I finally bottled my first home brewed beer. If you have been following this little experiment, you know that my first experience with home brewing has been a little bumpy. The bottling process didn’t go exactly smoothly but it wasn’t too bad.

I did not bother taking the specific gravity of the beer since I had not taken it before adding yeast. The beer had fermented for about 10 days and I had stopped seeing bubbles in the air locks after day 7 or so. I was reasonably certain that the fermentation was complete.

Racking cane being sterilized

I bought a racking cane from my local beer store ($6) to siphon the beer from the fermenters to the bottles. A racking cane is a hard plastic tube that has a stand-off device to keep the tube off the bottom of the fermenter, a bend at the top (like a cane), and a long tube attached to the bend. I had to sterilize it so I filled a 5 gallon bucket with water and a 1/2 cup of bleach and put the racking cane in for about 30 minutes, making sure the cane and tube were filled with water.

I had decided to use plastic water bottles because I haven’t saved enough glass bottles yet and buying new bottles, either glass or plastic, is too expensive. I got 2 cases of store brand bottled water for 4 bucks each, which gave me 48 500ml bottles. Normally you want to sterilize the bottles but, after much debate, I decided that since these bottles had never been opened they were probably already as sterile as I could make them.

48 bottles primed with sugar

The carbonation (secondary fermentation) in the beer occurs in the bottle. The yeast is what causes the carbonation but, just like the primary fermentation process, the yeast has to have something to eat. Each bottle has to be “primed” with a little sugar. The instructions said to add 8g of sugar per litter. I was using 500ml bottles so, after a little calculation, I added a rounded half-teaspoon of sugar to each.

There is an art to starting the siphoning process. You don’t want to suck on the tube as that will contaminate it. The instructions in the Virtual Brewing Class made a lot of sense so I practiced a few times before trying it with the beer. Basically, you fill the tube with water and when the water flows out of the tube, it draws the beer up through the cane. If you get too much air in the tube, though, the vacuum with be broken and the siphoning action will stop. Practicing with water, it seemed pretty easy. When it came time to do it for real, however, it wasn’t as easy as it seemed.

The first problem I had with siphoning was that my little 4 gallon buckets were short and the cane kept falling out. I finally had my wife hold the cane so I could concentrate on getting the siphon started. It took 3 or 4 tries but I finally got a good flow going.

Filling a bottle

Once the beer was flowing through the racking cane, filling the bottles was pretty quick. The hardest part was clamping off tube after filling each bottle. It was almost impossible to completely stop the flow; there was always a little trickle coming out of the tube. I did my best to catch it in a container but I still got beer all over everything. I put an old towel on the floor which helped but there was still a mess. I tried to get as little air as possible in the beer as it filled the bottles by tilting the bottles as I filled them so the beer would run down the side. However, the beer was coming out of the tube so fast that it usually made a lot of bubbles as it filled the bottles.

I ended up getting 17 bottles out of fermenter A and 21 out of fermenter B, although the last 3 had a lot of the muck from the bottom of the bucket and therefore probably won’t be any good. After the bottles were filled, I inverted each one a few times to get the sugar to mix with the beer.

Now I have to wait at least a week for the fermentation to complete. The instructions say:

Store bottles upright at a temperature above 18° C (64° F) for at least 7 days to enable secondary fermentation (carbonation) to occur. Storing (conditioning) your beer beyond two weeks and up to at least 3 months should see the flavour improve, the bubbles reduce in size, and the yeast deposit becomes more compact.

I don’t know if the beer will last 3 months, assuming it is palatable to begin with, but it will be interesting to see how the flavor changes over time.

I’ll wrap up this experiment when I taste the beer in a few days.

The process

Many thanks to Eunice for serving as photographer for this post so I could concentrate on bottling!