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Late Night with a Blonde, or Bottling my Leffe Blonde Clone

Posted by homebrewdad on 5/08/2012 at 03:28:26 AM

A week ago on Saturday night, I decided that I had waited long enough; it was time to bottle my Leffe Blonde clone. As you may recall, this brew was a partial mash adaption of Revvy's original recipe for an excellent Belgian blonde ale. If you want to see the recipe for my partial mash version, click here.

I have been bulk aging my imperial nut brown ale in secondary, and since I unfortunately broke my other secondary a couple of months ago, I didn't have another vessel to rack the Leffe clone into from primary. However, it had spent four full weeks there; I did not plan to rack it onto fruit, dry hop, add wood, or do anything else odd, so technically, a secondary was really not needed for this beer. Secondaries have fallen out of favor with a lot of homebrewers, and while I have used one in each of my first two brews, I decided to skip this optional step for the Leffe clone.

At 8:00 PM, I brought my carboy upstairs, placed it on the kitchen counter, and wrapped a sheet over it (just to be absolutely sure that I ran no risk of skunkage). I didn't plan to actually bottle until later that night, so I figured that this would give plenty of time for any sediment that I might have stirred up to settle. I was very careful to minimize splashing or shaking the beer, but despite my best efforts, I did notice that a decent amount of trub had been kicked up during my move. This worried me slightly, but I figured that it would settle, and that the cap on my auto siphon would help me keep it out when the time to rack to the bottling bucket came. After all, the cool homebrewers all rack directly from primary when bottling, right?

My next task was to thoroughly clean my bottling bucket, which has doubled as my blowoff bucket when a blowoff tube becomes necessary. On this batch, I had been a little slow to clean out the bucket, which allowed some mold to grow of the ejected krasuen. With this in mind, I gave the bucket (as well as my plastic tubing) an extra strong cleaning with OxiClean, followed by a serious sanitizing. My bucket also wears the hat of "bottle sanitizer" - I submerge my bottles, fourteen at a time, in sanitizing solution then empty them an place them in the dishwasher, where I run them on the heat dry cycle.

This, to me, is the least enjoyable aspect of brewing - bar none. It's boring, it's repetitive, it can be a bit messy, and it takes a while. Finally, though, I had two cases worth of bottles done. On this particular night, the task took longer than usual, as I took several breaks to grab up a foam sword and shield and race through the house with my brewing buddy (four year old Noah), who needed help protecting his kingdom from various monsters.

Once the dry cycle completed, I arranged my bottles. Finally, the time had come to rack the beer to the bottling bucket. Just as I popped the airlock off of my carboy, it hit me - I hadn't prepped the priming sugar. Ah, well. Time to grab my box of brewing supplies, boil up the sugar... wait. Where was my priming sugar?

D'oh. I had forgotten to buy some. I looked up a web-based priming calculator and substituted table sugar - .7 cups, as a matter of fact. This should yield 2.9 volumes of CO2, which was a little strong, but was very much in line with the original beer's style.

With the cooled sugar water in my bucket, I started the siphon. Even though it was now after mightnight, I was still seeing some sediment in the beer, which again worried me. Of course, it was too late to turn back now - I was committed. I made sure that I got a nice siphon swirl going to ensure a good mix of priming sugar... and halfway through the racking process, my auto siphon started to cough. Naturally, it had lost its stupid seal.

I cursed those oxidizing bubbles. stopped the siphon, added a little sanitized water to the top of the tube, then restarted the process. As I got down to the very end of the remaining beer, I realized that this yeast cake - while quite large - wasn't nearly as dense or hard as my last couple had been; I was picking up sediment in my auto siphon, cap or no cap. Frustrated, I stopped the siphon once I got as much beer as I felt safe pulling out.

Bottling itself isn't a bad process; I take a half dozen at a time, sit in the floor, and fill them. I line the full bottles up in twelves, so it's easy for me to keep tabs on how much is done and how much remains. All went well until I started on bottle fourty-four, when my bottling wand stopped working.

That sinking feeling I'd had about the trub? It was justified. My bottling wand was gummed up with hopjunk and similar residue. I disasembled it, cleaned it out, started the flow back (cursing the resulting bubbles from stopping and restarting the flow)... and it promptly jammed again.

I repeated the clean/start over cycle several times, but got identical results every time. A look in the bucket revealed a lot more trub than I would have believed possible.

At this point, I had a choice - press on, maybe remove the bottling tip, and deal with five sediment-filled, oxidized bottles... or give up and dump that final bit of precious beer.

As much as it pained me to do so, I sadly went with the latter option. I'm trying to make great beer; I dont want floaty-filled, wet cardboard beer.

The moral of the story for me is that for now on, I'll go with a secondary. If nothing else, I can pretty much guarantee to leave even more trub behind, which should give me better beer. Primary-only fermentations may work great for some people (more power to them), but for me, a secondary is a step that I won't skip again.

Tags for this post: bottling, beer, Leffe, blonde, Belgian, ale, bottle, primary, secondary

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