itle

Why I'm never using Steinlager bottles for home brewing again

I was bottling beer in the weekend (a nice Miner's Stout) when for the 50th time, the Steinlager bottle I was capping refused to cap as the grippy bit at the top of the bottle neck cracked.

bottle of steinlagerYou see, as the pressure of the bottle capper comes down, the glass simply gives way.

I suspect this is a time / use related issue. Over time, the pressure gets too strong for the glass and it simply breaks.

I've also had plenty of bottle necks completely snap too.

I'm sick of this shit.

So I dumped every green Steinlager bottle that I had into the recycling bin. About 30 of them, collected (and drank!) over the last few years.

Good riddance.

But it's a real shame as the 750 ml Steinlager bottle is a really nice bottle to hold when pouring a beer into a glass. There's something really aesthetically pleasing about it too.

Don't get me wrong though, Steinlager is an excellent beer and one I would recommend to any discerning beer drinker.

So this got me thinking, what beer bottles are really good for using with home brew?

Well, for this brewer, a side effect of the rise in craft beer is that there's a plethora of bottles out there to choose from.

I found that most brown bottles from craft beers in New Zealand are able to be capped really quite well.

But you know what works the best?

750 ml Tui crate bottles.

That's right, the other classic NZ working man's beer has the best bottles for capping homebrew.

While I'm at it, I found a great source of getting bottles for home brew conditioning is by raiding the recycling bins of my neighbours!

Also, I'm still pretty happy about my discovery on how to easily remove beer bottle labels.

How to use a dish washing machine to remove beer labels

If there's one thing that's a pain in the ass when bottling beer, it's removing labels from the bottles. 

Some days it feels like some bastard at the local craft brewery has said,

"Hey James let's get the most gnarly and sticky glue ever invented and use it with our bottles. And while we're add it, let's at a second layer of the world's second strongest glue. Just to be sure"

At least that's how it feels.

Now I've bitched about this before but I recently came across the best way to remove labels from beer bottles.

Use the dishwasher to remove sticky beer labels!


Seriously.

Just run them through a cycle in your dishwasher and that glue becomes unstuck.

The labels can then be easily peeled off in one satisfying motion.

Here's the proof.

I have pair of Panhead and Garage Project bottles prior to going into the dishwasher:

removing beer labels from Garage Project bottle

And here's the after photo removal of the Garage Project Bright Side:

peeling off the beer label

removal of whole beer label bright side

And here we have the shot of the Panhead Culture Vulture fresh out of the dishwasher and the too easy removal:

using a dish washer to remove label from beer bottle

removal of beer  label in one piece

So that's that.

Probably the easiest tip you'll come across for when getting your bottles ready for bottling. Remember, you will still need to sanitise your bottles before filling them with glorious beer.

Using Mackintosh lollies as a beer enhancer

mackintosh toffee lollies

You may have heard of beer kit brewers using 'beer enhancer' before. It's a handy way of giving your beer more body and flavour thus making your beer a more enjoyable drinking experience.

But where I come from, a quality beer enhancer will cost you anything from 7 to 14 dollars. Check out the prices on Amazon if you don't believe me!

If if you're a bit like me, you want to make good beer but you also want to do it fairly cheaply. Now you could simply use sugar instead of a beer enhancer but then your beer might feel thin and watery.

So I had an idea, what if I used a bag of Mackintosh Toffee Lollies as an enhancer?

Where I come from in New Zealand, these malty chews are probably one of the most popular treats around.

If you haven't picked why I would have this crazy idea, it's because of the malt and sugars that are in them. Given beer enhancer has a main ingredient of malt and dextrose, would this lolly be a good substitute for a beer enhancer?

So here's the experiment I ran. I knew I needed to test the effectiveness of the Mackintosh Lollies and I reasoned I needed to use a lager so that any malty flavours from a tin of ale or stout wouldn't mask or overpower any effect of the Mackintosh lollies.

A packet of Mackintosh Toffees costs about three dollars in NZ and for your trouble you get 250 grams in the 'farm pack' size.

So I figured I would need two packets as my enhancer substitute. That still comes in at 6 bucks and is a buck or two cheaper than a standard enhancer I would use.

So given one usually uses about 1 KG of beer enhancer, I also added another variable to the experient. I made up the difference with 500 g of dextrose. Dextrose will be wholly consumed the yeast in the fermentation process so will not effect the 'mouth feel' of the beer but will help the yeast do its job.

I wondered about just throwing lollies into the wort but thought better of it. I melted them in a pot on low heat. While removing the wrappers from two packets worth, I wondered if this experiment was even worth my time and effort.

So I prepared a lager brew using a Coopers Lager (as I've previously noted how these kits are fairly weak in body without enhancers). I let the batch ferment for a week and then bottled and stored them in the man shed. Two weeks later I placed a couple of bottles in the fridge and the next evening I sampled my experient.

Had the toffee lollies worked as a beer enhancer?


My first impressions were how sweet the beer was.

And then I realised the mistake I had made.

Or was it one?

The Mackinstosh lollies had all kinds of flavours such as mint, harrogate and coconut. I could certainly get a sense of these flavours. Not bothersome but there none-the-less.

