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Bottling Beer

10/02/2018

Bottling Beer and Choosing the Right Bottle

 

You’ve successfully brewed a batch of your favorite beer. You’ve waited patiently and anxiously as your wort progressed, watching bubbles come and go. You’ve tested the specific gravity 2-3 days apart, and you’ve confirmed that the fermentation process has come to a close. You’re now ready to move onto the next step—bottling beer.

 

How to Start Bottling Beer

 

Sanitize

First and foremost, just like in every step of home brewing, sanitation is critical. Make sure to sanitize your bottles, bottle capper and caps, bottling brush, bottling bucket, and any siphon you’ll use to transport your brew to the bottles. Remember to have enough bottles on hand, as a typical 5-gallon brew can fill roughly 45-55 12 oz. bottles.

Mix a Priming Solution

Next, you’ll want to create a priming solution using your desired priming sugar. The amount used depends on the carbonation level you want to achieve. For a 5-gallon brew, we use roughly ¾ cup of sugar boiled with approximately a pint (2 cups) of water. Boil the priming solution for about 5 minutes, and then cover and let it cool. Be sure not to transfer a hot solution into a glass container to avoid breakage.

Calculating ABV

To calculate your beer’s potency, an original gravity reading must have been taken before pitching the yeast. A second reading is taken once fermentation is complete. You can use a hydrometer jar and a hydrometer to determine the alcohol content of your brew. Take a gravity reading after your hydrometer has settled. Compare that original gravity (OG) reading with your final gravity (FG) reading to find your alcohol content. For example, if your original reading was 1.019, and your final reading was 1.089, you subtract 1.019 from 1.089 and multiply by 131 to obtain an ABV (alcohol by volume) of 9.17%.

Combine Beer and Priming Solution

The simplest way to combine these is to use a container separate from your fermenter, but roughly the same size. Transfer the priming sugar solution into the clean, sanitized container. Siphon the beer from your fermenter into the bucket, being careful not to draw in or disturb any sediment. Also, try not to splash your beer around to avoid aeration, which can create an unpleasant, cardboard-like flavor. Place the siphon at the bottom of the bottling bucket to ensure that the priming sugar and beer mix thoroughly.

 

How to Bottle

 

You’re getting close to the end—you can finally put your lovingly brewed beer into its final container. Of course, beer brewing is a craft of patience, so you’ll need to wait a couple more weeks minimum until it’s ready to drink, but that makes it taste all the richer when you’re finally able to imbibe.

Choosing the Right Bottle

Before you can seal your brew and let it begin the carbonation process, you need to gather up bottles and caps to fit your beer type, personal style, and desired flavors. Just like cooking, the presentation of your brew can do a lot to upgrade its taste profile even before the first swig.  We normally recommend using brown beer bottles, as those help to prevent light penetration, which can cause off flavors in your beer.

12 and 22 oz. Longneck Glass Bottles

These longneck bottles are the most-often used mediums available. They are tried and true for protecting taste and carbonation. Oxygen-absorbing bottle caps (26mm) can be crimped on securely to form a firm seal. The oxygen absorbing agent in the cap liner prevents any unwanted oxidation flavors in your brew. Make sure your 12 or 22 oz. bottles are dark colored and thick to avoid UV rays from affecting the flavors of your beer.

Bottles are easily customizable with different colored caps or labels indicating different beer styles. Bottles are also perfect for sharing, transporting, and leisurely drinking.

12 oz. bottles are more convenient, especially if you are bottling multiple different brews and don’t want to drink too much of any one style.

22 oz. bottles are great options for taste tests with multiple friends (5 oz pours for 4 people), or for the more obvious goal of more consumption in one sitting!  In addition, using a 22 oz. bottle saves precious bottling time. If you use a bottle filler or “bottling wand”, you’ll leave the perfect amount of headspace with either size.

Swing Top Bottles

Swing tops are an extremely convenient style of bottle for both drinkers and brewers. Using a swing top with a 750 ml bottle effectively turns it into a growler that can be resealed at the drinker’s convenience.

The swing top bottle provides a polished, professional look. It is a great bottle style to gift a brew to friends or family. Because of how simple and easy it is to reseal the bottle, your brew can be shared and quickly resealed for future consumption.  That being said, your beer will slowly lose carbonation after some has been poured out, so while you have a little extra time to drink your beer out of a swing top bottle as opposed to a standard un-capped bottle, you should still consume it within 24 hours.

If you purchase replacement rubber washers, you can swap out worn, weathered seals for long-term use, making the swing top one of the most economical bottles for reuse.

Belgian Bottles

A 750ml Belgian beer bottle is a stylish, sophisticated container to drink and share your homebrew from. These amber bottles are typically used for sours or Belgian style craft beers. The bottles are authentic cork finish, allowing you to celebrate your completed brew with the pop of a cork. Be sure to use brewery-grade Belgian corks for a secure, long-lasting, taste-protecting seal.  Wine corks will generally not work with these bottles!

Growlers

The growler is a beer drinker and brewer’s best friend. You may have a few lying around from your favorite brewery, and these easily-cleaned containers are great for use and re-use. They come in many different sizes, from 32 to 64 oz., and can be made from a variety of materials. They can be used to store large amounts of beer for taste-tasting, large gatherings, or just for a few days of leisurely drinking.

Glass provides a pure taste, long-lasting freshness, and a touch of class. Glass growlers should be amber or a dark color. A PET growler is a nearly unbreakable, flexible, and lightweight container that is made of a high durability plastic that doesn’t affect taste. It is easy to clean and reusable. Finally, a stainless steel growler is entirely impenetrable to oxygen and sunlight. The stainless steel construct provides durability and also keeps your brew chilled longer than any other alternative.

Filling the Bottles

Now that we’ve talked about different bottle types, we can talk about filling them with your homebrew. To begin, move your bucket to higher ground so that gravity works for you. Insert the siphon hose into the bucket’s faucet and then to the bottle filler if you are using one. Place the bottle filler into the container and press it against the bottom to begin filling. Leave about 1 inch of headroom at the top of a bottle.

Capping the Bottles

If you are using a traditional glass bottle, you’ll need to cap them at the end. Make sure both your caps and capper are sanitized. Place a cap on the top of your bottle, and apply equal amounts of pressure to both sides of the capper until the caps are crimped securely.  If you’re using a bench capper, you’ll simply pull down on the lever until the cap is securely fastened, release, and repeat!

Storage

Store your beer in a dark area that is roughly 70 degrees Fahrenheit. After a couple of weeks, your beer will be properly carbonated and conditioned. After 10-14 days has passed at room temperature, put one of the bottles in the fridge and let it cool to drinking temperature.  When you're ready, take a deep breath, pop open that bottle, inspect your quality, and enjoy a glass—you’ve earned it!

Assuming that bottle was carbonated properly, you're now ready to put the rest of your bottles in the fridge to get them cold & ready for consumption!  Cheers!

 

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