Happy New Beer!
Where I left off last (year) was with my weaker-than-a-pale-ale-should-be brew in crude-but-effective cool box, bubbling away.
My previous batch fermented in a rapid 3 days, which I found out was because of the high temperatures. With the cool box and the temperature down to a constant 23°C – 24°C, I was hoping to achieve the much read about 7-day fermentation. That didn’t happen though.
After 4.5 days the bubbling stopped and a hydrometer reading of around 1.010 confirmed that a decent amount of sugar had been consumed and that further fermentation was unlikely.
I didn’t rack it over for maturing immediately though.
At some point after I built the box, but before I started the brew, I flew to Singapore on an AirAsia cheapy and acquired a second hand, reconditioned Cornelius soda-keg.
This 19-litre metal wonder was the answer to my bottling worries where temperature control was a whole different kettle of fish. The only niggly bit was the CO² tank, which I didn’t get in Singapore because a) it was prohibitively expensive to buy and b) would have been just as expensive to take back with me considering weight and packaging.
I figured, because there’s plenty of bars serving kegged beer here in KK, finding a CO² cylinder wouldn’t be much of a hassle. But it turned out to be plenty of hassle.
Clock Ticking in the Fermenter
So while I hoped my brew was secretly doing some undetectable fermenting still, I urgently searched for not just a CO² tank, but also a regulator to bring keg and cylinder together.
Leads I followed from friends didn’t yield any results. By day 7 I had to rack over my brew fearing it might start to suffer from the dreaded yeast autolysis. I sanitised the tank and transferred the beer into the keg, being as careful as possible not to splash and oxidise the beer, which could spoil it.
Even though I closed the keg properly, I was fully aware of the fact that the keg doesn’t seal tight unless it’s slightly pressurised. I hoped that the lid alone would sufficiently keep out air until I could add CO².
Because I had 24 litres of brew and only 19 litres can fit in the keg, I had some spare for bottling, which was great for testing over the coming days to see how the beer matured. Which it did beautifully.
A couple of days passed and eventually, through a strange set of circumstances, I guy came and dropped off a filled CO² cylinder for me to ‘borrow’ and didn’t ask any money for it. The next day I found a place that could supply me with a regulator as soon as they got it in stock, which would be the next week.
I opened the keg, and manually blasted the top of the brew with heavier than air CO², hoping it would be sufficient to safeguard the brew until I acquired the regulator.
Eventually MOX (Malaysian Oxygen) got new regulators in stock.
Marty Nachel’s instructions from Homebrewing for Dummies guided me through the carbonation process and soon had my keg pressurised. I tested the brew, and it was awesome. No spoils, no off flavours, just beautiful beer.
My next challenge was issues with carbonation – it foamed too much and had too much CO² in it. I reread the chapter on carbonation searching for things that I missed.
The Science of Carbonating Beer
My first error was the temperature of the beer.
For CO² to properly dissolve in to the beer, the liquid needs to be cooler than 15°C (60°F), which was about 10°C less than what it was in my cool box.
The only solution was to put the keg in my fridge. I have a small fridge. To fit the keg I had to remove all the shelves and the vegetable tray and then I still had to squeeze to close the door. And there wasn’t space for much else – tomato sauce, a few veggies and whatever I could fit in the door.
I propped up the rubber mallet I use for capping bottles onto a box under the fridge door, just to make sure the door didn’t pop open during the night.
My second problem, would I discover as I poured the beer at a ridiculously fast flow rate, was the my duel-gage regulator didn’t have high and low PSI gauges, but instead had a high PSI gauge and a low litre-per-minute gauge.
This is problematic for two reasons – first, depending on the temperature of your beer, you need a relatively low PSI for carbonation – somewhere between 2 to 4 PSI, and secondly when you dispense it the pressure has to be between 5 and 8 PSI.
Because litres-per-minute is volume and PSI is pressure, there is no easy way to convert between the two. And the high PSI gauge is marked from 0 to 3,500, so you can’t exactly fine tune it by only opening the cylinder a bit either.
Through a series of tests over a span of a week, during which I dispensed (and drank) nearly half my keg of beer, I discovered that bringing the flow-rate up to just above where it’s not flowing at all, it’s enough to carbonate the beer sufficiently and dispense the beer without foaming it.
Litres-per-minute, as I discover in my quest to find a conversion, is used in welding and not for beverages. Apparently you can swap in a inexpensive, proper gauge (which would be marked from 0 to 50 or 60 psi) on the regulator – assuming you can find it.
I did. The beer was good; real good. But what’s the point of real good beer if you can’t share it?
Luckily the Journo’s birthday was coming up. The perfect opportunity to have some friends over for a braai in celebration of the Journo ageing another year, and, of course, beer.
And so it was that my beer got shared in honour of the Journo’s birthday. Cake, friends, a braai with good food, and fresh beer on tap, which aside from being a little week (probably something like 3.5% alcohol), got rave reviews. Does it get any better than this?
Actually, yes it does… But that’s another adventure all together.