I’ve posted the following in response to some questions I’ve had from people about my technique:
Q1) Does the Colonna corker use an iris to squeeze the corks or a funnel?
A1) No, it uses a ultra high molecular weight (i.e. really slippery but sturdy plastic) funnel.
Q2) Would a champagne cork work on a Colonna capper?
A2) Not a chance. The actual champagne corks are huge to start with. I’m not sure if you’ve seen them in person but they’ve got an impressive girth that would never fit in the funnel. If you could get them into the funnel I don’t think you’d have the leverage to squeeze them through and into the neck of the bottle. True champagne corks require a floor corker with an iris (in fact I believe it’s officially a different model floor corker than the usual one but could be wrong.)
Q3) What corks do you use?
A3) I use the Belgian Beer Bottle corks from MoreBeer.com. Since I put up my instructions Northern Brewer has started carrying the exact same corks. These are not just some generic agglomerated corks. These are the actual Belgian corks that Belgian brewers use. I know it because, 1) though my photography skills on that one shot you linked don’t show it well, the finished corked bottle looks identical to a bottle of Chimay, Duvel, etc. (here’s a better picture), 2) when the cork comes back out of the bottle it’s indistinguishable from a cork that came out of a real Belgian beer. There isn’t a Belgian brewer on the planet that puts a champagne cork into a Belgian bottle (see Q5 below for why.)
Q4) Do those straight sided corks result in a mushroom shaped cork coming out later?
A4) Absolutely. After a month or so in the bottle neck the cork comes out looking just like it would with any other Belgian beer (e.g. Chimay.) So just to be 100% clear, all corks start straight (I know the original poster knows this, I’m just putting it in for anyone else reading this as it’s not obvious.) Any cork that sticks out of a bottle will develop some degree of mushroom character over time. The more the cork is compressed to get it into the neck, the greater the mushroom character.
Q5) Is there a reason I wouldn’t want to use the champagne corks in a Belgian bottle.
A5) Well other than the trouble getting them into the bottle in the first place (see note about needing the right floor corker) you’d have a hell of a time getting the cork out. The amount of compression these corks are under exerts a huge force on the neck of the bottle. The further the cork is in the neck or the more compressed the cork is, the more total force. That force results in friction, which you need to overcome to get the cork back out of the bottle when you want to drink the beer. The carbonation of the beverage inside the bottle helps tremendously but even Belgians aren’t typically carbonated as highly as champagne so you’d have a heck of a time popping the cork. It took me a lot of tweaking to get the right setup so that the cork would come out smoothly on a properly carbonated bottle of beer.
Q6) Can I use an iris floor corker to cork bottle Belgians?
A6) I suppose so since when I first started this I heard that there was a way to do it like that. I was smart enough to try this out in my LHBS before dropping the coin on a floor corker, though. I will say that a normal wine floor corker just isn’t designed to leave as much stick out of a cork as we need. I won’t go into the details here but if you’re interested you can try it out yourself. Could this have been overcome, probably but I didn’t see a way that was as easy as with the Colonna corker/capper.
The whole point of corking a beer in a Belgian bottle is to have great presentation. As such, I didn’t cut any corners with my process. Everything is exactly as you’d find on a real Belgian bottle, right down to the number of turns I do on the wire cage. If you’d like to substitute in other products (such as a champagne cork,) that’s groovy. But that will not result in a presentation that exactly matches what comes from Belgium.
Q7) How does this compare to commercial corking techniques for Belgians
A7) Here’s a picture I just took of the three different configurations I’ve mentioned as well as a bottle I did myself. From left to right they are 1) a sparkling wine (i.e. champagne) in a champagne bottle with a champagne cork 2) Saison Dupont in a champagne bottle but with a Belgian cork 3) Ommegang Hennepin in a Belgian bottle with a Belgian cork 4) one of my beers following my technique in a Belgian bottle with a Belgian cork.