Bottling beer can be a little time consuming, but it's easy enough to do. You want to make sure that all of your beer bottles are free of debris inside, and you have sanitized them just like you would any of your other equipment. Find more information on sanitizing homebrew equipment here.
Here's a checklist of everything you'll need to bottle beer:
- Bottling Bucket
- Bottle Filler
- 5 oz. (2/3 cup) Priming Sugar
- 2 cases + a six pack of empty, pry-off type beer bottles
- Beer Bottle Caps
- Siphon Hose
- A sanitizer, such as Star San
- A Bottle Capper
Tip: If your dishwasher has a “Sanitize” cycle on it, guess what? You can use it to sanitize a beer bottle! Just be sure to allow enough time for the beer bottles to cool before you fill them with beer. For example, if you plan on bottling in the morning, put your bottles in the dishwasher the night before. If you don’t want to wait overnight, a couple of hours after the cycle’s done should be good. Fill the detergent bin with a powdered-type cleanser such as Easy Clean or One Step. If the bottles are already clean, then just run the “Sanitize” cycle. Let the bottles sit in the unopened dishwasher until you are ready to bottle.
Transfer your beer from your plastic fermenter or glass carboy into the bottling bucket. Click here for our PDF titled “How Do I Start a Siphon?” This transfer will allow you to add the priming sugar without mixing up the sediment. You want to use 2/3 of a cup of priming sugar for a 5 gallon batch of beer. Mix the priming sugar with 1 cup of water, boil for 7-10 minutes, and then cool the mixture before you add it to your bottling bucket. This allows the priming sugar to dissolve better, and you will end up with a consistent carbonation level with all of your beers. Once your siphon is started, just pour the cooled mixture in while siphoning so that it will be well mixed by the time your beer is done transferring.
Another popular item to use instead of priming sugar is Cooper’s Carbonation Drops or Munton’s CarbTabs. Both of these will replace the need for the priming sugar packet that comes in your kit. Brewers like these options because they are premeasured amounts that you add directly to each bottle instead of to the entire batch of beer. This can help with carbonation consistency issues. Just follow the directions on the package for best results.
When you have the sugar added to your bottling bucket, you are ready to bottle. With the bottle filler correctly attached with tubing, turn the spigot on; push the bottom of the bottle filler onto the bottom of the bottle. Let the beer fill the bottle all the way to the top. Remove the bottle filler, and cap. The bottle filler will displace enough liquid so that once it is removed, the beer will be at the perfect height in the bottle. If you are using an automatic bottle filler, you want to keep about 1” space between the beer and the bottom of the cap. You might have to adjust your filler to end up at the correct height.
It doesn’t matter what size bottle you are using, once you remove the bottle filler from the bottle, you will be at the correct height. You always want to leave a little gap to allow the CO2 some room to build pressure in the bottle and infuse with the beer better.
For best results with carbonation drops or CarbTabs, turn the bottles over after a week so that the sugar mixes with the beer better. Sometimes the sugar likes to stay on the bottom of the bottle and can take longer for the yeast to convert into CO2.
If you don’t have priming sugar available, table sugar will work as well. You want to use 1 cup sugar to 1 cup of water, boil, and cool off before adding to your beer. For other sugars you can use, see our PDF titled, “I don’t have any priming sugar, is there anything else I can use to carbonate my beer?” We have other sugar sources listed that you may use instead.
When to Bottle Beer
Typically, you can bottle an ale 3 weeks after brew day with two-stage fermentation. This schedule allows 7 days for primary fermentation, and 14 days for secondary fermentation.
Wheat beers are often bottled right out of the primary, as it's common to not worry about the yeast still in suspension. No one balks at a glass of hazy weizen.
Lagers will require up to 14+ days in the primary and often 4-6 weeks in the secondary before bottling. In any case, when the beer's specific gravity has stabilized at it's terminal gravity and it has sufficiently cleared, it's ready to bottle.
Other "big" beers can use some extended aging, possibly leaving in the secondary for several months to develop their complexities in bulk and to allow yeast, gravity, and time to round out the edges of the beer. For these extended aging beers, you may wish to add a little bit of yeast (1/4 tsp should suffice) to your bottling bucket to make sure there are enough yeast cells in suspension to carbonate the beer.