So we’ve done the brewing, and racked it into the secondary fermenter for a few weeks–now it’s time to bottle the beer.
Start by cleaning and sanitizing about 50 bottles. This batch, I think, I used about 45 bottles, but it’s good to have a few extras just in case. I use the sanitize cycle on the dishwasher, which is the easiest way to do it.
While the dishwasher is running, mix up some sanitizer solution, assemble your equipment, and clean/sanitize things. The important stuff that we haven’t seen yet are the bottler (the red thing with the big lever on it), the bottle caps, and the bottle filler cane (the thing with the black tip that’s in the bucket in the picture). You will also notice that this bucket has a spigot in it to ease bottling.
Start soaking a bunch of bottle caps in a bowl of sanitzer.
We have to add some more sugar to the beer to give the yeast something to eat to make CO2 to carbonate the beer. Different beer styles call for different amounts of sugar. You usually will use corn sugar, as the yeast will eat it without making off flavors appear in your beer, but I have heard of people using all sorts of things for this purpose–even using a sugary liqueur, which has the added benefits of boosting your alcohol content and giving a flavor that would be hard to put into beer otherwise. Assuming you go the traditional corn sugar route, you need to boil your sugar in some water to dissolve it evenly. Boiling for 10-15 minutes also removes the dissolved oxygen from the water, and at this point we don’t want to expose the beer to any more oxygen than we need to, or else it will be more likely to oxidize.
Get the carboy or bucket you are using as the fermenter and siphon the beer out of it into the bottling bucket–remember to try to avoid sloshing, spraying, or otherwise exposing the beer to more oxygen. While you do this, gently add the sugar solution. If you don’t think the sugar has mixed in with the beer evenly enough, you can gently stir the beer with a long spoon. Oh yeah, and make sure the spigot is closed. Don’t ask me how I figured out that last one…
Now is where things start getting crazy–you will probably need another person to help you (at least, I’ve never bottled by myself). Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of this part because, well, I needed both hands. But I’ll describe how I do it, and if it isn’t clear, you can ask in the comments.
Put the full bottling bucket on the counter and attach the hose to the spigot. On the other end of the hose, attach the bottling cane. The bottling cane is a little device with a spring and a gasket, that when pushed down onto something allows the beer to come out. The idea is to insert it into an empty beer bottle and push it against the inside bottom of the bottle, allowing the beer to come out. When the bottle is full, you stop pushing on it, the spring pushes the gasket closed, stopping the flow of beer, and you can move on to the next empty bottle without wasting your beer on the floor. This process also minimizes the amount of oxygen exposure. Whoever is doing this part will need to sit lower than the bottom level of the bucket–I’d suggest using a short footstool to sit on so you aren’t sitting on the floor. I would also suggest doing this over a towel, and not over your priceless antique Persian rug, unless you think you can do it without overfilling any bottles.
The now full bottles are handed over to the person with the bottler and bottle caps. My bottler has a little magnet in the brass-colored crimper-cup that holds a bottle cap. Put a cap on the magnet, put the lever in the upright, vertical position, adjust the height of the device to fit whatever type of bottle you are using, put the bottle in under the cap, and pull down on the lever. You can think of it as reloading your bottle, and seating the bullet–and depending on how pressurized your beer is, that may be closer to the truth than you’d like! This picture might give you a better idea of how it works than the one up above:
Repeat until you’re out of beer in the bucket. You will probably need to tip the bucket up at some point to get the beer level up over the bottom of the spigot opening, at which point you probably only have a few bottles-worth of beer left in the bucket.
Last, clean off the bottles so they aren’t sticky and put them in boxes to sit for another couple weeks. It may be a good idea to put the bottles on a towel, in case you over carbonated any (that hasn’t happened to me yet, cross your fingers). They need to sit for the yeast to eat the sugar and carbonate the beer. And anyway, they always say that the batch is ready to start drinking about the time that you open the last bottle, so the longer they sit, the better the beer will be (to a point, at least). I also like to mark the bottle caps with some distinguishing symbol so you know what kind of beer is in them, especially if you are going to have more than one batch at a time. This was supposed to be an Irish red ale, so “R” it is.
There you have it. A Layman’s beer making guide. This is by no means everything there is to know, but is is how I currently do things. There are people who are way more hardcore, and keep track of the exact temperature/sugar content/whatever other little detail you want to fixate on, but I always like to keep in the back of my head that the Vikings made beer by using “magic spoons”–if they could do it, then you can do it, as hardcore as you want to go. And always remember the unofficial motto of all homebrewers: Relax. Don’t worry. Grab a homebrew.
2 responses to “Layman’s Beer Making: Bottling”
Thanks to you, I have been saving any beer bottles used in my house, anticipating the day I start making beer.Now, if you'll excuse me, my mead is going to be ready to rack any moment now.