HBS Blogger Josh Ray
Part 2 (Bottling/Kegging Day)
The fermentation is done and now it is time to bottle the fruits of your labor. This is no time to cut corners, unless you plan to skipping bottling and going straight to a keg. But just like the brew day you will need to be clean and sanitary with everything that will come in contact with your beer. It is not a good feeling to do everything right on your brew day. Wait few weeks for fermentation and then skip a few key processes in bottling and end up with a flat or off flavor beer. So be patient make your check list and check it twice as you prepare to bottle your beer. The equipment you will need is as follows. (Measuring cup, Small pot, Bottling bucket, Racking cane or Auto Siphon, Bottle filler, Capper, 50+ 12oz bottles, 50+ Bottle caps, Corn sugar.)
Step 1: Cleaning/ Sanitize Equipment and Bottles
The first step to bottling is cleaning all equipment and surfaces that will come in contact with your beer. No matter how briefly it will come in contact with your beer you must clean and sanitize it. I move my carboy to the clean surface where I intend to transfer my beer to the bottling bucket. This way what little sediment “Trub” gets stirred up while moving it can settle while I finish my prepping for bottling/kegging. First part of the process is to clean all equipment, bottles and or keg. I prefer to clean the bottles/keg first and use a bottle tree to let the bottles dry while I clean all the other equipment and bottling area. After I clean everything I sanitizing my bottling bucket, then I transfer the sanitizer to another spare bucket or keg. I put a little sanitizer in a small bowl for the bottle caps, and some in my sink for sanitizing my bottles. All equipment that will come in contact with any beer or priming sugar will be placed in the spare bucket of sanitizer. I place my caps in the small bowl of sanitizer to sanitize them so I don’t have to boil them. I prefer to soak them in sanitizer over boiling them so I don’t have to handle hot bottle caps. My sink only holds about eight bottles so as I take one out I put another one in. While you are waiting for your equipment and bottles to soak, it is a good time to move on to step two.
Step 2: Racking/Priming the Beer
I like to prepare my priming sugar before I rack so the racking process helps mix the priming sugar evenly throughout my beer. Priming sugar should be dextrose also known as corn sugar. You should never use table sugar as it is most often derived from sugar cane or beets which will give your beer an ethanol flavor. Corn sugar/Dextrose will give you the same carbonation results with a cleaner flavor. Bring a 1 ½ cups of water to 185°F, mix in ¾ cup or 5oz. of dextrose and let sit at 185°F for 10 min to sanitize. Then let cool, try and get it to as close to the same temperature as the beer to avoid shocking the yeast in your beer. I use a small pot so I can place it in my freezer to help cool it down faster. When at the proper temperature pour into your sanitized bottling bucket. Before you can bottle your beer you will need to transfer it to your bottling bucket. You do this to separate it from the spent yeast and other debris called “Trub”, at the bottom of your fermenter. Trub can make your beer hazy and give off flavors to your beer, so you do not want it getting into your bottles. With your sanitized auto siphon/racking cane transfer your beer to your sanitized bottling bucket that has your priming sugar mixture already in it. If kegging, you will not need to use a bottling bucket or priming sugar, because you will be transferring straight in to the keg before you force carbonate. Taking care to transfer little to no trub, also take care not to aerate your beer as you transfer it. I hold the tubing on my auto siphon so the beer runs down the side of my bucket. I don’t let the beer pour straight in. I try to have as little foaming as possible. Aerating your beer at this point will lead to oxidized skunky beer.
Step 3: Bottling or Force Carbonating
For bottling you will need to set your bottling bucket on a counter or table near your sanitized bottles. Have your capper and bottle caps within arm’s reach. Then attach a spring loaded bottling wand to your bottling bucket spigot. Now you should be ready to start filling your bottles. I like to pull my bottles out of the sanitizer one at a time and since where I sanitize my bottles only holds eight to ten bottles I replace one every time I pull one out. I like to work in a counter clock wise rotation to keep track of which bottles have been in the sanitizer the longest. Fill the bottle to the very top and then pull out the bottling wand, they are designed to leave you with the right amount of head room when it is removed from a bottle that is filled to the brim. Quickly grab a sanitized cap and place on the bottle, using your capper crimp the cap onto the bottle. Inspect the cap to make sure it is on and has been sealed. Then repeat about forty nine more times.
Kegging is much simpler and a lot easier but requires more equipment. Once your beer is transferred into your sanitized keg you will need to lock the lid into place as you take it to where your kegerator or keezer is located. Hook up all gas fittings and hoses to the keg and regulator. When the keg is in place and everything is hooked up. I like to unlock the lid so when I turn on the gas to about 10psi, I can move it around easier to get the lid to seal into place. The keg must be under pressure for the lid to properly seal. Once the lid is sealed and locked in to place I check all fitting and seals for leaks. The best way to check for leaks is a spray bottle of star-san and water mixture. Spray all connections and seals to see if bubbles form. It is possible to drain a whole tank of CO2 over night with one small leak. Once the keg fittings and seals are properly checked and sealed, you can now turn your CO2 up to 30psi. Once at 30psi I like to pull on the relief valve to purge out the oxygen. I do this every minute, five or six times to make sure the CO2 has pushed all the oxygen out. I then put the keg in my kegarator/keezer and check after thirty minutes, to make sure my pressure is stabilizing at 30psi. In two to three days you should have successfully carbonated your beer. During this time I check my regulator pressure to see if I have any leaks and shake my keg as often as I can to help my beer absorb the CO2. To test after two days turn the pressure down to 5 to 7 psi and use the relief valve to stabilize the pressure and pour a sample. If it is not carbonated enough turn it back to 30psi for one more day. Warning going higher than 30psi will not make your beer carbonate any faster; it will only result in over carbonated beer. Excessively shaking your keg will help it carbonate faster but will result in a foamy keg.
Step 4: Labeling
If you drink your batch of beer before you have another batch ready it will not be necessary to label your beer. But the key to always having homebrew around is to brew often enough so your batches overlap. The simplest way to label your bottles is to use a felt tip marker and wright a number or abbreviation of the style. For example if I brew a nut brown I wright NB on the lid, and the next batch is an oatmeal stout an OS goes on the lid. You can take labeling to a whole other level, if you’re artistic and have some computer skills you can create labels in a program such as photo shop and print them out. Some homebrew shops sell labels and you can find labels at your local office supply store. These labels sometimes require you to download a template from the manufactures website. There are no rules to labels so be creative, have fun and be proud of the beer you brewed.
Step 5: Storage
Once you have your beer bottled, capped and labeled you are now ready to store it for two weeks to a month to let it carbonate. The Ideal storage conditions are a dark place around room temperature, 65° to 75°F, so during this time the fermentation and aging processes can properly take place. Be patient it is hard to wait but if you do you will be rewarded with a better tasting beer. At two weeks go ahead and test a bottle to see where it is at, if it is still not carbonated enough wait another week and test another sample. In time you will have a great tasting properly carbonated beer. Remember if you haven’t already started another batch, during this time is the perfect opportunity to start your next tasty brew.