What's Happening in Your Beer Now? Bottle Conditioning

What's Happening in Your Beer Now? Bottle Conditioning

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Emma Christensen
Jun 13, 2015
(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)
(Image credit: Henry Chen)
  • Today's topic: What's going on inside the bottle right now, plus 5 amber ales to try while you wait
  • The Kitchn's Beer School: 20 lessons, 7 assignments to brew your first 1-gallon batch of beer.
  • Sign up & see all the assignments! The Kitchn's Beer School

One more week to go until your beer is ready to drink! Are you feeling tempted to sample a bottle a little early? Totally understandable. Today, let's talk about what's really happening inside that bottle right now, and why it's best to resist the temptation to open it early. I'll also throw in my top five recommendations for craft brews that you can sip while you wait.

(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)

What Happens After Bottling

The most important thing that's happening in that bottle right now is that you're beer is carbonating. The yeast is eating the last bit of sugar you added during bottling and releasing carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide will first float to the top of the bottle, and then, as that space gets crowded, it will be gradually forced back into the beer itself. This is how carbonation works (science!) and why you see streaming bubbles all the way through the liquid once you pull off the cap.

This carbonation process takes between seven and 14 days, depending on factors like room temperature, active yeast left in your beer, the kind of sugar you used to prime the beer, and a few other things. It's not an exact science, which is why I generally recommend waiting a full two weeks before sampling your beer.

In addition to carbonating, your beer is continuing to clear and condition. As they finish consuming the priming sugar, the last yeast will fall out of suspension and collect on the bottom of your bottle, along with any other leftover solid bits that haven't cleared yet. This little bit of trub is unavoidable in homebrews — it won't generally affect the flavor of the beer unless there's more than a quarter-inch of it (usually it's just a very thin layer).

Beers also sometimes go through a bit of bottle shock when they're first bottled. If you taste the beer early, you might pick up some harsh notes or sulphuric flavors; these dissipate after about two weeks in the bottle.

The flavor of the beer also keeps changing — and will actually continue to change (usually for the better!) over the months to come. You might notice that your beer tastes different two months from now than it did when you first tried it. With most beer styles, I actually find that the flavor continues to improve over the months, and then starts to deteriorate after a year.

(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)
(Image credit: Henry Chen)

5 Amber Ales to Try While You Wait

Want a sneak preview of your beer? Here are five of my favorite amber ales: Your assignment this week is to seek one of them out, give it a try, and then compare it to your own amber ale next week! They won't be exactly the same, of course, but they'll give you an idea of the color and basic flavor to expect in your homebrew.

  • Boont Amber Ale from Anderson Valley Brewing Company: This is actually the beer after which I modeled our amber ale! It's such a superb example of the style — very balanced between the malts and a smattering of hops, lovely copper color, and far too drinkable.
  • Bell's Amber Ale from Bell's Brewery: This amber is a touch more citrusy and bitter than our homebrew will be — if you opted for more hops in your beer, this is closer to what you'll get.
  • Full Sail Amber Ale from Full Sail Brewing Company: Another solid amber ale. This one is like a favorite pair of jeans — it's just right and always good. Nutty and earthy, with a touch of bitter grapefruit and orange flavor.
  • Fat Tire Amber Ale from New Belgium Brewing Company: This was actually my gateway beer — the one that first introduced me to the world of craft beer way back when. It's still a solid beer with a nice toasty bread-like malt character and a refined hop flavor.
  • Troegs Nugget Nectar from Troegs Brewing Co.: I have to throw this one in here because I love it so much. It's like a cross between an amber ale and an IPA, which is to say, super hoppy, but with that caramel-like malt backbone from an amber. Try this one if you want something a bit unusual.

Have a favorite amber ale? Give a shout out!

Brew Better Beer: A Companion to Beer School

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

I love brewing beer so much, I wrote a book about it! Brew Better Beer (May 2015, Ten Speed Press) is a complementary guide to Beer School. Take a look for even more nerdy details about homebrewing, how to brew 5-gallon batches, and plenty of recipes for different beers.

→ Find it: Brew Better Beer by Emma Christensen

The Kitchn's Beer School

With The Kitchn's Beer School, we'll teach you how to brew your own beer at home — and brew it with confidence. In 20 lessons and 7 weekend assignments, we'll get you set up with your own home brewery, walk you through your first brew day, show you how to bottle your beer, and then toast you on your first pint. Ready to brew your first beer? Join us!

Sign up for The Kitchn's Beer School

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