Home Brewing Part 2: Bottling Day
Well, that was the longest 9 days of my life. After 7 days in the fermenter, the airlock finally stopped bubbling and the countdown to bottling day was on. I gave the beer an extra 48 hours to make sure fermentation was complete. Horror stories of bottling too early and the resulting exploding bottles convinced me to be patient. If sanitizing is the home brewer’s #1 priority, then patience is a close second.
As much as I wanted to crack open the fermenter and see my creation, the first thing I did was clean and sanitize all of the bottling equipment. Cleaning and sanitizing 48 bottles was very tedious and I can already see some of the advantages to kegging your beer.
Once everything was sanitized, I boiled 2 cups of water and stirred in a package of priming sugar (dextrose). I boiled the sugar solution for 5-10 minutes and then poured it into the sanitized bottling bucket. This sugar is how the beer is carbonated once bottled. The yeast in the beer will ferment the sugar and create CO2. Unlike when the beer was fermenting and the CO2 was released through the airlock, the bottles will trap the CO2 and carbonation will result.
Now that the sugar solution was resting in the bottling bucket, I cracked open the fermenter. I was pleasantly surprised when a beautiful Cascade hop aroma hit my nostrils and the beer looked crisp. My expectations immediately rose higher than they had been at any point during this process. I used my sanitized hydrometer and measured the final gravity. To my surprise, it was in range of the mark provided on the recipe. The beer ended up right where I needed it to be, despite my earlier reservations. It should be about 5.75% ABV.
The next step gave me butterflies. I had never used a siphon of any kind before this week. I had a strong fear of the siphon going the wrong way and completely spoiling my beer. After some helpful YouTube videos, particularly this fine gentleman, my fears were put to rest. Placing the fermenter on the counter and the bottling bucket on the floor, I used a sanitized racking cane and food-grade tubing to siphon the beer into the bottling bucket. The natural flow of the beer formed a whirlpool that mixed the sugar solution throughout the beer. Within minutes, all of the beer was in the bottling bucket with only the trub (yeast/malt/hop sediment) left behind in the fermenter. After my initial concerns, this step proved to be really easy and I won’t worry about it in the future.
After the beer was safely in the bottling bucket, it was time to start bottling! With my bottling bucket on the counter, I put the bottle caps into a bowl of sanitizer and attached the bottle filler to the spigot on the bottling bucket using a small piece of tubing. I filled the beer right up to the rim of each bottle which guarantees a perfect amount of beer once you remove the bottle filler. I placed a sanitized cap on each bottle as they were filled and used a bottle capper to seal them in place. 45 bottles later (I ran out of beer before I hit the 48 mark) and bottling was complete! My very first case of home brewed beer.
As it turns out, bottling and capping is only a small portion of the bottling day activities. The whole thing took me 2 to 3 hours. It turned out alright, wouldn’t you say?
The next step will test my patience once more because I have to give the beer at least two weeks for bottle conditioning to occur. I doubt I’ll make it that long. I did take a few sips of my beer pre-bottling and I’m happy to report… It tasted like beer! All kidding aside, it tasted like a solid IPA. A flat, room-temperature IPA, but an IPA nonetheless. My wife said it was bitter. I’d call that a success! I have hope that this beer will turn out to be drinkable once it’s carbonated and chilled. Not bad for a beginner.
The process thus far has been really rewarding. It’s nice to finally get my hands dirty and get a true feel for how beer is made. My passion for craft beer has reached a new level and my respect for brewers has grown exponentially. I’m truly looking forward to cultivating my home brewing skills and sharing the results with my readers.
Stay tuned for a review of my own beer in a few weeks and many other craft beer-related posts!
Beer connoisseur, professional reverse parker.