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Blending & Bottling Summer 2010 Vintage

Written by jesse on June 2, 2011
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After years of work, paperwork and anticipation, it feels almost surreal to type these words: Almanac Beer Co’s inaugural release is finally here. On June 30th, we’ll begin releasing 750ml bottles in the San Francisco Bay Area, and all of our hard work will be available on draught, in bottles and in your glass. Here’s how we got there.

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After 11 months of aging in red wine barrels, our beer was ready for blending. We pulled samples from every barrel to taste and compare. Different barrels received different amounts of fruit, and some, no fruit at all. The variation from barrel to barrel was astounding. Some were sweet, others were dry. Some had spicy hints of coriander, while others embraced their berry nature. All of them were delicious.

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The sugar levels of each barrel were measured, and calculated out to inform the final blend.

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The barrel-aged stock was then blended with fresher beer, giving the final blend it’s bright, mildly hoppy character, while maintaining the berry aromas and oaky depth. Once we were happy with the final blend, all of the barrels and fresh beer were transferred into a large mixing tank, and we were ready to bottle.

Bottling a beer, for those who have never done it, is an amazing amount of work. Since we’re naturally carbonating using fresh yeast and sugar in the bottle (also called conditioning), we found ourselves relying on the local resources that being close to wine country afford us. A small mobile bottling truck came down and set up shop. Normally used for still and sparkling wines, we included a few extra pieces of equipment to accommodate our large beer bottles, trained a large team of volunteer family and friends on how the process would work, and set off. Here are a few of our volunteers, ready to go to work:

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First, fresh yeast and sugar were added to the mixing tank, providing the basis for our refermentation in the bottles.

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Then we were ready to fill. Hand-numbered labels with a unique bottle number and bottling date were prepared by volunteers with legible  writing. (thus precluding Jesse or Damian from doing this step!)

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One final quality check, then it’s off to the bottles.

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First, each bottle is flushed with CO2, to keep the beer from oxidizing in the bottle.

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Then each bottle is filled with beer. When full, a final hit of CO2 gas clears any remaining air out of the head space at the top of the bottle.

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Then the bottles are capped with oxygen-barrier caps.

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And finally labeled on both sides.

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Each bottle then gets a hat—a cover that provides both a nice aesthetic finish and one final layer of protection against the outside world.  The caps are heat-shrunk onto the bottle with heat guns.

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Finally the bottle number stickers are applied, and the bottles are loaded back into their boxes.

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As I write this, all of our bottles are getting the sauna treatment, and resting quietly in a warm room.  The balmy temperatures (80º+) will encourage the yeast to get to work, providing the final carbonation and layer of complexity to our beer.

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After a couple of weeks, the bottles will be moved back to the cold room, stopping the carbonation, and then, finally, our beer will be ready for you to drink.  Look for bottles in your local fine bottle shops and restaurants starting June 30th.