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Jeff "TruthBrew"
08/02/05 04:25 PM  
Capping 750ml or 375ml bottles
Brewed a 10.5 gallon batch of saison on Sunday, all went very well (60min@142F then 15min@156F followed by a 90 minute boil) and both fermentation vessels took off fermenting within 4 hours or pitching. Fermentation started at about 83F and has dropped to 75F as activity has slowed a bit.

When it comes time to bottle (i'll bottle at least 5 gal if not all of it), I'll use the lot of Dupont, Blaugies and Cantillon bottles I have saved.

My question is, how do you recommend capping them?

1) cork and cage [like Dupont]

2) cork and cap [Like Fantome/Cantillon]

3) just a crown cap [Like Pizza Port]

Has anyone tried different methods and compared them?

08/02/05 04:59 PM  
Cork & Cage of course
A couple things to remember, European champagne type bottles cannot be capped with standard bottle caps. You need the special larger 29mm caps and a special capper bell to cap the larger caps. If you have a compatible bench capper (I believe the agatta line does), you can get a larger capping bell and also purchase the larger caps from some HB stores here in the US.

Having said that I prefer to cork my Saisons Champagne style with actual cork corks (none of this plastic cork stuff for me). This is a bit more work and for me was a not insignificant investment ($100 for the special corker, plus consumables of corks and cages), but it is well worth it for that authentic cork popping (yes I am a bit of a cheeseball sometimes). These corks and the special universal corkers can be purchases online at places like Northern Brewer, or ask at your local HB store. I have also had success using agglomerated corks (like the Altec brand) with the champagne bottle corker.

I am sure that there are a couple of work arounds to get champagne style corks, depending on what type of corker that you may already have, though many definitely cannot handle the much larger champagne corks.

As an FYI (in case you don't already know) please do not use the pre-mushroomed corks that some places sell, these are not appropriate and will not properly contain CO2 for long term storage. Champagne corks look like regular corks (a straight cylinder), until after they are put into the bottle and contained by a cage.

Jeff "TruthBrew"
08/02/05 05:19 PM  
Re: Capping 750ml or 375ml bottles
>> These corks and the special universal corkers can be purchases online at places like Northern Brewer, or ask at your local HB store. <<

Funny, my LHBS is actually Northern Brewer... I live 7 miles away. =)

I do not have a corker, but a friend of mine has a floor wine corker, so I may lean towards using those corks + a crown cap (my bench capper can be upgraded to handle the larger caps).

Have you ever attempted to just use a crown cap? My obvious concerns would be long term storage (my guess is only upright storage would be allowed) and also pressure.

08/02/05 06:23 PM  
Re: Capping 750ml or 375ml bottles
I would think that it would be fine to just cap the bottles. Putting a cork in them first might be a bit "classier", and you would probably get slower oxygen diffusion into the bottles (better aging potential). With corks in there you could indeed store the bottles on there sides for the long term, you should not pick up any rust from the caps this way, but you might pick up some flavors from a potential corked cork (though I sometimes like this in Belgian beer).

It is really up to you on what to do. All of the methods will adequately contain a well carbonated Saison and are appropriate for longterm storage if you store the bottle in the right position.

08/02/05 11:48 PM  
Re: Capping 750ml or 375ml bottles
In a similar vein, if you aren't ready to go through the additional expense involved in properly corking and caging, couldn't you expose the beer to just the cork by putting a piece in the bottle or fermenter for some period of time. I heard Phil M. mention in his talk at NHC that he felt a cork character was an important part of the flavor profile for Dupont and he mentioned trying to do something along the lines I mentioned above if you couldn't cork your own. Any ideas on the best way to go about something like this?
William Solomon
08/03/05 12:13 PM  
Re: Capping 750ml or 375ml bottles
You do NOT want cork flavor in the Saison. Corks are a closure device. IF you use bret (or other oxygen consuming wild yeast) it MAY be useful to have some O2 diffusion. But a good cork allows almost no difusion or flavor changes... "corkiness" is a fault not a desirable character. Talk to Vinnie at Russian River if you want a long wine makers perspective on this.
08/03/05 12:23 PM  
Re: Capping 750ml or 375ml bottles
Jeff, keep in mind that corking can pose problems. A corker can be cheap, I have one made of plastic. It fits on the neck of the bottle, you place the cork and give the top a whap! Basically all the corker does is line the thing up so you can smack it in. But sometimes these bottles do not hold their pressure. I know what you must be thinking "so use a better corker". That's not it though, the cork goes in so the corker works. The problem is in the cork itself. They come in a number of sizes, if you get a size that is too thin it will go in easier but leak. So if you cork be certain you use the correct corks.

