A week ago on Saturday, I finally got around to bottling that big Irish red ale that I had been hoping to have ready in time for Christmas. Unfortunately, work, life, and the holidays got in my way. On the bright side, this batch got a nice extended bulk aging, so I'm hoping that it will be truly ready as soon as it is fully carbed.
A quick aside - as you may have noticed from the photos of my beers, I use custom bottle caps; I still very much enjoy making my beers look good. I recently received a fresh order from bottlemark.com, and I have to report that I am very pleased. The color is much more uniform this time around (the background color of the cap is the same white as my logo background), the ink is sharper, and all in all, the caps look great.
In my last post, I really bragged on my wife, and on the fantastic haul of brewing gifts I received for Christmas. One of those gifts was a 45 bottle tree and a vinator. I knew that these were well reviewed items, and I figured on getting them one day, but I had not asked for them.
After one use, I can honestly state that I have no idea how I've managed to bottle for a year without them!
Under my old process, sanitizing was a pain. I would create a couple of gallons of sanitizer solution in my bottling bucket, dunk as many bottles as I could fit at one time, then take them out, place them in the dishwasher for draining, then repeat the process again. This would take me four batches to get the entire two cases' worth of bottles ready. Of course, being paranoid about sanitation, I would first run the dishwasher on the hottest setting while totally empty for a complete cycle; I didn't want to pick up any loose food particles or other potential contaminants in my bottles.
Yes, I could have skipped the dishwasher step, but that ends up leaving a fair amount of solution in the bottom of each bottle, which I don't get with them inverted. Needless to say, the process was a pain.
The vinator/bottle tree combo saves me at least an hour in sanitizing time. It could not be simpler; invert a bottle on the vinator, pump it three times, hang the bottle on the tree, repeat. The only minor issue is that the tree only holds 45 bottles, whereas two cases of beer totals 48; this means that I have to stop partway through bottling to sanitize three more bottles. I'm happy to do it.
Furthermore, the bottling tree saved me further time - plus a lot of effort standing up, grabbing a handful of bottles, sitting down, repeating. Instead, I was able to place my full bottle tree on the ground within arm's reach of my spot on the floor. The bottling bucket is on my countertop; I simply grab a bottle from the tree, fill it, place it into a nice line, grab another bottle. When a column of bottles is gone, I rotate the tree slightly. The only break again was in grabbing those last three bottles.
From there, I grab my Red Baron wing capper, cap the bottles, and toss them in cases. I think that my entire time was cut down to somewhere between a half and a third of the time that the bottling process took me in the past. In short, I cannot recommend this $46 worth of gear highly enough ($27 for the tree, $19 for the vinator at Austin Homebrew)!
A final note - you may recall that I was really worried about how the big Irish red would turn out after I ran into temperature issues both during the mash and the ferment. I ended up with 47 bottles and 4 ounces of beer from the batch, so I grabbed those dregs and poured them into a coffee cup for a sample. I tempered my expectations before the taste; I had a little hop junk in the dregs, and I am well aware that flat beer from the bucket tends to be watery, sometimes a bit bitter, sometimes a bit boozy to my taste; to date, I haven't really had a sample like this that I truly enjoyed.
This was an exception. I can say without exaggeration that the dregs were delicious. Malty, warm, tasty... these descriptors all fit. I know that beer changes under carbonation, but I am now quite excited at how this beer looks like it it going to turn out.
Tags for this post: bottling, bottle, tree, vintor, sanitizing, sanitation, beer, ale, irish, red