Some Thoughts on Bottle Conditioning

Recently there has been some debate regarding bottle conditioned beers in Cape Town. One of the local bloggers approached brewers with a couple of questions.

Here are our answers to them:

Do you bottle condition any/all of your beers?

Yes we bottle condition all of our beers are the moment, but we have our own way of doing it. I am pretty sure techniques vary from brewer to brewer & brewery to brewery.

What do you see as the pros and cons of bottle conditioning?

Let’s start with the cons
If you don’t know what you are doing the results can be pretty awful.
The beer will probably not be crystal clear.
In many cases you will have consumers who do not know what to expect from a bottle conditioned beer and how to correctly treat bottle conditioned beer. People keep, handle & pour bottle conditioned beers incorrectly resulting in a beer ending up in the glass the way it was never intended.
If you have too much yeast in the bottles, stability issues, such as autolysis, and unwanted haze can be a problem.

Now for the pros
Bottle conditioned beers are alive, unfiltered and unpasteurized.
When a beer is filtered, it passes through a membrane in order to remove excess particulates, yeast, and remaining trub that is less desired in the finished product. Filtering will also remove positive characteristics that contribute to aroma and flavor. Pasteurization is a common practice at larger breweries. When beer is pasteurized, it is heated to 60ºC for two to three minutes, which basically cooks to death any remaining bacteria or yeast. Finished beer can also be flash pasteurized, which means a 15 to 30 second hit of 74ºC heat that’s thought to be a bit nicer to the beer, but it still kills it!
Bottle conditioning, when done properly, can result in beer with a finer + silky carbonation, much better head retention, more complex flavours, longer shelf life, and better aging ability than force carbonated beers.
Bottle conditioned beers change character as they age. Filtered to death, pasteurized beer is simply on a downhill path as soon as it leaves the brewery.

Are there any styles that you think should always be bottle conditioned and any styles that you would never dream of bottle conditioning?

It depends what you want out of a beer. If done correctly you can probably bottle condition anything. Some may say you can’t bottle condition lagers… I do not agree, some of the most interesting lagers we’ve ever tasted were cask conditioned lagers (for all practical purposes cask conditioning and bottle conditioning is the exact same thing).

Some people have said that a beer cannot be considered a craft beer if it hasn’t been bottle conditioned – any comment on this?

Personally I think that is complete crap…

In addition to these questions and answers I have a few more random thoughts & comments:

Due to some issues with a few bottle conditioned beers a few commentators have proposed using force carbonation in Cornelius style kegs and using counter pressure bottlers or a Blichmann Beer Gun.
In theory this can work, but the following must be noted:
Carbonation without proper carbonation stones to dissolve the CO2 into the beer will most probably result in a distinctive soda-bite flavour in the beer.
Carbonation levels can vary between kegs if the carbonation setup is not properly thought through.
You still need a pretty big cooler to keep the beer at low temperatures to properly carbonate & transfer to bottles.
All the added steps present opportunities to oxidize and add bugs to the beer.
Bottling 100+ liter of carbonated beer with a single Blichmann Beer Gun or crude counter pressure filler is a royal pain in the ass.

In the UK cask conditioned and bottle conditioned beer is very common among small brewers. I would almost go as far as saying it is the norm. Just look at the list of breweries on only a hand full of the ones who offer bottled beers do not bottle condition. (The new London brewers have some of the best beers I have ever tried)

On mainland Europe many new breweries are following in the footsteps of UK, Belgian and US brewers. Consequently bottle conditioned beers from small producers are common.

In the USA it varies between force carbonation, bottle / fermenter / brite tank carbonation and hybrid methods. One of the hybrid methods is to cap fermenters / brite tanks to start building up pressure and naturally carbonate the beers. Once this process is complete the CO2 volumes are measured and the quantity of priming sugar and additional yeast is calculated to bring the beer to the desired carbonation level. With the priming sugar and new yeast added the cold, partially carbonated beer is bottled.

I think the decision by most small breweries to bottle condition beers come down to two things:
1. Since the majority of our new brewers come from a home brewing background it is a technique they are familiar with.
2. It is a matter of cost. Most new breweries start quite small. Pressure-rated vessels cost more than 50% more than non pressure-rated vessels. Small pressure-rated vessels are also not that freely available. Force carbonation in large vessels require proper glycol cooling systems to crash cool beer and to keep temperatures low for carbonation. Once carbonated you need proper bottling equipment… And proper bottling equipment can easily cost as much, if not more, than the brew house the small brewery can barely afford if they start up. All these costs add up, thus bottle conditioning may be the only viable option to get things going for many start-ups.

The bottom line with bottling condition is my opinion is: It works great. If you know what the results, characteristics and behavior of the beers will be and you treat the beers correctly it will taste far superior to filtered to death, bland, watery industrial lager!

Running a brewery is filled with compromises. Depending on the kind of operation you run you find a suitable, manageable and hopefully profitable middle ground.

