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Bottle conditioning is the brewing method of letting a beer go through it’s final conditioning in the bottle, instead of in a larger rack system. There are two basic ways to bottle-condition. So, we’re basically talking about how the beer gets it’s carbonation, using a CO2 system, or naturally in the bottle. Belgian beers are known for being bottle-conditioned, but as craft brewing gets more popular, more and more brewers are using bottle-conditioning as a way to carbonate and prepare their beers.
1. We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Filters!
The first way is to place a completely unfiltered beer into it’s bottle, and let the remaining yeast in the beer complete the conditioning. Sometimes some priming sugar is added to kick-start the yeast. This is what you do when you bottle your home-brew. When capped, the bottles collect the CO2 and carbonate themselves.
2. Seed That Yeast
The second way, which is how many professional breweries bottle-condition, is to do some basic filtering, then add live yeast to the beer as it is bottled. This gives the same effect, where the yeast produces alcohol and CO2 and carbonates the beer in the bottle.
3. Who Bottle-Conditions?
As I stated above, more and more brewers are using bottle-conditioning. Belgian beers like Orval wouldn’t be what they are without bottle-conditioning. A more local brewery example is Dogfish Head, which bottle-conditions three of their regular beers.
- My Antonia
- 75 Minute IPA
Dogfish Head uses the yeast-seeding method of bottle-conditioning for these beers, but only uses priming sugar for the 75 Minute IPA. This priming sugar is maple syrup. The other two rely on the residual sugars in the beer. All three are carbonated solely using the bottle-conditioning method.
4. What Does This Mean?
Adding carbonation in this way lets the CO2 get slowly absorbed into solution, meaning it can change the mouth feel of the beer, as the carbonation will take longer to escape. Second, This helps a beer to age, as it sets up a living beer that will change over time. This is what makes a beer perfect for aging. You will get some variance in consistency of bottle-conditioned beers, as more of the process is left up to the yeast, but overall, these are better beers for their styles.
5. Drinking Bottle Conditioned Beers
When you pour yourself a glass of bottle-conditioned beer, it is recommended to leave the yeast that collects in the bottom in the bottle, and not drink it. Some Belgians are better with their yeast in the glass, but mostly, it will give an off flavor.