Steps To Bottling Homebrew

Question:

I’m getting ready to bottle my first batch of beer.  Would you have some advice on steps to bottle? I’ve seen a number of videos now, but it would be great to have a checklist of things I need to consider so I don’t mess this up. Thanks

Answer:

Here you go, hope this helps you!

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The major goal here is sanitizing your equipment. The secondary goal is not to oxidize your beer.

Oxidizing happens when you mix too much air with beer when transferring. so try to do all transfers with minimal splashing about.  Keep in mind that this is for roughly a 5-5.5 gallon batch.  You may need to adjust the amount of corn sugar and bottles if you are making a different amount.

1. Up to a couple days before you plan to bottle, sanitize your bottles. I’ve always used the dishwasher on the heat dry cycle. Some people put them in the oven for a while or sanitize each one individually (not the preferred choice by this brewer!) If you use the dishwasher, just let them drain as long as you can in the dishwasher. Then, take them out and load them into your cardboard cases. I would cover the tops of the bottles with one layer of saran wrap or aluminum foil.

If you can’t fit 55-60 bottles in your dishwasher, sanitize the balance with no-rinse solution on bottling day.

2. When you’re ready to bottle, clean the kitchen; I like to empty the sink and countertops too.

3. Carry your primary to the kitchen and set on a countertop. you want to give the gunk that you’ll swirl up by carrying a chance to resettle before siphoning to your bottling bucket. I like to put a book (usually Papazian) under one edge to tip the bucket slightly. The racking cane (or tube) will go into the low spot. this helps to get nearly every last drop!

4. Get about 0.5 gallons of water boiling for 15 minutes. Take off the heat and add 3/4 cup of corn sugar. it’ll probably instantly dissolve, but go ahead and stir it a couple of times, then continue to boil for 5 more minutes. At the end of the boil, cover the pot completely with the lid, and put in a sink of cold water to cool.

5. Prepare a gallon (or half gallon) of sanitizing liquid. Put a measuring cup and 60 bottle caps in there.

Use the measuring cup to sanitize your bottling bucket. I just make sure that it’s clean, then use the measuring cup to pour sanitizing solution down the sides. I tip the bucket and try to get contact with the entire surface area of the sides three times.

Pour the solution back into the sanitizing pot through the spigot. Catch some of  the solution to sanitize the outside of the spigot’s spout with.

*** make sure to close the spigot when your finished ***

Add the siphon hoses. Be sure to add the hoses such that they fill with solution. I have good luck feeding them in a little at a time while holding one end out. This lets the air escape.

If you have a racking cane (or tube), put the little foot into the sanitizing solution. Sanitize the outside of the cane (or tube) by holding it upright inside the sanitizing pot, then pouring sanitizing solution down it. Sanitize the inside by holding your thumb over the end near the curve (if using a cane, if not put thumb over other end), turn it open side up. Then, holding it over the sanitizing pot, use the measuring cup to fill the cane. After 30 seconds or so, I feel safe enough to tip the open end of the can back down to let the solution drain back into the sanitizing pot.

I pretend that a fresh dishtowel that has been dried in the drier is sanitary. You may decide that you can sanitize your countertop just fine. In any case, you can fetch the bottlecaps out of the sanitizing solution and place them right side up (so they’ll drain) on the towel. The sanitized racking cane also goes onto a towel.

Place the bucket bottom up to drain on the towel for a couple minutes.

6. Now, you’re getting ready to siphon (brewers call this “racking”) from the primary to the bottling bucket. I like to put the bottling bucket on a chair rather than on the floor to reduce the speed of the flow. It also keeps the spigot in the air rather than on the floor.

7. Take a hose out of the sanitizer and cram one end over the short end of the racking cane (or simply one end of the tube if it’s straight). This can be real hard to do if the sizes aren’t just right. I have had to sanitize the handle of a steel spoon and gently ream the end of the hose. Hopefully yours will be a good snug fit. I like to get at least one inch of overlap of the hose onto the cane, but have used less than half an inch before with a stubborn hose. With a short overlap, you may actually have a hole which, funny enough, won’t leak, but will draw air in as your beer flows by. This is bad due to the aeration/oxidation problem. I’ll tell you how to fix this problem if it happens, later.

Put the little foot on the other end of the cane. Now for the really tricky part, starting the siphon. Assuming the lid is off the primary, you have several options.

1. put the racking cane into the low side of the primary, hold the free end of the hose over the bottling bucket, suck on it till you get a little sip of beer, then crimp the hose. Drink the beer in your mouth. Now, put the free end of the hose into the bottom of the bucket, and let go of the crimp. This is probably the easiest method, but has a chance of putting some crud from your mouth into the beer. Many people siphon by mouth without any problems. I’ve done it without noticeable ill-effects.