And then I noticed that the lager had a small amount of body to it. Nothing huge but it was there. The head didn't retain for very long.

From my experience of using a Cooper's lager kit with an enhancer, I could tell that the toffees had added some substance to the beer.

So, a successful experiment from the point of view that the lollies added some mouthfeel to the beer but would I recommend this for future efforts? If I wanted to save a couple of bucks off the price of a standard enhancer, then sure.

But in terms of time and result, it's not worth it. It took about ten minutes alone to remove the wrappers and then a similar amount of time to melt down. If I'm making beer from a kit, I just want to get it done as quickly as possible.

And given that a beer enhancer does a more efficient job, I don't really recommend you use Mackintosh toffees as beer enhancer!

The best way to get labels off beer bottles is by...

The best way to get labels off beer bottles is by... putting them in the dishwasher.

It's that simple.

soaking beer labels to remove themNow you can get on with easily bottling your beer.

Wait. 

You don't believe me?

Trust me, I've considered how to remove labels from beer and wine bottles before.

I had ideas along the lines of giving the bottles a good old overnight soak in products such as sodium percarbonate, powdered Brewery Wash, ammonia and even baking soda.

I'd even contemplated using steam from a kettle.

And they all work to a certain degree but all involve labour and mess and scrubbing to various degrees.

But using the dish washer makes peeling off labels so easy!

Here's how I discovered this most obvious solution to a problem that frustrates many brewers. 


I was rinsing the dishes last night and on the window ledge above me was a bottle with a label that I'd placed their the night before - and it had label I knew was going to be a real pain to remove as I'd suffered through that brand before (Boundary Road from NZ). 

A soak would not be enough, some firm scrubbing was going to be required.

Sigh.

So as I loaded the dishes into the dishwasher, on a whim I placed the bottle into the dishwasher and let it do it's thing. I was thinking about that steaming idea. You know how people apparently use to open letters by using the steam from a kettle as the glue would soften? That's the idea.

Now, I'm the kind of guy that likes to have the dish washer emptied before I go to bed so I don't have to empty it in the morning.

So I opened it up when the wash was through and the first thing I noticed was the brown bottle, with the label 9/10 removed and slipping down the bottle.

The dishwasher trick had worked!

I was able to quickly peel off the label while the bottle was still warm from the heat of the dish-washing process. There was a little bit of residual glue on the glass. A quick scrub with the dish-washing brush and it was removed. Not a challenge at all.

The easiest removal of a beer bottle label I'd ever done.

So now I'm convinced.

No more soaking bottles with chemicals for me. When I need to remove the labels, I'll simply use the dishwasher to help. This will also have the benefit of helping clean the bottles (not so much the inside maybe) and at the very least, the heat of the dish washer will help sanitize and even sterilize the bottles too.

Off course for those without a dishwasher, soaking is still going to be the best way to peel those labels off!

How to properly store your bottled homebrew beer

How to properly store your bottled homebrew beer

You've done the hard work.

You've prepared a nice wort and it fermented well.

Then bottling day came and you got your golden brew safely away under cap.

Now what?

It's time to bottle condition your beer and that doesn't mean you hide it in a under blanket in an old swap-a-crate box and forget about it for a few weeks. 

Well actually you can do this, but it you want great tasting beer there's a few things to think about when storing beer. 

First with the warm and then with the cold


When you are bottle conditioning, you are adding a second round of sugar to your beer. This is so that a second round of fermentation can take place. 

The yeast still present in the beer will eat the sugar and convert it to more alcohol and CO2 - this gas is what carbonates the beer. 

So, just like when you did the first round of fermentation, the yeast does its best work at a warm temperature. So, to properly store your beer so that it is carbonated, the beer needs to be kept warm for a few days. 

The ideal temperature range is between approx 18 - 25°C for 5 to 7 days. 

After week or so, you should leave them in a much cooler place with a temperature range between approx 8 - 12°C. This will allow the beers to condition quite nicely. 

This thing about the correct temperature is real. 

Let me tell you a story. 

In the middle of a New Zealand winter I bottled a lager beer and left it in the shed for about a month. It was cold and the sun didn't warm the shed at all. 

When I when to crack open the first beer, I did not hear that usually reassuring hiss of gas as it escapes from the bottle. 

The silence was brutal. 

My beer was flat. 

So I opened another bottle and had the same result. And again for a third.

I wondered if I had destroyed my beer somehow. 'Had fermentation actually occurred'? I wondered.

Of course it had. What I had done was wrap the fermenter in plenty of old painting sheets which kept the beer warn enough to allow the the first round of fermentation to occur. 

For the bottled beer, the problem was the freezing cold. They had sat in the shed naked as the day they were bottled and bitterly cold. The yeast became inactive and no fermentation occurred. 

The solution was to bring the beers inside. I placed them in the living room and gradually they warmed up. After two weeks I opened a beer and boon, I was rewarded with the sound of CO2 releasing from the beer. The yeast had appreciated the warmer temperature, came out of hibernation and got to work on the sucrose. 

Problem solved. 

