This post is part 4 of our recent homebrewing adventures. You can view part 3 here.
It's been awhile since I've updated our homebrewing progress on the site. There's some reasons for that and they aren't all that we've been really busy with other things. The first time we tried the beer we thought we had a critical failure on our hands. It was very disheartening but I will get to that in a bit.
When I ended our part 3 post we had just transferred the beer to the carboy for secondary fermentation. There it sat for about two months. This time span was relatively uneventful. We had to top off the water in the airlock several times due to evaporation and a layer of sediment formed at the bottom of the carboy. That's about it. We were very excited when it finally came time for bottling day.
In order to carbonate beers that aren't going to be kegged and tapped with CO2 you have to bottle condition them. This is done by added some sugar back to your beer prior to bottling. With an airtight seal on the bottle and some new food for the yeast to eat, they will theoretically kick back into action just enough to add carbonation to the beer. Given the long amount of time that our beer had sat in the carboy, I was worried that all of the yeast would have settled out, not make it to the bottles, and we'd have a flat beer. I did some reading on the subject ahead of time and adding additional yeast was apparently not necessary unless it was aged on a secondary for much longer (six or more months). Our original recipe kit instructions did not call for adding any yeast either, so we went ahead with the bottling procedure.
We used some organic cane sugar boiled into a simple syrup for our sugar addition. We poured that into the bottling bucket prior to using a handy auto-siphon to pull the beer from the carboy to the bucket as well. I had read online that you do not want to add oxygen at this phase of the process. To achieve a good mix with the simple syrup, the siphon tube was left at the bottom of the bucket to continually circulate the mixture as it filled.
With the bucket full, we moved on to bottling. We decided to use 22 oz bottles, some of which we bought and some of which we recycled from previous beer purchases. They took quite a while to clean and sanitize. It was a monotonous job that would have been even worse if we decided to use 12 oz bottles.
The homebrew kit I received as a gift came with the necessary tools for the bottling process, a capper and filling wand. The filling wand was ingenious in its simplicity. It has a spring loaded plug at the bottom. You put it inside the bottle, push the plug tip onto the bottom of the bottle, and start the flow. When the bottle is full, quickly lift the wand off the bottom of the bottle and the flow stops. Convenient! We discovered during the process that allowing the beer to fill to the brim of the bottle while the wand is inside gave the perfect amount of empty space in the bottle after the want was removed.
After the bottles were filled and capped, we boxed them up and put them in the corner of the room to condition. Our recipe said that this step would take two weeks so we marked the calendar and started waiting. After precisely two weeks we cracked one open to drink. This is how the pour went.
Not very exciting is it? Notice a complete lack of any frothy head? As we tasted it, our fears were confirmed. The beer was more or less completely flat. I was heartbroken and immediately assumed that my suspicion was correct. All our yeast had dropped out during the secondary fermentation and there was nothing left to carbonate the beer. Heather wasn't so sure though. She said that maybe we just had to wait longer so I started asking around and doing a lot of reading. The room we stored the bottles wasn't super warm during the wait, which could have definitely slowed the yeast. I also read many accounts of homebrewers saying that two weeks was never enough to carbonate their beers. With this knowledge we decided not to give up hope yet.
Curious if the temperature had anything to do with it, Heather took one bottle, wrapped it in a towel, and stored it in her seed starting shelf. Thanks to warming lights, that shelf usually sits somewhere in the mid 70s. We left that test beer on the shelf for about four more days and then cracked it open to try.
It had some carbonation! We were very happy it made a difference though we weren't convinced it was quite carbonated enough. With that knowledge we decided to put the boxes full of the rest of the bottles underneath the warming shelf and give them another week and a half before we tried again. After that amount of time they had been bottle conditioning for four weeks.
The time had finally come to try our now four week bottle conditioned beer. The video below shows how this pour went.
Eureka! Look at the head it generated! It even tasted great! The carbonation was right where we felt it should be and it definitely drastically improved the beer. It was finally something I wasn't embarrassed to share with others. It definitely tastes like a Belgian beer though honestly it may be a bit more like a strong dark than a tripel in both color and flavor. It's a bit hard to say whether or not the elderberry is coming through. It definitely doesn't scream elderberry flavor but there is a mild fruitiness. Our hopping screw-up from back on brew day didn't cause any major problems either. It's possible that there is a bit of a bitter tinge to it but nothing that bothers us. We can't wait to have friends and family try it!
This definitely won't be our last post about our homebrewing adventures. As I write this we have already brewed two more beers but haven't been able to try them yet. These were all grain recipes too! We invested in a mash tun and learned a lot about that process. I will definitely share the results soon!