10 Essential Tips for Bottling Homebrew
Home brewing is rapidly gaining popularity across the world. While many home brewers place a heavy emphasis on the process of brewing the beer, many forget about the final step: bottling it. What are some essential tips beer makers need to know when bottling homebrew?
The most essential tip for bottling homebrew is to have the right equipment on hand, including bottle fillers, bottles, seals, and bottle cappers. You should also make sure all your equipment is sanitized. Before bottling, test the beer, and then fill and seal the bottles immediately.
This article will take you through all the tips and tricks you need to know about bottling your homebrew, from the equipment you need to the type of process you should follow. Let’s get started!
1. Have the Right Equipment on Hand
Before beginning to bottle your beer, you should ensure you have all the right equipment on hand. Stopping the process to find or clean your tools can contaminate the beer.
Some essentials include bottle fillers, seals or caps, bottles, and carbonation drops.
You should also make sure you have a clean surface to work in.
Below is a more detailed look at the equipment I recommend you have on hand to bottle your beer.
Bottle Fillers or Siphons
Bottle fillers or siphons can easily be fitted into your beer fermenter’s tap.
Bottle fillers allow you to control the beer flow from the fermenter to the bottle and reduce the amount of oxygen in the beer.
The OneBom Beer Bottle Filler (available on Amazon.com) is an excellent bottle filler. It is made with stainless steel and is easy to use and sanitize.
If you’re looking for a more pocket-friendly version, consider the Spring-Loaded Beer Bottle Filler (available on Amazon.com), a simple tool with a spring-loaded tip.
Perhaps the most essential piece of equipment of the bottling process is the bottle itself.
You can choose from several beer bottles, including PET bottles, oxygen barrier bottles, and glass bottles. Choose the bottle based on the amount of experience you have in brewing.
Choose PETbottles if you are a beginner brewer. They are pretty pocket-friendly and can be reused multiple times.
If you’re more experienced, you can opt for a long-necked glass bottle traditionally used for storing beer. However, they can’t be reused and aren’t as durable.
It may be tempting to try recycling old beer bottles and use them as bottles for your homebrew.
However, I would advise against this, as taking off the labels and continuously sanitizing the bottles can be cumbersome. If the bottles aren’t sanitized properly, traces of the previous beer can also contaminate your new batch.
Seals or Caps
Once you have completed filling the bottle with beer, you will need to seal the bottles as soon as possible to stop oxygen from interfering with your beer’s flavor.
When looking for caps, look for ones that offer the most value for money, and have a design that will support your beer’s longevity.
Try the Crown Caps for Homebrew (available on Amazon.com) which are lined with oxygen-absorbing scavengers. These decrease the amount of oxygen in the beer, keeping it fresh for longer.
When bottling beer, you should add carbonation drops or priming sugar to the bottles. Carbonation drops have pre-measured glucose and sucrose that can be added directly to the beer.
They help carbonate the beer and help balance out flavors in the beverage.
As well as bottle caps, you must ensure you have a bottle capper. These simple machines allow you to place and seal your beer bottles quickly. Choose a beer capper that fits the bottles and bottle caps you have chosen.
An excellent choice is this Thermometer World Bottle Capper designed for home brewers. It’s easy to use and has a magnetic head capper with a self-stopping crimper. It comes with 120 free caps, making it an excellent starter kit for your first home brewing experiment.
2. Ensure All the Equipment Is Thoroughly Sanitized
It is essential to sanitize all your equipment before you begin to bottle your beer. This ensures that the beer lasts longer and that it isn’t exposed to any harmful germs.
You should pay special attention to sanitizing your beer bottles to ensure they are in pristine condition.
Here is a step-by-step guide to sanitizing glass beer bottles:
- Create a solution of bleach and hot water.
- Rinse the bottle with distilled water.
- Soak the bottle in the bleach solution.
- Rinse the bottle again with distilled water.
- Dry the bottle by wiping it down with a clean, lint-free cloth.
- Preheat the oven and place the bottle in the oven.
- After 10 – 15 minutes, remove the bottle and allow it to cool.
- Remove the bottle from the oven and allow it to stand and cool.
- Once the bottle cools, immediately distill the beer into it.
This technique should only be used with high-quality glass bottles.
If you need to sanitize PET beer bottles, use the following process:
- Prepare a solution of 1 teaspoon bleach to one-quarter gallon (1.1 liters) of water.
- Soak the bottle in this solution for 10 minutes.
- Remove it from the solution and let it stand on a clean cloth to air dry.
- Then, wash the bottle out well with distilled water.
- Allow the bottle to air dry.
- Once the bottle is dry, immediately begin to distill the beer.
You can also choose to sanitize PET bottles in a dishwasher. It will help if you run them on a hot cycle with regular dishwasher detergent.
If the bottles are heavily soiled or have been used to store beer, it is best to bleach them by following the steps outlined above.
3. Make Sure the Beer Has Finished Fermenting
You should be sure that your beer has finished the primary fermentation process before you begin to distill it.
It would be best to allow at least two weeks for your beer to go through primary fermentation. Then, check the airlock, monitor the krausen, or take readings to check that the beer is done.
