Synopsis of steps in this Part 3 of this brew process:
1. Sanitize racking vessel, tubing, bottle caps, and bottles, rinse if desired.
2. Carbonation. Add charging corn sugar to each bottle or add ⅞ cup corn sugar to 1 liter or quart of boiled water. Then add to batch of brew in racking vessel.
3. Fill bottles to within 1 ½ inch of the bottle top.
4. Cap bottles.
5. Wait about 14 to 21 days to carbonate and then store in a cool place before drinking. Taste on bottling day at intervals during bottle carbonation or conditioning to see how the brew is doing. It will be flat but you will see the taste change.
6. Label your bottles.
Sanitize the bottles
Clean the bottles thoroughly before sanitizing. You will need a bottle brush and warm soapy dishwater to clean your bottles. Visually inspect each bottle after cleaning and rinsing by looking down the neck of the bottle towards a window in daylight or a light source. Keep the bottle horizontal or you will pour into your eye. A bottle that was used previously for home brewing may still have some yeast sediment that must be cleaned and removed.
For sanitation you will again use 1 teaspoon of Idophore BTF sanitizer per 1 ½ gallons of water (follow the directions of the manufacturer as listed on the bottle as concentrations of the sanitizer solution may vary). You can purchase or diy a pneumatic sanitizing pump to sanitize your bottles. You can also hand pour each individual bottle with sanitizer, but it will be labor intensive. I purchased a pump for $15. To diy, use a squirt bottle made from a used dish soap container. I also purchased a bottle drying rack ($40, but I brew a lot so it is worth it to me). The directions on the sanitizing solution states that rinsing is not necessary, but I did have one batch of brew that I had to dump because it had a slight Iodine taste of sanitizer. John Palmer, author of How to Brew, uses pre-boiled, sterilized water to use for rinsing all bottles and equipment after sanitizing. The sanitizer should remain in contact with the bottle or equipment for 2 minutes before rinsing- if you rinse. But I rinse.
To ensure carbonation, most home brewers add sugar to each bottle. Corn sugar is the least expensive sugar to use for this purpose and it can be the easiest for yeast to consume to make alcohol and CO2. There will be just enough remaining yeast to consume enough sugar to carbonate the bottle. Brewing books recommend that ⅞ cup of corn sugar be added to 1 liter of warm water (80 degrees Fahrenheit) before adding to your 5 gallon batch of beer. This will leave a small amount of sediment on the bottom of the bottle, so pour out the last of the beer carefully. Home brew is seldom filtered and is considered to be a live ale because it does not get pasteurized.
There are four styles of beer bottles: bombers, longneck 12 oz, stubby 12 oz, and wired ceramic cap “Groslch” type 16 oz bottles. Physically most of the 22 oz bombers are the same height while some have different shapes. This is relevant because each height bottle requires a different height shelf adjustment on the bottle capper. I usually use them all for each batch I brew because it gives an option of how thirsty you might be. My least favorite is the stubby 12 oz bottle because I have fewer of them and I give the to people who are not as likely to return them. You can reuse bottles from beers you purchase, which are typically the longneck style. Reusing bottles requires label removing and cleaning. Bottles also require space for storage so keep that in mind so you have room to store them both filled and unfilled.
Another type of bottle that you might use for beer brewing is the growler. You can get this for take out at your local micro brewery. If the brewery brews the beer on those premises then they can fill and sell growlers-this varies from state to state depending on state laws. In Arizona, some liquor warehouses are allowed to fill and refill growlers to-go from various micro or craft breweries. There are different size growlers ranging from 32 to 64 oz, and although I have never seen them, I hear there are one gallon growlers. In some counties of Florida, it is illegal to fill the standard 64 oz growler, but they can fill two of the smaller 32 oz or one gallon growlers instead. A lawsuit has been filed claiming this growler law is unconstitutional. Also it should be noted that growlers are screw top bottles, and that replacement tops may be difficult to find for sale.
