Bottling & Kegging
There are two basic options to packaging beer, bottling and kegging. There are pros and cons to both. Bottling is fairly time consuming but is inexpensive. Kegging requires an initial investment in equipment but saves time.
There are a variety of bottles that you can use to bottle your beer, the least expensive being used commercial bottles. Commercial bottles can't be twist off and require up front work of removing labels and cleaning but they are essentially free! Brown bottles are better because they block UV light which breaks down the hop oils in your beer and gives it a "skunky" smell.
A typical 5-gallon batch will make 48 12 oz bottles of beer. You can reduce the workload by using larger bottles. Here is a break down of bottle sizes and the approximate number needed to bottle 5 gallons:
Cleaning bottles is the worst part about bottling but with proper habits, you can make this less of a chore. If you wait till bottling day to try and clean your bottles, you will not be a happy homebrewer! By rinsing your bottles with very hot water immediately after they are empty, then "fur" will never get a chance to grow. Storing your bottles upside down also help keep them dry and ready for sanitizing on bottling day.
There are many ways to sanitize bottles, the easiest being the dishwasher. Washing them using the heated dry cycle is sufficient to kill any microorganisms that may be present. If you waited till bottling day to clean your bottles you should use a bottle washer and bottle brushto ensure the bottles are clean before you sanitize them.
If you don't want to use the dishwasher, a bottle tree is the best way to sanitize and dry your bottles. Rinse the bottles in sanitizer and place on the bottle tree to dry. Our 90 bottle tree can be fitted with a bottle rinser that allows you sanitize and dry in one convenient step.
At bottling time, a small amount of corn sugar (also called bottling or priming sugar) is added to the beer in order to give the yeast enough food to carbonate your beer in the bottle. For a 6-gallon batch you will need to dissolve 1 cup of corn sugar (3/4 cup for a 5-gallon batch) in about a cup of water on the stove. Let it boil for a few minutes to kill any bacteria that may be present. Cool 5 minutes and pour the corn sugar into the bottling bucket.
Using the racking cane and tubing, transfer the beer from the fermenting bucket to the bottling bucket. The bottling sugar will mix with the beer as it is transferred. (To start a siphon, the fermenting bucket must be elevated above the bottling bucket. Fill the racking cane and tubing with water placing your thumb on the end of the tubing. Insert the racking cane into the fermenting bucket, being careful not to disturb the sediment at the bottom of the bucket. Place the other end of the tubing into the bottling bucket and remove your thumb from the tubing. The gravity will start the siphon and will start the transfer of your beer.)
Remove the tubing from the racking cane and place it on the spigot that is on the bottling bucket. Attach the bottle filler to the other end of the tubing. The bottle filler has a valve that allows you to fill your bottles without having to stop the flow of beer from bottle to bottle. Open the spigot and place the bottle filler in the beer bottle. Press the filler on the bottom of the bottle to start the flow of beer. Fill the bottles till the beer is about to overflow. When you remove the filler, the amount of volume that is displaced is the proper amount that you need to ensure your beer will carbonate properly.
Cap the beer with bottle caps that have been boiled for a few minutes on the stove.
Store your beer in a dark space at room temperature for 2 weeks. Before placing all of them in the fridge, cool one down and make sure that the carbonation is satisfactory. If it is, start drinking! If not, let sit another week or so and test again.
There are several advantages to kegging. The most notable being the ease in cleaning and filling a keg. A 5-gallon batch of beer requires that you deal with 50 or more 12-oz bottles. When kegging you clean and fill just one!
You can also use your kegging system to force carbonate your beer, which simply means carbonating by using the CO2 tank and not using priming sugar. Forced carbonation results in less sediment and a quicker clearing beer. It also guarantees that your beer WILL carbonate, which doesn't always work when bottling. Kegging is the only way to precisely control the level of carbonation in your beer.
There are drawbacks to kegging your beer. The biggest is cost. You also have to be able to cool your beer. Kegs are generally 25"-27" tall. Most homebrewers have a dedicated fridge to store their kegs.
When kegging beer, be sure to run sanitizer and then water through the system. Fill the keg with your newly fermented beer and place the cap on it. Attach the CO2and turn it on. Be sure to purge the oxygen by pulling a few times on the relief valve.
The easiest way to carbonate a keg is to leave the CO2 pressure on the beer. The chart below shows the equilibrium pressure for different temperatures and volumes of gas in beers. Find the serving temperature on the right and the volumes of CO2 you desire at the top; where they meet in the table shows the equilibrium pressure (in PSI). 2.1 to 2.3 are typical volumes of CO2 for most beer styles.
The goal when dispensing your beer is to have enough foam to to give it a nice head but not too much foam. Generally, we recommend 6 feet of 3/16" beer hose to ensure a perfect pour!