Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Art Of Cold Crashing Your Beer

The majority of home brewers that I've met over the years have never bothered to filter their beer before packaging it. The truth is most of the home brewed beers I try at club meetings and competitions are remarkably clear without ever having undergone any filtering at all. As an avid home brewer myself I stopped thinking about filtering my beer a long time ago. Like so many other home brewers did before me I discovered that really clear beer could be packaged by just following a few easy steps.

Enjoy Your Beer Cold, Clear And Colorful
What Is Cold Crashing?

I'm not really sure how the term 'cold crash' originally became part of the home brewing vocabulary though. I understand that the 'cold' part of the terminology refers to dropping the beer's temperature down to only a few degrees above freezing. I guess the 'crash' part of the terminology refers to having to do so as quickly as possible. The physics behind cold crashing is what causes the yeast, proteins and other solids that are otherwise suspended in your beer, to clump together, become heavier and eventually fall out of suspension. All those unwanted particles then sink to the bottom of the fermentor where they form a compact layer of trub leaving the beer above it clean and clear.

Never Worry About Chill Haze Or Floaties Again
Why Cold Crash Your Beer?

I cold crash all of the beer I brew to help give it a crisper, cleaner more colorful finish. Although chill haze isn't considered to be much of a problem when packaging some styles of wheat or darker colored beers, it can be an issue in lighter colored beer styles. While there is no adverse affect to beer flavor or taste due to the presence of chill haze in a glass of beer it is considered to be a flaw by most brewers. If left unchecked chill haze can cause 'floaties' to develop, clumps of yeast and protein matter that are bound together but are not heavy enough to ever settle out of your beer. Instead these clumps will just end up floating around inside your glass suspended in hazy beer for all to see.

Nobody Wants To See Floaties In Their Beer
When Is The Best Time?

Once my beer has reached it's final gravity signalling the end of fermentation, I start the cold crash cycle by lowering the temperature controller setting down to 40F. I do this to prevent the controller from initially undershooting the 40F temperature and unintentionally freezing the beer. The next day I drop the temperature down to 34F and let the beer sit there for up to a week before kegging it while it's cold. Force carbonating beer while it's cold is very efficient because Co2 dissolves much easier in a cold liquid.

Another benefit of force carbonating refrigerated beer is that the beer inside the kegs will continue to cold crash as it's being carbonated. This additional time that the beer spends held near 34F allows any remaining yeast, proteins or other solids to sink to the bottom of the keg. Only the smallest amount of debris should settle to the bottom of the keg at this step. The goal now is to serve clean pours so you don't want to be sucking up any trub into your first few beers.

Force Carbonate The Beer Cold, Clean And Quickly

After the moving the clean beer from the fermentors to the kegs you should now see a compact layer of trub stuck to the bottom of the fermentor. The trub layer acts as a trap that holds coagulated yeast, hop and protein debris inside the fermentor preventing any of the debris from getting into your kegs. If the debris were allowed to mix in with the beer again on its way to filling the kegs it may be impossible to prevent chill haze from forming in your finished beer. The debris also contains astringent tannins and other material that in significant enough amounts will contribute to the development of off flavors in the beer.

The Trub Layer Can Keep Debris From Entering The Finished Beer

Depending on how often you get to brew it can take several years to perfect every step in your brewing process. From grain and yeast selection to mash temperature to boil length and volume it's easy to see how a brewing process is made up of many different steps. With the goal in mind to brew the clearest cleanest tasting beer possible there are a few other tricks to keep in mind in addition to cold crashing your beer.

Tips For Producing The Clearest Beer
  • Adding WhirlFloc or other fining agents to the boil kettle just before flameout will help the proteins, tannins and hop particles to clump together while the wort is still boiling. 
  • Putting hop additions into fine mesh hop bags is also a good way to reduce trub in the kettle during the boil.
  • Using a whirlpool to compact the kettle trub so it doesn't get pulled along into the fermentor where it takes up room. 
  •  Waiting 20 or so minutes for any kettle trub to fall to the bottom of the kettle before moving the clean beer above it to the fermentors. Once the whirlpooling has stopped it can take that long for the smallest trub particles to settle out of the wort into a neat pile on the bottom of the kettle. 
  • Compensating for fermentation trub loss by transferring an additional quart of wort per five gallons of packaged beer to the fermentor reduces the chance of trub getting into the packaged beer.  

Whirlpool, WhirlFloc And Let Settle Before Transferring The Beer
  • Cold crashing the fermented beer before packaging it gives the yeast and other debris time to drop out of suspension and settle to the bottom of the fermentor. Depending on the flocculation rate of the yeast used to ferment your beer it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for the yeast to settle out.
  • Carbonating your beer while it's still cold allows the cold crash process to continue as the beer is being carbonated. Since Co2 is more easily absorbed by cold liquids your beer will also carbonate faster than if it were carbonated warm.

