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Home » Tech and Tips
Methode Champenoise for Beer
(with photos of a Disgorgement and a Dosage)
by Drew Beechum and Kent Fletcher
(As Featured in Zymurgy - May/June 2006)
Brut Label Brut Noir Label
The Brut labels with apologies to Eric Sena.
Take me to the recipes!
Take me to the pictures
Take me to the movies
Take me to the Tasting Notes!

In 2003, a brand new Belgian beer hit the market in Los Angeles for the first time, DeuS de Bosteels. The beer comes packaged in champagne bottles with champagne corks and the first set of labels were so close to Dom Periginon, they were forced to change them for the second release.

DeuS is a fascinating beer. Brewed in Belgium at the Bosteels Brewery. It is then shipped to the Champagne region of France to undergo the full Methode Champenoise to transform the beer from something interesting to something special. There is only one other brewery doing something similiar, Malheur Brut by Brouwerij de Landtsheer.

That something special, a beer: bright and bubbly; redolent of lavender, bergamot, cardamom and other exotic spices; incredibly crisp, but still lightly sweet. The beer inspires wild reactions it as witnessed on BeerAdvocate.com. Not the least of the factors causing a reaction from reviewers is the priciness of this drop. A bottle here in Los Angeles averages $30 and ranges from $25 to over $60 (at a bar)!

 
Brewing the Beer

A combination of the price, oddity of technique and obsession with DueS that led the usual Falcons' Brew Crew of Kent, Cullen, Jim and Drew to brew up a batch of something simliar, not a clone of DeuS, an homage. The beers are designed to ferment dry and produce a product coming out of secondary at around 10% ABV. This is ideal for any beverage undergoing the full methode champenoise to insure that your yeast is in good shape to ferment at pressure.

THE RECIPES

BRUT DU FAUCON RECIPE FILE
The first Brut attempt, the Brut du Faucon, was brewed in January 2004 as a Maltose Falcons "Shop Brew." The basic Brut recipe is a spiced triple designed to ferment very dry. To keep the beer pale in color, the majority of the grist is Belgian Pilsner malt with a touch of pale crystal and aromatic for character.

Bosteels claims not to spice the beer with any kettle spices, but we decided to spice ours to drive the strong lavendar notes in the aroma. The spices were added in the bottling process by steeping a mix of crushed spices and herbs in the initial priming sugar addition. We added cinnamon, lavendar, allspice, ginger and black pepper. The full recipe is available here

BRUT DU FAUCON NOIR RECIPE FILE
The second Brut brewed after the final bottling of the Brut du Faucon in April 2005. With more confidence in our technique, this beer is moving through the process in a quicker fashion. The Noir is closer in spirit to the Malheur Brut Noir, a dark, chocolate spiced beer. The malt bill is considerably more complex to reflect a more dessert nature to the beer. It consists of Belgian Pils, Wheat, Munich, Special B, Carafa malt and Candi Sugar. Spices will include vanilla, cinnamon, mace and mint, these will be added at bottling.

BRUT DU MARIAGE
No recipe on this, but this was an express version of the Brut du Faucon put together to celebrate the September 2006 marriages of Jim and Odette Kopitzke and Cullen and Diana Davis. Congratulations guys! Beer was spiced differently than the original Brut. Additions included Cinnamon, Ginger and a touch of Cardamom. Only settled and riddled for a month, the clearing wasn't as effective as the longer aged Bruts, but still very tasty and bubbly. (The beer was also primed to aim for 5.5 volumes, higher than the orignal)

BRUT DU BEAUCOUP D'HOUBLON RECIPE FILE
The fourth Brut brewed as a final tribute to the Maltose Falcons Board of 2005-2006. The name translates to "A Lot of Hops", which this beer hopes to live up to (for a Belgian brew). Inspiration was provided by Brasserie Dupont's Avec Les Bon Voeux and the recently released Houblon Chouffe. This one is paler and brighter than the others by far.

 
Bottling and Riddling the Beer

Beyond the brew day, Kent and Drew took charge of the fermentation process. After a 6 month ferment, the beer was bottled with a sugar syrup spiced with a mix of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, lavender and black pepper. These bottles were capped with crowns, and allowed to referment in the bottle for a period of a couple of months. The beer was primed at a rate sufficient to give us 3.5 volumes of CO2. Roughly 14 ounces (by weight) of sugar into 10 gallons of beer. This being our first time with this technique, we decided to go light on the carbonation to prevent busted bottles. In the future we'd recommend goin even higher if you want true "Champange" like carbonation.

As the beer refermented, Kent (in charge of the bottles) began the process of riddling. Simply put, riddling is a strategic way of rotating and rolling the bottles with all the yeast sediment resting against the cap. Once the bottles were riddled, we let them age for a period while we learned how to disgorge the beer and took care of other club activities.

 
The Day of Disgorgement and Dosage

The basic idea behind disgorgement and dosage is to freeze the riddle sediment in a small ice plug. Pop the crown cap and shoot the yeast/ice plug in a safe direction. The beer itself should now be relatively clear of all sediment.

