Bottling Tips for the Homebrewer
Thanks Mods, I am honored that this thread has been stickified.
First off, you may hear a lot of people recommending kegging...In fact there is a strange phenomenon on here that inevitably when someone asks a question about bottling some overzealous (and probably new) kegger will jump in with HIS answer, which is something like "Bottling sux, you should keg." Like the thought of kegging beer is so foregin to new people or established brewers that despite the fact that this section of the forum is called "Bottling and Kegging" that perhaps we who bottle are total idiots who perhaps need to be told that such a thing exists.
It's up to you what ultimately you choose to do. But don't let zealots convince you that no one bottles...actually there is probably a vast majority of brewers who still bottle for various reason (cost of setup, space requirements, or simply personal choice.)
But you will find that many experienced brewers who are keggers actually still rack some of their beer to bottles and prime and condition with sugar, or they use a beer gun (either blickman or Biermuncher's) to fill some bottles....For whatever reason, they still bottle some of their beer.
If you enter contests then bottling is a must.
I don't have the space or money to keg right now, nor do I think in the future when I move out of my loft will I keg exclusively. There is still something about cracking open a bottle of your own beer. And not many people want to take a keg on a picnic or to a game, when a six pack will do (and it's hard to stick a keg in your pocket when you are trying to sneak a beer in somewhere, not that I know anything about sneaking homebrew in.)
Bottling doesn't have to be a chore.
The trick to bottling is to make the process work for you...to make yourself as comfortable as possible doing it. It took me a few batches but I got it dialed in enough to get it done in about an hour for a 5 gallon batch....not including clean up. One of my half batches can be done in 20 minutes
You just gotta dial in your process.
Try different things until they work for you, until you've pimped it down to the bare minimum of steps...and practice practice practice...and if it doesn't work for you, then scrap it and change it again...
Eventually you will find exactly what works for you.
For example I hated the bottling wand on the end of a hose, with the bottles in beer case method, that most people use..You know, then one shown in Papazian's book where the bucket is on the counter and you sit on the floor and fill the bottles sitting in the cases....well the first time I did that, I lost track of where I was in order, and actually capped about a half dozen empty bottles...as well as spilling a sh*tload of beer because I could really see when the wand was putting the beer to the lip of the bottle....a ton would spill out....
Plus sitting for so long on the floor was bad for my back....I'm 6'7" and sitting on the floor and getting up again, is not fun.
So I kept tweaking my process until I was happy...I came up with these "tweaks."
I have my bottling wand mounted right on my bucket's spigot...
So now I can sit at my dining room table and fill bottles comfortably...I prop my bucket on a pot, or fermenter bucket to bring it up to my eye level. (Actually that pot is too low, I have now moved it to the top of my boil kettle...a fermenter bucket is about the same height and works great as well.
I have a dip tube in my bucket so I get all but about 4 ounces of stuff from my bottling bucket. What that means in my case is about another 6 pack of beer- 54 bottles instead of 48.
And the biggest thing about a dip tube is that there is no need to tilt to get the last few dregs of beer. It is easy to make, all you need to do is find a drilled stopper (or drill your own) that fits in the back part of your bottling bucket spigot (I got mine from my lhbs) then you need to find a tube that fits on the hole...It could be a piece of bent copper tubing, it could be the body of a ballpoint pen, it could even be a bent piece of racking cane....I made my latest one out of broken racking cane that I heated and bent over an alcohol spirit lamp, heating and cooling until I got the right bend. (One tip, bend it until the back part of the bottom of the tube touches the bottom of the bucket, leaving a tiny gap in the front for the beer to flow through.)
Here's an overview of my process
The first thing I do is set the fermenter on my dining room table, and open it (briefly) to take a gravity reading, so I can calculate the amount of priming sugar I need. (I carb to style and use beersmith to tell me how much I need.) Most of you in your first few batches will be using the stock 4.5 - 5 ounce packets that came with you ingredient kit.
Putting the fermenter in position first gives some time to let the beer settle since I just moved it. Some folks put it in position hours ahead of time, but I've never seen the need.
After I've set the bucket down, and figured out how much sugar I need, I measure it out and set it to boil. I start my priming sugar water boiling.
Then I start sanitizing my gear. I fill my bottling bucket with about 2 gallons of diluted starsan, and add my auto siphon, my bottling wand, my dip tube setup and anything else I may need into it, after first swirling around the bucket a few times to spread the sanitizer along all the sides of it. I then set the bucket on the table, and autosiphon about half of the sanitizer into another bucket. This sanitizes the inside of the autosiphon and the hose. After abut a gallon to gallon and a half of sanitizer has run through it. I open the spigot to flush that with the remained of the sanitizer as well.
Then I install the dip tube that is pictured above.
By now I usually can hear the boiling of my solution in the kitchen. I check on it, and perhaps lower the heat a bit to a gentle boil.
Then I begin to sanitize my bottles with my vinator....after the first case is sanitzed then take the priming solution off the stove to let it cool a bit, you can set it in a bit of cold water in your sink. Then I go back and sanitize my second case and final sixpack of bottles.
I can't stress how valuable the vinator is for making sanitization of bottles a simple task.
After sanitizing I count out my bottlecaps and drop them in my vinator to sanitize. I set my bottling bucket below the fermenter and pour half of the priming solution into the bottom of the bucket then I start racking the beer on top of it. When I get to 2.5 gallons I I add the remainder of the solution to the bucket.
When ready I put a pot lid on top of the bottling bucket, and gently lift it on top of a pot, or the empty primary bucket and clip on the bottling wand to the spigot. The pot lid (or plastic bucket lid) is to keep any dust or particulate matter from fallin in.
Then I get ready to bottle.
Since I'm a lefty I work right to left on my table....I put my two cases of sanitized bottles on the right hand side of the table (on the chair next to me,) I put the vinator on the table to the right of the bucket filled with my bottles caps sanitizing away. Then when I fill the bottle I place a cap loosely on it, and move it to the left side of the table...with the bottling bucket in the middle of the table there's room for a case worth of filled bottles on the table on the left side.
When I hit 24 bottles, I stand up, move the empty case to a chair on the left side of the table, then I pick up my capper and cap the first case of bottles, putting them in the case on the chair nearby...Then I grab a beer from the fridge, and sit back down and do the next case of beer....
I can get them all done and the bottling bucket and stuff soaking in oxyclean between 45 minutes and an hour....
Then the boxes go into a dark warm closet and I forget them for the next 3 weeks, trusting that they will be approaching drinkability and an adequate carbonation level by then.
If you find this thread helpful, then please hit the good ole prost button!! Thanks!
Edit, Feb 6, 09 This thread has got a huge amount of traffic, and it also has had a large amount of great tips added to it, if I could change the original name I would call it' Revvy and Friend's Tips for the Bottles, yadda yadda yadda....So thanks everyone, and keep them coming!!!!
Edit 08-25-10 I just discovered a cool article on here about bottling with krausen that is worth adding here. By our own Kai Troester;
I wanted to add a few more notes and a couple more pictures.
To illustrate how each brewer should tweak a process (any one, not just bottling) until it works for them, Grinder1200 took my idea of mounting the wand on his bucket, and added it to using his dishwater as a bottle filling rack. (I don't have a dishwater in my cubbyhole kitchen, but if I did, I would probably do the same thing..though I do enjoy sitting to bottle.) Note the OTHER addition to his bottling setup...the nice glass of beer!!!
A lot of people have asked where I got the clamps for the the wand.
I get these from my lhbs, to clamp the wand to my sigot, I use a 1 inch "bridge" piece of bottling hose....If the LHBS doesn't have them, I'm sure you can find them a a hardware store too...it's nice because there is no worry about rusting, of the fact that sometimes the screw is galvanized.
I don't label unless I'm giving bottles away as gifts, then I don't use traditional labels, I bottle hanging tags. I designed the template and it is freely available online. Thanks to Morotorium
After looking all day for hanging tags templates for bottles, I made up one of my own as a MS word Document.
Each tag is approx 2 inches wide, and the text area after the fold is about 5 inches.
I don't like to glue labels on, especially since I spend so much time removing them (Although some folks swear by milk as label glue). So I like the idea of a hanging tag that slips over the neck of the bottle and hangs there. I printed it out on thick photopaper. All you need to do is cut them out, cut out the hole for the neck (or just make 2 slits at the cross) and fold it downword.
You just basically need to stick a graphic in each space, and add your own text to the text blocks...Or move stuff around and add your own text boxes wherever you want it.
