Back on July 12th I was getting pretty excited about my holiday (incorporating belgium), and so I brewed a strong Belgian beer, the idea was to bottle some of it in large champagne style bottles and cork it, and keep it for a while, as long as will power would allow. While they’re only half as big again as a normal bottle, there’s something very pleasing about having beer in large bottles like this, they feel much more substantial. they are very heavy.
Most of the bottles I used were in fact prosecco bottles and the like, as I don’t often get my hands on champagne. Get your friends and family to save them for you and you’ll build up a collection in no time. The reason for the heavier bottles is of course the pressure they have to withstand, which apparently wine bottles may not be able to take. They also need thicker necks for taking thicker corks apparently.
As regards corking, I agonised for ages over how best to do this, eventually settling on a normal wine cork from the home brew company. BYO recently did an article on corking Belgians, but in it they swore that to use the slightly fatter Belgian beer cork, available on Brouwland you needed a Colona capper, which is unavailable here. I have since found that that is untrue, I tried to push a Belgian cork that had come from a bottle of lambic through the wing capper and it was no problem at all. It barely took any more effort than the smaller cork.
Anyway the beer I brewed was this
17L "Strong Belgian" 5.5 KG pale ale malt .5 KG belgian 'special b' .2 KG aromatic malt .2 KG biscuit malt .1 KG crystal malt (ebc 120) 60g Hallertauer leaf hops 60 mins 500g Demerara sugar 10 mins 10g Coriander seed 5 mins OG 1.078 Wyeast 3463 "forbidden fruit" 1 week in primary at 24c 2 weeks in secondary at 20c FG 1.009 approx 9% abv
The fermentation was actually even higher initially, I pitched a lot of yeast since it was a high gravity beer, I used yeast slurry from a Witbeer that I had just completed. I pitched slightly warm, but it took off so quickly that it never cooled down! I ended up strapping some ice packs to the fermenter to get it down a few degrees from 26c! High fermentation is in keeping with this style however, so i wasn’t bothered. According to Stan Hieronymous, Westbvleteren 8 is pitched at 20c but gets as high as 29c during fermentation (brew like a monk, p185)
So as you can see, I bottled this in the large ‘keeping’ bottles, and the rest in stubby 33cl bottles for earlier consumption. I primed with 85g glucose, for 16L (after 1L or so trub loss in racking) Corking was easy enough, I tried to leave 1cm or so of cork out, by releasing the clasping bits and pushing the cork out of the corker without pushing it into the bottle. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. You open these with a bottle opener anyway.
Once they were all in, I tied them with cotton string, like you see on prosecco bottles often. After a week or so they were all straining at the string but it held them. I made labels from a picture of a strongman I found.
Because I used the smaller wine cork on larger openings, some of them leaked ever so slightly, with syrupy drops appearing here and there. These were mostly the Belgian bottles that I had recycled from real belgian beers. A week or so ago I opened the worst looking one, since I was worried that it would be flat, but despite it looking like it had leaked, the beer inside was perfect and still fizzy, so I’m not worrying about the rest.
I think the lesson I have learned is that the best method may be to only keep the cap-able bottles, the ones with a ‘lip’ that can take the larger crown cap. I will buy a bench capper that has a replaceable capping cup, and some champagne size crown caps. Then it shouldn’t matter what size cork I use. I opened a large bottle of Saison de Pipaix recently, and it seemed to only have a normal size cork, but the cap was an extra barrier that meant the cork stayed in and the whole thing couldn’t leak. These bottles are stored on their side and I will keep them at least a year… at least some of them.