This is the last of a 6 part post on the ‘How to All Grain Homebrew Series’, a series designed to provide a basic overview and structure to do your first all grain home-brew. If you haven’t seen this before, I recommend you go check out #1 Mashing which will give you a lot more context.
Today we are going to talk about bottling. Bottling is one of those things that doesn’t get enough attention. After having spent hours slaving over your beer trying to make it perfect, its amazing how many people don’t give a second thought to bottling. Another option apart from bottling is kegging and I will talk about this in a later post, but if you’re a beginner, you are likely bottling.
When bottling you essentially have 3 major goals. The first is to successfully get the beer off the ‘trub’ which is the mixture of yeast, hops and gunk at the bottom of your fermenter. The second is to ensure the beer is being provided with enough additional sugar to ensure sufficient carbonation of the beer. The third and rarely explained in beginner material goal is to ensure you minimise oxygen pick up. Oxygen is the enemy of beer and should be avoided at all costs. This is particularly relevant for those beers that are particularly vulnerable to oxygen such as IPA’s.
There are 2 popular ways to bottle from your fermenter, bulk priming and individual priming. When you individually prime, you put the required amount of sugar in each bottle to ensure sufficient carbonation. If you are just starting I would recommend doing it this way. Whilst it means you may end up with slightly inconsistent carbonation (if you don’t put the same amount in each bottle), it will minimise the opportunity for oxygen pick up. You can either measure out the sugar using a sugar scoop or alternatively use sugar drops. The sugar drops are even more inconsistent and are expensive but can be massively convenient during a less than fun task.
When you bulk prime, you essentially work out the right amount of sugar for the whole batch (including any beer you intend to leave behind in the fermenter), boil this in water and then add to a second ‘bottling bucket’. You can then rack your beer on top of the sugar to ensure sufficient mixing of the material. I would not recommend this for beginners as the opportunities for oxygen pick up and the opportunity to fail to mix the items is far higher than individually priming. After you have got some practice, maybe try bulk priming. Or do what I did, decide you hate bottling and spend an extraordinary amount of money on kegging gear.
When filling anything, make sure you do so from the bottom ensuring minimal splashing. You are probably seeing a theme here? When bottling it is ok to leave a little bit of oxygen in the bottles as the yeast will clean most of it up in the carbonation process but don’t let it go crazy.
To work out how much sugar to add either use a sugar scoop or carb drop, or you can find online calculators if you want to get advanced and carbonate for the particular style.
Once you have it in the bottle, use a bottle capper to seal the bottle. You should be clear on whether your bottle capper will work on twist tops as some will not. If not you will need pop top bottles which are a little harder to come by in Australia. If you’re looking for them, Coopers is your best bet.
The beer will need a couple of weeks to carbonate at room temperature (approx 20 degrees). If you’re really keen on knowing exactly when they are carbonated and don’t want to waste any bottles a good tip is to bottle one in a plastic bottle. When the plastic bottle is hard, your beer is carbonated.
Once again, sanitation is key to this. Make sure your beers and all your equipment is clean and sanitised with starsan. Whilst your beer will be a little more resistant to infections because of the alcohol and hops, an infection can still take hold.
Another tip is to always make sure your beer has finished before bottling otherwise you will end up with the dreaded ‘bottle bombs’. The way to know if your beer is done is to check the finishing gravity using your hydrometer over a couple of days and if you get the same reading, you are good to go. I would recommend leaving at least 2 weeks before you start checking this.
Obviously this is a very ‘High Level’ overview of bottling and we will get into more advanced topics such as cold crashing and finings in future posts. Once again, if you have any questions please hit me up below.