Here's the links from MoRoToRiUm
When I bottle I just write on the bottlecap with a sharpie a letter code for the name of the beer I brewed. For Example, Old Bog Road (my brown ale) is simply OBR...If I have multiple batches of the same beer going at the same time, I will add a letter code as well.
Again, there are plenty of ways to do just about every aspect of brewing, and the trick is to make it work for you. This is a hobby, not something to do battle with. Even something that some people consider a pain, such as bottling can become as effortless as you choose to make it. All it takes it experimentation; trying something new until it works for you.
I stole your idea for the short section of hose to attach the bottling wand and use the dishwasher for spill collection and it works out very nicely. I just pull up a chair and my bottle tree with sanitized bottles and my empty cases and have at it. Thanks for the nice write-up.
I have one tip for bottlers... buy some kegs.:D
FYI Northern Brewer has an amazing resource on bottling/carbing including a section on "advanced" carbonation techniques.So this post is all about various odd ways to carb including using fruit juice, flavored syrups and whatever else you can think of.
Northern Brewer's PDF
This is a good primer on bottles and their pressure.
BOTTLE TYPES AND PRESSURE
Most of the bottles you will use will be the standard 12oz bottle. These are
suitable for the vast majority of styles but we don’t suggest you use them
for beers with over 3 volumes of CO2. Below is a chart based on CO2 volume
and suggested bottle usage. These are approximate guidelines and demand
that the bottles be free of cracks or chips.
33cl Belgian 3.5
500ml European 3.5
Swing top 4
Kegs can be used in the place of bottles and should be treated exactly like
a large bottle. A lot of commercial brewers prime in bulk and then counter
pressure fill at bottling.
Someone bumped a thread from 2005, and this was one of the posts, some great info on priming sugars.
I figured out the calculation for using Jaggery Mollasses from Bangladesh to prime my Sri-lankin stout.
Basically what you need to do is look for the sugar or carbhydrate amount in the syrup and the serving size, they are defining it by.
You also want to first calculate how much corn sugar you would normally use to carb to whatever style you are aiming for, then convert that to grams. Then based on the amount of sugar (OR CARBOHYDRATES if sugars is not listed, which on some products labels they don't) per whatever serving size they give, you then will know how much of the stuff to use..
Ie, my stout I want to carb to 2.45 volumes of co2, which measures out to 4.3 oz of corn sugar at 70 degrees.
That works out to 121.9 grams....
That works our to about 5/8 of a cup. I will add that to enough water to get to 2 cups and boil it.
If you CAN'T find any nutritional info (which by law I thought it has to be posted somethwere) you're going to have to fudge it...you can treat it as mollasses, or honey and use the recommended measurment. Refer to the chart above for more info.
Listen to the podcast for a better explantaion..
I've been playing around with flavoring my priming solution at bottling time for that last bit of mouth hit and aroma when you open the bottle. I've done chilies, citrus peels, and even some spices in the boil and strained out after. I decided to add 1.5 ounces of ginger to my priming sugar boil.
As you can see it has a nice straw color as opposed to the clear you are used to. It smelled amazingly like ginger.
I've also done it with dried chilli peppers for my chocolate mole porter. And done citrus peels with various beers such as using orange peels in my wits.
You could do it with any dry spice, such as cloves, coriander, star anise for a licorice beer, cinnamon and even a vanilla beer. You can do with this is to add some lactose to the boil as well, since it is unfermentable, it should sweeten the flavor somewhat.
Other things to consider are hard candies such as jolly ranchers or even peppermint candies, you need to melt them down with water in a double boiler. Jolly ranchers, and mints will really impart a strong flavor. My nephew makes flavored schnapps employing that method and they are full of flavor. Even tootsie rolls might work.
I'm planning to try crystallized/candied ginger next time. Evidently it has a sweeter less biting flavor to it.
Edit if anyone is intersted priming with Kahlua or other liquers, there is info in this thread on Northern Brewer's forum.
There's also a thread discussing using raisins in priming bottles, here. I've never attempted it, so I can't vouch for it. Try it at your own risk. But it is an interesting idea.
Hey gang didn't I tell ya??? Revvy's law of bottling thread dynamics rears it's head...:D
Now back to our regularly scheduled program.