American Home Brewers Survey

According to the survey, there are an estimated 1.2 million homebrewers in the United States, two-thirds of whom began brewing in 2005 or later.

The homebrewing community is in every corner of the country and highly engaged in this hobby,” said Gary Glass, director, American Homebrewers Association.
“From the amount of money spent on supplies to the sheer number of homebrewers, it’s clear this is a growing trend and people are incredibly interested in learning about and making their own brews at home.”

First sales - Apollo IPA

We really thought the day we would actually sell beer would never come. Finally the day of being able to sell beer actually arrived…

On Friday 1 November we sold two cases of beer to Roeland Liquors and another to our neighboring burger joint - The NOB (No Ordinary Burger). The latter sale was actually quite by accident. While we were waiting for the mash rest at the brewery we were enjoying some of the best burgers in town when we started discussing beer with the owners of The NOB. Five minutes later they bought a case. Three cases of beer in total is not much, but it is on par with what we are planning to do… Taking it slow.

A little bit more about the beer that is available…
The first beer we put up for sale is Gallows Hill Apollo IPA. It is not a beer for the feint of heart! Quite frankly we would not really be surprised if a few people do not to like the beer.
It is a seriously hoppy and bitter American IPA. At 6.6% ABV and a calculated bittering of around 87 IBU it is a in-your-face kind of beer. Liberals amounts of Apollo, CTZ (Columbus / Tomahawk / Zeus), Centennial & Cascade make up the kettle and dry hop additions.

Hopefully Apollo IPA sales are fairly good… Next up we will release an American Pale Ale and soon after that probably a session IPA. Watch this space, Facebook & Twitter for more details…

The coming week will be a long one for a couple of small breweries (actually for 10 of them, including Gallows Hill Brewing Co.) while they wait for the winners to be announced in the inaugural SA Craft Beer Championship on Friday… We’ve got our fingers crossed for the beers we’ve entered.

Building a brewery… License approved

We just had to look back through our posts… It has been more than a year since we secured our brewery building and commenced the arduous process of setting up a registered company and obtaining a brewing license.

Getting a propery company, bank accounts and other business items sorted was pretty straight forward. Obtaining a liquor license in our new prohibitionist country was a different story altogether. Strictly speaking - if you read the law properly - it is a fairly simple process: provide the information they ask and comply with the stipulations of the law… Easy !!

This is where you hit one of those “in theory, but not in practice” situations. A bit more than a year ago this process took roughly 6 months. Lately, due to various reasons we do not really wish to elaborate on, it takes anything from 9 months (if you are lucky) to a year. A theoretical 6 month hurdle is really a 9 month or longer dragged out, frustrating affair…

At least that is behind us now… Our brewing and liquor sales licenses were approved and we are good to go!

While our liquor lawyer was jumping through hoops to get the paperwork in place we sorted out a few things around the brewery. Most of it with the help of our usual, very good contractor.

Our walk in cooler box and fermentation chamber were installed at the end of 2012.
Half of the concrete floors in the production area was ripped out and replaced with new sturdy floors and proper drainage.
The future tap room, small office area, ablutions and kitchen were also given some much needed attention.

Slowly but surely we are sorting out the remainder of the tap room as well as the production side of the brewery.

We have decided to take it slow and steady. Rushing into things without proper planning and experimentation is not worth it. So please watch this space for updates…

Beer 101 - Quick Guide to Beer Styles Part 4

Finally the last bit of “work” before the beer starts to flow.

Even though we South Africans do not have the stout drinking culture like the Irish, we do love a pint of the black stuff. Most of our craft breweries have a rich, dark beer in their line up.

For some new beer drinkers a stout or a porter may be a little overwhelming, but can still be very enjoyable.

The word stout, meaning a strong black beer, goes back at least to 1630. The term was applied to the “stout butt beers” that would later go on to be named “porter”. Stout forms a widespread and varied family of beers whose members all share a deep, dark, roasty character.
Origin: Stout is the son of porter and largely outstripped it and has various sub styles from dry to sweet, weak to strong.
Flavor: Always roasty; may have caramel and hops too.
Aroma: Roasty malt; with or without hop aroma.
Balance: Very dry to very sweet.
ABV: 3.8-5%
Body: dry to full bodied
Bitterness: medium to high (30-40 IBU)

Far from being invented porter emerged over a generation or more,transforming itself from an assemblage of brown ales into a pedigreed family of chestnut-colored brews that was eventually named after transport workers who were its most visible fans.
Origin: London, about 1700.
Flavor: Creamy roasty-toasty malt, hoppy or not.
Aroma: roasty maltiness; usually little or no hop aroma.
Balance: Malt,hops, roast in various proportions.
ABV: 4.0-6.5%
Body: Medium
Color: Brown to black.
Bitterness: Low to medium-high (20-40 IBU)

With most of these beers on show at Cape Town Festival of Beer, try them all and better yet compare different ones form different breweries. You may just be able to charm a brewer with your new found knowledge out of a free pint or two.

(This post is adapted from Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher)