. It worked, but my germs were now introduced into the process. Would that affect things? Maybe so. Read on:
Now We Bottlin’!
The beer was transferred to the bottling vessel. The bottling vessel was put up on the counter. The first batch of bottles went into the sanitizer. One end of the re-sanitized tubing was stuck onto the bottling vessel’s spigot. The other end was stuck on the bottling wand.
Except that the flow from the spigot was really weak. It couldn’t keep up with the flow into the bottles.
I later found out that there was an excess flap of “flashing” that was covering the hole of the all-plastic valve when the spigot handle was turned. Geez!
Okay. I’d have to hold the tubing in the beer while my wife bottled and…who was going to cap? I asked my wife to get me a kitchen snack bag clip and I clipped the tubing to the bottling vessel. Score!
Until the clip sprung off and went – you already know where it went, I bet. Yup. Right into the beer.
Now I had my germs and whatever was on that bag clip in the beer. Why? Because I hadn’t thought to sanitize the bag clip.
Things got worse from there.
My wife held the tubing while I filled the bottles. When we ran out of bottles, I held the tubing while she put bottles into the sanitizer. I love my wife.
We began by using 500ml Paulaner bottles that I had saved.
And the caps went on crooked. If they didn’t go on crooked, they popped off the bottles by themselves. I went through a bunch of caps, swearing merrily all the way. You could say I was mad at this point.
We switched to using 330ml bottles that I had saved. The caps went on a little better but most were still crooked. I was still mad.
The Cap And Funnel Mistake
Once we were finished with the 330ml bottles, I went back to the 500ml bottles and tested the caps. I put pressure on the caps under one part of the rim and tried to pop the caps off.
Out of a dozen capped bottles, I only got seven with caps tight enough to not pop off under thumb pressure.
I honestly don’t know what else I could have done to avoid the next mistake. I could either try to save the beer or dump it out of the 500ml bottles. I tried to save it.
All I could think to do was the grab my stainless-steel funnel, sanitize it, and pour beer from the 500ml bottles into 330ml bottles and then cap those.
I know I introduced a lot of oxygen into the beer by doing it and I paid for it later.
After conditioning in the chiller at 20ºC for a week, I put two 330ml beers in the fridge overnight.
When poured, I got a nice head in the glass but no real carbonation. I tried a 500ml. That had a much better head in the glass but still no real carbonation throughout.
The beer tasted good. Just flat.
Two days later, I noticed a film had formed on the beer in the 330ml bottles (no film on the beer in the remaining 500ml bottles).
After doing a lot of searching online, I believe what was on the surface of the beer was a “pellicle”. It forms when there’s oxygen available to the beer. Technically, it’s an infection but none of the beer smelled or tasted bad.
Was it from my mouth germs? From whatever was on the bag clip that plopped into the beer? Was it from the crooked caps? What about pouring the beer from one bottle into another? Or all of that?
I don’t know.
I learned a lot on Bottling Day 1. I made a bunch of mistakes, many avoidable.
I have since bought an auto siphon which will solve me contaminating my beer with mouth germs.
The piece of flashing has been removed from the spigot on the bottling vessel. Like a 20-year old with a normal prostate, there should be a strong flow.
The capping bothers me. I measured the bottle tops to be sure they were the regular size before I saved them. The caps should have gone on fine.
After another massive round of searching online, I found a number of references to people having problems with crooked caps when using the Ferrari Super Agata bench capper I have and caps from Northern Brewer. People using a Ferrari Red Baron or Emily wing capper and Northern Brewer caps do not have the crooked cap problem. I have a Red Baron and caps from a different source on their way to me now.
I have four cases of 330ml bottles and a case of 500ml bottles. I really don’t want to have to give those up. I really can’t see how the bottle tops differ than any other beer brand I’ve bought here.
We’ll know the score when the capper arrives.