Post edited 2-12-11
I wanted to show my latest bottling "layout" most of my beerstuff has been at my girlfriend's since I spend more time there than at my own place. So once again, I've had to adapt my setup to the situation. It's really not much of a change of the system, as the venue. She has a nice table in the kitchen to work at.
It still accommodates my working right to left. I grab a bottle out of the milk crate on my right, then move it to the bottling bucket and fill with my left hand, then I grab a cap out of the vinator with my right and then cap it and place it on the left side of the bottling bucket towards the back of the table, so the oldest filled bottles are in the back, and newest in front. So then when I cap from the back to the front, they all have plenty of time to void out any o2 in the headspace. (Sometimes the caps will pop off, or you can even see a little starsan bubble out of it.)
It still has room to pre-fit the caps on the full case of bottles before i stand up and cap them. Again making for more economy of motion- which means less wasted movement and therefore less time involved.
Then I stand up and cap them, bring the capper to the bottle as opposed to the bottle to the capper (that's why for me a wing capper fits my system rather than a bench capper- I just stand up over the bottles, and go "bam, bam bam. I have an antique bench capper, and once I tried to use that in my system, and found that for every 1 bottle I did with that I could lean over and cap 4 with my wing capper.)
But like anything it's about you coming up with YOUR system, not just using mine, or the one in Papazian, or in Palmer....it's coming up with a system that makes the job fast and easy for you.
When I'm standing to cap, I bring a milk crate to that spot, and when I cap them, they go to the crate which holds a case of beer in half the space of a regular beer case, and they stack. Once I get them all in I dry the starsan off the caps and write my code with a sharpie.
The beer was my Ginger Snap Brown Ale (with 2 boxes of ginger snaps in the mash tun) hence the "B" for brown.
Nice thread Revvy. I like how you put your wand right off of the spigot. I've learned something. Thanks :mug:
Revvy's Blog, Of Patience and Bottle Conditioning.
Almost daily here on HBT we see a rash of"my beer is undercarbed," "is flat," or "my tastes funny" thread and 99% of the time reading the first paragraph of the thread you will see that the OP indicated that they opened the beer after a few days or 2 weeks expecting their beer to be ready....
If you don't understand the carb process, it is really simple. The yeast eat the sugar solution you feed them. They "fart" co2. The CO2 fills the headspace in the bottle (the one to one and a half inch dead space between the beer and the cap) CO2 keeps being generated,and it maxes out the headspace. So it has a couple choices...blow the top of the bottle (the cap) Blow up the bottle, or seek the path of least resistance and dive back into the beer, and get absorbed (carbonated) by the liquid. Since the cap is pretty tight (and ingenious in it's design) and most bottles don't have any flaws and can maintain the pressure, the gas more often than not, takes the third option and goes back into the liquid and is absorbed by it.
JLEM, explains it better in scientific speak for all you literallists out there.
It's funny that so many of our new brewers, trying to be helpful will start trouble shooting all manner of "issues," when the the only issue is that the beer needs more time, both to carb up and to reach it's prime. Many beers can be fizzy, but still taste like crap...because the beer is still very young, we call this "being green."
Beermaking has a lot of similarities to food and cooking.... Ever notice that some foods, like spaghetti sauces, soups or chili's taste better as leftovers then they do when you take them first off the stove? The ingredients have to "marry" and co-mingle and some things mellow out with time.
It's the same with beer....That is one of the things that bottle conditioning does...lets the flavors "Marry" because the new co2 that builds up, and lets some of the "green" flavors fade away...
Carbonation isn't instantaneous to begin with, it takes a couple weeks for the Co2 to build up, and once the co2 has saturated the beer, EvilToj says it best...
Temperature also plays a role...The recommendation is to store/age your bottles in a dark place @ around 70 degrees F.
For most simple ales, the rule of thumb is 3 weeks @ 70 deg. But I have had Stouts and Porters take 6 to 8 weeks before they are ready.
Before that beers may have all manner of off tastes, including a green apple flavor, strong yeastiness (yeast bite) and they may not show any carbonation, OR they may gush when they open them (or one from the batch may be carbed, while another is flat, while a third may gush, but most of the time, they all will even out with time.
After 3 weeks @ 70 is recommended (though most of us fail at this one-Me included) that you put your beer in the fridge for a full two weeks before drinking....this will help to make you beer crystal clear and tasty.....