2. You can fill the hose/racking cane with sanitized water. Simply keep the free end of the hose up above the foot end of the racking tube. Then use a measuring cup to fill the hose/tube combination with the water. When the hose and cane are mostly full (just an inch or so empty at both ends, put your thumb tightly over the end of the hose. Tip the end of the racking can up, then quicly plunge it into the primary. Now, you can put the free end of the hose into the bottom of the bucket. If all goes well, you’ll be pulling beautiful copper colored beer into your bucket.

*** now is when you’ll find out if you remembered to close the spigot! ***

8. After the siphon has pulled a gallon or so of beer into the bucket, I like to crimp the siphon hose, put a clean glass under the hose, and get about 4 oz of beer to measure the specific gravity with. Uncrimp the hose and put the open end back to the bottom of the bucket. Fill the hydrometer flask about 2/3 full and check out your final gravity.

9. If you notice an air gap forming at the junction of the cane and hose, simply elevate the section of hose downstream of the air gap a few inches above the top of the cane. This should cause the air gap to fill with beer. You can repeat this process as needed.

10. By now, the bottling sugar solution should be cool enough. Haul the pot out of the sink and dry it off. gently pour the solution into the bottling bucket. After it is all in, I gently stir the “primed” beer with the siphon hose a couple of times.

11. You want to babysit the siphon pretty closely, checking for the air gap and especially to keep the bottom of the cane in the low spot. This is most important near the end of the siphon. You can give extra tip to the nearly empty bucket with your hands.

12. You can take the sanitzed bottles out of the cases and put them onto the counter

13. When you start to suck air instead of beer through the bottom of the racking cane, lift it up and let what beer will, drain into the bottling bucket. Put the hose/cane into the sink. Put the primary into the sink and give it a squirt of soap and a quick squirt down of the sides (if you have a hand held sprayer. You don’t want to clean it thoroughly now, you’ve got beer to bottle).

14. Put the bottling bucket onto the counter.

15. Put the bottling hose onto the spigot. Again, 0.5 to 1.0 inch of overlap is good if you can get it.

16. Lift the free end of the bottling hose above the top of the bucket and open the spigot.

17. About 12 inches above the free end, crimp the hose over and hold the upside down “V” in your right hand. Grab a bottle with your left hand and put the free end of the bottling hose to the bottom of the bottle.

Slowly relax your crimp and you’ll soon get the feel of regulating the flow with the tightness of the crimp. go slowly here so as not to spill any beer.

When the beer is about 1 inch below the top of the bottle, crimp the hose shut. Lift the free end of the hose above the surface of the beer, but not out of the bottle. The beer in the hose downstream of the crimp does a nice job replacing the volume of the hose that was in the bottle. When that has finished draining, point the filling end of the “V” skyward. put the filled bottle on the counter. Grab a bottle cap and rest it on the bottle. The beer is primed and is producing CO2. Since CO2 is heavier than air, it drives the air off the surface of the beer, thus helping to prevent oxidation.

18. Repeat till you can’t get any more beer to come through the spigot. When you start to hear slurping, it’s best to close the spigot and drain the hose into a sanitized pitcher. I then just carefully pour from the bottling bucket into the pitcher. I then fill the last few (3-4) bottles from the pitcher. I usually mark XXX across the top of these bottle caps because you never know how they might turn out and you don’t want to give your boss or best friend a funky beer. The XXX ones are good for testing several days after bottling.

19. Now you’re ready to cap the bottles. If your capper is like mine (2-handled), the following instructions may make sense. If not, just practice beforehand.

When the handles are closed, two flanges come into contact with the bottle below the bumps on the neck. as you continue to close the handles, the bell-shaped thing crimps the bottle cap snugly onto the bottle.

At first, I felt most secure putting the bottles onto the floor. Then I could keep the bottle upright during the capping process by holding it between my knees or on the counter top. It does take a bit of force to crimp the caps and I was concerned about tipping a bottle over while pushing down to close the handles. It just takes practice.

20. After all the bottles are capped, put them back into the cases. Put the cases in a dark place between 65-75 degrees for ales or cooler for lagers. Wait at least 5 days before you sample an ale, or longer for lagers. Carbonation typically takes 10-14 days and lagering longer. However, one of the neat things about homebrewing is that you can experience the beauty of natural carbonation at all stages. The beer you drank from siponing or from the sample for the specific gravity was uncarbonated, but provides a clear indication of the finished taste of your beer. It should keep getting better with age.