The chore dreaded by most home brewers is bottling.
Cleaning, sterilizing and filling upward of 50 bottles is very time consuming. When I bottle, it takes me about two days or about three hours to get it done. A lot of brewers choose kegging to avoid this hassle because cleaning and filling a keg cuts down the time needed by more than half. Of course, there are also issues with kegging such as startup costs and the need for kegerators to keep your kegs cool.
I have been brewing for about three years now, and haven’t succumbed to the desire to keg yet. I don’t really mind bottling anymore; I find it is a relaxing exercise in multi-tasking. Maybe, I have just Stockholm Syndromed myself to enjoying this task.
Okay, let’s get it over with.
Cleaning supplies (Bleach, Oxi-Clean or PBW)
Sterilizing supplies (Star San)
Bottle washer (Vineator)
Lots of bottles
Bottling bucket and lid
Step 1: Clean your bottles
I use bleach when cleaning my glass bottles. It does an excellent job getting rid of any gunk build-up in bottles. I usually funnel a little bleach into each of the bottles and fill the rest up with hot water. I let that sit for an hour or more before I triple rinse the bottles to make sure no bleach is left behind. I then dry the bottles on a bottle rack or bottle tree. I rarely use bleach on plastic even though I have been told that cold water and bleach does a good job disinfecting plastic.
After you have clean, dry bottles and have done a visual to make sure there is nothing caked on the bottom of the bottle, you can move on to the next step.
Step 2: Clean your bottling bucket and accessories
I err on the safe side by cleaning my bucket after I finish using it and before I need to use it again. I put a scoop of Oxi-Clean in my bucket and fill it up with water. I clean off any buildup. I usually place my auto-siphon and bottle filler in the bucket as well. When the bucket is clean, I use the auto-siphon to drain the bucket (that way the siphon gets a cleaning as well). Rinse well.
After my bucket is cleaned, I sanitize. I use a product called Star San from Five Star Chemicals. It is an awesome sanitizer in that it is no-rinse product and it can be reused for a number of weeks. I pour about four litres of Star San into the bucket, put on the lid and shake it up. I make sure the bottle filler and the siphon are out of the bucket because I don’t want to risk scratching my bucket because then it would become unusable. Usually, I will siphon from the bottling back into the sterilizing container so I can sanitize the siphon as well. There will be foam left in the bottling bucket. Don’t worry about it, and don’t fear the foam.
Step 3: Prepare your priming sugar
I use an online priming sugar calculator to determine how much sugar to add. http://hbd.org/cgi-bin/
Step 4: Rack your beer into the bottling bucket
If you have never used an auto-siphon, I suggest you practice a lot on water before you do it with beer. Make sure the auto-siphon hose will reach the bottom of the bottling bucket. If it doesn’t and the hose is dangling above the liquid as it is filling the bucket, there is a high probability that you will end up with oxidized (wet cardboard) beer. Test it out and find a nice height difference between the two containers.
For the siphon, you are filling up the hose with water (I use no rinse sanitizer) up to the racking cane then placing the cane into the beer. Place your sanitized food-safe gloved finger over the opening on the hose. At that point, you quickly drop the hose into a separate container first to gather the sanitizer then quickly place it into the bottling bucket. It’s good to have the hose coil a bit on the bottom of the bucket so it is stirring the sugar into the beer. I try to keep the containers covered as much as possible to prevent bacteria from slipping into the beer, but there will be an opening and that has never caused me any problems with infection. One thing to be cognizant about is that you should make sure there are no bubbles in the hose or that may impede the flow of your precious beer. Raise or lower the hose section of the siphon until there are no bubbles.
Step 5: Sanitize your bottles
I sanitize my bottles while I’m transferring the liquid from one bucket to the next.
I use a Vineator to sanitize my bottles and caps. Fill up the Vineator with sanitizing liquid and place the bottle caps in the washer. Give each bottle a couple squirts to get the sanitizer into the bottle. Let it drain, place a sanitized cap on the bottle and repeat.
If you don’t have a Vineator, a spray bottle full of sanitizer does the job as well. Just make sure the entire surface of the inside of the bottle gets sanitizer on it.
Step 6: Bottle your beer
Place the bottling bucket where you had your primary. Move everything into place. The bottle filler extension will cause extra length so you can probably keep the bottles on the floor. The bottle filler has a stopper that prevents liquid from escaping until it is pressed down, so you shouldn’t have to worry about a large amount of spillage (but expect some).
Filling your siphon is the same but you will need to insert the bottle filler into the hose while the sanitizing liquid is in the hose. Make sure you practice this to get comfortable. This way, if something goes wrong, you are not panicking and causing a mess or worse. I have a separate bottle for the sanitized filler until I’m ready to use it. I use that bottle to run off the sanitizer before I start filling up the bottles.
Place the filler into the first bottle and fill until the beer reaches the top of the bottle then remove the filler and put the cap back on. When you take out the filler, you will notice some space between the liquid and the top. Excellent. Repeat this process until all the bottles are filled.
Step 7: Cap your bottles
After all the bottles are filled, use your capper to seal the caps to the bottle. Clean all your gear and prep it for the next time you plan to bottle. Label your caps and put the bottles some place at room temperature and keep them there for two weeks or so to carbonate your beer. Chill, then drink at your leisure.
The first few bottling experiences were a little stressful for me but after I became confident with the techniques, it was quite easy. I recommend having a friend help out the first couple of times as there is multi-tasking involved that takes a bit of getting used to.
Mark Borowski is a home brewer, and a father, and is looking for a job working with beer. Follow him on Twitter @oldblackbrew