The first step in bottling beer is the bottle itself. It must be clean, preferably brown in color, able to receive a metal cap or be resealable, and able to withstand the volumes of CO2 in it. The bottles from the “mega” brewers are meant to be one-time use. Refilling them with homebrew over and over can weaken the glass and cause them to shatter. Some craft brewers may use this type of bottle. If you are going to reuse a brewery’s bottle, make sure they are thick enough. The better option is to purchase bottles from your local homebrew store. They are designed to be use several times. Of course, even these will need to be replaced after many uses.
The “swing top” bottle is very easy to use. Just fill it with homebrew and close the lid – no tools necessary. Just make sure the rubber grommet is sanitized and in good shape. The other popular style of bottle is the metal cap type. It requires a capper tool. There are two types of metal caps that can be used: regular and oxygen absorbing. The oxygen absorbing ones are best for big beers that will be aged for months/years. If the beer will be consumed in less than 3 months, then the regular type will work fine.
Bottle color is pretty simple. Brown is best. It filters out the wavelengths of light (in the bluish range) that cause hoppy beers to turn skunky (light struck). The other colors – blue, green, clear – offer no protection and are for your personal appearance preference. If the bottles are kept away from direct sunlight and florescent light, then use whatever color you like.
Growlers are large containers (32/64/128oz) that have a resealable lid. They are not designed for bottling your beer. Growlers are intended for ready to serve draft beer. This container is filled at your local bar right from the tap and meant to consume that same day.
There are plastic bottles designed for bottling beer. They are brown, have screw top lids, and resemble 32oz soda bottles. Beers racked in these bottles can oxidize, so are meant to drink sooner than later. These are used as a “beginner bottle”, but it is much more stylish to serve homebrew from glass.
So, you have chosen your bottles and now it is time to add the priming sugar to the bottling bucket, rack in the beer, and transfer it to the bottles. Wait, priming sugar? Yes, this is the sugar that will make the yeast “reactivate” and create more CO2 so the beer is carbonated. Many homebrew sites say to just add ¾ cup of corn sugar to 2 cups of water and boil for 15 minutes. Then cool, add it to the bottling bucket, and rack in the beer. However, at ¾ cup of corn sugar is not appropriate for all beers styles. Also, the beer in the fermenter contains CO2 already (about 1.5-1.7 volumes – depending on the current fermentation temperature). At this point things can get complicated. There are different types of sugars that can be used and each has higher or lower moisture content and fermentable sugars. I recommend using software that is tuned to your equipment and temperatures to come up with the appropriate volumes CO2 of for your beer.
Personally, I have tried different sugars, but I always come back to corn sugar. It is simple, 100% fermentable, and consistent. Although experimentation is the life blood of homebrewing, the equations are currently beyond the purpose of this article. Let’s get back to bottling.
The priming sugar is boiled, as stated above, cooled, and added to the bottling bucket first. Then the beer should be added to it with the hose output pointed in a direction that allows the beer to circulate gently in the bucket. When racking from the fermenter to the bottling bucket, care should be taken to keep the tubing below the surface of the beer to avoid the absorption of oxygen. The final step is bottling the beer by attaching a tube to the spigot with a bottle filler on the other end. This device has a one way valve that allows flow when pressed to the bottom of the bottle.
Press the wand to the bottom of the bottle and fill it to the top. Then remove the wand from the bottle. When the wand is removed, the right amount of airspace is allowed for the CO2 created by the yeast to expand and properly carbonate the beer. Place sanitized caps on the bottles as you fill each one. If you are doing this alone, stop after 10 bottles and seal them with the bottle capper or the swing top lid, then return to filling your bottles. When finished, place all the bottles in a large sealable plastic container. This will protect them from light and will contain any possible “beer bombs” (exploding bottles due to over carbonation).
The last step in bottling is the dreaded cleaning. 48+ bottles can take a long time to clean by hand. With a few simple steps this chore eliminated. Rather than drinking your homebrew and setting the bottles aside, why not clean-as-you-go? Pour the beer in your favorite glass, and immediately rinse it with tap water two times. Plsce your thumb over the opening, shake it to loosen the sediment. Then squirt in some PBW and let it sit for five minutes. This would be the time to use PBW to remove the label if needed. Then rinse several times with tap water and you have a clean bottle ready to be reused. Store the bottle upright in a container with a closable lid. If there is no lid, store it upside down so no dust gets into it.
HEATING THE MASH IN A NON-HEATED TUN
FLY AND BATCH SPARGING