Bottling Beer: 10 Tips for Home Brewers

by Brad Smith on May 14, 2008 · 15 comments

Bottling beer can be tedious, which is why many of us eventually make the switch to kegging. Home brewers say that bottling is their least favorite part of the brewing process. To help ease the pain, this week we present 10 tips on bottling your home brewed beer.

1. Inspect your Bottles Before Use – Inspect each bottle by holding it up in front of a window or light source and looking straight down the bottle. Bottles tend to chip and crack either around the mouth or bottom of the bottle, and they also tend to collect mold and other debris at the very bottom. Discard bad bottles to avoid a potential bottle bomb. Choose well made heavier bottles if possible and never use twist off bottles!

2. Remove Labels with Ammonia – Soak recycled bottles overnight in a solution of water and ammonia. After soaking, you will be able to gently rub off most bottle labels with your hands. Be sure to wear rubber gloves and work in a well ventilated area as the ammonia gas can be dangerous.

3. Use a “Jet Bottle Washer” and Bottle Brush - Used bottles frequently have clumps of mold in the bottom that can be difficult to remove. A “Jet Bottle Washer” washer is a device that screws onto the end of your faucet and has a valve on it that activates when you push the bottle over it. A bottle jet will make short work of cleaning most bottles. For stubborn sediment, a small bottle brush will remove the rest. Sanitize your bottles in a high quality sanitizing solution before bottling.

4. Don’t Bottle Directly from the Fermenter – Siphon your beer off the fermenter and into a temporary priming bucket or carboy when bottling. Minimize splashing, as air can easily oxidize your finished beer. Mix your priming sugar in while the beer is still in your priming bucket. This will help reduce the amount of sediment in your finished bottles, and also assure that the priming sugar is evenly mixed into your beer.

5. Use Fining Agents Well Before Bottling – Fining agents help to clarify your beer and reduce sediment in the finished bottles, but they need to be added well before bottling. Additions such as gelatin and polyclar should be added after active fermentation, but 5-7 days before bottling to give them time to settle as much of the excess yeast and proteins from the finished beer as possible.

6. Weigh your Priming Sugar ­- Avoid the habit of just adding 3/4 cup of corn sugar to your beer. Sugars vary widely in density, so one cup of a corn sugar may not be the same as another. Calculate the weight of the priming sugar needed for your target carbonation level using a tool such as BeerSmith or an online calculator and then weigh the sugar or DME before adding it.

7. Purchase a Good Bottle Capper – If you have ever used a cheap bottle capper, then you understand how important this piece of advice is. There are many different styles of bottle cappers, and all can work well, but spend a few extra dollars on a well made capper. Ask your local homebrew store owner which one he recommends. The extra dollars will save you a lot of pain and suffering on bottling day.

8. Oxygen Absorbing Bottle Caps or Not? – Oxygen absorbing bottle caps are a popular item, but are they really needed? Unless you are planning to store your beer for an extended period (a year or more), the answer is most likely no. The oxygen in the headspace of the bottle during bottling is consumed in part by fermentation of the priming sugar. In addition, CO2 is produced during fermentation of the priming sugar that helps protect the beer. As long as the caps are tight and properly sealed, there should be little risk of oxidization.

9. Fill bottles to the Brim – Bottles need the correct amount of headspace (air) at the top of the bottle for carbonation and proper pressure. If you are using a wand type of bottle filler, you can generally fill your bottles very close to the top before removing the wand. This should leave about 1″ to 1-1/2″ of headspace in the neck of the bottle, which will work well for carbonating your beer.

10. Store your Bottles Properly – After capping the bottles, store them at fermentation temperature for at least two weeks to allow proper fermentation of the priming sugar for carbonation. After that, store your beer in a cool place away from light. If you want to clear the beer more quickly, consider laagering (cold storing) your beer in the refrigerator. After use, rinse your bottles clean and store them upside down to make it easy to clean them next time.

I hope these tips help make bottling your next batch a bit less painful. Thanks again for joining us on the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog, and don’t hesitate to subscribe, leave a comment, or click on the BrewPoll vote button below to place a vote for this article.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Greg May 17, 2008 at 3:22 pm

Hi Awesome site ! I am into home brewing myself and collecting Cone top Beer Cans !! I am subscribing to your blog so I can keep up to date ! Thanks for sharing !!