Conversely, it is unwise to store beer in too hot a place. For example, don't leave it in a hot attic room all summer. The beer will simply get cooked and probably taste like mouldy cardboard. 

Some points to ponder about bottle storage

  • It's really good to have a storage place where the temperature is maintained at a steady rate.
  • Ales are happy with lower temperatures
  • Lagers are happy with higher temperatures
  • The middle of your house is probably cooler than nearer the outside. That could be a factor where you store beer.
  • If you find your beers are in too hot a place, move them!

There's two other important things that can help with properly conditioning beer


1. Don't be afraid of the dark


Like a vampire, you should embrace the darkness. 

Beer does not like sunlight at all. Especially if you are using recycled green beer bottles. If your beer is exposed to too much light, it is said to be 'light struck' or 'skunked'. 

The UV light causes yet another chemical reaction in the beer - the hops are broken down by the light and they form a new compound when mixed with the proteins in the beer - giving off a horrid smell just like a skunk can do.

2. Now comes the hard part - waiting 


You have to let you beer condition. The rule of thumb is that your beer is probably drinkable after one week but is only beginning to get close to its best tastings at three weeks.

If you've ever found a forgotten beer in the shed that's had three months conditioning, you probably really enjoyed it right? 

That's just proof you need to give your beer time to mature.

How to make beer in less than 20 minutes


If you've ever heard anyone go on and on about 'brewing day' and the 'perfect hoppy IPA' they made, you could be forgiven for thinking that making beer takes all day and only the keenest enthusiasts make beer.

But if you don't have all day to muck around like you're Luke in The Last Jedi and you don't need a milk stout but just want beer, let me assure you that you can make beer in 20 minutes.

That's right, you can make beer in 20 minutes if you're organised.

Here's how to make beer in 20 minutes


Boil the kettle

Take your fermenter. 

Sanitise it with sodium percarbonate. Rinse. 

Add your can of malt to the fermeneter. 

Add your beer enhancer.

Add the boiled water from the kettle

Stir it. 

Add hops

Add water to the 23 litre level. 

Pitch the yeast

Put the fermenter in a warm place. 

Congratulations, you have made beer in less than 20 minutes.

Now store it properly for 3 weeks and then enjoy with my regards.  




Why is there no bubbles in the airlock?

no bubbles, no fermentation?

If you're a new brewer, you might be pretty keen to see some bubbles in the airlock after you've made your first beer.

We can also imagine your concern when you check your beer the day after you've brewed and hear and see no bubbles. 

And you'll have asked yourself:


 Why is there not any bubbles in the airlock? 



That's a fair question to ask and there are often some simple answers which should arrest any concerns.

It could be that there was a leak that allows the CO2 to escape from the fermenter. To teach you to suck rotten eggs, those bubbles in the air lock are carbon dioxide gas, the bi-product of fermentation and so could easily escape of the fermenter is not properly sealed.

You may have not tightened the drum enough or possibly not screwed in the tap properly. It's a good idea to check this is the case before you worry too much about a lack of bubbles.

If you didn't see any signs of fermentation it could be that it's too cold to brew.


Is your batch of beer in a warm enough place? If you're brewing during summer months, it's probably not too cold and your beer will ferment just fine and the bubbles will share in your beer making joy. 

If you've left your beer in a cold place in the shed, then it may be too cold for fermentation to begin. If this is the base then you might want to consider moving your fermenter inside to a warmer place.

If you insist on keeping the fermenter in your man shed, you could consider wrapping it with blankets or old painting sheets like I do. 

This is a handy trick and will help to keep the chill off your homebrew. 

You've checked and you have no leaks so is no bubbles in the airlock really a sign of a lack of fermentation?


The first thing to bear in mind is that it can take at least 15 hours of your Earth time before the CO2 bubbles start gurgling through the airlock.

So don't go drowning your sorrows just yet if the bubbles haven't started. 

If you think that your beer hasn't started brewing there's some very easy problem solving you can try. 

Look for the scum


If you are using a glass fermenter you can look for a dark scum that rings around the water level mark. 

You can probably see it through the standard white fermenter drum as well. If the scum is sticking to the side, at the top of the water line, you can be pretty confident that fermentation is under way and your beer will be just fine!

You can also check for signs of foam. 

A nice foam at the top of the water line also indicates that fermentation is taking place. 

So I'm pretty sure fermentation has not occurred. What happened?


Give it 20 - 48 hours before you start to worry about a lack of bubbles or signs of fermentation. 

Then you may wish to consider other things that could have occurred. 

When you pitched the yeast, did you add it to a wort that was at the right temperature? If your wort was too hot and not cooled properly, your yeast may have died due to the heat. 

If you think you killed your yeast, you can always re pitch with another set. 

Was your yeast fresh? If you were using an old packet, the yeast may have lost its spark and not have enough viable units to begin fermenting. 

Did you rinse out the sanitiser? 


As an expert beer brewer, we KNOW you carefully sanitised the fermenter and all the equipment you used. But did you rinse if off it was the kind that needed it? If you cleaned with bleach, you need to rinse other wise the residue could have killed your yeast.