Congratulations; your beer is finished! It's also flat and probably in a pretty inconvenient container. To create a finished product, you need to carbonate it and package it in a way that makes it easy to get at and drink. How you package your beer will help determine how you carbonate it as well. For additional information check out the article on Storing Your Beer.
Carbonating and Packaging for the Beginning Homebrewer
Beginning brewers generally prime their beer with sugar and bottle it; this is the simplest method of carbonation and packaging and requires the least amount of extra equipment. The simplest way to prime your beer is to add a measured amount of sugar (which may have come with your ingredient kit) to your beer in the bottling bucket, stir, and bottle (this is known as Bulk Priming). You should read the section on bottling below to ensure that you properly bottle and cap your beer, and if necessary the section on priming to determine how much priming sugar you need to add.
The process of bottling beer is fairly simple and straightforward; however, it can be rather time consuming. The equipment you will need for bottling is:
- A bottling bucket
- Siphon tubing
- Racking cane or auto-siphon
- Bottle filler
- At least 50 12oz brown long-neck or 28 22oz bottles.
- Crown caps
- A bottle capper
- Priming sugar (other options such as Krausening are viable but much more difficult)
The basic steps for bottling are as follows:
- Dissolve the priming sugar into 1 quart of water and boil, then let cool to 70°F
- Sanitize your bottling bucket, tubing, racking cane or auto-siphon, bottle filler, bottles, and caps
- Add the now cooled priming solution to the bottling bucket
- Rack the beer into the bottling bucket (this should ensure a good mix of the priming solution into the beer)
- Attach some tubing to the spigot on the bottling bucket and attach the bottle filler to the other end of the tubing
- Fill and cap each bottle
- Store in a dark area at temperatures between 65-70°F
It typically takes 3 weeks for bottles to become fully carbonated. During that time they should be kept away from light and at steady temperatures. Once the bottles are carbonated, they can be refrigerated until serving.
A Word About Bottle Bombs
Bottle bombs are a serious concern for the home brewer. These are caused when excess amounts of carbon dioxide are produced during the carbonation process. If the excess pressure builds up too much it can cause the bottle to explode, potentially harming anyone near the bottle.
Bottle bombs typically occur when beer is bottled prior to fermentation ending, as the yeast are continuing to eat the sugars in the beer along with the added priming sugar. This concern underscores the need to take hydrometer readings to determine when primary fermentation is truly complete.
If there is a potential for bottle bombs, or a bottle has already exploded, carefully place the remaining bottles in the refrigerator. It is highly advisable to wear gloves and eye protection during this process. The cold temperatures will slow the yeast down, reducing the risk of explosions. Once the bottles are under control, the beer can be enjoyed as usual.
Many home brewers choose to build a kegging setup as it is less time consuming than bottling and beers can be enjoyed sooner with force carbonation. Kegging is initially more expensive with a basic 2-keg setup costing around $300, but the result of having your own beer on tap is well worth the extra cost.
Mini kegs are like regular kegs, only smaller.
Carbonation is created by dissolving carbon dioxide into the beer. This can be achieved in two ways: by adding extra sugar to a bottle, keg, or cask, and allowing the still viable yeast to create carbon dioxide through fermentation, or by forcing pressurized carbon dioxide into a container (usually a keg) and allowing it to dissolve into the beer.