Brad Smith May 18, 2008 at 12:41 am

Thank you for the kind comments! – Brad

Dondon May 21, 2008 at 10:51 am

Those tips were really great..I think it can really help a lot…Thanks for sharing brad..keep it up..

Brad Smith May 21, 2008 at 6:53 pm

Thanks Dondon – I appreciate your thoughts.

Stephanie September 18, 2008 at 4:08 am

Oh well thanks for the tips these will really help. My husband has recently taken it upon himself to brew at home. I completely agree that the bottling process just plain sucks. He has also decided to switch to kegging so thank you so much for posting these tips they should really help.

Belto October 11, 2009 at 11:57 am

I have bottled for a number of years for portability and also coming into condition sooner.
Recently I have changed from 1 litre glass lemonade bottles (No longer available)to 2 liter plastic lemonade bottles with a screw top.
Proving to be successful easy to clean and readily available also disposable.
The sediment collects in the small compartments.

Beer will keep well for several days after opening.
Cleaning regime not so drastic i.e stubborn debris etc.
Sterilization same as recommended

Kane April 18, 2011 at 12:21 am

hey. I have always thought it a good idea to store bottled beer in a warm place. I’ve been placing bottles above my hot water cylinder, is this bad practice?

Brad Smith April 19, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Kane,
No – I do not recommend leaving beer in a warm place if you wish to store it for long. It will last much longer if you keep it in a cool place away from sunlight.

Brad

Terry Lail February 13, 2012 at 11:43 pm

Great tips! The only thing I would add is to make sure you clean your bottles as you empty them and remove commercial labels too. That’ll make assembling 54 clean bottles a cinch on bottling day.

Marc March 19, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Trying to find a answer, I recently made a imperial stout that is 12.1% ABV. I bottled the beer using corn sugar for carbination, after four weeks of sitting in my basement I still have almost no carbination. Do I need to let it sit longer due to the high ABV or write this one off as a loss?

Brad Smith March 19, 2013 at 12:56 pm

If you used sufficient corn sugar it should carbonate just fine unless the yeast was somehow killed off before you bottled it. I would wait a bit longer, but if its already bottled there is not a lot you can do to add carbonation after the fact. Did you carbonate it to US standards (2.5 vols) or English standards (1.8 vols) as most Americans would perceive an English level of carbonation as flat.

Shannon Plonkey April 16, 2013 at 11:59 am

For MOST label removal, a 5 gal bucket with 4 gallons of Oxygen cleaner or PBW mixed in will remove the labels AND the glue residue with NO rubbing or scrubbing. Some labels have plastic covers and others are plastic and these do require a little extra effort. After rinsing bottles out at the sink, we drown the bottles in the bucket for a day and then remove them to drain upside down. After a week or so (if you consume like we do) the solution will become darker and will have an unpleasant odor, time to dump the solution on the lawn and trash the labels.

Rinse-refill-repeat…the lawn will thank you with very green grass where you’ve been dumping the environmentally friendly solutions and your bottles will almost always be clean. In 16 months of bottling we have found about 6 bottles during washing/inspecting that had a growth inside, we used a strong solution of PBW & a bottle brush to clean these up for use again.

Terry November 11, 2013 at 5:44 pm

Hi Brad,

I’ve just brewed my first batch of beer over the weekend. It’s the all Amarillo APA from the beersmith software and it’s looking good for far:)

The question. Can I just go ahead and use my stainless steel brew kettle with the spigot for a “Bottling bucket”? Or is there some reason to buy a plastic one specifically for that purpose?

Second question: I’m thinking to go with the vinator and Starsan for disinfecting on bottling day. Do you like that set up? Is it enough to just squirt some Starsan through each with the vinator and then put the bottle on a bottling rack?

Thanks!

– Terry

Jesse January 2, 2014 at 8:41 pm

Do I need to boil caps before using to activate the plastic like food canning?

Neal Wilton March 9, 2014 at 9:48 pm

Great Tips for Bottling Beer! Removing the labels is probably the most annoying part to preparing bottles. Does using ammonia impact head retention at all? Also, what are your thoughts on running the bottles through the dishwasher to sanitize them?

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