You’ve brewed and fermented your batch; now it’s time to package it. Bottling is the most economical option and is almost a rite of passage for every brewer. We’ll cover all the essentials and answer some of those pesky questions.
When bottling beer, there are a few things you must keep in mind:
- Ensure your beer is at its final gravity before packaging.
- Cleaning and sanitation are critically important.
- Use the correct amount of priming sugar to achieve your target carbonation level.
- Streamlining your process and enlisting help will make bottling enjoyable.
What You’ll Need
Here’s what you need to bottle your beer:
- Bottles (48 of the 12 ounce bottles for 5 gallons)
- Bottle Caps and Capper (55 or so caps cause you’ll mess a few up)
- 6 ft of tubing
- Auto-Siphon (optional)
- Bottling wand (get one that’s spring loaded)
- Bottling bucket
- 5 gallon bucket (optional but very handy)
- Sanitizer (non-rinse variety)
- A few old towels (you’ll spill…trust me)
- A larger mixing bowl or other container
- A small sauce pot
- Priming sugar
- Scale and measuring cup
Is it Ready to Bottle?
Before you bottle your beer, you need to be sure that you’re carbonating beer not making bombs.
Make sure you have a stable specific gravity reading using a hydrometer or refractometer. When you think your beer is done fermenting, check the specific gravity. Then check it again after a couple days. If the reading is the same both times and it’s at or within a couple points of your predicted final gravity, it’s time to bottle.
How Much Priming Sugar and What Kind?
Use an online calculator like this one from Brewer’s Friend to determine how much sugar you should use. There is a nice chart next to the calculator linked above that tells you how many volumes of CO2 are appropriate for a given style. If you’re not sure, target 2.3 – 2.5 volumes. That is what most craft beer in the US is served at.
As for priming sugar, I’m a fan of table sugar. It’s cheap and I always have some in my cupboard. You can use a variety of other sugars for priming but the end result of carbonation and flavor are going to be the same unless you’re adding something that has other flavors e.g., brown sugar, molasses etc.
Cleaning and Sanitation
If you’ve made it this far in the brewing process, you’re doing something right. Cleaning and sanitizing is probably one of those things.
It’s often said, “you can’t sanitize what isn’t clean”. This is true. Make life easy and rinse your bottle directly after pouring your beer. Let the bottle dry and visually inspect it for grime and gunk before sanitizing.
Sanitize your bottles in advance by dunking them in a rinseless sanitizing solution. I use my 5 gallon bottling bucket for this step. Make sure you get all the inside surface wet and drain the solution back into the bucket. Set your bottles aside in an area where you can conveniently grab them while bottling.
The Process of Bottling
Prepare the Priming Sugar
Start by mixing up your priming sugar solution. Boil it for 2 minutes and let it cool in a couple inches of cold water in your sink. While that’s cooling, move on to the next step.
Collect and Clean Your Bottles
Next, collect your bottles. You need 48 of the 12 ounce variety for a 5 gallon batch of beer. Make sure they are clean.
Grab the bottling bucket and fill it with 2 ½ gallons of sanitizing solution. Rinse your bottles and set them next to where you’ll be filling them. I don’t dry my bottles but I do try to get all the sanitizer out.
Take the sanitizer solution and fill up a mixing bowl or other gallon sized container. Toss in your bottling caps. Now make sure your bottling bucket is sanitized and dump the sanitizer into your extra five gallon bucket. Sanitize your tubing, siphon, and bottling wand.
Racking and Mixing
Now it’s time to add the chilled priming solution to the bottling bucket and siphon (rack) your beer over into that same bucket. It is very important to make sure you don’t splash and that the hose in the bottling bucket is at the bottom. This will help prevent excessive oxidation.
You’ve got your beer into the bottling bucket and it’s time to fill your bottles. After sanitizing everything, attach your hose to the spigot on the bottling bucket and put the wand on the other end. I like to keep the bowl of caps and sanitizer next to me so I can set the wand down without contaminating it.
Fill a bottle. Set a cap on it. Set it aside and repeat or hand it to you friend, lover, spouse, or child, to be capped.
A quick note on capping. Some bottles are easier to cap than others. Use caution. When it feels like it’s going to break the bottle, use a bit more force. If that doesn’t seal the cap then consider grabbing a bottle that’s easier to cap or try again and risk breaking the bottle. I’ve broken a few and it’s not that bad…just a pain in the keister to clean up.
After you’ve filled your bottles, set them in a stable-room-temperature place. It will take about 3 weeks for the beer to fully carbonate. If you’re like me, you’ll try one after a couple days just to see how it’s coming along. And you’ll be disappointed that it’s not ready yet.
How to Pour a Homebrew
It’s been weeks and you’re finally ready to enjoy your homebrew! Don’t spoil the moment by dumping a bunch of yeasty sediment into your glass. And for heaven’s sake don’t drink it out of the bottle!
Here’s how to properly pour a homebrew. Crack it open, incline your glass to about 45 degrees, tip the bottle so you get a gentle pour into the glass. Stop pouring before the bottle is empty. You should be able to see the gunk coming from the bottom of the bottle and stop pouring before it goes into your glass. You want to leave about a ½ inch of beer behind in the bottle.
Drink that last half inch if you wish, you’ll be glad it isn’t in your glass.
Styles That “Should and Shouldn’t” be Bottled
There are certain styles that lend themselves to bottling. Use the following guideline: if it can be aged then it can be bottled. A few examples are Saison, sours (though not all), beer brewed with brettanomyces, and big beers (Barleywine, Russian Imperial Stout etc.)
We’re not here to tell you not to bottle beer but there are other styles that don’t fare so well in bottles due to oxidation. NEIPA is definitely one of these.
I’ve many times heard the following words, “If it wasn’t for kegs I would have quit homebrewing”. I’m the first to admit that I love my kegs. But there is something romantic and seriously satisfying about opening the fridge and grabbing a cold homebrew in a bottle.
Bottling is work. Work can be fun. Remember it’s a hobby and invite some friends to help out with the process and celebrate with some beer.