It’s been a couple of weeks now since I started the Christmas Brew process, and so far, the operation has been rather slick. This has been helped by installing taps on both of my fermentation vessels, eliminating the trickiest part of the whole process – siphoning! The taps also came into their own on bottling day.
I paid about £5 for a bottling wand – a rigid plastic tube with a valve on the end. Pushing the bottom of the bottle up against the valve lets the beer flow out of the wand and into the bottle. The best part is that there is no guesswork needed when it comes to leaving room at the top of the bottle. Simply fill the bottle to the brim, lower it away from the wand, and then the removal of the wand leaves just the right amount of space at the top. When I did my first brew, I had the bottling wand attached to a hose, which in turn was attached to the fermenting vessel. This meant a lot of crawling around on the floor for me and my wife. This time, I attached it directly to the tap. This made the process significantly easier, despite the absence of my wife!
This time round, instead of bottling all the beer, I decided to purchase a couple of 5L mini kegs. These will be great at Christmas when sharing the beer with friends and family! There was a downside. In my first brew, I decided to batch prime (add all the priming sugar to the vessel, then bottle from the vessel) rather than add sugar to each individual bottle. This worked a treat and ensured consistent carbonation of each bottle. This time, however, that was not an option, since the easy kegs cannot take the pressure generated by the usual ratio of priming sugar to beer, therefore batch priming would result in under-carbonated bottles (since I bottled half, and kegged half). I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to try carbonation drops, which are essentially sugar cubes. However, when I went to Wilko to buy some, there homebrew section was a sorry sight – no yeast, no carbonation drops, and a very sparse selection of accessories. This meant I had to result in adding a half-teaspoon of brewing sugar to each bottle. This was a very messy and sticky experience that I wish never to repeat. It will also result in inconsistent carbonation in the bottles. Oh well, not to worry.
To my surprise, I actually ended up with almost the advertised 36 pints. I have 2 x 5L easy kegs and 14 x 500ml bottles (with nice purple caps to distinguish them from my last brew). I also had a couple of cheeky pints from the dregs left in the bottom of the vessel – these were surprisingly nice.
All round, a much smoother operation than the first brew, and I have high hopes for the quality of the beer too. Only time will tell. All I can say for now is: roll on Christmas!