Ah…..bottling. This is when you get to taste your fermented brew and get a sense of what it will taste like when it is carbonated and gets to mellow. Beer tends to reach its best flavor six to eight weeks after bottling. It shouldn’t be drunk less than 2 weeks after bottling because it won’t be carbonated yet. I like a glass of the uncarbonated brew after I finish bottling. Usually there is some left that is not enough for a final bottle so I pour it in a glass and enjoy. It tastes very earthy. I feel a part of history. There have been times and places where beer was the primary beverage. The alcohol killed contamination and hard labor made people thirsty. I think that that first glass of a new brew that hadn’t been bottled or carbonated yet must have been an appreciated drink back in time.
Hopefully you have a dishwasher. This will make your job much easier. Put your rinsed out bottles in the dishwasher with no soap and with the ‘heated dry’ setting. Let them be washed and hot dried. Time your bottling so that after they are done but before they have cooled you can bottle your beer. For three gallons, you will need 30 bottles. For five gallons, 50 bottles.
The first step is to disinfect your bottling bucket, tubes, and bottle caps. I use iodine drops in water. Other methods are also available. If using iodine, soak everything for at least 10 minutes and then rinse. Before siphoning the beer into the bottling bucket, make your bottling sugar mixture. Usually one oz. per gallon is recommended. I put the sugar in a cup of water and microwave it until it is hot and the sugar melts. I pour this into the bottling bucket.
Next I siphon the beer into the bottling bucket. See “Siphoning” for instructions on this.
With the bottling bucket up on a high surface, such at the kitchen counter, attach the flexible hose to the spigot and then the bottle wand to the flexible hose. The bottle wand is a stiff, clear hose with a valve at the end that opens the wand end when you push down on the end of it. The wand is blocked until you push the end down in a beer bottle which makes the job much easier and less messy. Between bottles, you can just lift the wand without beer spilling out.
Line up your bottles on a surface lower than the bottling bucket (I use the floor of the kitchen), turn on the spigot, and press the wand down into the first bottle. When the beer reaches the top, pull out the wand. The space left by removing the wand from the bottle is the perfect air space needed at the top of the bottle.
One by one, fill up the beer bottles. When all the beer is in the bottles, you can start capping. Take a sterilized, rinsed cap and use a beer capper to cap each bottle. If the last bottle is not filled all the way, don’t cap it. Drink it or throw it away.
It is a good idea to store the bottles in a box. It has never happened to me but bottles can explode. It is better to have the happen in a confined place. Leave the box somewhere cool and dark.
Light can ruin the flavor of beer. Best to use dark brown bottles. If you don’t have any, keep the beer away from the light.
After a couple of weeks, you can start to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
If, when you open the bottles, they foam over and half the beer foams out onto the counter, then your beer was contaminated with wild yeast. It is fine to drink. It won’t make you sick and may not change the flavor. However, it doesn’t look that great and it wastes a lot of beer. It can also make a mess. To help avoid this, fill your bottles directly out of the dishwasher, close all your windows while bottling, and keep everything clean, including your hands.