Two weeks have passed since brew day, and we are ready to transfer the beer from the fermentor to the bottles. Bottling day is a more hands-on task that can be a bit messy the first few times. The process involves tons of equipment cleaning and sanitation. (This is part two of three in the series on “Picking up homebrewing.” If you have not read part one on the brewing process, you can find it, here.)
1. Sanitation is the primary theme of bottling day, and it starts with sanitizing the bottling bucket and each glass bottle. There are a variety of sanitation solutions; I use San Star by Five Star. Sanitizing the bottles involves using the bottling brush for each bottle. This is why I recommend using 22 oz. glass bottles rather than 12 oz. bottles. The five-gallon brew will yield a maximum of 29 bottles using the 22 oz. bottles; the max approaches 60 using 12 oz. bottles. That’s a lot of scrubbing.
2. While we are sanitizing the bottles, we can heat our priming sugar. The priming sugar is a final fuel source for the yeast to instigate carbonation. There are a few different techniques people use, and Northern Brewer has a convenient priming sugar calculator for advanced homebrewers. The general rule of thumb is 5 oz. for a 5-gallon brew. We mix the 5 oz. of priming solution with 2/3 cup water in a pot or pan, turn onto medium-high heat, and bring to a boil.
3. After all of the bottles are sanitized, we must sanitize the siphoning tubing, bottle filler, and bottle caps. Upon sanitation, empty the bottling bucket’s sanitation solution into a plugged sink. We want to save this valuable sanitizing solution for post-bottling cleaning.
4. Take a hydrometer and temperature reading. The hydrometer reading, along with the initial reading, tell us the final ABV of the beer. From Charlie Papazian’s “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing,” we find the final ABV by subtracting the reading at bottling time from the initial reading prior to pitching the yeast on brewing day. For example, for this beer, we had an initial reading of 8%. The reading on bottling day was 1%, so our beer will be 7%. Similarly, you could use the gravity scale (which just adds an additional step to the calculation). DO NOT ADD THIS BEER BACK TO THE BOTTLING BUCKET. Discard of it… or you can drink it. Warm and uncarbonated, but gives you a sense of the flavors and aromas.
5. Once the priming solution is boiling, we transfer it into the empty bottling bucket and begin siphoning our beer from the fermentor to the bottling bucket. Here, we want to be sure not to splash. Gently stir to get a more homogeneous dispersion of the priming sugar solution throughout the beer.
** Important note: If you don’t strain your hops prior to fermentation, or you dry-hop (as we did in this recipe), leave behind the sediment. Don’t let this get to the bottling bucket. It’s harmless, but no one wants to drink your floaters.
6. Transfer the siphon from the fermenter’s spigot to the bottling bucket’s spigot. Attach the other end to the tubing to the bottle filler.
7. Let it rip! Press the bottle filler down to the bottom of your first bottle. Open up the spigot and let gravity do the work. We have a Goldilocks Dilemma here: too much or too little in the bottle is a bad thing; we want it to be just right. The first few bottles of your homebrewing career will be trial-and-error, but eventually you’ll find the sweet spot half-way up the neck of the bottle.
In my experience, this is done by allowing the beer to fill to the top of the neck (with the bottle filler still in). That way, once the bottle filler is removed, you’re right around the middle of the neck.
Once the first bottle is full, do not turn off the spigot. Turning the spigot on and off produces a air pockets in the siphon. Instead, control the beer flow with the bottle filler. The bottle filler only dispenses when pressure is applied to the bottle of the bottle. Thus, when you finish filling the first bottle, remove pressure, set the bottle aside, and get ready for bottle number two.
8. Place a sanitized bottle cap onto the filled bottle. This is just a place-holder for now. We will seal it later.
9. Repeat step 7 and 8 until your bottling bucket is empty. Using 22 oz. bottles will yield approximately 24 bottles depending on how much you are forced to leave behind due to sediment or lost to spillage. (The first time I bottled, I lost a whole bottle’s worth on my brewing buddy’s pants.)
10. Sealing the cap. This process looks more difficult than it actually is. What’s convenient is that the bottle capper has a magnet in the center, assisting you in this process. However, it is nice to have a second set of hands to hold the bottle. The last thing you want when you’re forcefully clamping the handles down is for your unsealed bottle to fly across the kitchen. Not just shattered glass and a mess, but also a waste of your precious homebrew you’ve been waiting two weeks to try.
11. This is the toughest step of the entire brewing process. Store in a dark place and let sit for 7 to 14 days. Patience is a virtue in homebrewing.
12. Clean and sanitize the brewing equipment to prepare for your next batch. This includes a deep scrubbing of the fermentor and bottling bucket with a bleach solution. I’ve even let the solution sit overnight to get the hop aromas out of the buckets. The piece of equipment that is the toughest to clean is the siphon tubing. Be thorough. Don’t skimp out on the cleaning and sanitation. Otherwise, you’ll be buying new equipment.
I will check back in in two weeks to post the final part of the series “Picking up homebrewing: Tasting and sharing the final product.”