Part of my fascination with wine and beer and the line between them has taken me on a trip down a rabbit-hole of winemaking techniques and concepts. In my every evolving drive to try new and creative things, I was bound to quickly learn about Methodé Champenoise and how to apply it to beer. Methodé Champenoise is the traditional process in which champagne bottles are conditioned, riddled, and then disgorged to create a vibrantly clear, sparkling final product. Bottles are conditioned horizontally for six to eight weeks, and then the fun begins. Only a few breweries in the country make a Biere de Champagne, and even fewer treat it to the process that is done to champagne.
The brew day and fermentation for this Biere de Champagne was nothing out of the ordinary. The beer is a simple grist of 60/40 Pils / White Wheat, kettle hopped with Nelson and Mandarina Bavaria. It was subsequently fermented at 95ºF, with Omega Yeast Labs’ Hot Heat, for 96 hours before being split into two different wine-study beers. This portion was bottled to 4.5 vols of CO2 and left to condition for three weeks.
Once bottle conditioning was over the bottles were riddled, or rotated and angled, until upside down over the course of three weeks. I hand-rotated these bottles an 1/8 of a turn a day while adjusting the pitch of the case every other day. This process is done to collect all the sediment in the beer’s cap. After this process the bottles were cold crashed down to 39° in a fridge for three weeks, mostly due to time constraints and the ability to acquire dry ice.
On disgorging day, the necks were frozen using a dry ice and grain alcohol solution. This was the easiest way to get a liquid solution at -140°F. Others that have done this have used Acetone instead of grain alcohol. There is an extra step involved with using Acetone, rinsing it off to make the bottles safe for human consumption, and I felt it was best to avoid that. The grain alcohol serves its purpose beautifully, and I can say with 100% certainty that it should be used over Acetone.
For this part, I went overboard with protective gear – a Carhartt jacket, thick waterproof winter gloves, face mask, and scarf around the neck. Freezing glass, pressurized bottles, and beyond freezing liquid are not to be taken lightly. Disgorging is dangerous, and I wouldn’t recommend doing this without proper protection from dangerous temperatures and possibility of exploding bottles.
Each bottle was dunked in the solution for about a minute and a half, enough to freeze the sediment while the beer remains liquid. Once frozen, I quickly removed the bottle, aimed it on an upward angle, and popped the cap. If the freezing step was timed properly, the sediment puck should just shoot out. Otherwise, as what happened a couple of times, the top of the neck needs to be warmed up to loosen it out. The massive amount of pressure will eventually, within a minute or two, push the puck, and some liquid, out.
After the sediment puck was removed, I quickly dosed the bottles with a couple of mL of simple syrup, to account for lost volume, and corked the bottles. Capping to corking needs to be done incredibly quickly, between 5 to 7 seconds total elapsed time per bottle. For corking, I simply used synthetic champagne corks that could be hammered in using a mallet. Saved the hassle of needing the floor corker and having to fiddle with settings to get it into position.
This technique is incredibly unique, time-consuming, and a bit difficult to do. But the results are worth it, even if I only do this once a year. It creates a sparkling and bright final product that will make a great beer to serve at special events and on special occasions. I will be attempting this technique with other styles at some point over the upcoming year, just to see what it can do – maybe a Brut IPA treated to this process will be next.
Method: All Grain
Batch Size: 5.5g
Boil Size: 7g
Boil Time: 60 min
68.8% Belgian Pilsner
31.3% White Wheat
Omega Yeast Labs Hot Head OYL-057
21g Nelson Sauvin at 60m
14g Mandarina Bavaria at 20m
7g Nelson Sauvin at 5m