When it comes to homebrewing, a lot of people gripe about bottling: about how it’s messy or annoying or frustrating or how it totally ruins your day and leaves you yelling at your partner. Luckily for Ray and me, we’ve never had a major issue with bottling. We have a set procedure that we don’t stray from, and that helps a lot.
To give any of you fed-up homebrewers a hand, or for the newbies that are curious about how to get beer into a bottle effectively, here are 5 tips on how to keep bottling from driving you mad and ending your marriage.
1. Schedule your bottling day. While bottling when the whim hits isn’t necessarily a bad thing, actually putting it on your brewing calendar not only keeps you accountable (hello … we put off bottling a beer for nearly 3 months!), but it ensures that you make time for it and that you have the necessary supplies: bottles, caps and priming sugar.
2. Make sure you have enough bottles for the size of your batch. I know offhand that a 5 gallon batch of beer yields approximately 2 cases of 12 oz bottles, give or take. I also like to include a few 22 oz bottles in the mix, which means I often don’t need the full 48 bottles. Nonetheless, it never hurts to have extra bottles on hand. You can purchase cases of bottles at your LHBS (we’ve gotten them for $13/case) or recycle the craft beer bottles you consume.
3. Sanitize your bottles—the easy way! We take unlabeled, non-twist top bottles and place them on all the spokes in our dishwasher’s bottom level. The bottom can usually hold the full 48, but if necessary, you can poke some through the top rack, depending on your dishwasher.
We run a heavy load cycle without soap and turn on the heated dry. This is great because it’s pretty much hands-off, giving us time to transfer the beer from the fermenter to the bottling bucket, boil our priming sugar and sanitize our other equipment. Once the bottles are done, I repackage them into 6-pack cartons to make them easier to handle. (I realize not everyone has a dishwasher, but if you do, try this!)
4. Use a bottling checklist. This will keep you organized and less likely to forget something. We use the following list:
Bottling Check List
1. Calculate the number of bottles needed; remember, a 5 gallon batches yields approximately 2 cases of 12 oz bottles.
2. Sanitize all of the following:
• Bottling bucket
• Brew Spoon
• Bottling wand
3. Line up the following:
• Priming sugar (or DME if you prefer)
• Refractometer or hydrometer (for final gravity reading)
• Sharpie (to label caps)
• Empty beer cartons
4. Dissolve 4 oz priming sugar in 1 cup of water, bring to a boil for 5 minutes,?then let cool to room temperature.
5. Pour boiled sugar into the bottling bucket.
6. Carefully siphon beer into bottling bucket without splashing and introducing oxygen.
7. Gently stir the beer with the sanitized spoon to distribute sugar.
8. Take a sample for the specific gravity reading. Record reading from refractometer or hydrometer.
9. Attach tubing and bottling wand to the spigot.
10. Fill the bottles and place a cap on top.
11. Cap the bottles, placing them back into the cartons.
12. Label the caps and store in a cool, dry place. Try a bottle 2 weeks after conditioning. If not ready yet, try again in about a week or two.
5. Assign roles. For homebrewing, I handle the bottle sanitation in the dishwasher, priming sugar prep, filling the bottles, labeling the caps, stowing the cases and washing smaller items. Ray transfers the beer to the bottling bucket, sanitizes all the other equipment we use, caps the bottles, and does the bottle and fermenter cleanup. Once again, it helps to know who is doing what and stick to it!
Using these tips, Ray and I attack bottling with an assembly-line precision, all the while talking and singing along to our favorite tunes. Bottling day is never a tense, unpleasant experience for us, and it doesn’t need to be for anyone else!