Homebrewing Crash Course: Bottling Beer

The following crash course is a simple walkthrough of the homebrew bottling process. It’s not intended to be a comprehensive guide, and is written for those who want to learn as they go, or need a quick refresher. It’s based on my own experience, and if you find any errors or have any suggestions to improve the guide, please pass them along. Over the coming months, I plan to create additional guides covering extract brewing, all-grain brewing, the racking process, sanitation, and recipe creation. And of course I’ll update this one as I receive suggestions or think of ways it can be improved. Hope you enjoy.

Estimated Time: The bottling process generally takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. After a little experience, it can be done in as little as 45 minutes if you’re well organized, but it’s important to make sure you don’t cut corners. Especially when sanitizing.

Part 1 – Supplies and Equipment: The following supplies and equipment are recommended. Everything can be found in any homebrew shop or online:

1. Bottles: Any type of sealable glass container will do, including swing-top bottles, corked bottles, and jugs. Since most homebrewers store their beer in — wait for it — beer bottles, that’s the process described in this guide. I personally use the larger 22 oz. bomber bottles because I don’t enjoy cleaning bottles, and when I open a homebrew, I generally want more than 12 oz. of beer anyways. If you’re using 12 oz. bottles, you’ll need about 50 bottles for a 5 gallon batch. For other sizes, you can do the math.

2. Caps: A beer bottle cap for each bottle. The kind with the oxygen absorbing seal will help to preserve your beer for longer periods of time, but they aren’t necessary.

3. 5-6 oz. Priming Sugar (Dextrose): Priming sugar will be added to the fermented wort to carbonate your beer. When the sugar is fermented by residual yeast in the sealed bottle, CO2 is released which pressurizes the bottle and carbonates the beer.

4. Sanitizer: Iodophor and C-Brite are the two most commonly used homebrewing sanitizers. I prefer Iodophor. Bleach can be used, but isn’t recommended since it’s difficult to get rid of the odor. Soap will not get the job done.

5. Plastic Bucket: The standard 6.5 gallon brewer’s bucket with a spigot in the base is the ideal way to transfer your beer to the bottles, but homemade solutions can work too.

6. Siphon Pump with 4 Feet of Vinyl Tubing: An auto siphon pump and some vinyl tubing will be used to transfer your wort from the carboy to the plastic bucket.

7. Spring-Loaded Bottler with 2 Feet of Vinyl Tubing: The spring-loaded bottler will be connected to the spigot on the plastic bucket using more vinyl tubing and is used to transfer the wort to the bottles.

8. Capper: To seal the caps onto the bottles.

9. Bristle Brushes: A small brush to clean the bottles, and a larger brush to clean the plastic bucket and empty carboy.

Part 2 – Bottling Process: Once you have all the required supplies and equipment, follow these steps to bottle your beer. There are many acceptable deviations; however, this is, in my opinion, the simplest and most common approach.

Step 1 – Elevate Carboy: The carboy needs to be elevated so that the fermented beer can be siphoned.

  • Move your carboy containing the fermented beer to a table or counter top that is elevated at least three feet above the ground so it can be siphoned.
  • Let the yeast sediment in the carboy settle while you complete steps 2, 3, and 4.

Step 2 – Prepare Priming Sugar: The priming sugar needs to be boiled in a water mixture to eliminate any bacteria and to ensure it can be uniformly mixed with the wort.

  • Mix the 4-6 oz. of priming sugar with 10 oz. of water in a small pan and bring to a boil. Determine the exact amount of priming sugar based on the desired carbonation level for the beer style, and adjust based upon how much fermented beer you have. It’s fairly common for a 5 gallon batch to only yield 4.5 gallons of beer after the sediment is removed, and it’s important to not over carbonate your beer. If you can’t decide how much priming sugar to use for your style, a good rule of thumb is an ounce per gallon.
  • Let the mixture boil for 1-2 minutes, then turn off the heat and allow it to cool.

Step 3 – Clean and Sanitize the Bottles: Whether you purchased new bottles or are recycling used ones, the cleanliness of your bottles is extremely important to ensure your beer tastes fresh. Bottle sanitation should be completed no more than one hour before the bottles are filled to reduce the risk of air-borne bacteria infecting the beer.