Martinelli’s sparkling Apple or Cranberry juice are sold in 750 ml bottle. This bottle is the same height as a wine bottle and it uses the same bottle cap as a beer bottle. Besides beer, these bottles can be used for making mead, sparkling or non-carbonated. Mead is somewhat made like beer but with honey but tastes more like a dessert wine. A cork may be used for either flat or sparkling types of mead.
Something that I have not mentioned is it will be most convenient if your plastic pail or pails have a filling spigot valve attached to them. If you don’t already have one, a filling spigot can be purchased where brew supplies are sold for about $4. To modify a pail that does not have a spigot you will need to cut a 1 inch hole to install. Open the spigot valve and fill each bottle to within 1 ½ inch from the top of the neck of the bottle.
There is another method for charging and filling, but it requires more equipment that costs more money. This alternate method uses a Stainless Steel soda canister (cleaned, sanitized, and pressure tested of course), a CO2 bottle, fill tubing, and a counter pressure fill gun. Used soda canisters can readily be found at brewing suppliers for $50 and are $30-$40 cheaper than new ones that the beer supply supplier sells. These canisters are seldom used for soda in this day and age. You might find them in recycle yards or on Craigslist for a lower price. Replacement parts and seals are available at the beer supply stores. Priming sugar is added to the canister and either you can have draft or fill bottles from the canister or keg. It will take about 14-21 days to pressurize, then you will either have draft beer or you can fill bottles. The CO2 bottle pressure should be set at approximately 1 pound per square inch is used to move the liquid to the fill gun. An advantage of this type of conditioning and filling is that there most likely will not be any sediment in the bottom of the bottle, and yield a clearer product. Also this would be a step to attach a filter to the fill gun if filtered beer or ale is desired. Filters can be expensive at $150 and higher.
Use the capper to cap each bottle--remember that all caps or seals must be sanitized. Store at 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit for 2-3 weeks, then chill below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature stays at the low end of this scale during the 2-3 weeks, your brew will be slightly flat. Bottle conditioning, like fermentation, must be carefully temperature controlled to keep the yeast happy.
I have a bottle capper that adjusts to all heights of bottles from 12 oz beer bottles to 750 ml Champagne style bottles. I also have ceramic capped/rubber sealed bottles, like Grolsch beer bottles. Rubber seals can be reused many times but when the rubber starts to crack they should be replaced by purchasing from a homebrew supplier. This type of bottle can also be purchased from a brewing supplier, but I drank Grolsch and my friends and I saved the bottles.
I mentioned capping Champagne bottles but I don't recommend it because it requires a larger cap. A larger cap requires a larger size cap and capper having two different sized cappers does not seem reasonable. Champagne uses a cap during the riddling process which removes the sediment from the bottle by holding the bottle neck downward and momentarily freezing the neck of the bottle, then disgorging the frozen ice with sediment.
If you don’t brew very often or you don’t have multiple batches bottled at the same time, you might not need to label your bottles. If you do label, you might buy sheets of generic Avery self stick labels and print them on you personal computer or use a permanent marker, or purchase sheets of beer labels from a brewing supply store. Be careful not to get the labels wet because the ink will run. The bottom line is that if you have multiple batches, they will get mixed up and you might get tipsy drinking the opened beers until you find the right one. Now, if you want to take labeling a step further, you might design a logo and print quite a few sheets, then reprint the name of the beer on top of your custom labels.
The beer has been brewed, start to finish. There's only one thing to do now: open a bottle and start the next batch.
I mentioned brewing mead above. If you are unfamiliar with mead, do not worry. Mead is my next home brewing project. The supplies have already arrived. Stay tuned.
Jim St. Germain is president of St. Germain Cellars and the resident hops enthusiast. When he isn't evangelizing IPAs (75+ IBUs!), he enjoys a nice glass of pinot noir or good whiskey, neat.