How to bottle beer!
This is simply the short version, but keep on reading in order to learn all the necessary steps for bottling your beer as in-depth as possible!
Equipment necessary for bottling
- An airtight container with a tap (Fermenter)
- A filler (optional but highly recommended)
- Crown Caps
- Bottle Capper
- Fermentable sugar (table sugar, corn sugar, honey, etc.).
What bottles can be used?
The beer must be protected from light.
The bottle must be tightly capped so that there is no gas leakage.
For the first point, we should know that not all bottles protect our beer from ultraviolet rays. It is not by chance that a large percentage of beer bottles are amber-colored (brown), as this protects them from the photochemical reactions that can occur in them.
Transparent or green bottles, although also common, do not fulfill this function.
The second factor is that the bottle must be tightly closed so that it does not leak. For this, we must make sure that our capping machine can seal it properly. In the next section, we will cover this issue more deeply.
We have to ask ourselves some questions: Are we going to consume the beer ourselves? Are we going to give it away or sell it? If we drink it away from home, are we going to be able to bring those containers back with us?
For those who produce beer for self-consumption, you will not need more than 40 or 60 bottles (depending on the size). Although many brewers like to keep bottles from previous batches, in that case, we need a larger number of bottles.
There are many ways to get bottles. Those who want to save time and effort can choose to buy them. For the “old school” brewers there are other options that do not require money. One of them is to talk to stores that sell brown-bottled beers and ask them to save them for us.
However, these places usually throw away the bottles altogether.
Another way, which may require a little more time, is that from the moment we consider making beer, we tell our friends and ask them to keep the bottles of the beer they consume for us, and if your friends are anything like mine, you’ll have dozens of bottles ready to go in just a weekend.
Which capper to use?
When choosing a capping machine we have several options. In terms of the cost, from economical to the most expensive, we can list them as follows:
Hammer, crown capper butterfly, and bench capper. Let’s review their advantages and disadvantages.
In the case of the hammer capper, its advantage is its low cost, and its main disadvantage is that, if we exceed the force by just a little we can break the bottle.
As for the butterfly capper, its advantage is its ergonomics and ease of use, but it needs to be able to properly grip the crown so that it can seal it, so you need to make sure that you are using it properly.
Finally, the bench capper. Its disadvantage is its cost, but, to tell the truth, we can assure you that it is the most efficient, comfortable, and fastest capping machine.
Important: Make sure that fermentation is complete
A very common idea among beginner brewers is that fermentation lasts 7 days. The fermentation time will obviously depend on the yeas since Kveik yeasts, for example, at their ideal temperature, can complete fermentation in four days, whereas other yeast strains may take longer.
The way to check if fermentation is actually complete is to measure the gravity 48hs apart and observe if it changes in that time. The way to know if fermentation is actually complete is when those two separate readings are identical and the gravity doesn’t drop at all.
An important fact to remember is to measure this using a hydrometer, but in case you’re doing it with a refractometer, remember to make the conversion, since alcohol will affect the reading.
How to bottle beer: Step by Step!
Now, let’s see step by step how to bottle our beer at home in an efficient and trouble-free way:
Step 1: Clean and sanitize the bottles and all the equipment to be used!
In my article on how to clean and sanitize bottles, we discussed in depth the cleaning of bottles, the difference between cleaning and sanitizing, which chemicals to use, etc.
However, here I will also go over some of the general ideas to make things easier for you.
It’s important to note that most of the equipment we’re going to use will be in direct contact with our beer, therefore, it is preferable to use alcohol, StarSan, or any other good sanitizing agent for properly sanitizing it.
It is also advisable to have a sanitized tray on which we can put the equipment when not in use. The list of steps we can take is as follows:
- Clean the equipment with detergent and hot water.
- Sanitize with alcohol or Starsan.
- Place them in a sanitized tray.
Step 2: Prepare the Priming solution to be introduced into the beer or use carbonation tablets.
Priming consists of providing fermentable sugars to the yeast in the beer so that it consumes them and is able to generate CO2. There are many substances that brewers use: table sugar, corn sugar (dextrose), honey, carbonation tablets, maltose, wort, etc.
Although all these products fulfill this role, the main factor that makes us choose between one or another is the stability that the product can provide.
For example, honey, although it provides a note of dryness, can also contain excessive amounts of fermentable sugars, which can result in over-carbonated beers (pure foam) or, even worse, the possibility of our bottle exploding. An over-carbonated glass bottle is very dangerous.
While forced carbonation requires considerable economic investment for a homebrewer, natural or bottle carbonation, on the other hand, requires greater precautions and to sometimes deal with minor complications.
How to prepare the priming solution?
Usually, brewers use corn sugar as it is one of the most stable options. Preparing the priming solution with it is not complicated at all. The first thing to do is to know the number of liters we are going to bottle.
Multiply that number by seven (this depends on the style of beer, of course) and the result will be the grams of corn sugar we will use. For the dilution, we will double the number of grams in water. Example. If we were to bottle 20 liters, then the calculations would be as follows:
20 × 7 = 140 grams diluted in 280 ml of water.