In Conclusion

Every time I transfer wort or beer from one vessel to another I see it as an opportunity to reduce the amount of trub it contains and a way to further clean up the finished beer. Preventing chill haze and floaties from ruining the appearance of an otherwise perfect glass of beer is just one of the benefits of removing trub as you go. When using a plate or counter-flow chiller to cool your wort its also a good idea to keep their insides as clean as possible in order to prevent clogging and ensure a more effective sanitization.

Knowing your brewing system is also very important when it comes to calculating your wort and beer volumes. How much extra wort is needed in the kettle to allow for boil off, hop absorption and kettle trub loss? How much extra wort should you transfer to the fermentor to allow for fermentation trub loss? After spending time brewing a batch of beer the last thing you want is to come up short on the amount of beer you'll have to package. The crush of your grains, the chemistry of your brewing water and other things influence the clarity of your beer and make great topics for another day. Based on the information presented here today and a little effort you too will master the art of cold crashing your beer. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Using The Blichmann BeerGun™

This month I share my very first experience using the Blichmann BeerGun™ to fill up some 12 ounce bottles. Previously in last month's update I documented how I connected the BeerGun™ to my existing kegging system. Since getting the beer gun connected I was able to brew a batch of my Orange Sunshine Belgian Witbier and put it on tap. This beer tasted so good and I enjoyed drinking it so much that I decided to bottle it up and take it with me on vacation. So with ten gallons of this delicious tasting beer force carbonated and ready to drink all I had to do was sanitize some bottles, hook the beer gun up and fill them up for the trip. 

I started to appreciate the benefits of filling bottles with carbonated beer right away. Having the same level of carbonation in your bottled beer as you have in your draft beer is definitely a huge plus. For one thing you no longer have to wait weeks for natural carbonation to occur then hope the beer had carbonated the way you planned. Bottling beer cold right from the same keg you've been pouring your drafts from eliminates any inconsistencies in carbonation levels. Another added bonus is not having to worry about the trub produced from priming sugar clouding up the beer. This becomes even more important when transporting or shipping bottles as they lay on their side getting jostled around.

Blichmann Beer Gun All Ready To Fill Some Bottles

Getting A Handle On The Handle

The first time I used the BeerGun™ to fill bottles it took me a little while to figure out the best way to maneuver it around the brew room. At first I wasn't used to working with something that trailed beer and Co2 lines behind it wherever it went. It didn't take long before I learned how to grip the gun comfortably enough to try and fill a few bottles. Soon after filling those first bottles it was easy to remember how the gun worked. Pressing the small button valve released Co2 from the tip of the beer gun into the bottle to purge it of oxygen. The flat handled valve when pulled back slowly released cold carbonated beer from the tip of the gun filling the bottles from the bottom up.
The steps required to fill the bottles were simple enough. Stick the beer gun barrel into the bottle until the tip touches the bottom of the bottle. Press the button valve for a few seconds to release Co2 inside the bottle to purge any oxygen from the bottle. Pull the flat handle valve to release cold beer into the bottle filling it up from the bottom to the top. With the bottle filled with beer remove the gun from the bottle and then place the tip of the gun even with the top of the bottle. Press the Co2 button valve and release it to replace any oxygen in the neck of the bottle with Co2. Lay a bottle cap on top of the bottle loosely to prevent anything from falling inside and to hold the Co2 in place until you're ready to cap the bottle.

Co2 Connections Go To Beer Gun And Keg

Get Organized And Keep It Cool

I found it much easier to move the gun and tubing around from place to place when both the gas and beer lines were neatly twist tied together. In this way the two lines acted like a single line with both bending and flexing together at the same time. Doing this kept the lines from twisting and kinking and putting a lot of unwanted strain on the gun itself. When filling six or more bottles at a time having as little resistance as possible on the gun makes the job of filling bottles much easier to do.    

When filling the bottles I recommend putting the bottles in a container deep enough to hold any beer that is sure to be spilled. I didn't use one and had to hose down the unpainted brewroom floor once I was done bottling, that's probably not something you will want to do inside your home though. Another thing I did was to setup my filling station so that the beer in the kegs would stay cold inside the refrigerator the entire time the bottles were being filled. The beer and gas lines sneak out through the small opening left between the refrigerator and the door's gasket. Filling chilled bottles with nice cold beer is the best way to reduce or eliminate foaming when bottling.

Cold Carbonated Beer In The Refrigerator And Beer Gun Ready To Go
I came up with a brilliant idea for chilling down bottles after they have been sanitized without having to put them inside a freezer. A large cooler holds about 30 twelve ounce bottles standing up with bottle caps loosely covering their tops. With the bottles covered so nothing falls inside them I carefully laid mats of frozen ice packs on top of the bottle caps and closed the cooler lid. By the time I finished sanitizing the beer gun and connecting the Co2 and beer lines the bottles had all been chilled down nice and cold and were ready for filling. I found that filling the cold bottles with the inside of the bottles still slightly wet with sanitizer helped to reduce foaming even more. 