At least new brewer, let them chill in the fridge for 48 hours before you knock them back.
Although many books refer to gushers as a sign of infection, DON'T PANIC; a gushing bottle anytime within the first 3-4 weeks of bottle conditioning is not uncommon, and not NECESSARILY an indication of infection....It is AFTER the period of bottle conditioning has occured, and especially when the rest of the bottled beer is carbed and conditioned fine, that a gusher is a cause of concern....and USULLY the infection is limited to only a single, or to very few bottles-(It could be, for example, that a bottle has somehow slipped through your sanitizing process- maybe it wasn't cleaned thoroughly if it was a recycled bottle.)
Believe it or not, it is really hard to ruin/infect your beer, especially if it is your first batch, and you took even the most rudimentary sanitary precautions....It is actually more likely for an experienced brewer to get an infection- Perhaps they let something slide in their cleaning/sanitization process and something from their previous batch got nasty between brewing sessions, and infected their latest batch- It sometimes happens that small matter gets lodged in a hose connection and doesn't get cleaned out or zapped with the sanitizer....Or perhaps over many uses a fermenter or bottling bucket develops a scratch in it, which becomes a breeding ground for contamination.....but with brand new, cleaned and sanitized equipment...highly unlikely.
(That's why it is a good idea NEVER to use any abrasive cleanser or cleaning tools like scrubbies, on your plastic gear. Nor is it a good idead to clean/sanitize your bottles or equipment in your fermenter or bottling bucket....I use a dedicated 5 gallon soysauce bucket for that purpose.)
Just remember, in brewing, we're not making instant lemonade here, we're not mixing a bunch of flavoring with water and consuming it the same day.
Homebrew is alive (even more than the highly processed, patsurized, and filtered, tasteless swill that passes for commercial beer- i.e. Bud, Miller, Coors.) what we're making is the result of the life cycle of living yeasts, that eat, breed, and process (read- Pee :)) proteins and sugars into wonderful tasty alchohol....and since it is living, like us, it has it's own timetable and agenda....
so Relax, Don't Worry, (and if this your first batch) Have a Micro Brew :D Later when you have a few batches in the pipeline we'll switch that to RDWHAHB!:mug:
A good experiment, for any brewer to do, is to pull a beer out on the 7th day in the bottle and chill it for 2...then taste it...make notes on the tastes and the level of carb. Do it again on the 14th day, the 21st and the 28th...you'll really see the difference. Then leave a bottle stashed away for 6 months...chill that and taste it...and go back and read your notes... You'll learn a heck of a lot about beer doing that.
Poindexter shows in this video exactly what happens to your beer over the 3 weeks....He shows carbonation from 5 days in the bottle on....
SO STEP AWAY FROM YOUR BOTTLES, the yeasties know what they're doing, so let them do their jobs!!!
Since your beer's already in the bottles, that means your primary is free...so quit sampling your beer before it's ready (or you wan't have any to drink when they ACTUALLY reach their peak.) AND GET BREWING ANOTHER BATCH!
Just remember, at the minimum; 3 weeks @ 70, 3 weeks @ 70,3 weeks @ 70!
Lazy Llama says it best....better than me I think.
And if after 3 weeks, if it is not carbed, or still taste funny...then wait a few more weeks.
I know this seems difficult to do right now, the waiting thing. But as you brew and as you have a pipeline going, you will have different beers at different steps of the process; fermenting, in secondary if you are opting to use one, bottle conditioning, aging, and drinking. So you will never be without beer to drink.
This quote from one of my friends sums it up....
i do similar to the dishwasher setup but since i also use the dishwasher to sanitize my bottles i just soak my caps in the starsan after spraying down the inside of the bottling bucket. i also use a wallpaper tray for sanitizing the racking equipment. when bottling i sit on a stepstool in front of the washer
Also, for those who find this thread as they are saying... "I am bottling NOW and need to make a dip tube!"
A standard wine cork will fit perfectly into the spigot on the inside of the bucket.
I took a wine cork and drilled a 3/8 hole through the longitudinal center. Then I took an old racking cane and cut the curved portion off. I filed a slight angle in one end of the racking can to a length that would reach the very bottom of my bottling bucket from the center of the spigot hole. Then I jammed the cane into the cork and the cork into the spigot bulkhead. Viola! A free dip tube, NO MORE TIPPING!!!
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