  • Remove any visible residue or dust with warm water and a small bottle cleaning brush.
  • Add 2-3 droplets of iodophor to each bottle.
  • Fill the bottles with cold water, shake vigorously, scrub with the small brush, and let it sit for one minute.
  • Empty each bottle and rinse with cold water one additional time. Allow to air dry.

Step 4 – Clean and Sanitize Siphon, Tubing, and Bucket: The risk of the beer becoming infected is reduced at this stage in the process since the alcohol acts as a disinfectant; however, it is still important to sanitize all equipment that comes in contact with the fermented wort to ensure the beer tastes fresh.

  • Fill the plastic bucket with 2 gallons of water, add an ounce of iodophor and stir.
  • Clean the exterior of the siphon pump, plastic tubing, and spring-loaded bottler with the solution.
  • Pump solution through all tubing.
  • Remove the siphon pump, tubing, and bottler, then use the large brush to scrub the sides of the plastic bucket with the solution.
  • Drain a half gallon of solution through the spigot, then dispose of the remainder.
  • Rinse the bucket, siphon pump, vinyl tubing, and spring-loaded bottler once with cold water and allow to air dry.

Step 5 – Siphon Wort into Bucket: During this step the carboy will be opened to transfer the wort to the plastic bucket. Now that the wort has fermented, it is important to minimize exposure to oxygen to prevent oxidation which can result in some strange flavors in your beer. This step should be completed quickly (but carefully) once the airlock is opened.

  • Place the plastic bucket on the floor next to the carboy (ensure the spigot is closed).
  • Remove the airlock from the carboy.
  • Insert the siphon into the carboy, and gently push down to the bottom. Once the siphon is touching the bottom, do not move it. This will help minimize the amount of yeast sediment that is siphoned into the bucket.
  • Place the vinyl tubing attached to the siphon into the plastic bucket.
  • Gently pump the siphon to begin the flow of wort into the bucket.
  • Add the priming sugar solution to the plastic bucket.
  • Place the lid over the bucket to prevent exposure to dust and circulating air.
  • Once the bucket is full, lightly stir it to ensure the priming sugar is mixed evenly, remove the tubing from the bucket, attach the lid, and place the bucket on the table or countertop.

Step 6 – Bottle Your Beer: The wort and priming sugar mixture will now be transferred to the cleaned empty bottles.

  • Attach the spring -loaded bottler to the spigot on the plastic bucket using vinyl tubing.
  • Place a clean towel on the floor and line the empty bottles up on the towel. The towel will help ensure that any dripping wort does not get on the floor.
  • Open the spigot, and press the bottler against the bottom of the first bottle. Fill completely to the top to minimize the amount of air in the bottle.
  • Repeat for each of the remaining bottles.
  • Place a cap on each filled bottle, and use the bottle capper to firmly seal each cap.
  • Label the bottles or lids as desired.

Step 7 – Clean and Sanitize Used Equipment: Once all of the fermented wort has been bottled, clean and sanitize all equipment. It’s extremely important to do this immediately after bottling because once fermented beer or yeast sediment dries, the equipment becomes much more difficult to clean and is prone to collecting bacteria that could infect your next batch.

That’s it. Now that the beer is bottled, it just needs to condition before you can drink it. During this process, the yeast will ferment the priming sugar to carbonate the beer, and the flavors will generally develop a smoother profile. As a general rule of thumb, a typical batch of ale should condition at room temperature for 10-14 days. If you’re impatient (like me), or want to taste the beer as it changes throughout the conditioning period, you can open one in as little as a week, but any less than 7 days and you risk drinking flat beer.

Once you’ve confirmed that the beer is fully carbonated after the conditioning period, the beers can be transferred to a refrigerator as needed, but this will stop the carbonation process. I recommend storing them at room temperature until you’re ready to drink them.

And don’t forget to pour your beer into a glass leaving ½ an ounce in the bottom of the bottle before serving. Your friends don’t want to drink yeast!