About two weeks ago, now, you brewed your first batch. And like a new mother enthralled with her firstborn, you’ve spent the past fortnight gazing lovingly at your amber-coloured creation softly bubbling away in your coat closet, or maybe a warm corner of your garage.
But now it’s time get that beer (it’s no longer ‘wort’: once it’s fermented, it’s beer!) into bottles for carbonation and conditioning.
Before you start bottling, make sure you’ve got the following on-hand and ready:
Enough bottles to hold five gallons of beer. This works out to roughly 44 12 oz. bottles. I usually bottle a few larger (22 oz.), and sometimes a few smaller (10 oz.) ones with each batch, but make sure I have enough bottles cleaned and sanitized to have a few left over.
Bottle caps & capping tool. Enough caps for all the bottles you have.
1 cup of corn sugar for ‘priming.’ This is what will make your beer carbonated. Adding sugar just before bottling will give the yeast a bit more to ferment. As it ferments it will emit carbon dioxide (the same as what bubbles out of the airlock when your beer is in the fermenter). However, in the bottle, with an airtight cap, that CO2 will have nowhere to go, and your beer will become carbonated.
(As you get more practice and get into more advanced recipes you can try priming with other things (molasses, DME, etc.). But the standard for basic, straightforward home-brewing is corn sugar: It carbonates in a just a few days and does not impart any flavor to the finished product.)
A long-handled mixing spoon or spatula.
A ‘racking cane’ or enough tubing to siphon your beer out of the fermenter. A racking cane is just a straight, stiff clear plastic tube with a crook on one end (looks like a cane, hence the name). You put the long part of the cane down into your fermenter, and then attach a siphon tube (about four feet) to the crook end at the top.
5 gallon bucket with a spigot added: perfect for priming and bottling.
A 5-gallon bucket for mixing your beer with priming sugar.
I’ve put a food-grade spigot (buy online or at a brewing supply store) about 1/2 inch up from the bottom of mine to make bottling easier.
Several old towels. Bottling can get messy. Good to have towels around for wiping up spills.
Got everything? Great – now you’re ready to start. To bottle your beer, do these steps in order:
1) In small saucepan bring 1 cup of corn sugar and 2 cups of water to a boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes (to totally sanitize it). Cover and cool to room temperature. It takes a while for this to cool, so I always do this step first, then worry about everything else. You can put the saucepan into the refrigerator to cool it down faster.
2) Move your fermenter to wherever you plan to siphon the beer into the bucket you’ll use for priming. I use the laundry room – set the fermenter on the dryer (one of the old towels underneath). When you move the fermenter, you’ll slosh the yeast slurry on the bottom around a bit. Doing the move early allows it to settle back before you siphon (helps your finished beer look clearer).
3) Sanitize all of your equipment thoroughly. I use iodine sanitizer. It’s 1 tablespoon per 5 gallons of cold water. immerse everything and then allow it to air dry: the inside and outside of the racking cane and siphon tubing; the mixing spoon; the inside of the bucket you’ll use for priming; all of the bottle caps…
This is an extremely important step: Follow the directions with whatever sanitizer you use carefully and take the time to do it properly. It doesn’t matter how good your recipe is or how well you brewed, if you get this step wrong, you’ll ruin your beer.
You’ll have to sanitize all of your bottles, too. I sanitize bottles using regular iodine solution, and then running through a fast dishwasher cycle (no soap, just water).
4) Siphon (‘rack’) your beer into the priming bucket and add your priming sugar.
Putting as little of your lips as possible on the end of the tube, suck (siphon) until beer starts to flow into the bucket…Take the airlock off of your fermenter and insert the long end of the racking cane down into the beer. Attach your siphon tubing to the crook end of the racking cane and dangle the other end down into the bucket (you sanitized it, right?) that you’re siphoning into. (see photo)
Once you have about an inch of beer in the bottom, slowly pour your cooled priming sugar solution into the bucket (don’t stop the siphon), and very gently stir with the (sanitized) mixing spoon.
After you’ve added the priming sugar, continue to rack (brewing word for ‘siphon’) the rest of your beer into your priming bucket, stirring occasionally with the sanitized mixing spoon. Stop racking just before your racking cane begins to ‘suck’ up the sludge from the bottom of the fermenter.
Note: if you use a hydrometer to calculate alcohol content, be sure to capture beer that has not been mixed with priming sugar, as this will throw off the reading. I usually just put my measuring cylinder under the siphon tube to catch beer as it flows into the priming bucket.
If your priming bucket has a spigot, all you have to do now is fill the bottles. I usually do this in a kitchen sink (put the priming bucket on the counter with the spigot hanging over the sink).
If your bucket does not have a spigot, you’ll need to use a kitchen funnel (with a nozzle small enough to fit into the mouth of a bottle). It will take two people to bottle this way – one to pour, and one to hold the bottle and funnel steady.
Either way, you’ll want to pour slowly to avoid a foamy head coming up out of the bottle. This loses space in the bottle, and increases the chance of ruining the beer by infection.
Let the foam subside before filling to within about 1 inch of the top
Fill each bottle to within about 1 inch of the mouth, then cap tightly with a sanitized cap.
Using a capping tool.
flip-top bottles are super easy to bottle in and reusable, too!
6) Aging. And…. we’re back to the waiting. After bottling you’ll need to age your beer for at least 7-10 days for the yeast to do its’ work on the priming sugar and carbonation to take effect. Most home-brew recipes are drinkable after 1 week (7 days), but I find that most of the ones I’ve made really started to taste good after about 1 month in the bottle.
At any rate, it’s worth experimenting a bit from batch to batch. Keep track of when you bottle which batches and make notes of how they taste at 1 week, 2 weeks, and so on. This way, if you make that same recipe again, you’ll have a better idea of how long it needs to age for optimum taste.
Because taste is what it’s all about right? And this is the perfect segway to…
7) Drinking the finished product…
No explanation needed.