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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