The beer is then topped up with a "dosage" to replace the missing volume. In champagne, this is typically a sugar syrup (or wine) dosed with Cognac and sulfite. In our project, we dosed with sugar syrup plain and spiced with lavender, ginger, allspice and cinnamon.

Lastly, you cork, cage, rinse and foil the bottle. Traditional champagne corks are difficult to procure and require finese and tools to use. Fortunately, easy to use plastic champagne "corks" exist that require only a mallet for bottling.

One additional complication, the whole disgorgement process from pop to cork should take you less than 10 seconds. Go, Speed Bottler, Go!

 
The Parts Needed:
    BOTTLING PARTS
  • Cold (35F-45F) Riddled beer in Champagne Bottles (We had 7.33 gallons)
  • Plastic Champagne "Corks" (enough for bottles plus a few extra)
  • Wire Champagne Cages
  • Champagne Foils (Optional)

  • FREEZING PARTS
  • Pot or bucket to hold the freezing solution
  • TESTED
  • 1/2 can Acetone
  • 3lbs Dry Ice
  • UNTESTED
  • 2 - 750ml of 150 Proof Alcohol
  • 1 pint of H2O

  • HARDWARE
  • Safety Glasses (Yes, we forget to wear ours. Don't be dumb like us.)
  • Decrowner (ideal, opens the cap away from you) or a Bottle Opener
  • Rubber Mallet (to drive corks into place)
  • Champagne Cage Twister (or a pair of pliers)
  • Syringe or Pipette (to deliver the dosage)
  • Bucket of Water for rinsing the bottles

  • SOFTWARE
  • Clothes to be Dirtied with Yeast
  • Good Brewing Partner
  • Great Sense of Humor
 
Freezing the Neck

Disgorgement requires riddled bottles that are chilled to 35-40F. So the night before, set your riddled cases into the fridge or freezer to chill properly

There are two forms of traditional disgorgment: Flying Disgorgement, a technique that requires precise timing of tilting the bottle and opening the crown. Not for amateurs; Ice Disgorgement, described above this is much easier for the amateur. For ice disgorgement the problem becomes how to freeze the neck quickly and easily. The traditional answer is an ice brine bath, which you'll see that Fletch and I attempted. Even after managing to drop the temp of the bath to 17 degrees Farenheit, the bottles wouldn't freeze. Fletch and I spent hours at trying to perfect this to no avail.

The solution ended up being quick and simple and was provided to us by John Daume of the Home Beer Wine Cheesemaking Shop. Use a mixture of acetone and dry ice, for our pot to cover the right portion of the neck it took us ~1/2 gallon of acetone and 3 lbs of chipped dry ice, fed periodically to keep the mix cold. Combined, the mixture read below the scale of any of our thermometers, but according to one of the club's resident chemists, Matt Bourbeau, the mixture probably hit -75F. Pop your bottles into this mix for a period of 1-4 minutes and you have a perfectly frozen neck. Very Important: Don't let the neck freeze too long. If the ice plug grows below the "swell" of the neck, it won't shoot out when uncapped. You'll need to let it thaw (upside down preferably) and then refreeze.

I think John, the winemaker, avoided telling us this trick just to watch the brewers struggle for a while! Please note: Acetone is not something you want to ingest. Make sure to carefully rinse the bottles of the acetone and don't let any of it get inside!

An untested solution, also provided by Matt Bourbeau, chemist extraordinaire, might be safer. Replace the acetone and dry ice with a 1 to 1 mixture of water and ethanol. In many states, grain alcohol is sold at a maximum proof of 153. Roughly translated for 2 quarts of solution you need 2 750ml of 153 proof alcohol and a pint of water. Combined with dry ice, this mix only gets down to -40F, but it removes the worries of using Acetone near your beer. As of this writing, we still haven't tested this method.

 
Disgorging, Dosaging, Corking and Caging
Watch Drew Disgorge A Bottle!

Once you have a frozen plug in the neck that traps the sediment, turn the bottle upright and point it somewhere safe and easy to clean (or outdoors).

In a quick and lively fashion, pop the crown cap and watch the ice plug go flying. If it doesn't come flying immediately, be patient and give the bottle a slight bump.

Once the bottle is clear, inject with the dosage solution. In our case it was 15ml per 750ml of 10% sugar solution (100gms of sugar in a liter of water, boiled to a liter). Half of the bottles received a dosage of spiced sugar solution at the same concentrations.

After dosage, take a sanitized plastic cork and using a rubber mallet drive it home. Be careful not to break the bottle! Then add a wire cage and tighten it using a cage spinner, both should be available at a reasonably stocked homebrew store.

All told, if you're moving at the right speed, those last steps should have taken you less than 10 seconds! For our bottles we added decorative foils to differenate the spiced from unspiced dosage bottles. (Silver = plain; Blue = Spiced)

 
Tasting Notes

BRUT DU FAUCON
Monday April 18th, 2005: The Board of the Maltose Falcons gathered at BJ's in Woodland Hills, CA. As a way to celebrate the hard and thirsty work of leading America's Oldest Homebrew Club, Kent broke out one of the three "plain" 750ml bottles that we finished 8 days before.

