I’ve been brewing my brains out lately, making 3 batches for my sister-in-law’s wedding. I’m not a fan of bottling. When I got into homebrewing in 2012, I only lasted about 3 batches until I decided to buy some kegging equipment. Did I mention I hate bottling? Nevertheless, I thought it would be a good post for the novices out there to have a good reference on how to bottle homebrew, and if you last as long as I did and want to keg your homebrew, I have a series of posts on how to do that too.
Let’s get started! I’m going to assume you have a batch of fermented beer at this point. It’s sitting in the fermentor begging you to be relocated to a new home. The first thing you need to do (and this can take a few days if you’re reusing store bought beer bottles) is clean and delabel your bottles. If it’s a 5 gallon batch, you should be safe with 52 12-ounce bottles. To delabel them, I usually soak the bottles in hot water for a few hours, then take a razor blade to them. Some are super stubborn while others come right off. After they’re all label free, I stick them right in the dishwasher.
Besides the bottles, you’re going to need 5 oz. of priming sugar, bottling bucket, bottle filler, siphon, bottle capper, bottle caps, and sanitizer (I use Star-San). Now let’s talk science for a bit so you understand what we’re trying to accomplish here. First of all, you want to carbonate your beer – that’s the goal. To carbonate beer, the beer needs to be in an environment where carbon dioxide is being pushed into it – that environment is our glass bottle. Well that makes sense, but how do we pressurize it? You introduce sugar. During fermentation, your yeast is consuming all those tasty sugars from your wort and omitting carbon dioxide (C02) out of your carboy. You allow these gases to escape with an air lock system – I always joke around and make a comment like “haha – the beer is farting”. Once all the sugars are consumed, the yeast settles to the bottom and you let it age for a few weeks. Well, when you remove the beer from the fermentor, some of that yeast comes along for the ride and it wakes up once you add your priming sugar. The only difference now, is that the yeast consumes the sugar, creates C02, and the gas has nowhere else to go but back into the beer. Once this happens, you have a carbonated beer my friend.
So let’s prepare the sugar. It’s not rocket science – just boil 2 cups of water, stir in the 5 ounces of priming sugar (corn sugar), and let it cool. You can let it cool in an ice bath if you’re short on time, or just leave it to the side (I usually do this an hour or two ahead of time).
Next, siphon the beer out of your fermentor into a sanitized bottling bucket. I usually siphon it through a stainless steel screen just in-case I suck up some hop residue (which is usually the case). Once the sugar has cooled, add it to the beer and gently stir. Try to avoid splashing – you don’t want to add oxygen to the beer at this point. Once it’s all mixed in the bucket, it’s time to start filling your clean/sanitized bottles. Attach the bottle filler to the bucket’s spigot, open the valve, and let gravity do its thing. Tip: Use the door to your dishwasher to fill the bottles (easy clean-up). The nice thing about the bottle filler is that it doesn’t let beer through unless the nip is pressed against the bottom of the beer bottle. You can fill up all the bottles and then cap them all at once. I actually prefer the handheld bottle capper vs. the bench-top capper. Sometimes your bottles aren’t always the same height, and it gets annoying changing the position of the bench-top model all the time. Don’t forget to sanitize your caps!
Once all the bottles are capped, you should store them at room temperature in a dark environment for about 2 weeks. I should mention that this is my own personal way of bottling homebrew. There are many other methods including force-carbonation from a draft system and transferring with a beer gun, or using carbonating pellets. I’m not saying my way is the right way or the only way – I do believe it is the most natural way of doing it though. Feel free to comment below or share some tips.