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Bulk Aging

One of the things about making things like meads and sour beers is, you have a much bigger problem in terms of dealing with bulk aging. For the average brewer, most beers they make finish fermenting within a few weeks, or a month at most. After that, it’s common to move that beer to a keg or to bottles, and condition it, and then start enjoying it. Even if one decides to age bottles, one typically doesn’t age them all, and even if one does, those bottles don’t prevent one fermenting anything new.

(Yes, homebrewers sometimes go ahead and make things like barley wines, which need more bulk aging. But those cases tend to be the exception, not the rule.)

But when you’re making sour beers, or meads, or cider, bulk aging is the rule, not the exception. It’s unusual to have The problem with this is that you need containers in which to do this bulk aging. Different brewers, mead- and cidermakers solve this in different ways.

Some accumulate a large collection of glass fermentation vessels, and just have a space dedicated to bulk aging these batches of cider, mead, or sour beer. This is much easier to do in a house than in an apartment.

Others use kegs. The advantage of this is that kegs are easy to use, and the blanket of CO2 that is supposed to cover a fermented batch is also automatically maintained. Kegs are easier to stack and they take up much less room than carboys, since they’re taller and narrower. It’s a great solution… as long as you’re not running short of kegs. The fact that both of the soda keg companies in Seoul I know about just shut down, though, means that kegs are in short supply now, and I am always running short of them.

The last solution is really suboptimal, and that is to just bulk age as long as you can, and bottle a little earlier to keep production going. This uses the logic I mentioned above: that one can age bottles without giving up the freedom of making more batches of something else. But the problem is that some beverages really do benefit significantly from bulk aging.

My approach so far has been mixed. By memory, I have the following batches bulk aging:

Whether using kegs or carboys is more intrusive of my production of quicker projects (beer) is a question I’d answer differently depending on the day: if I’m needing a keg to rack some new beer into, I’d say I wish those four bulk-aging kegs were empty. If I’m scrambling for a fermentation vessel, I’d probably look wistfully at the 3G carboy of my old ale and think of what else I could be brewing in there.

The truth is, I probably could use one more carboy and one more keg… but I’ll probably just get myself a bucket or two, as they’re cheaper and basically adequate for the quickie projects.

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