I think a cap is smart, but if your cork is really doing its job you should not need the extra support. A fun alternative can be to wax your bottles.

08/03/05 02:02 PM  
Re: Capping 750ml or 375ml bottles
Sure, I will ask Vinnie when I speak to him again what his OPINION is when I see him, possibly this Sat. at the local IPA Festival. However, not everyone believes that a SMALL amount of cork character in a Saison, especially in the case of Dupont, is a fault. All brewers/winemakers have opinions on what they feel is appropriate. Apparently Phil Markowski's opinion differs from yours, and perhaps Vinnie's as well.
08/03/05 02:17 PM  
Re: Capping 750ml or 375ml bottles
I was having dinner with Rady Theil from Ommegang 3ish years after the introduction of Hennepin. He popped a bottle from the first run and it was spectacular. There was a tiny dusty character going on, and after a few minutes of trying to pin it down Randy suggested it was attributable to the cork. I think he was right.

The taste of cork in a beer can absolutely ruin the bottle, particularly if said cork is in the midst of breaking down. But I have to agree with Ipaguy, especially since SMALL was all caps! I would never say that all brews could benefit from a hint of the cork in the taste, but there is no doubt in my mind that some particularly Earthy styles can benefit from a hard-to-pin-down hint of corkiness.

Jeff "TruthBrew"
08/03/05 04:17 PM  
Re: Capping 750ml or 375ml bottles
From what I have read, for the champagne style bottles that Dupont/Cantillon/etc... use, a #9 cork is appropriate. A #8 fits, but will not hold pressure well.

Considering the 29mm crown caps are dirt cheap, might as well add a cap over the cork so that if some leaks through the cork (as I have seen with Cantillon, Hanssenns, etc...), at least it's still contained).

There are no "correct" answer as to the desire for some cork hints on beer. If it's a flaw to you, then great, avoid beers that pick up that flavor and don't use corks yourself. If you like it, then why not try to get a hint of it in your homebrews. Whatever floats your boat.

Mark A
08/04/05 01:10 AM  
Re: Capping 750ml or 375ml bottles
I don't homebrew, but I read these posts with interest because you guys shed so much light on what goes on in the kettle and the bottle. But I've done a considerable amount of research on corks, and basically it comes down to the fact that a sterile cork has no flavor of its own and will not have flavor as long as it does not become infected. The bad flavor that corks sometimes get is the result of a reaction between mold in the cork and chlorine from the cleaning solution. If the cork has mold and the cleaning solution is not properly rinsed, you'll eventually get a "corked" wine or beer. I think many of the slightly oxidized or madierized flavors (or even some of the slight hints of damp cardboard) that are associated with aged beers are sometimes mistakenly attributed to the cork. But there's no mistaking a truly corked beverage, and it really isn't good. To me, it's the difference between enjoying the mold in blue cheese and claiming that the mold that grew on the cheese after it sat in your fridge too long gave the cheese a nice aged quality.
08/04/05 08:30 AM  
Re: Capping 750ml or 375ml bottles
>>basically it comes down to the fact that a sterile cork has no flavor of its own and will not have flavor as long as it does not become infected.<<

Sorry Mark, I have a pretty solid refuting arguement. Take a look at this photo:


I took it this morning. The fluid in the glass on the left came from boiling a never used cork in water for 7 or 8 minutes. I should mention that the image exaggerates the deepness of the color, it was a lot browner than the right glass but not by as much as the photo indicates. The fluid in the glass on the right - which is about the same in real life as the photo - came from boiling two corks I pulled from wine bottles a while back for the same amount of time.

Now the difference on color could be explained by different cork producers, or possibly that the left glass came from a virgin cork and the right from corks that had been in use. And boiling is a lot more extreme an extraction process than cellar aging, so this level of impact of the cork would probably not be reasonable compared to cellaring. But clearly there was an extraction factor. The fluid on the left also had a very mild aroma of wood.

The deeper brown, virgin cork boil had a slight vanilla taste, but moreso it reminded me, in a very subtile way, of the taste of pastachio ice cream. The white wine colored boil tasted like diluted, flat cream soda.

