When it comes to packaging your beer at the end of the process there are several options available to home brewers. The most popular of these choices is bottling or kegging. Bottling is the cheaper alternative for those just starting out with brewing their own beer and is relatively simple compared to kegging your beer – it is also easier to transport your beer and share it out amongst friends, at least until you’ve got your home bar set up.
When it comes to selecting bottles you also have a few options. You need to make sure that the bottles you use are designed to take the pressure of carbonated drinks and they need to be clean and sanitised. The cheapest option is plastic fizzy drink bottles. They come in a range of sizes, are designed for carbonated beverages and the labels are fairly easy to remove. The downside is that they are often clear which leaves your beer at risk of being exposed to sunlight which reacts with hop compounds in the beer and causes ‘skunking’.
Reusing commercial beer bottles can also be good. If you have the bottles anyway then it is simply a case of cleaning and sanitising them and recapping them. Labels can be difficult to remove from some commercial bottles and you may end up with bottles of all different shapes and sizes (if consistency is important to you).
Finally you can purchase new bottles from your local homebrew store. You can get bottles for capping which require bottle caps and a specialist ‘capper’. These bottles look good and it’s easy to get a consistent look and you can use different colour caps for different beers. You can also buy ‘swing top’ bottles that come with the reusable tops (like in the image above). They are easy to use and are reusable without the need to purchase caps each time.
We would recommend that if you are using glass bottles you use brown glass over clear as this will help preserve your beer’s shelf life and also, make sure you thoroughly check any bottles for chips, scratches or imperfections and do not use bottles if they are damaged.
Before you come to bottle always check the gravity of your beer with a hydrometer. You should get a stable reading over two days (eg 1.010 for 2 days). If you take a reading and it has changed from the previous day your beer is still fermenting and should not be bottled. This is extremely important as bottling beer that is still fermenting can lead to bottle bombs.
Priming is the brewers term for adding a set amount of sugar, either directly to your fermenter or individually to each bottle, after primary fermentation is complete. The purpose of this is that priming will provide the yeast with just enough sugar to undergo a small secondary fermentation, producing more CO2 but in an environment where the gas can’t escape, therefore carbonating the beer.
CO2 is produced during primary fermentation but is mostly released through the airlock which is why your beer is largely flat when it comes to bottling. However, there will be a small amount of residual CO2 which you should take into account when calculating your priming sugar.
Batch priming is the term used to describe the technique of adding the full amount of priming sugar directly to your fermenter. If you look at this diagram you can see that certain styles of beer require more or less carbonation (determined as volumes of CO2) and to work out how much sugar you need you draw a line from the temperature of your beer, through the desired volume of CO2 to determine total amount of sugar to add.
|Priming sugar nomograph (How to Brew, John Palmer, 1999, Brewers Publications)|
British Ales 1.5-2.0
Belgian Ales 1.9-2.4
American Ales 2.2-2.7
European Lagers 2.2-2.7
Belgian Lambic 2.4-2.8
American Wheat 2.7-3.3
German Wheat 3.3-4.5
To make up your priming sugar solution, boil a small amount of water (475 ml (16 fl oz) or 2 cups for 113 g/4 oz) and dissolve the required amount of sugar into this before allowing it to cool to the same temperature as your beer. Boiling the water first is necessary to keep everything sanitary. Once this is cool either pour the solution into a separate bottling bucket (a fermenter bucket with a tap) and syphon your beer directly on top of it or else pour your priming solution into your fermenter and stir with a sanitised mixing paddle. If you pour directly into your fermenter, don’t forget that you will need to let the beer settle again before bottling or else you will be transferring a lot of yeast and hop sediment.
Cleaning and Sanitising
It is vital that everything your beer will come into contact with on bottling day is clean and sanitary as the process of bottling can leave your beer largely exposed to bacteria and infection. Similarly you should aim to avoid introducing oxygen into your beer as much as possible as this will reduce your beer’s shelf life. Avoid splashing or transferring beer more than is necessary.
Make sure that you clean and sanitise;
•Syphon or bottling wand
•Bottling bucket (if using one)
•Bottle capper (if using one)