Very important: The number of grams per liter will depend on the style of beer since each style has its own target carbonation. To help us calculate the amount of sugar needed, we can use calculators such as the one on Brewersfriend.
Then we need to bring this dilution to a boil for a few minutes and let it cool for a while so that it’s ready for use.
Carbonation tablets are also widely used by brewers. Their use is even simpler since the number of tablets to be added to a bottle will depend on the number of ml.
Step 3: Adding sugar to the fermenter or bottles
Once the priming solution is ready and at the desired temperature, we have two options:
- Add the solution to the fermentor (useful when using a secondary fermentor).
- Dividing and adding it in identical portions into each bottle with the help of a syringe.
Which one works better?
The first method has the unique advantage of being fast and simple, however, it has two major drawbacks:
The first is that we will have to open the fermentor and stir the beer to fully incorporate the sugar, which will undoubtedly introduce a lot of oxygen.
In the event that we open the fermenter to transfer to the secondary fermenter, we can take advantage of this and add the syrup to the bottom of the secondary fermenter and transfer using a siphon right on top of the priming solution and then give it about 3 hours so that it mixes in thoroughly.
In any case, it is advisable never to open the fermentor.
The second negative aspect is the non-homogenization of the sugar and the beer since it’s going to be almost impossible for the sugar to evenly dissolve in all of that liquid.
Even by stirring the beer (already a bad thing), we do not ensure that each bottle will have the same amount of sugar which means that, potentially, after the conditioning phase is over, we could have some over-carbonated beers as well as some under-carbonated ones.
Using a syringe to transfer the priming solution into the bottles may be much more work, but you’re making 100% sure that the amount you put in is always the same.
Step 4: Bottling.
If we continue down this logic of trying to incorporate as little oxygen as possible, then you should really consider using a bottle filler since it allows you to fill the bottles from the bottom up, so that the incorporation of oxygen is greatly reduced.
A bottle filler will also allow us to fill the bottles quicker than if we were doing it from the tap since it doesn’t allow any foam to form.
These fillers are very affordable and can be adapted to almost any faucet using a small silicone hose cutout.
When it comes to bottling, it is best to place the fermenter on an elevated area to have enough space when using the filler and the bottle to be filled.
Fill the bottles up to the brim and then pull out the filler. This will leave you with the ideal amount of headspace.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it:
- Place the Fermetor at a height of at least one meter (try not to move it too much).
- Put the bottle filler on the faucet.
- Insert the filler into a bottle and put it against the bottom to start filling it.
- Fill the bottle to the brim.
- Add the Priming solution.
- Cap the bottle using a capper.
Step 5: Putting the caps on the bottles
This will depend on the capper you’re using:
- Place the bottle in the right position to lower the mandrel by 90*.
- Lower the handle to cap the bottle.
- Check to see if the cap is on tight.
- Place the hammer capper on the bottle with a cap.
- Hit the capper with a hammer gently to cap the bottle.
- Double-check to see if it’s properly sealed.
- Colocar la tapadora con sus brazos cerrados sobre la botella
- Estirar sus brazos
Note: In the case of swing-top bottles we do not need a capper. What we must make sure of is that the ends of the ceramic caps fit tightly on the sides of the bottle and seal it off well.
How long to let the beer condition?
First and foremost, what is bottle conditioning?
Conditioning could be considered as the period we give our beer to release flavors and aromas that, in general, come from the malt. In large breweries, conditioning takes on another function, more related to the stabilization of the organoleptic components.
In hoppier styles, those that have the possibility, use forced carbonation, making conditioning not as common an occurrence.
However, in styles where malt characteristics predominate, maturation will not end when CO2 is generated, but when the beer has been “enriched”, releasing the flavors we are looking for.
The minimum time for our beer to carbonate is between 7 and 14 days for most styles. But in the case of some malty beers, we will need at least between 3 and 6 months for them to finish conditioning properly.
For storage, the best place is a dark place, with the beers standing still and with a temperature in accordance with their fermentation temperature.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The first thing to do is to make sure that the fermentation has actually finished. To know this we must take two separate gravity readings 48hs apart and they need to be the same.
What bottles do we use? They should be amber-colored and we must make sure that they adapt to the sealing method we have, in case we do not have a capper, we can opt for swing-top bottles. As for sealing, I mentioned that bench cappers are the most efficient but use what you have.
When it comes to sanitizing, as we know it is important to clean (leave the surfaces shiny) and sanitize (reduce the bacteriological load) as well as to have a sanitized container in which we can keep our equipment when needed.
When priming, the most common sugar to use is dextrose, about 7 grams per liter. Boil it in water and then let it cool before using it.
The ideal way of doing things would be to use a syringe to put the same amount of priming solution into each bottle.
When bottling, I recommend the use of fillers, which will make the process more efficient, less risky, and faster.
Once the bottle is filled and the priming is done, it’s time to cap it.
For storage, the bottles should be kept in a dark place, at room temperature, and in a vertical position.