No flavor of its own? I don't think so. It is certainly true though that cork infection will have a profound and desctructive flavor impact. But if there was nothing in a cork that could leach into fluid why would boiling a virgin cork for a few minutes yield sherry-colored fluid? And if a few minutes of boiling could extract a flavor, why could not years of cellaring?

Al B
08/04/05 09:31 AM  
Re: Capping 750ml or 375ml bottles
OK, here we go..... excellent discussion.

I have seen that the earthyness from corks is mostly contributed from compounds naturally derived from mold only and not a reaction with Chlorine. I doubt the Farmhouses were using any Chlorine way back when either.

Obviously, it is a major flaw for wine, but for Saisons and Biere de Guards, one may want the traditional rustic feature of some cork.

Mark A
08/04/05 03:25 PM  
Re: Capping 750ml or 375ml bottles
Interesting. I'm wondering what these corks were used for prior to being boiled. I have serious doubts that that much color/flavor can be pulled from a cork that's never been used.

Cork does contain some natural tannins, but it's also boiled extensively and sent through several other cleansing steps, then given a thin paraffin or silicon seal before being used. There may be trace residual flavors, but the surface area that comes into contact with liquid is small and the cork cells are quite impervious to liquid, so any transfer of flavor would have to be minimal. Wine drinkers are not even sure about wines aged for long periods of time (over a decade) and if the cork is imparting any tannin flavor. So in a beer aged for a few years, especially one with funky farmhouse flavors to begin with, I'm guessing it would be virtually impossible to attribute specific flavors to the cork, unless of course you had a bad cork. In this case the flavors would be unmistakable, and to my mind, undesirable whether brewed in 2005 or 1895.

The question of how long ago chlorine was used is moot, since if chemical were not used in cleaning, it's much more likely that there would be more mold problems to begin with that would contribute to off flavors.

I'm also wondering how common the use of cork closures was in farmhouse beers in the previous century or before. Good cork is fairly expensive and grown in the Mediterranean. Wouldn't it be more likely that other methods of closure were used? I'm just speculating here and could be completely mistaken.

08/04/05 04:29 PM  
Re: Capping 750ml or 375ml bottles
<<I'm wondering what these corks were used for prior to being boiled.>>

The single virgin cork was purchased some time ago at a home brew shop. I like to keep some on hand incase I make something unusual and want to play with aging a corked bottle. The two used corks were sealing bottles of Pinot Noir from the Mon Ami winery of northern Ohio. I've been drinking that stuff for about a year and ran out last November to indicate the possible age of then corks.

<<I'm also wondering how common the use of cork closures was in farmhouse beers in the previous century or before.>>

Good point, I bet if they were used they would have been used more than once!

Mark A
08/04/05 07:39 PM  
Re: Capping 750ml or 375ml bottles
Oh, sorry, I guess I should read a little more closely. That was your cork experiment! I thought it was a website you found. I guess there's nothing like first-hand experimentation to prove a theory.

Anyway, my own personal experiment was not recent but came in the form of actually biting a cork in half and chewing on it until it fell apart. It was a pretty pristine cork from a wine bottle and had no real flavor from either the wine or any of the woodiness that I was expecting. Your's seems a little more scientific (and you don't want to see my pictures!)

Back to the topic, I think either capping or corking is fine, but I've never been a fan of doing both to the same bottle. It seems to trap a little moisture between the cap and the cork which I've seen in older bottles has ended up causing corrosion to both the cap and cork, which made pouring problematic, even if the beer itself was not contaminated. I had to remove the cork and then carefully wipe the lip and inner edge of the bottle because it was pretty gunked up, before I could pour the beer.

08/05/05 06:49 AM  
Re: Capping 750ml or 375ml bottles
<<actually biting a cork in half and chewing on it until it fell apart.>>

You, sir, are one dedicated beer man!!

I too have seen the slime magnet that a cap can be when on a cork. Gnarly, hard to imagine anything good coming from that. I think as a homebrewer if I was going for additional barrier - which to date I've never done - I'd try waxing.

Jeff "TruthBrew"
08/05/05 09:01 AM  
Re: Capping 750ml or 375ml bottles
Waxing looks nice, but when reusing bottles it's a royal pain to clean off. That's why I just recycle all the New Glarus 750's I get, not worth the hassle.
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