Saturday, December 8, 2012

12-12-12 Bottling Day

It's been almost a year since I brewed up the 12-12-12 Wee Heavy.

It spent from 4/14/12 - 11/03/12 in an oak barrel, and then the month of November in my kegerator.

The original intent of this beer was for a bunch of us on the homebrewtalk forums to all brew a similar recipe, and then swap bottles of a beer one year later.  The ultimate goal was for all of us to share each others beers on 12-12-12, and then provide feedback.

I don't think the 12-12-12 date is going to be hit, as I just shipped out my bottles yesterday (12/07), and I don't know if my trading partners have shipped theirs yet.

But that's ok - if their beers are anything like mine, a 12% ABV beer with this much sweetness is not something I want to drink multiple glasses of in a night.

Anyway, when it came time to get the beer bottled to do a swap, I figured I might as well just bottle the entire keg, and free up the spot on my kegerator for something I'll want to drink a bit more frequently.

My bottling setup is pretty low tech.  I've got a machined metal piece that fits securely in my perlick taps, which I picked up on the forums as well.

This is then fitted tightly into a length of 1/4" food grade tubing, with a plastic racking cane at the other end.  You can see there's a rubber stopper on the racking cane - that's used to form a seal on the top of the bottle.  Assembling the piece and the cane together took some work - I had to actually boil the tubing to get it flexible enough to hold both pieces.  I wound up doing this because my initial attempt at this used 5/16" tubing, and the pieces would pop apart under pressure.

Basically, my process begins when I sanitize everything - bottles, caps, capper, the bottling wand, even the tap - and set up a station next to my kegerator.  I fill the bottles inside a large Tupperware container to handle any potential spills and to have a sanitary surface to work in.  I have a glass pitcher full of sanitizer that the wand sits in between rounds, as I only fill and cap 8 bottles as a time.  To fill a bottle, I have the tap shut off and I put the bottom of the racking cane in the bottom of the bottle.  I then slide the rubber stopper down the cane to create an airtight seal at the top of the bottle, and turn on the tap.  I burp the stopper up during the filling to release the pressure, but this process keeps the beer from foaming in the bottle, and reduces the amount of oxygen introduced while bottling.

All told, it takes about 10 minutes to sanitize 8 bottles, drain the sanitizer out, fill, cap, and set up for the next round.  I was able to get 33 bottles of the Wee Heavy bottled.  I probably drank about 6 bottles worth, lost at least half a dozen in evaporation while in the barrel, and lost a few more bottles during the numerous transfers this beer went through:
Fermenter -> Keg -> Oak Barrel -> Keg

This is a crazy beer.  The first few glasses I had, I wasn't sure I liked it.  It has a heavy sherry and boozy flavor from the barrel.  This is due to a combination of oxidation in the barrel, and the booze flavors it picked up from the barrel itself.

But the beer grew on me - it's unlike anything else I've ever had.  It finishes a bit sweeter than I'd like, and I don't think I'll ever want a full bottle just to myself.  But I'm glad I made it - it was one hell of an experiment, and I know a lot more about doing something like this if I ever choose to again.

I'll throw up another post in a couple weeks with a side by side tasting of mine vs. the others I traded with.

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