As always, our aim is to explain different techniques in brewing in the simplest way possible, and our guide to bottling your beer is no different. This guide is designed with the homebrewer in mind - for batch sizes between 1 and 20 gallons - but the method can be applied to any sized batch.
Assuming you have your beer ready in its fermentor (you do, right? Otherwise you've missed a BIG step), you will also need the following:
- Brown Bottles
- Bottle Caps
- Bottle Capper
- A Simple Siphon
- Sanitizing Bucket
- Bottling Bucket
- Priming Sugar (sugar type is dependent on style)
- Bottling wand
- Grolsch style swing top bottles (instead of brown bottles, caps and capper)
Step 1: Sanitize Everything!
Sanitizing your equipment is the number one rule in brewing. The last thing you want to do is bottle your beers using dirty equipment and risk contaminating them at the penultimate step!
Take your sanitizer (we suggest Starsan, as it is non-rinse and the oxygen found within it can actually help the yeast during the bottle conditioning) and add it to your Sanitizing bucket with the desired amount of water. Take some of this sanitizing solution and give your bottling bucket a good clean, too.
REMEMBER: ALWAYS READ THE LABEL when deciding on how many parts sanitizer to water you're using.
Then, add in your bottles, bottle caps, bottle capper, and siphon. If you can't fit all of the bottles in the bucket, do a handful at a time. Once everything has soaked and been scrubbed in the bucket, rinse if necessary and place on a sanitized surface. Once again, Star San doesn't need to be rinsed, so don't fear it!
Step 2: Prepare your priming sugar
Depending on the beer style and the size of the batch, the type and amount of sugar used will vary. The awesome guys over at northern brewer have a handy calculator you can use to calculate how much sugar to use depending on the style and how much beer you have.
Once you have the right amount of sugar, you're going to want to boil some water and add your sugar to it. The reason we boil is to remove any bacteria that might be lurking in the sugar or water, and also to remove any excess oxygen found in the sugar. (This is also why later we'll be adding our beer with a siphon to reduce the chances of oxidation.)
Step 3: Add your sugar solution and beer
Get your sanitized bottling bucket and delicately add your sugar solution to the bottom. Now, using your sanitized siphon (are you starting to notice the cleanliness theme?) siphon your beer into the bottling bucket.
If you're unfamiliar with siphoning, one way is to fill the siphon pipe with water and put your thumb over each end. Hold the pipe vertical and let go with one thumb. Pressure and suction should keep water in the pipe. Add this end to your beer on a high table and then bring the thumb end down into a glass or drain on the ground. Let it run and watch gravity do the work. The water leaving the pipe will pull the beer through. Just before any beer comes out, put your thumb back on the end. Now run it into your bottling bucket on top of your sugar solution. If you get a simple siphon, it has a tap on one end removing the need for your thumb and makes the process...simpler.
Be careful when siphoning your beer as we want to avoid getting any excess oxygen in our beer at this stage. Oxidized beer is not tasty beer!
Step 4: Siphon your beer into the bottles
Now it's time to get your beer into the bottles! Using the same siphoning method detailed above, siphon your beer into the bottles leaving an inch at the top. Alternatively, this process is made a lot easier if your bottling bucket has a tap on it, as you can simply attach the siphon to the tap. It's made easier still if you use a bottling wand as you can easily attach to the siphon. The neat trick with a bottling wand is that you can insert it directly into the bottom of the bottle and once the bottle is full to the brim you can remove the wand and be left with exactly the right amount of headspace. This little bit of room at the top of the bottle is essential as this small amount of oxygen will be used by the remaining yeast to eat those sugars we added earlier. Once capped the C02 (carbon dioxide) created by the yeast won't be able to escape and this is how our beer becomes carbonated. This is called bottle conditioning.
Step 5: Cap your bottles and leave until ready
Take a sanitized bottle cap and place it on top of the bottle. Use your capper to close it, making sure you have a tight seal. Now repeat until all the beer is in bottles! (You can remove the need for caps and a capper by purchasing 'swing top bottles'. They're the Grolsch style ones - a lot of good homebrew stores will have them). Just so you know, we use brown glass as brown lets less light in than green or clear (as you can imagine) and this is important as light can mess with your yeast and create other off flavors.
Now all you need to do is leave your bottles in the same place as your fermenter was before - a dark place around 70 degrees Fahrenheit - for 2-3 weeks to carbonate. We recommend taking one out every 4-5 days or so and popping in the fridge for an hour. Give it a try - if you like the level of carbonation pop them all in the fridge! The drop in temperature will halt the yeast eating the sugar and halt the carbonation at that stage.
Step 6: Relax, don't worry and have a homebrew!
Congratulations, you now have your own beautiful craft beer! Open up and enjoy the fruits of your labor, you most certainly deserve it!