Hello, everyone, and welcome back to Serum Visions!
First things first, I must apologize for my absence these last two weeks. My wife and I are moving to Toronto and just did the big packing blitz. It left absolutely no room for writing. But here we are, back and ready to bottle!
This week we’re going to be following up on Brew Day in 15 Steps. If you by chance actually brewed your first beer on that day, it’s time to bottle. I know this because I started a brew not long after that article was published, and it’s time to bottle that one.
There are a few things that you need to do before you bottle your beer to ensure that you aren’t creating little exploding brew bombs. You are going to need to check your final gravity (FG) at least twice with your hydrometer, to make sure it has finished fermenting. If you remember from the brew day, we check the Starting Gravity (SG) to find out how much sugar is in the wort. This lets us know approximately what the final alcohol percentage will be. We check the gravity again, once the air lock has mostly stopped bubbling (probably seven to fourteen days after the brew), to find out how much sugar is left. Then we check again a few days later to make sure that the amount of sugar has not gone any lower: say from 1.013 down to 1.011. If you find this has happened, this means that the beer has not finished fermenting. Once you have checked your gravity twice a couple of days apart and it has not changed, you are ready to bottle.
To understand why this is so important—because it is very important—I’ll need to explain what happens during the actual fermentation. Yeast is a living organism that feeds on sugar. Like all living organisms, it produces waste from what it eats. In the case of yeast, that waste is alcohol and carbon dioxide. Yeast will continue to consume the sugar until all of the digestible stuff is gone. So, if you bottle your beer before all of the initial sugar has been digested, and then, add more during the bottling process, there will be too much carbon dioxide inside of the bottle and it will explode.
Steps to Bottling
Step One: Clean and sanitize everything that will come in contact with your beer! Everything that touches, or even could touch, the beer at this point must be sanitized—no exceptions!
Step Two: Place your fermentor of beer on a raised surface, like a table or countertop. Then place your six-gallon bottling bucket right underneath a carboy on the floor (this is best done in the kitchen where you can get things wet with out being worried about it).
Step Three: Place your sanitized racking cane (which will be connected to about four to five feet clear vinyl tubing) into the brew. Try to keep the bottom of the cane about three to four inches away from the surface of the beer.
Step Four: Syphon the beer from the fermentor into your bottling bucket. Try to leave as much of the sediment, or trub, on the bottom of the fermentor as possible. You will have to tilt your fermentor to keep your racking cane as far away from the trub for as long as possible. Don’t worry to much about getting every drop of beer.
A couple notes on this step:
a. Many people (including myself) start the syphon with their mouths. If you are going to do this, you must sanitize you mouth and lips. I personally use some bad tequila as a mouth wash just before starting the syphon.
b. You must syphon “quietly.” This means you minimize the amount of splashing that happens during the transfer. If you mix in too much air/oxygen into your beer at this point, it will taste like green apples and you will be more inclined to dump your beer rather than drink it.
Step Five: Add priming sugar to your beer (the sugar that will make your beer carbonate). There are a couple different options for this step:
Option 5A: Carbonation Drops – These are drops of sugar that are pre-made to be the correct amount of sugar to carbonate a single bottle of beer. To use these, you simply put one drop into each bottle and then fill each bottle. This is by far the easiest and safest way of carbonating beer for a beginner.
Option 5B: Malt Extract or Dextrose Priming Sugar
Step 5B.1: Measure out 3/4 cup dextrose priming sugar or 1-1/4 cup of dry malt extract.
Step 5B.2: Boil chosen priming sugar with a cup or so of water for five minutes to sterilize.
Step 5B.3: Add to beer in bottling bucket and stir gently for ten to fifteen seconds. Do not mix in any air!
Step Six: Wash and sanitize all bottles! This means getting all debris and dirt out of the bottles and thoroughly coating the inside of the bottle with no-rinse sanitizer. Try to get as much of the sanitizer out as you can, but do not rinse.
Step Seven: Syphon beer into the bottles quietly: do not mix in air! Fill the bottles until the beer reaches the very top of the bottle—when you remove the bottling wand you’ll be left with the perfect amount of empty space.
For this step, you’ll be attaching your bottling wand to the other end of your tube that is connected to you racking cane. The bottling wand makes it so you have a controlled flow of beer into your bottles.
Again, if you are starting the syphon with your mouth (a great opportunity to have a couple of mouthfuls!), you need to sanitize your mouth and lips.
Step Eight: Cap bottles using sanitized caps. There are many types of cappers for glass bottles. If you get a floor capper, where you use a lever to push the caps on to the bottle, you can use any pop top beer bottle. If you are going to use a butterfly capper, you need to use bottles with short ridges underneath the top lip of the bottle. The easiest bottles like this to find are MGD, Heineken, Stella, and Corona.
Please do not go out and buy a fresh case of these. You can go to vendors or local watering holes and ask to buy cases of empties. Not everyone will do this, but there’s a good chance that someone in your area will help you out.
Do not use twist-off style bottles! These may or may not seal. If they don’t, it will result in flat and oxidized beer!
Step Nine: Put your beer in a warm place to let it carbonate for two weeks. I do encourage you to try your beer after it has been in the bottle for only a week. It probably will not be very good, but you will start to learn what beer tastes like during different stages of its life.
Step Ten: Your beer will be drinkable after two weeks in the bottle, pretty good after three to four weeks, and at its peak (most likely) from five to seven, depending on what kind you have made. One thing is always for certain: the longer you wait, the better it will be. And the last bottle is always the best!
Bottling Apparatus List
This is the bare minimum set up one needs for bottling. If you would like to cut the bottle cleaning time by 75 percent, I recommend a bottle washer that you screw on to your tap in your kitchen, as well as a wonderful contraption called a Vinator bottle washer. If you are planning on getting into this hobby with any vigor, these two pieces are a must!
So there you have it! In Twenty-five steps and a little waiting is all it takes to have 56 beers that you crafted yourself! I love this hobby, and if you get into it, I know you’ll love it too!
If you noticed that I have missed anything, please let me know. If you have any questions or need any help, you can hit me up on Twitter at @awcolman.
Thanks for hangin’, everyone.