Anticipation focused on the cork as Fletch unwrapped the foil and uncaged the bottle. Being in a public space, Kent carefully pulled the cork and kept it from flying off into the ceiling. Carefully poured into 8 tulip glasses, a nice frothy champagne mousse climbed towards the top of the glasses.
Appearance: Pale golden orange with a slight haze beneath a strong off-white mousse head.
Aroma: Sweet flowery aroma of lavendar and ginger readily apparent with a cinnamon spice aroma providing a grounding holding everything against the sting of the CO2.
Flavor: Rich, slightly sweet in comparision to DeuS. Medium malt base smooths both a high spice profile and the CO2 driven acidity.
Overall Satisifaction: Massive relief on our parts to know that the beer survived our experiments. Joy at the incredibly close shot on our very first attempt and of course the immediate dissection of everything we felt we did right and wrong.

Are we satisfied? Shoot.. we're already brewing the next one.

Watch Drew Open a Bottle and Watch It Fly!

 
The Pictures
 
A sample jar of the Brut du Beaucop d'Houblon. Pale and ready to jump!
This is Fletch's Brewhouse. Home to many crazy experiments. You'll note that the famous Slots o Hops is sitting on top of the refrigerator.
It was early in the day, but as you can tell our bottling was already in trouble. After he finished hammering the "cork" into the "bottle", Fletch presented it as an object of beauty. (Just kidding, Fletch is actually testing the work layout we intially developed.)
Now this is a truly riddled refrigerator. Remember the first step to a day of disgorging bottles involves chilling your riddled bottles to 35F.
Based upon traditional techniques, Fletch built our first chilling setup. Inside the cooler is an ice brine of 27lbs of ice and 8lbs of rock salt. This makes things very chilly, but not chilly enough for our purposes.
We sat our bottles in this brine for over a half hour with agitation, but to no good purpose. The bottles never formed an ice cap.
Finally after talking to John Daume at the Home Beer Wine Cheesemaking Shop, we were enlightened with the modern quick set technique of Acetone and Dry Ice. Here is a 1 gallon can of acetone (available at a hardware store near you) and 3 pounds of dry ice (we used 3 pounds for this batch). We're convinced that Daume was holding out on us to make us sweat a little. Damn winemakers! (kidding)
Abandoning the brine rig, Fletch began holding the bottles upright in the acetone solution. In his hand you'll see he holds a syringe full of the spiced dosage. Also notice the 1/2 inch of frost around the bottom of the pot.
Watch Drew disgorge, dosage and cork a bottle. Click on the picture to catch a Quicktime of the Process.
Here you can see Kent injecting the spiced sugar syrup into the bottle.
Drew gently taps the "cork" into place on the bottle. You'll note that we did this in a plastic tub to retain any mess. The wood board beneath the bottle reduces the force need to drive the cork home and helps prevent us shattering a bottle against the concrete floor.
Kent quickly washes the bottle off to clear any acetone left as well as any beer residue.
Next, we attach a cage to firmly secure the cork in place. Kent is using a special cage hook that quickly and easily tightens the cage into place.
Lastly, a foil is slipped over the neck and smoothed into place
Voila! A finished bottle ready to be presented to the world.
This is what comes shooting out of the bottle when you remove the cap. This is a solid plug of frozen yeast and sediment. We kept finding these all over Kent's back yard when we finished.
It took us six hours to finish, but most of that time was spent trying a technique that just didn't work for us. Once we got the right technique down, we finished the whole process in under two hours. Final tally: 17 Magnums (1.5L) and 3 750ml bottles.
After a long day of bottling, Kent and Drew stand back and enjoy a fine glass of their "Seven Unusual Grain IPA", carbonation courtesy of some of the remaining dry ice.
Drew gets ready to open a bottle at the 2005 Southern California Homebrewers Festival in Temecula. The Club opened a bottle every hour on the hour from Noon to 5pm. As the hours passed, the line for the beer just became more intense.
The thirsty mass surrounds Drew waiting for a sample.
Oddly, one of those magnums gets heavy over time when you're trying to pour carefully.
That's it for that bottle. Next year, we plan on having a few Jeroboams (3L) available for pouring. Should be fun!
 
Movies

Watch Drew Open a Bottle and Watch It Fly!

Check out the final results. Watch Drew Open a Bottle and Watch It Fly!

The beer is now officially a hit. The crowd goes wild at the Southern California Homebrewer's Festival!

Take me to the beer recipes!

Want to make your own beer at home? Get started on the right foot. Check out the Falcon's sponsoring shop, The Home Beer, Wine, Cheesemaking Shop. John Daume, proprietor, has been serving the home brewing and winemaking needs of Angelenos since 1972, over 30 years! (Falcon Members receive a 10% discount on supplies)
Looking for older Falcons' information?, The Westval Maltose Falcons Webpage (Locally cached) (The Original Falcon's Roost, prior to 1999)
Looking for a home wine making club in the Los Angeles area? Check out our sister club, The Cellarmasters, over 30 and still stomping grapes.