Have you been paying attention?
If you had you’ll have some nice looking beer sitting in a fermenter. It’s been a couple of weeks since you put it in there. If you’re using the air lock you would have noticed it’s slowed down the bubbling quite a lot. If you’ve got gladwarp on the top you’ll have noticed the karusen is pretty much gone, having dropped to the bottom of the fermenter. You’ve taken hydrometer readings over the last few days and now have a consistent reading somewhere between 1.006 and 1.012 depending on the beer.
Guess what? Now you’re ready to bottle it!
Yay! Well not really. To be frank bottling day sucks ass. That’s why a lot of homebrewers end up with kegs. But it’s a necessary evil if you want bubbly beer. If you want flat beer, or if you have a soda stream, then you could just tap it off into some 2L bottles and stick them all in the fridge and drink them flat, or charge them up in your soda stream. (I take no responsibility for the latter, I’ve not tried it, your mileage may vary)
Bottling day…. Where to start…
Cleaning – Yep, that’s right, just like your fermenter and other stuff you used in the brewing process you need to clean your bottles. I don’t care if the bottles are brand new. Wash them. If like me you’re fastidious about cleaning them when you put them away, good for you. But still give them a bit of a wash. If they’ve been sitting in a milk crate in the shed for a few months, then wash them really well, check for critters, spiders and cockroaches like to find their way into beer bottles especially if they’ve not been well cleaned. Bottle brushes are your friend. Make sure they’re spotless. Anything you miss has the potential to harbor nasties which will screw up that bottle of beer and either make it explode, or just taste like crap.
After they’re clean, rinse them well. Get all the soap out, no one like soapy beer.
This is where a bottle drying tree can be handy.
Next up you have to sanitise the bottles. This will make sure the inside of your bottles is completely clear from any bacteria or other nasties which can infect your beer in the bottle. Go and find the sanitiser you used during to prep your fermenter. Follow the instructions on the bottle to mix up the right ratio. Then you need to get a bit of this into each bottle, shake it around, and pour it out. If it’s a no-rinse sanitiser, happy days, just turn the bottle up onto your bottling tree and leave it. If it needs a rinse, then rinse it with some water and stick it on your tree.
The way I normally do this is mix up say 1L worth, grab a funnel, and pour a couple of cm into a bunch of bottles. Get your funnel and stick it into the next empty bottle, grab a bottle with sanitiser, give it a shake and empty the sanitiser into the next bottle, stick the bottle in your hand on the tree.
If you’re lucky to have a bottle rinser like this, then you can just chuck your no-rinse sanitiser in the bottom of it and pump away shooting the solution up into your bottles.
Now your bottles are part way ready for your beer.
Next up you need to prime them.
So what the hell is “priming bottles” I hear you ask?
In order to make your beer bubbly we need some way to get CO2 into it. Most breweries force carbonate their beer. That is they hook it up to some pressurised CO2 and force the CO2 into the liquid, then bottle it and cap it so the gas can’t escape it. This is what the little brew on premises places do too. That’s not what you’re going to do. We’re going to take advantage of our little best beer friend Mr Yeast. During the fermenting process Mr Yeast’s main job was to turn sugars into alcohol, and CO2 was a byproduct we didn’t really case about. Now CO2 is the bit we care about, and Mr Yeast is going to turn this extra little bit of sugar into CO2, and because the bottle will be capped the CO2 will have nowhere to go but actually into the beer! The other bonus of this (which is known as bottle conditioning) is that beer which is carbonated like this is actually also preserved. So it doesn’t need to be refrigerated, and will keep for a long time in the right conditions.
Grab your sugar measuring scoop and find the size of bottle you have (hopefully they’re all the same size, otherwise it gets a bit tricky..) Get a nice clean _dry_ funnel, and scoop up appropriate amount of plain old table sugar and dump into the bottle. Now do this same thing for all the bottles.
Now your bottles are ready for the beer.
Get your fermenter and stick it on a bench or table (do this gently, you don’t want to stir up all the yeast which is sitting on the bottom of the fermenter), then find a milk crate, upend it and sit on it, in front of the fermenter. Arrange your bottles on the left of you. Grab you bottling wand and jam it into the tap of your fermenter (make sure you’ve sanitised it). Turn on the tap. Hopefully the bottling wand is doing it’s job and no beer is spilling out all over the place. Place a saucepan under the bottling wand, there will be drips during the process! Take hold of an empty bottle, insert onto bottling wand and press upward so the inside base of the bottle depresses the little stick valve on the bottling wand. Beer will flow into the bottle. Wait till beer is about a cm from the top of the bottle then lower the bottle quickly to shut off the flow. Remove bottle from wand.
Here’s where having a mate help you is really handy. Ideally, you don’t want to have that beer open to the world for very long before you cap it. So if you’ve got a mate, or loving partner, pass him, or her, the bottle and get them to cap it. If you’re all by your lonesome then fill maybe a dozen bottles then go an cap them all. And repeat the process until all the bottles are full and capped.
Place you full bottles somewhere they won’t be disturbed, and the temperature is not cold, anywhere between 18-25 deg marks is fine.
I’d also recommend they be placed somewhere, should one happen to explode, that isn’t going to cause unnecessary grief. A carpeted bedroom is not a good location, I know this from experience. A shed, a garage, an unused bathroom, laundry, under the house, all good places.
Now you leave them there for about 2 weeks (can be shorter if it’s in a warm spot, can be longer if it’s in a colder spot). I know, I know, that’s a long time to wait to open one, and you’ve already waited 2 weeks for the damn stuff to ferment. So now’s actually a good time to get your next beer fermenting too! That way by the time you’re finished drinking the batch you’ve just bottled, the next batch will be ready for drinking too!
So sit back. Relax. Get yourself a bottle of your favorite commercial beer and have a drink knowing that soon enough you’ll be drinking the fruits of your own labor and it will be so good.
Happy bottling days.
Next up – *BOOM*
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