Sanitized Bottles With Loose Bottle Caps On Top
The cold ice packs placed on top of the bottle caps does a great job of cooling down the bottles in preparation for filling. When filling them I was surprised to see that many of the bottle caps had sealed tightly to the tops of the bottles creating a slight vacuum that could be felt when lifting the caps off. It's always important to maintain good sanitization practices during the filling process especially if you plan on storing your bottled beer for several months before drinking it.

Reusable Ice Packs Are A Good Way To Chill Bottles

Settle In And Get Comfortable

I like to fill my bottles while I'm sitting in a chair and the bottles, caps and capper are on the floor next to me. This way I can reach into the cooler and get six or so bottles ready to fill and then cap them without having to get up. Once you get yourself organized the plan should be to rip through the filling process as quickly as possible. Even when using a beer gun the process of bottling beer is not exactly in my top five list of fun things to do.

Getting Comfortably Setup And Organized Saves Time
For my setup I turned the Co2 gauge down to read between 3-4 pounds of pressure. I found that setting worked the best to push the beer into the bottles without foaming while providing enough force to purge the bottles of air before and after filling them. I first inserted the barrel of the gun down to the bottom of the bottle and pressed the Co2 button for a few seconds to replace any room air in the bottle with Co2. Doing this will help to preserve the beer and prevent it from oxidizing while stored in the bottle.

Purge Room Air From Bottle With Co2 Before Adding Beer

Filling The Bottles With Beer

With everything needed for bottling laid out and within easy reach it didn't take long for the process to develop a nice rhythm. Remove the cap then purge the air, fill with beer then purge the air, replace the cap then do the next, then cap, then cap, then cap... In between all the filling and purging eventually you'll need to put the beer gun down for a while to use both hands for something. Having a bottle or container that's filled with StarSan and sturdy enough to hold the gun without tipping over comes in handy. I also kept a small dump container nearby to use when emptying beer from the gun or bottles if needed.

In Between Fills Put Your Gun In A Holster That Won't Tip Over
The barrel diameter of the beer gun is designed so it will leave just the right amount of headspace above the beer once the bottle has been filled and the gun removed. By placing the tip of the barrel just above the top of the bottle and giving the Co2 valve a short squeeze any air in the headspace will be replaced with Co2. This extra step is recommended especially if you plan to store your bottled beer for an extended period of time. After only a few tries the task of purging room air from the headspace in the bottles became intuitive and very easy to do.

Purge Room Air From Headspace With Co2 Before Capping
Simple Care And Maintenance

Soon after a bottle filling session it's important to clean out the beer line and gun in order to keep it working like new. Cleaning the gun and line is no different than cleaning out your beer tap and serving lines. A corny keg connected to a Co2 gauge and filled with a half gallon of StarSan works perfectly to flush any beer out of the gun. After pushing about a quart of StarSan solution through the beer line and gun replace the StarSan in the keg with clean warm water and repeat the process.  

One brewer I know reported having an issue with the little rubber stopper on the end of the beer gun. He claimed the rubber stopper on his gun became soft and sticky after an extended time sitting in StarSan. For that one reason alone I prefer to give the gun and lines a good rinse with clean warm water after running StarSan through them. Another brewer claimed the rubber stopper on his gun came off and landed inside the bottle he was filling. Once that happened the only way to stop the beer from flowing was to disconnect the beer line from the keg.

After filling about 60 bottles I haven't had either of those things happen to me. Fortunately replacement parts for the Blichmann BeerGun™ are readily available in case you need to order additional parts at any time. The replacement tip can currently be ordered from the Adventures In Homebrewing website for less than $3.00 USD. You can also order Blichmann BeerGun™ replacement parts from any of their many authorized dealers.

It's All Good

It's been nearly a week now since I returned home from vacation where the real test of the beer I bottled took place. Out of the 30 bottles I took with me only three of them found their way back home. The rest of the beers were shared with some of my beer loving family members who really liked it a lot. The Orange Sunshine Belgian Witbier is a nice refreshing session beer that's just perfect on hot summer days and warm summer nights. More than that each beer was evenly carbonated and very clean tasting right out of the cooler even after a 110 mile drive down the Garden State Parkway.

Looking back I have nothing but fond memories of a vacation shared with family, filled with good food and plenty of great tasting beer. For me nothing could have been more rewarding than to have tested out a new bottling method and knowing it passed with flying colors. Going by the results of a long holiday weekend get away I have every reason to think bottling beer for long term storage will prove to be just as successful as this short run. In fact I have ten gallons of my Hiphopapocalypse IPA that's nearly ready for packaging and plan on using my Blichmann BeerGun™ again soon.