Although some hardy souls actually enjoy the process, quite a few people are of the opinion that they would pack in brewing altogether if they had to bottle their beer, and it’s not hard for me to see why they’ve reached that conclusion; in my opinion bottling is boring and deadly, deadly dull. However, if you want to store your beer for a long time or if you wish to give some away to friends, it’s still the best way to go...
To bottle 25 litres you will need:
Approx 400ml of recently boiled and cooled water;
50gms brewing sugar;
Two metre length of food-grade siphon tubing;
Long handled spoon;
Sterilised fermentation bin;
Approx 47-50 sterilised beer bottles and crown caps;
You will find there is a thin layer of sludge known as ‘trub’ at the bottom of the bin at the end of secondary fermentation and you don’t want that stuff in your bottles. To avoid this, I always siphon off the beer into a sterilised bin, just as we did at the end of primary fermentation. It’s at this point when you should take a sample, if you’re taking a hydrometer reading, as this will give you the final gravity figure, or FG.
Once that’s done, add 50 grams of brewing sugar to approx. 400ml of cooled boiled water and stir until dissolved. Pour the solution into the beer and stir it in. We do this to carbonate our beer. Even when secondary fermentation is complete there are still some yeast cells present in the beer; adding brewing sugar means the yeast will consume these fermentables and create an amount of CO2. Because this happens in a bottle, the CO2 has nowhere to escape so it dissolves into the beer. 50gms of brewing sugar
might not give you enough ‘fizz’ to the beer for your personal taste, or it might prove too much – so change this amount to suit yourself after you’ve tasted your first beer. There is software out there that suggests the ‘right’ amount of brewing sugar to use, but obviously there is no way any software can take personal preferences into account. Enter ‘beer priming calculator’ in your search engine to take a look. Whether or not you consult this software, it will take you only one or two brews to hit upon the ideal amount to use to suit your palate.
You’re now ready to bottle as long as you remembered to sterilise everything that will come into contact with the beer - including the crown caps.
Fit the bottling stick onto the end of your tubing. To do this, dip the end of the tubing in boiling water for a few seconds to make it pliable, and gently but firmly work the bottling stick into the tubing.
I bottle as shown in the picture, placing rows of bottles on the floor on an old beach towel to catch the inevitable drips. Never fill a beer bottle all the way up to the top; leave an inch or so of space to accommodate the carbon dioxide that will be generated by the few remaining yeast cells. According to an article in the Ohio State Law Journal of all places, the pressure in a beer bottle can reach 88lbs per square inch and we don’t want any potentially dangerous explosions.
Due to spillage, evaporation or just plain dipping your glass in and having a swift half in the interests of scientific research while bottling, you will find you never get fifty 500ml bottles of beer out of a 25 litre batch of beer, but it is obviously better to sterilise a few too many bottles than be left with too few.
Once you’ve transferred all your beer into bottles, get capping! After what seems like an eternity you’ve capped all the bottles and you think you’re finished. Wrong! Time to wipe down every last bottle to make sure they don’t get sticky and icky with dried spilled beer, then dry them off with a tea towel. Leave overnight to dry off properly before labelling. I enjoy designing my own ornate labels but when I’m pushed for time, and these days that is most of the time, I just write on the bottles with a white marker pen. It’s quick and comes off very quickly in hot soapy water using a wire scourer.
It's a good idea to write down the date of bottling in your brewing notes, on a calendar or somewhere you won't lose it. This is because you’ll need to know how long your beer has been conditioning in the bottle. My own personal taste is to allow conditioning to last about a month before tasting. Strong beers might well require a longer period, and will without exception improve if left to condition for a long time; I’ve read that some barley wine strength beers recommend storing for five years before consuming, and my ‘Twelfth Night At Toad Hall’ is a much better beer after conditioning for five years! When conditioning, make sure the bottles are stored somewhere that doesn’t experience extreme fluctuations in temperature and keep away from sunlight.
Congratulations, you’ve just finished your first bottling session! It was horrible, wasn’t it? You'll find Kegging much easier...