How to Bottle Homebrew
Congratulations you had a successful brew day, even if there were a few hiccups you have successfully brewed your first beer, and waited patiently for your beer to finish fermenting, now you are thinking to yourself, how do I bottle this and turn it into carbonated & delicious beer? That's what we’re here to talk about in this article I will tell you how to get that beer into bottles & end up with that carbonated and tasty beverage you have been patently waiting for.
Is it Ready?
Okay first thing's first, you will need to verify that your beer is completely done fermenting, this is done by taking hydrometer readings over a couple days to make sure the gravity doesn't change. Note: If you bottle a beer that has not finished fermenting you will risk bottle bombs, a very angry SWMBO, and possibly an end to your new brewing hobby so let's avoid that.
You will want to take your first hydrometer reading which should be at or very close to the FG in the recipe you are making. Go ahead and taste it too. It's good to taste your beer every time you pull a sample to get an idea of how a beer tastes at various stages. If it tastes like flat beer it's done, if it is still sweet give it more time. Taste should not be your indicator as a beginner, however with experience it is a brewer’s greatest tool. After you take your first reading wait 2-3 days and take a new reading if it is the same as the first reading, your beer is ready to bottle, if not wait a few more days and check again. Again, do not bottle until your beer has finished fermenting.
How does my flat beer get carbonated?
As yeast consume sugar they are producing alcohol and large amounts of CO2. With a cap on the bottle and nowhere for this CO2 to go it takes the path of least resistance, which assuming you have capped your bottles well and they are free of defects is to be absorbed by the beer in the bottle. It is good practice to inspect your bottles to make sure they are free of cracks. Gather and set up your equipment. It’s good to have a check list of the things you will need to get your precious beer safely into bottles.
You will need:
- Bottles - Enough Pry off cap style amber colored bottles, Plastic PET soda bottles, or Swing-Top Grolsch style bottles for your batch size. Here is a calculator to help you figure out how many bottles you need http://www.brewersfriend.com/bottling-calculator/ * Do not use twist off "Bud" style bottles or any bottle that did not previously contain a carbonated beverage this may result in flat beer or worse bottles of your new beer exploding, affectionately called “bottle bombs”.
- Caps for each bottle.
- Capper, either wing or bench style either will work.
- A Bottling bucket with a spigot will make your life a bit easier, but if you don't have the spigot style a regular bottling bucket without a spigot will do just fine.
- Tubing, appropriately sized tubing for your racking cane or auto-siphon and bottling wand 3/8" is the standard size of the wand and siphon , however some auto-siphons do also come in 1/2" size. the 3/8" size takes 7/16"OD X 5/16"ID tubing for a tight seal.
- Bottling Wand, allows you to fill the bottle from the bottom helping to prevent oxidation.
- Sanitizer, you should know all about sanitizer by now, whatever homebrew sanitizer you like will work. My sanitizer of choice is StarSan.
- Priming Sugar, an appropriate amount of priming sugar for your batch size priming sugar as with any other dry material in brewing should always be measured by weight not volume for accurate results. ( For a 5 gallon batch 4oz of corn sugar known as Dextrose is usually enough) If you are priming to style there are many online calculators to help you figure out the proper amount to use here is just one of them. http://www.brewersfriend.com/beer-priming-calculator/ for temperature you will want to use the highest temperature the beer reached during fermentation this will determine how much residual CO2 remains in the beer. There are also many options for priming sugar and each will take a different amount of sugar to achieve the desired amount of carbonation. Personally I use table sugar (dextrose) with equal results and a nice savings compared to corn sugar.
- Scale, for measuring priming sugar
- Small Sauce Pan for boiling priming solution, and a cover for the pan foil will work just fine.
Extras (not necessary, but nice to have items)
Now that you have gathered your materials, and checked for a steady gravity on your beer, you can get started. Note: It is important to make sure all of your bottles are clean and free of debris prior to sanitizing them, carefully inspect each bottle for any foreign crud. If the bottles are clean go ahead and give them a rinse just in case they have any dust in them, if they are dirty they must be scrubbed clean with a brush and rinsed prior to continuing. After you rinse your bottles you can weigh out the appropriate amount of sugar on your scale. Mix the sugar into a small amount of water in the sauce pan, just enough water to completely dissolve the sugar. Bring this priming solution to a boil and boil for a few minutes to sanitize it. Remove the priming solution from the stove and cover.
Sanitize all of your equipment most things can be sanitized in the bottling bucket ( if you have an attached spigot on the bottling bucket now is a good time to check for leaks) to sanitize the tubing and an auto siphon or racking cane simply siphon a couple pints or so of sanitizer through the cane and tubing. Bottles can be sanitized either with a Vinator filled with sanitizer, by filling them with a small amount of sanitizer and shaking to make sure the sanitizer touches the entire inner surface of the bottle, or by submerging them in a bucket of sanitizer. Caps can be sanitized by placing them into a small bowl filled with sanitizer. Place the fermenting vessel on an elevated surface with the bottling bucket below to allow you to siphon into your bottling bucket. Pour your priming solution into the bottling bucket. The act of siphoning your beer is referred to as racking. Rack your beer onto the priming solution taking care not to disturb the sediment (trub), racking onto the priming solution will allow it to evenly mix throughout your beer, however when my siphon has finished I usually take the racking cane out of my auto siphon to give it a gentle stir being careful to minimize oxygen uptake into the beer. Now that the beer has been transferred set the fermenter aside and place the bottling bucket on the elevated surface, and assemble your wand and tubing either to the bucket spigot or to the cane or siphon. If using a bucket without a spigot you will need to depress the bottling wand in a bottle before starting the siphon.
Begin filling bottles, the siphon will continue each time the bottling wand is pressed and if filling to the top of the bottle once removed it will leave a perfect and uniform amount of head-space in each bottle. Place a cap on each bottle and set them aside as you fill them, until you have filled all the bottles. If working with a partner you can have them cap while you fill or vice versa. It will take a few times to get a system down but I like to place the caps and bottles next to me and sit on the floor while I fill my bottles. After you have filled all of the bottles you can begin capping, place the bell of the capper over the cap and mouth of the bottle and crimp the cap down. Once all the bottles have been capped I like to wipe them off with a damp towel to remove any beer that spilled onto the outside of the bottle. Place all the newly bottled beer out of direct sunlight and in an area at least 70°F (21°C) and forget about it for 2-3 weeks. Chill your beer for at least 24 hours and enjoy! Congratulations on your bottle conditioned homebrew.