Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Bootle or Keg?

As a novice home brewer, very early in my experience I encountered the “bottle or keg” dilemma.
Bottles clearly offered several advantages including availability, cost and transportability. Not surprisingly, bottling was my first choice as I embarked on this new hobby.

Very quickly, however, I learned that all was not as simple as first appeared. Most Ontario beer bottles now come with the “twist off cap”. The neck of these bottles is made of thinner glass that will not support the downward pressure when crimping caps. To this challenge, three solutions were considered. Green plastic bottles with twist off caps were available at the brewers’ supply outlet. Beer in plastic bottles? Yuck! Brown glass bottles could also be purchased but my Scottish blood could not fathom this expense. Hence, I staked out the Brewers’ Retail and intercepted two cases of Miller’s High Life bottles being returned for deposit. 

My first attempt at filling bottles proved quite messy. I was using a plastic syphon hose and pinching off the flow when the bottle filled. Spillage and drips were everywhere. The five dollar purchase of a 3/8 inch bottle filler eliminated the mess. This device allows a perfect fill every time without spillage.

While the caps and capper to seal the bottles are relatively inexpensive, I quickly found that I did not have the temperament needed for an assembly line. Filling and capping fifty bottles proved a difficult challenge for my concentration span.

Perhaps the greatest disincentive to bottling stemmed from the carbonation process. In order to carbonate the bottled beer, a small amount of corn sugar must be added to each bottle before capping. This sugar reacts with residual yeast cells to produce the needed carbonization but also produces a small amount of residue as part of the chemical reaction. This residue accumulates in the bottom of the bottle. While the residue is harmless, if not careful when pouring, it will cloud the appearance of your beer when presented in a glass. 

Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before the option of kegging my beer was considered.

Hours were spent developing an understanding of kegerator design and the mechanics of the Cornelius kegging systems. YouTube proved an invaluable resource in this endeavour. Over time, the needed parts and equipment were acquired from various auction houses. My kegerator is made from an old refrigerator that offers sufficient space to house a 20 lb. CO2 cylinder and two “Corny Kegs”.  I have mounted two taps and a drip tray on the door. This has proven an amazing storage and dispensing system, but one that dictates the investment of considerable time and possible expense. 

Patience are an asset when kegging. While the carbonation of the beer can be “forced”; much better to crank up the pressure to 30 lbs. and leave it a few days. Your waiting a few days to savour the new brew will be rewarded by an eventual glass of sparkling, clear liquid.

Now the only thing I need is a couple of growlers. This will get the boys off my back at our next poker game as they have now visited my home and sampled the delights that flow from my basement treasure chest.

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