Bottling their first batch of homebrew is a big step in the lives of novice homebrewing enthusiasts. While the beer still will not be ready to drink for several weeks after bottling, there is definitely a strong sense of satisfaction that can be gained from finally moving the brew from the fermentation container into the bottles. While this step is often a great deal of fun, it is important to keep some basics in mind when priming and bottling to create the most successful final product possible.
The first step in bottling your homebrew is, obviously, to obtain the bottles. Many homebrew supply shops will sell bottles that you can use in homebrewing, and you can also obtain them from bars and restaurants. Bottle caps can be picked up from homebrewing supply shops.
Perhaps the most difficult part of bottling for the homebrewing novice is discerning when to bottle. The bubbling that serves as a visible indicator of fermentation typically stops after only a few days, but fermentation is not complete at that point. It is important to wait some time after the visible signs of fermentation have disappeared to ensure that the process has run its course. A couple of bad things can occur if the beer is bottled before fermentation has completed. The quality of the beer will certainly suffer, since many of the unpleasant tasting precursor compounds will not have been metabolized by the yeast and will remain in the final product. Another, much more spectacular, problem that can occur is that the fermentation process may continue in the bottle which causes excess amounts of carbon dioxide to build up until the bottle finally explodes. Many homebrewing veterans have at least one “exploding bottle” story from their early days of homebrewing. The amount of time required for fermentation to complete varies according to recipe, strain of yeast used, temperature, as well as other factors. It is therefore important to carefully follow fermenting instructions if you are using a recipe, or ask other homebrew hobbyists for advice.
Once you are certain that fermentation has completed, it is time to begin the bottling process. Since the beer will be left in the bottle to age and prime, it is important that all bottles and caps be thoroughly sanitized prior to use. Be sure to thoroughly rinse with boiled water if you use a bleach based sanitizing agent.
Once the bottles and caps are ready, it is time to prime and bottle the beer. Priming is an important step since it adds a small amount of sugar which allows a limited amount of fermentation to occur in the bottle, thereby carbonizing the beer. The best way to prime the beer is to boil sugar and water together in a sanitized container and transfer them to the sanitized bottling bucket. After the primer sugar is in place, you can then siphon the beer from the fermenting container into the bottling bucket. If you do not have a bottling bucket, you can also add the primer directly to the fermenter prior to bottling.
Once the beer has been primed, it is time for that big final step–bottling. It is important to fill the bottles slowly to avoid any aeration, which can destroy the flavor of the final product by adding too much oxygen to the beer. After the bottle has been filled, it is time to add the sanitized cap and then repeat until all bottles have been filled.
Of course, the real hard part comes next, which is waiting for the beer to age and prime. This can take up to a month or more, depending on the type of yeast used. However, if you simply must have a taste before then, the beer should be serviceable within one week, but you should wait at least a month before consuming more than a few bottles.
Bottling and priming is the final step of the homebrewing process and great care should be taken to ensure that you don’t destroy your hard work by allowing unwelcome microorganisms to contaminate the brew. Be sure to sanitize every piece of tubing, every bottle, and every bucket that comes into contact with the beer. If all goes well, you will be enjoying your creation in a few weeks.
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