Bare-Bones Basics #3: Bottling

Bottled beer has been around since the 1500s. Before that, the only real way to get your beer was straight from the barrel. Now, the most common way for you or I to have a beer at home is for us to buy a six-pack. So, how is beer bottled? What gives it the carbonation? Why are some beers more carbonated than others?

There are two major ways for a bottle of beer to have carbonation in it. The first, and original, way for beer to be carbonated was the beer was to be sealed in bottles before the fermentation was finished. When fermentation occurs, it releases CO2. Airlocks in fermentation tanks release this CO2.If the tank is sealed, the CO2 has nowhere to go, and therefore stays in the liquid. Since bottles are airtight, the it continues to ferment, carbonating the bottle of beer.

However, this is more difficult to do than it sounds, since bottling the beer too early in the fermenting process could easily result in the bottles becoming too carbonated, and burst the bottle. This resulted in a modified method of bottling beers. The modern method is to ‘prime’ the bottles. In non-filtered beers, yeast is still present in the bottles. Therefore, just before bottling, priming sugar mixed with water is added to the fermented beer. This allows for a more controlled amount of sugar to be present in the bottle before it’s fermented inside the bottle.

In modern mass-produced beers, bottling is very different. Since most mass-produced beer is filtered, and therefore, lacks yeast to ferment inside the bottle, the carbonation is more directly added. The bottling company simple adds CO2 inside the bottles and the gas enters the liquid.

Some beers, notably Guinness, and other similar beers, like Tetley’s, use Nitrogen for most of their pressurization. The nitrogen is less soluble than the CO2. This means that the beer can be pressurized higher with less ‘fizzyness’. This is why, when you drink it, nitrogenated beers taste so smooth. The bubbles of nitrogen form very small bubbles compared to CO2, leading to a creamy head.

Dark Mild Recipe

The Ingredients

  • 1 lb American Crystal Malt 40L
  • 1 lb Flaked Maize
  • 4 oz British Chocolate Malt
  • 6.6 lbs Liquid Light Malt Extract
  • .5 lbs Brown Sugar
  • 1oz Fuggle
  • 1oz Kent Goldings
  • Suspended English Ale Yeast (WLP005)

The Process

  • Bring ≈3.5 gals of water up to heat.
  • Add crystal, flaked maize, and chocolate malt in muslin bag until the water reaches 170ºF. This should take about 30 minutes.
  • Remove spent grains and bring mixture to boil.
  • Add liquid malt and brown sugar.
  • Return to a boil and add the Golding hops
  • After the boil is completed (60 minute mark) cool, and add an additional 2 gallons of purified water.
  • Add Fuggle hops.

The Stats

  • Original Gravity: 1.058
  • Bitterness: 12 IBU
  • Color: 41 HCU (~19 SRM)
  • Alcohol Content: 6.8% ABV

Using the English Ale Yeast, we set out to create a maltier beer than our other brews. Mild beers were the other side of the coin from Bitters (and ESBs) in English Pubs. Milds weren’t aged for long, so they needed very little hops, the preservative in beer. ‘Mild’ refers to the bitterness, not the alcohol content. However, during World War I, several taxes added to alcohol forced pubs to reduce the gravity of these beers to avoid being taxed. Their minimal amount of alcohol was continued after the war (though it did increase some). This beer is a more traditional Dark Mild than the more modern examples. In the 1800s and before, these beers were anywhere from 5.5-7%.

What can we say? We’re purists.

After this beer is racked from the carboy, we plan on immediately adding a stout directly onto the yeast cake. This will speed fermentation  great deal (also saving a couple bucks, not having to buy additional yeast).

ESB Recipe

The Ingredients

  • 1lb American Crystal Malt 40L
  • 2oz British Chocolate Malt
  • 6.6lbs Liquid Dark Malt Extract
  • 2oz Chinook
  • 2.5oz Fuggle

The Process

  • Bring ≈3 gals of water up to heat.
  • Between 160-170ºF add grains in muslin bag and remove from heat. Allow to steep for 40 minutes.
  • Remove spent grains and bring mixture to boil.
  • Once malt is mixed bring to a boil and add 2oz Chinook hops. Start boil timer.
  • 50 minutes in/10 minutes from the end add 1.250z Fuggle and mix in.
  • After the boil is completed (60 minute mark) cool, and add an additional 2 gallons of purified water.
  • Add 1.25oz Fuggle.

The Stats

  • Original Gravity: 1.052
  • Bitterness: 67 IBU
  • Color: 28 HCU (~15 SRM)
  • Alcohol Content: 5.0% ABV

This should be a pretty standard ESB. We brewed the beer with only two people this time (Tim was out of town) but it went off without a hitch. We’ll tell you how it tasts in a few weeks.