I am always careful to ensure the beer has finished fermenting, so I am assured of high quality, flavor-rich beer. Here are some more tips on ensuring the beer has finished fermenting.
Check the Airlock
One of the easiest ways to check the fermentation status of your beer is by looking at the airlock. When you see bubbles begin to form in the airlock, it’s a sign that the fermentation process has begun.
The bubbles in the airlock will continue to grow while fermentation occurs. Once the bubbling activity begins to die down, the fermentation process is slowing down. Eventually, the bubbles will disappear, telling you that the fermentation is over.
However, looking at the airlock is not a completely foolproof method as bubbles can spontaneously form even after the fermentation process is over.
Monitor the Krausen
The krausen is the foam at the top of the beer that forms when the beer is at the height of its fermentation. Krausen development shows that the yeast is hard at work and allows your beer to develop a rich flavor profile.
Once the krausen crashes (when the foam disappears), it is a sign that the beer has stopped fermenting and is ready to be distilled.
In some cases, krausen may not form. Depending on the beer you’re making, this may be a sign that the yeast is not working correctly, or it may be an intentional characteristic.
Take a Gravity Reading
Perhaps the most reliable way of knowing that fermentation is finished is to take a gravity reading.
It would be best to wait until you notice the bubbles disappear in the airlock or until the krausen falls before attempting to take a gravity reading.
Here’s how to take a gravity reading:
- Use a beer thief to extract a beer sample from your fermentation machine.
- Put the extractor beer into a cylinder or testing jar.
- Put the hydrometer into the sample and allow it to float until all the air has escaped from the beer.
- Center and vertically position your hydrometer.
- When the hydrometer intersects the liquid, record the number it reads.
- The beer should read at 1.010 or below if it has finished fermenting.
- If it is higher, allow the beer a few more days to ferment.
You should also check your hydrometer’s user manual to ensure it is calibrated to be used at the right temperature. Most hydrometers are calibrated at 60°F (20°C). If you’re working in higher or lower temperatures, you may need to calculate your readings to account for this.
These steps will ensure that your beer has completed fermentation and is ready to be distilled.
4. Siphon the Beer Into a Priming Bucket
Instead of siphoning your beer directly into the bottle, use your bottle filler or siphon to fill a priming bucket.
Then, mix the carbonation drops or priming sugar directly into the priming bucket.
This will allow you to ensure that the priming sugar is evenly distributed. It will also reduce the amount of sediment that gathers at the bottom of your beer bottle.
Use a siphon to transfer the carbonated beer into the bottle. Try to make sure you’re working as quickly as possible.
When siphoning your beer, try to sit down instead of standing. I’ve found that this helps maintain balance better and reduces the risk of splashing.
5. Fill Bottles to the Right Level
Don’t fill your bottles right to the top with beer. Instead, fill them to about three-quarters of their height. Doing so will provide the beer with enough room to carbonate and reduce the chance of spillage when its bottle is ultimately opened later on. This can save you from some headache-inducing accidents later on.
6. Seal the Bottle Immediately
If you’re making a large batch of beer, you might think it’s best to wait and fill all the bottles before beginning to bottle them. Instead of doing this, seal each bottle as you fill it. This ensures that less air will escape and reduces the risk of contamination while keeping the beverage in optimal condition.
If you’re unsure about the signs to look for in contaminated beer, You can check out my video on the topic below:
7. Allow Time for Secondary Fermentation
Once you have finished bottling your beer, you shouldn’t consume it immediately.
Allow some time for the beer to rest in the bottles. This allows for the secondary fermentation process, where young beer is separated from dormant yeast.
Allowing the beer more time to ferment will give it more complex flavors and ensure its longevity.
You should allow the beer to rest at room temperature in the bottles for at least two weeks. However, if you have the time, you should allow your beer to condition for 5-6 weeks.
8. Store Your Bottles Appropriately
Even after your bottles are sealed, your beer is not entirely protected from the elements. You should store your bottles correctly to preserve your beer’s quality. Your beer should be stored in a dark, cool space away from direct sunlight.
As well as preserving the quality of your beer, storing it in the dark and away from direct sunlight will help condition it, improving the flavors.
If you want to reuse the bottles after enjoying the beer, rinse them as soon as you use them.
9. Continue To Check on the Bottles
After enough time has passed for the beer condition, you can begin testing it.
Don’t open all bottles in one go!
Instead, test one bottle by gently prying off the lid. Try listening to the sound of carbonated beer escaping the bottle and then taste the beer.
If it has the complexity of flavor you’re after, you can then take the rest of the bottles and refrigerate them so they’re ready for drinking.
10. Get Support During the Process
It is helpful to have an extra pair of hands when bottling homebrew, especially if you’re working with a big batch. An extra pair of hands can be helpful to:
- Sanitize bottles and prepare your workspace faster
- Siphoning beer quicker, so it doesn’t get exposed to too much oxygen
- Sealing the beer bottles once the caps are put on.
I find it best to work with a fellow home brewer. That way, we both know the process and can offer advice, support, and more bottling tips.